From the New York Times
October 20, 2009
Fruits of Violence Pose a Challenge for Mideast Peace
By ETHAN BRONNER
JERUSALEM — As the Obama administration tries to broker a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is a dark truth lurking: force has produced clearer results in this dispute than talk.
The results of the violence may prove short-lived — and possibly counterproductive; condemnation of Israel and Hamas is likely to grow after the United Nations Human Rights Council voted Friday to endorse a report detailing evidence of war crimes in Gaza.
But the reality that war can work is playing a crucial role in the region’s festering conflicts. Some Palestinians are talking again about armed struggle. And Israeli officials, who say their censured military operations have been highly successful, are keeping track of a series of ticking clocks as they ponder still another military endeavor — against Iran.
The payoff from the use of force in the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is evident. It was only after the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s that Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization and started to consider a two-state solution, and after the second — and very bloody — uprising that it left Gaza in 2005.
Meanwhile for many Israelis, the past decade looks like a model of the primacy of military action over diplomacy. Through relentless commando operations and numerous checkpoints, the Israeli Army ended suicide bombings and other terrorist acts from the West Bank; since its 2006 war with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, widely dismissed as a failure at the time, the group has not fired one rocket at Israel; and Israel’s operation against Gaza last December has greatly curtailed years of Hamas rocket fire, returning a semblance of normality to the Israeli south.
Two years ago, Israeli fighter planes destroyed what Israel and the United States say was a budding Syrian nuclear reactor; and last year in Syria, Israeli agents assassinated Imad Mugniyah, the top Hezbollah military operative and a crucial link to its Iranian sponsors, a severe blow to both Hezbollah and Iran.
Diplomatic efforts, whether the Oslo peace talks of the 1990s or the Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria last year have, by contrast, produced little. Every Israeli military operation of recent years — including the December invasion of Gaza that was condemned Friday by the United Nations Human Rights Council by a vote of 25 to 6 and sent to the Security Council following a report by a committee led by Richard Goldstone — has come under international censure. Today all are viewed here as having been judged prematurely and unfairly but having delivered the goods — keeping Israel safe through deterrence.
Of course the military successes may be of limited value — a battle won but a war lost. The Palestinians may have driven Israel out of Gaza, but they ended up living in a vast network of barriers and military outposts of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and under harsh siege in Gaza.
And for Israel, while the country is today safer, quieter and more prosperous than ever, it is facing a severe diplomatic crisis. As the storm over the United Nations report on Israel’s attack on Gaza shows, not only are the country’s tactics under assault but so is its very legitimacy as calls for boycott and criminal prosecution grow. Its important relationship with Turkey, a moderate Muslim country, is under threat.
Ari Shavit, a columnist for the liberal newspaper Haaretz, wrote on Thursday that both Britain in 1917 and the United Nations in 1947 recognized the Jewish people’s right to establish a Jewish state. Yet “as Israel gets stronger, its legitimacy is melting away,” he wrote. “A national movement that began as ‘legitimacy without an entity’ is becoming ‘an entity without legitimacy’ before our very eyes.”
Many Israelis respond that their self-preservation comes ahead of their reputation, that the swiftness and harshness with which their actions are condemned show that the world judges them by a double standard. Others say the isolation looks worse abroad than here.
Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who leads Israel’s northern command, said in an interview that the border with Lebanon was “more peaceful than it has been since the 1960s.” Still, Israel’s enemies “want us gone, so they have pursued a two-part strategy — terror and delegitimization.”
He added that Hezbollah had more than 30,000 rockets in dozens of villages in southern Lebanon being held in reserve for retaliation against Israel should it attack Iran.
Israeli officials say no decision to attack Iran has been made, and they hope Iran’s nuclear program will be stopped by other means, like international sanctions.
But they say they believe that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the region will grow far more dangerous for Israel, spurring an arms race and offering immunity to Hezbollah and Hamas. And for Israel, whose unofficial motto is “Never Again,” denial of the Nazi Holocaust by Iran’s leaders and their rejection of Israel’s right to exist add up to an existential risk.
Israel is trying to determine the moment beyond which an attack on Iran would be ineffective. It knows an attack cannot end Iran’s nuclear program, only delay it by several years. And if Washington opposes taking military action, it will be very hard to do.
The first ticking clock Israel is watching is Iran’s enrichment of uranium. Although the process creates low-enriched uranium for electricity but not for weapons, the more low-enriched uranium Iran produces, the less time it will need to turn it into enough high-enriched uranium for a weapon. Israeli analysts say that if Iran were to decide to build a bomb, it would need about 10 months. But after another year of low enrichment, it would need half that time, and after a third year, even less.
Israel is also watching several other indicators of how long it can delay action. That list includes whether Iran bolsters its ability to withstand an attack by building and acquiring anti-aircraft systems and whether Israel’s own scientists can design a missile defense system that could shield the country from retaliation in the form of Hezbollah and Hamas rockets.
The other ticking clocks focus on internal Iranian politics — whether antigovernment sentiment after June’s election will lead to a slowing or end to the nuclear program — and on the American-led diplomatic process aimed at getting Iran to abandon the program. Those talks resume on Monday.
How fast any of the clocks are ticking is a matter of intense study here. If Iran’s program is stopped, Israel says, it will be far easier for it to make concessions that would lead to a Palestinian state on its border.
But many of its leaders add something else — over the long term, only the Israeli military’s presence on its borders can ensure the country’s survival. Diplomacy, they say, can only go so far and the Palestinian state will have to submit to severe restrictions on its military activities and pacts with foreign states.
For their part, the Palestinians reject such restrictions but have similar sentiments about the importance of force. Armed struggle remains central to Hamas doctrine; the rival Fatah movement says it remains an important option.