Israel at 60: Hubertus Hoffmann on a new Double Strategy of Power and Reconciliation
After a look from the Jordan side towards Israel (see Inside Jordan: Hubertus Hoffmann meets the Islamic Rose and a Prince of Wisdom and Tolerance) and back into the past and the future of the Broader Holy Land, now the helicopter of the Israel Project (www.theisraelproject.org) takes me on an Intellicopter Tour over Jerusalem, the West Bank, the newly built fence, and on to a look over the Gaza strip and along the coast line of Ashquelon, Ashdod and Tel Aviv to get a fresh bird’s-eye perspective of the land and its security problems.
From the air this land looks peaceful and prosperous. Good roads, many of them in better shape than the streets of New York City, nice housing complexes with trees, orange farms and a gorgeous sea line. Tel Aviv with its relaxed beach life and Haifa look much like Cannes in France or Barcelona in Spain. Indeed Israel has been safe now for two years without suicide bomb attacks in the cities. It is worth visiting and getting a personal first-hand impression of Israel, Palestine and its people.
But still, Israel remains the main spotlight for numerous political tensions in the Middle East.
The Gaza Strip: Threat and Options for Peace
In 2005 the former Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to leave the coastal Gaza strip to the Palestinians and withdraw all Israeli settlements there. This generally good step from a Great Israel to a Focused Israel was unfortunately totally mismanaged by the government and its main allies in the White House, National Security Council and State Department. Instead of using the land for peace as a gesture of reconciliation with the Palestinians who lived there, the houses of the settlers were destroyed. Only after protests from the Rabbis were the 20 deconsecrated Synagogues not demolished, but later on they were destroyed anyway out of revenge. The document of the details of this withdrawal is the worst paper in foreign affairs management I have ever seen in more than 20 years by any democratic country (see Israel-Palestine: Hubertus Hoffmann on a New Peace Strategy combining Hawk & Dove, Uzi & Olive Branch). Instead of more security it produced much less. The withdrawal was a lost victory and in the end produced within a very short time only a Hamas victory and a rain of more than 3,600 rockets (primitive but still effective al-Qassam 1 and 2 rockets with 3-9 km range and more sophisticated Katyusha rockets with 22 km range) and mortars on the border areas of Sderot and Ashquelon. 14 Israeli citizens have been killed and 450 injured. Among the killed were the 2-year-old baby Dorit Inso as well as the two 4-year-old boys Yuval Abebah and Afik Zahavi. Hamas is piling up its military stocks and has smuggled more than 130 tons of explosives into the Gaza strip mainly through tunnels from Egypt.
What should be done?
- The targeting of civilians from Gaza – after Israel gave back this territory to the Palestinians – is not acceptable for any country in the world. It is not even allowed under Islamic law and the teaching of jihad, which forbids targeting civilians under any circumstances and allows attacks on military personal only when they attack directly – not after they have withdrawn (for details see Let us promote the Human Codes of Tolerance and Respect now !)
- Either there can be a peaceful solution or a military answer is unavoidable. An occupation of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is the very last option, much better a sealing of the border to Egypt along the California line to prevent the smuggling of arms. Israel’s best choice would be a new double strategy of military containment and reconciliation with the population there. The people of Gaza have now become more and more hostages of Hamas, sick of the enormous loss of quality of life. When Hamas wanted to organize a large demonstration at the Karni and Nehel Oze border crossing points, too few citizens of Gaza showed up and the demonstration only weeks ago had to be canceled. Hamas not only killed and threatened Fatah members but also want to establish an Iran-style totalitarian model which does not fit to the history and lifestyle of the Palestinians there at all.
- Therefore the priority must be to separate the few radicals and Hamas from the majority of peace-loving people with a policy of reconciliation now. The first step is the new cease-fire and the second to pump all kinds of connections and influences into Gaza, not to isolate it any more, and a political strategy of friendship. This should be combined with free elections every two years including new parties established in Gaza and the West Bank with fresh new faces and hope – the counter model to the hate propaganda of Hamas. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should take the lead and Pakistani UN soldiers with a mandate by the UN. Gaza and the West Bank need a Palestinian “Barack Obama” type of fresh politician who is credible, who has neither stolen money for his own bank account in Switzerland nor is focused on killing civilians but can give the Holy Land a Holy Plan for a better future now. His legitimacy must come out of a credible fresh campaign. Palestine needs a Third Force – a little like paralyzed Italy – which is neither the grey-haired bureaucrats of Fatah who lost credibility in past, nor the Hamas totalitarian bureaucrats with their narrow-minded black and white world view and no track record in human rights and a better economy or life. There are several Palestinians outside Palestine who would fit this job description and could do the patriotic job for their land and their people. We have to find them now and support their rapid rise to power, backed by the majority of now hopeless young people in Palestine. The slogan could be “Jobs, Freedom and Future for the People” – something Hamas can not offer at all.
- To prepare the soil for such a new Palestinian leader and new democratic organization and election campaign you need time and a mood of the people to accept a positive image for their future, a choice between Katyusha and jobs, between al-Qassam missiles and kindergartens and schools. Israel needs desperately not only battle plans for wars but also battle plans for reconciliation. The well-being of the people in Gaza is in favor of that new peace strategy and not the opposite.
- The discussed joint Hamas-Fatah government and reconciliation between those enemies sounds nice but will only lead to a larger Hamas victory as Hamas will take over step by step more positions in the Palestine Authority (PA) and at the end will totally squeeze Fatah out of the PA.
The Fence between Israel and the West Bank
Flying over the so called West Bank anti-Terrorism Security Fence, which is preventing terrorists from entering Israel from the West Bank, you can see what this means for Israelis and Palestinians. The planed 730 km-long fence, of which half is completed, is the conditio sine qua non for the safety of Israel as, since the first stage of building was completed in 2004, there have been no more major suicide bomb attacks in Israel. When the Palestinian Intifada started in late 2000 more than 500 Israelis had died until 2004. The fence is the answer to the Intifada and forced down all its power within a very short time. The fence broke the terrorists’ neck. But only insofar as this containment instrument is combined with a kind of active no-tolerance policy and intelligence operations versus terrorist leaders in the West Bank and close secret cooperation with the security forces of the Palestine Authority can it remain successful. Several thousand terrorist leaders are known, registered and many detained and therefore the snake has no head left. In 2007 alone the IDF discovered and confiscated more than 300 firearms, 223 sites of ammunition, 150 Improvised Explosive Devices, 21 explosives, 30 mortar shells and six suicide belts in the West Bank.
The fence itself is unspectacular if you compare it with the brutal 1,300-km long fence systems on GDR soil and the wall in Berlin until 1989. 93 percent is only a single non-barbed wire signal fence with signal-sensors, and no mines, border towers and dogs like in the GDR, in addition to a soil strip which detects footprints and a small road which can hardly be seen. Only seven percent is a concrete wall, and only in those places where snipers could hit Israeli vehicles on the nearby roads, as they have done in the past. The fence is not always on the Green Line but where a committee of Israeli security specialists deemed it appropriate. At the narrowed wasp’s waist of Israel east of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is the Ben-Gurion International Airport, the main hub for Israel. As the SA 7b (Strela.2M) anti-air missiles could strike the in-and outgoing airliners from the nearby territory of Rantis in the West Bank, the security fence reaches several miles deep into Palestinian territory. It includes several doors for Palestinian farmers to reach their land west of the fence, as well.
The Israeli High Court of Justice has required the IDF to improve the path of the fence six times since 2003. Still there are 40 pending petitions, which shows a respect of the Israeli law system for the demands of the Palestinians, as well.
The line of the fence will not be the border of a new Palestine state and the fence can be reduced – like in Germany – when true peace prevails. But the fence will be needed for the future, maybe with private security and under Palestinian authority as well.
At the Eliyahu checkpoint at the road between Tel Aviv-Netanya and Nablus I watched for a long time how the Israeli army treated the Palestinians who are moving into Israel and back into Palestine. 5,000 to 6,000 people pass here each day. If you want to enter Israel you have to have an ID and written permission.
The Palestinians are checked in one lane and the Israeli citizens in a second one. The Israelis get in quicker, but the Palestinians only need approx. five minutes to be checked. The Israeli border men and women treat the Palestinians exactly like we all are checked at international airports now.
What can be the options for the West Bank and the PA for the future?
- As for Gaza, Palestine needs a young new dynamic leader and a new fresh third political force to win peace. Fatah is burned out, a traditional organization of grey old men with too much money in Switzerland and too little charisma and credibility at home. A peace contract with them can be a hollow shell and a lost victory. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas should appoint a new leader as Prime Minister and a man of hope for his people. The current Prime Minister Fajad is without charisma and political visions, just a nice former bureaucrat from the World Bank. The decision by 40 states at the Berlin conference last month to support the PA with another € 156m to build up law and justice organizations there, is by far not enough and like pooring water into sand without a new leadership and elite in Palestine who share the main ideas like the West and the Gulf states. At the Paris conference in December last year, 90 countries promised to fund the PA with USD 7.4 bn until 2010. USD 840 have arrived, mainly from the EU and are already almost spent. Especially the Arab states have made promises but have not sent the money yet.
- Without the support of the IDF and the Israel General Security Service (Shin Bet) the Fatah leadership could be wiped out by Hamas within weeks. So any peace contract must implement the establishment of a new fresh leadership, at best without U.S. involvement and more European and Saudi support. Not an Israeli and U.S. puppet but an independent new leader. This should be combined with a large elite promotion program for Palestine and an integration of the territory in a special economic zone with the EU including Israel. Essential is to win the hearts and minds of the very young new generation in Palestine.
- The fence in combination with active security measures in the West Bank will be needed for maybe the next five years. But Israel should declare to tear down the fence section by section if after more than 12 months no suicide bomb attacks have taken place. Some border security can be taken over effectively by private security firms.
- Most of the 120,000 settlers in the West Bank must withdraw to Israel, implementing the ideas of the Camp David proposal of former Prime Minister and now Defence Minister Ehud Barak from 2000. This will include giving back up to 97 percent of the territory to the PA, and maybe offering three percent of Israeli land in exchange.
Jerusalem: The Holy City of Peace
There is no other place in the world which is honored by three religions and more than 2.5 bn believers than Jerusalem, the city of God.
God does not belong to Jews or Muslims or Christians, but all who believe in him.
God’s city therefore by its nature cannot be exclusively Jewish – it belongs to all mankind. It also does not belong to Palestine and the Muslims. Or to the Christians. All three fought for control over it: the crusaders, the Muslims, the Jews. Should this continue forever?
It is not only logical but also a matter of respect to God to share this city and never exclude but include all three religions and believers.
The Great Israel idea of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is just as ahistoric and unrealistic as the demand for Jerusalem as the united capital of Palestine. Both states should, out of respect to God, withdraw these demands and focus on capitals outside the old town and center of Jerusalem. Both states should seek capitals in West and East Jerusalem, respectively.
Like the mainly Jewish and Arab dominated parts of the outer city – which looks from the helicopter like one very large metropolitan area – Israel and Palestine should be responsible for the Western and Eastern part and leave the center neutral. This was part of the Ehud Barak plan in Camp David and is still the best proposal for the Holy City.
Only a respected shared status of the Old City of Jerusalem with the Wailing Wall for the Jews, the Church of the Resurrection for the Christians and the Dome of the Rock for the Muslims makes historical sense and would produce stability.
It will include removing the Star of David flags of Israel from the Wailing Wall and all houses where Jews have moved in, and a master plan of internationalization and reconciliation of the heart of Jerusalem. In part, reality is close by and this step could become the strongest symbol of reconciliation and respect between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The idea of “physical control” of the holy places by states and nations or religions is a historical break in this Holy Land which in essence had been pluralistic and tolerant to other ethnic minorities and religions for many hundreds of years. The teaching of Christianity and of the Prophet himself was one of respect for the other monolithic religions – to include and not exclude the People of the Book.
When a Christian delegation visited the Prophet Muhammad in his very modest first mosque in Medina he invited them to pray in the mosque on one side and he and the Muslims prayed on the other. When another Christian delegation arrived he visited their prayers to God as a gesture of respect.
Jerusalem needs a coming back to the respectful and tolerant roots of the three religions – the aggressive exclusion is a severe sin towards their beloved God.
Technically, a Jerusalem Authority could control the Old City, influenced by representative residents from the three religions and internationally monitored by one or more neutral states like Switzerland or Jordan.
Syria: the next Peace ahead?
The secret negotiations between Israel and Syria about a peace treaty – sponsored by Turkey – have gone much further than the public has noticed. The main reason is the national interest of Syria. Geo-political Syria is now sandwiched between Israel in the South, Iraq in the West and Turkey in the North and has no long-term future. The Hezbollah in Lebanon and its main ally Iran are in the end becoming a fundamental threat towards the old system of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as their political ideas and ideological fundaments fit together like fire and water. Either Syria will emancipate itself from Iran or the Iranian revolution will eat its Syrian child sooner or later.
Lebanon: The Cedar Revolution will prevail
In the longer term, the now successful and aggressive Hezbollah in Lebanon will lose and the Cedar Revolution will prevail. Several strong initiatives may wear down Hezbollah’s standing in Lebanon in some years: a change in Damascus with more distance away from Tehran, more involvement of the Sunni Saudis and the Gulf States, strong European and U.S. support of the Beirut government and a reconciliation policy from Israel.
One of the two fundamental mistakes of Israel in the last years has been the Lebanon war, which only bolstered the reputation of the Hezbollah and its influence. It proved again to too many Lebanese that this militia seems to be needed for the defense of the motherland. Israel forgot the main security lesson of asymmetric warfare: always separate, as the number one priority, the majority of peaceful people from the few enemies.
Iran and the A-Bomb Threat
A Machiavellian or Bismarckian policy by Israel toward Iran would in the end keep the pressure of a military option in place but combine it with a double strategy of forward diplomacy and the strengths of nuclear deterrence. Right now there is no credible Iran strategy but an inflaming of the nuclear threat. Israel should impress this arch enemy by coolness and strength.
Of course the old Israeli security dogma had been “strike first before you are hit”. This was the right strategy in the wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973, but those were conventional wars versus larger armies, air forces and navies.
The atomic power play has different rules (see for more details the analysis in Hubertus Hoffmann, “Atomkrieg-Atomfrieden”, 1980 and “Die Atompartner. Washington Bonn und die Modernisierung der taktischen Kernwaffen”, 1986).
Even if Iran goes nuclear, Israel will be safe as the nuclear deterrence from its (as yet unacknowledged) nuclear program is credible.
With approx. 150 nuclear warheads – several of them based on the two brand new German HDW-built submarines with can not be wiped out during sea cruises, and plenty of nuclear-capable bombers – Israel can destroy Iran within hours if it is attacked. Israeli deterrence is strong and credible. There is no threat of a nuclear Holocaust as Tehran’s dictator would be killed and Iran totally annihilated. He, his radical followers and his generals know this very well. Deterrence means: whoever shoots first dies second. The Holocaust was only possible and manageable by Adolf Hitler because the Jews did not have such a strong retaliation option but were helpless and powerless objects of a totalitarian power and a mad man. The threat of a nuclear Holocaust by Tehran is close to zero.
Second, the threat of the use of an A-bomb against Israel to kill Jews is nonsense. A full 20 percent (1.46m) of the 7.2m Israeli citizens are Arab Muslims, and the land is so small that Iran’s President cannot only kill Jews but also the 1.46m Israeli Arabs and, from the deadly fall-out, several million Muslims in the neighboring states of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The final dynamics following the building of a nuclear capability by Iran may even improve the strategic situation of Israel in general – Machiavelli would like this idea.
Here is how the process will work: Saudi Arabia has signed a secret deal with Pakistan last year to receive enough nuclear weapons only months after Tehran has announced its capacity. Egypt will join the Middle East A-Club some years later. And the super rich Gulf states will be scared but covered under the Saudi nuclear umbrella as allies in the GCC. The Sunni giants will wake up for the first time and will with the GCC take over more political responsibility for security and stability in the region as the Saudis and Gulf states will be threatened in their existence for the first time. On the other side they all know that tiny Israel does not want to threaten them with their nuclear weapons to gain territory – it is just too small to conquer it.
The end game of the A-bomb check play of Tehran will be less and not more influence for Iran. The provocation of the Saudis and Gulf states will backfire and Hamas and Hezbollah will be the first victims of this miscalculation.
So, what should be the Iran A-Strategy now?
- Always keep the military option open – but you do not have to use it. Keep it only as the ultima ratio Regis.
- The risks to Israel from conducting an air strike, which had been practiced by more than 100 Israeli planes last month in Cyprus, are immense because of effective anti-aircraft defense and too many locations. A strike in the end can only delay the bomb by a few years.
- If Israel or the U.S. bomb Iran, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be very, very pleased. The act will stabilize his radical influence, and he will be re-elected. The moderates will lose.
- An attack will inflame anti-Israel emotions in the Arab world and maybe delay or stop the peace process with Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.
- Israel, the U.S. and maybe also the Saudis should better focus on a tit-for-tat plan and implementing asymmetric intelligence operations in Iran against the very radical forces and the A-bomb program.
- Top priority is not the A-bomb but to neutralize Hamas and Hezbollah with a new double strategy of hawk and dove, uzi and olive-branch. This would be a real strategic defeat for Iran.
- A new focus on active regime change in Iran co-funded by the GCC. Full support for all kinds of better connections to the military, politics, culture and sports to isolate the super hawkish Iranian President Ahmadinejad and support more moderates like Parliament speaker Ali Larijani. Focus on the young generation which looks for a better future and Western life-style like in Dubai.
- Calculate and maybe also use effective economic sanctions, for example on refined gasoline.
- Let the Russians and the Chinese get the hot A-potatoes out of the fire. Why should they only profit, stand aside, make money or get oil contracts and not be taken more responsible for an A-bomb-free Iran which is as dangerous to them as to Israel and Europe? Until now the Western approach had been to leave Russia and China out – a strategy which is convenient only for them.
- Portray the Iranian President as he is: a crazy and dangerous despot with no track record in improving the life of the people in the streets and isolate him. Make him ridiculous (learn from the “Great Dictator”, Charlie Chaplin’s ingenious parody of Hitler in the 1930’s) and the Iranian people – who already dislike Ahmadinejad – will understand this message.
Priorities: The future can be better for Israel and Palestine under some conditions:
- Israel – founded by emigrants, out of sand and with blood and tears – must now reach a new level of survival strategy: not only a military focus on tactics versus terrorists and Arab enemies, as this is a dead end road, but a new cooperative vision for the whole region and a new double strategy of power and reconciliation. Israel must plan the second pillar of soft peace-making with as much energy as the traditional first one and not discredit this as naïve, weak and soft. Hawk and Uzi can not produce perpetual peace in the Holy Land alone.
- Out of this new vision must come a more open and friendly cooperation and later peaceful friendship with the Arabs in Israel and outside in Palestine, Lebanon or Jordan. Israel will be safe only when it is able to separate the majority of peaceful Arab neighbors from the few radical elements, and when reconciliatory progress between Judaism and Islam is successfully implemented. The majority for peace among Paletinians is clear: in Palestine 83 percent of the population support the cease-fire with Israel, and 56 percent oppose suicide bombings, according to a June 18th poll by PCPO. Israel must reach out to the Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors.
- The focus of Israel, the U.S., the EU and the GCC should be on establishing a credible, progressive third political power besides Hamas and Fatah and a Palestinian “Barack Obama” in Palestine, appointed as a new Prime Minister. 54 percent of the Palestinians are dissatisfied with President Abbas (PCPO); clearly, a new force is needed.
- Support for a peace agreement along the lines of Ehud Barak’s Camp David plan from 2000 will mean a fair give and take between Israel and the PA.
- Syria and Lebanon should be seen as new partners in peace. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states must actively support this process.
- Israel must keep a credible defense and nuclear deterrence capability and a booming economy as well. It should also offer its world-class know-how in renewable energy and water management to Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, start joint ventures and build up local village and city partnerships between them.
- Israel must start a fresh reconciliation process and show much more respect for its Arab citizens, the Palestinians and the many refugees from its territory. Knowing that a return for them will not be possible, Israel must now reach out its hand and heart for reconciliation with them and support their life. (see Christian Peace Policy: Combating Ideology and Nationalism with a "Thoughtful Heart and a Loving Mind") Currently, 89 percent of the Palestinians oppose a waiver of the right of return (PCPO), an unsolved ticking time bomb. The official Israeli language that the Arab leaders seduced the Palestinians into fleeing is not precise and not satisfactory. The argument that more than 700,000 oriental Jews had to flee from Arab states, on the other hand, is true. But needed now are real signs of respect and reconciliation. This must be better understood as Israel is largely a land of refugees, itself. A limited number of Palestinians should, for humanitarian reasons, receive the right of return into Israel (limited to 100,000). The remaining 600,000 (of the originally 700,000 who left as refugees with now 4m relatives) will get a more symbolic compensation of $ 5000 for each family by a new $ 3bn Palestine Reconciliation Fund. Even more important than cash is to give them justice and offer credible signs of reconciliation from the Israeli side. This should be the new moral fundament for a stable peace in the Holy Land – needed now for 60 years – as well as to isolate the terrorists and make Israel safe for the next 60 years and beyond.