The old ‘iron wall’ strategy is beginning to fail Israel

Tony Karon writes: Mowing the lawn. That’s how some Israeli securocrats described their recent air-strike campaign in Gaza. Periodic bombardment won’t eliminate Hamas or resolve the conflict, but they hope to re-establish a temporary deterrent against militant rocket fire.

Callousness aside, the metaphor shows that Israel has no political strategy for dealing with the challenge posed by Hamas in Gaza. Nor, for that matter, does it have any strategy for dealing with the efforts of President Mahmoud Abbas, who tomorrow takes his quest for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood to the General Assembly.

The Israelis may not drop bombs on Ramallah, but neither have they offered Mr Abbas any credible pathway for ending the occupation through diplomatic petitioning.

Pathological as it may seem, Israel’s leaders are following a long-term survival strategy based on blasting the Palestinians into temporary submission, while strengthening their defences for a renewal of hostilities they see as inevitable.

On the wall of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office hangs a portrait of Zeev Jabotinsky, ideological forefather of his Likud Party. In his 1923 pamphlet The Iron Wall, Jabotinsky warned that it was Israel’s fate to be perpetually at war. “That the Arabs of the Land of Israel should willingly come to an agreement with us is beyond all hopes and dreams,” Jabotinsky wrote, because native peoples have always resisted the arrival of foreign settlers to claim their land. “As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living.”

As a result, Jabotinsky warned, Israel would have to be created unilaterally, behind an impregnable “iron wall” of military force – only once it had been brutally demonstrated to to the Palestinians that resistance was futile and that they had been utterly defeated, he argued, would they be willing to accept the diminished status Israel could then offer them. “A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left.”

In that spirit, Israeli military doctrine has long rested on aggressive “deterrence”, unleashing overwhelming force against any challengers. From the raids on nationalist Palestinian villages that made Moshe Dayan an Israeli hero in 1948 to Ariel Sharon’s Unit 101, which bludgeoned Palestinian villages suspected of housing fedayeen fighters in the 1950s, “deterrence” has meant imposing a prohibitive cost on the entire Palestinian population for any resistance. The same logic has driven recent Israeli policy on Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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