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Michael J. Totten: The Mood in Israel Now. The Mother of All Quagmires ^ | January 26, 2009 | Michael J. Totten

Posted on 01/27/2009 9:51:25 AM PST by Tolik

Michael is back from his brief visit to Israel: "Sorry I haven’t had time to write much in the last week. The American Jewish Committee scheduled back-to-back meetings from breakfast until dinner every day, and I took a token amount of time off to visit the Dead Sea for the first time with Max Boot and Mario Loyola. I met with Israeli military officers, academics, and journalists from the far-left to the far-right and at every point in between. Now that I’m home and can process everything I’ve learned, I can start writing again. Stay tuned. And thanks for your patience."


For the second year in a row Michael won the 2008 Weblog Awards in the Best Middle East or Africa Blog category.

Absolutely deservedly, IMO

2 articles so far, posted here together for your convenience:


The Mood in Israel Now

The mood in Israel during the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war is markedly different from the mood in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Things felt precarious and vulnerable then. Confidence in both the government and the military disintegrated. When Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared his “divine victory,” many, if not most, Israelis shuddered and thought he might be correct. This time, by contrast, I didn’t meet a single Israeli who thinks Hamas defeated the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere near finished, and the problems in Gaza will endure for a long time, but the Israeli military and government spent two and a half years intensely studying what went wrong in Lebanon in 2006 and corrected nearly all those mistakes. Most Israelis I spoke to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week feel a tremendous sense of relief and seem more at ease than they have been in years.

The results speak for themselves. The IDF wasn’t able to halt or even disrupt Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities in July and August of 2006, but Hamas’s ability to fire its own crude rockets was reduced by almost 75 percent. According to Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas fired 75 rockets per day at the beginning of the war, 35 rockets per day in the middle of the war, and only 20 rockets per day at the end. At the same time, Hamas was only able to inflict a tenth as many casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers as Hezbollah did in 2006. During the final ten days of the war, again according to Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas did not kill a single Israeli. Ismail Haniyeh’s predictable declaration of “victory” could hardly sound more empty if he delivered his boast from inside a prison cell.

I wouldn’t characterize the mood in Israel as optimistic. That would be a mistake. Few people I know in any Middle Eastern country feel optimistic about the future of their country or the region in general. But confidence in the Israeli government and military has been restored. While a final peace with the Arabs and Palestinians is as elusive as ever, most Israelis expect a period of relative quiet now that deterrence has been established on its eastern border with the West Bank, on its northern border with Lebanon, and on its southwestern border with Gaza.

The status quo balance of terror between Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah is less bad now than it was, and that’s as much as anyone should hope for in the Middle East. That may sound like a gloomy prognosis to Americans and Europeans, but it’s a relief to those who understand that no one knows how to map a way out.


The Mother of All Quagmires

I've just returned from a week-long trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Israel's border with Gaza, and I'm reminded all over again of what has been beaten into me during my many visits to the Middle East: there is no solution to the problems that vex that region right now. Most Americans are inherently optimistic and think just about any problem in the world can be solved. We put a man on the moon before I was born, but that was easy compared with securing peace between Israelis and Arabs.

The American Jewish Committee brought me and seven of my colleagues to Israel and set up interviews with Israeli military officers, politicians, academics, and journalists on the far-left, the far-right and at every point in between. One of my colleagues asked the eternal question during one of our meetings. “What is the solution to this problem?” He meant the Arab-Israeli conflict, of course, and the answer from our Israeli host was revealing in more ways than one. “You Americans are always asking us that,” he said and laughed darkly.

Americans aren't the only ones who have a hard time grasping the idea of an intractable problem. “Unfortunately we Westerners are impatient,” said an Israeli politician who preferred not to be named. “We want fast food and peace now. But it won't happen. We need a long strategy.” “Most of Israel's serious problems don't have a solution,” said Dr. Dan Schueftan, Director of National Security Studies at the University of Haifa. “Israelis have only recently understood this, and most foreign analysts still don't understand it.”

A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs, but that’s not an option. Most Arab governments at least implicitly say they will recognize Israel's right to exist inside its pre-1967 borders, but far too many Palestinians still won’t recognize Israel's right to exist even in its 1948 borders. Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist inside any borders at all.

“We will never recognize Israel,” senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan said before he was killed by an air strike in Gaza during the recent fighting. “There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination.”

Hamas does not speak for all Palestinians. I’ve met Palestinians who sincerely despise Hamas and everything it stands for. But let’s not kid ourselves here. Hamas speaks for a genuinely enormous number of Palestinians, and peace is impossible as long as that’s true. An-Najah University conducted a poll of Palestinian public opinion a few months ago and found that 53.4 percent persist in their rejection of a two-state solution.

Far too many Westerners make the mistake of projecting their own views onto Palestinians without really understanding the Palestinian narrative. The “occupation” doesn’t refer to the West Bank and Gaza, and it never has. The “occupation” refers to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A kibbutz in the center of Israel is “occupied Palestine” according to most. “It makes no sense to a Palestinian to think about a Palestinian state alongside Israel,” Martin Kramer from the Shalem Center in Jerusalem said to me a few days ago. “From the Palestinian perspective, Israel will always exist inside Palestine.”

“Making peace with the Palestinians is harder than making peace with other Arabs,” said Asher Susser, Senior Research Fellow at Tel Aviv University. “With the Palestinians we have a 1948 file as well as a 1967 file. With other Arabs we only have a 1967 file. The 1967 file relates to our size, but the 1948 file relates to our very being. It is nearly impossible to resolve because we cannot compromise on our being.”

The problem here isn't just with the worst of the violent rejectionists. Even the moderates on each side remain too far apart.

Fatah Party leader Mahmoud Abbas is clearly more moderate and reasonable than the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but even he can't compromise on the “right of return,” the so-far non-negotiable demand that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants from the 1948 war be allowed to return to settle in Israel. Israel would become an Arab-majority country if that were to happen, and most of the would-be arrivals have been radicalized in politically toxic refugee camps. The “right of return” would ignite a civil war worse than Lebanon’s.

Listen to Ran Cohen, Member of the Knesset for the left-wing Meretz Party and former leader of the Left Camp of Israel peace movement. “Even I refuse the right of return,” he said. “It's impossible. It's the opposite of a solution. Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and the others know our position on the right of return. Who are they going [to] negotiate this with? Not me, not Meretz, not Peace Now. Who? The Communist Party? Not even the radical left supports this.”

Palestinian right-of-returners aren’t the only ones to contend with. “We cannot look at Israel-Syrian talks or Israeli-Palestinian talks without looking at how Iran influences these talks,” said an Israeli intelligence officer who asked not to be named. “Iran has its fingers all over these talks. The situation is much more difficult now than it was in 2000.”

All wars end, and this mother of all quagmires will eventually end like the others. But the Middle East will have to change before it is solvable. President Barack Obama no doubt will pull out all the stops to broker a peace agreement no matter how bleak the prospects may look. There is something to be said for struggling against long odds, and an excessively negative attitude can be self-defeating. Perhaps it's even worth sponsoring a doomed peace process just to keep up appearances so the United States won’t be blamed when it continues to fail. But President Obama should take care to proceed as though failure – through no fault of his own – is the most likely outcome right now.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a cautionary note to Israelis in the New York Times that applies just as well to the Obama Administration. “There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation,” he wrote. “This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief. The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.”

Dan Schueftan made a similar point much more bluntly when I met him last week in Israel. “Ariel Sharon believed we could change the world by force,” he said. “Shimon Peres believed we could change it by being nice and stupid. They are both megalomaniacs.”

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Israel
KEYWORDS: gaza; hamas; israel; michaeljtotten; michaeltotten; palestinians
some interesting comments at the Commentary and his own websites
1 posted on 01/27/2009 9:51:26 AM PST by Tolik
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To: Lando Lincoln; neverdem; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; King Prout; SJackson; dennisw; ...


This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for the perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author all 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of the good stuff that is worthy of attention. You can see the list of articles I pinged to lately  on  my page.
You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about). Besides this one, I keep 2 separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson and Orson Scott Card.  

2 posted on 01/27/2009 9:53:24 AM PST by Tolik
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To: Tolik
There is only one way to appease the Palestinians. I believe we should give Hamas in Gaza nuclear weapons. And detonate them.

3 posted on 01/27/2009 9:59:18 AM PST by Starfleet Command
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To: Tolik

This is what brings Israel to its knees at the end-times, as described in the Bible, when they see everything as “lost” and no way out. That’s what God is bringing them, too — currently, in order to be prepared to receive the Messiah of Israel, when He returns to earth to set up His Kingdom on this earth, ruling and reigning on the Throne of David, in Jerusalem, over all the nations of the world....

4 posted on 01/27/2009 10:04:56 AM PST by Star Traveler
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To: Starfleet Command
Meh. Why burden the Israelis with the fallout?

This can be solved very nicely with about a thousand uparmored D9 Caterpillar dozers. They need the horsepower. Cat needs the work. Win-win.

Push 'em into the Med.

5 posted on 01/27/2009 10:07:28 AM PST by AngryJawa (Obama's Success is America's Failure)
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To: AngryJawa
This can be solved very nicely with about a thousand uparmored D9 Caterpillar dozers. They need the horsepower. Cat needs the work. Win-win.

Push 'em into the Med.

Looks like they're already there (this is a pic of D9's in Gaza):

6 posted on 01/27/2009 10:14:36 AM PST by Starfleet Command
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To: Starfleet Command
Looks like they're already there.

Drive West until you hit saltwater, Itzhak.

7 posted on 01/27/2009 10:20:14 AM PST by AngryJawa (Obama's Success is America's Failure)
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To: Tolik
If only Totten would stick to writing about the ME! It is here he has some power and knowledge -- although admittedly I am not sure that this post of his said much of anything of relevance.

But he is a basket case on the Balkans, where his articles can be summed up as, "Wow! Bosnia and Kosovo aren't Saudi Arabia (yet)!"

8 posted on 01/27/2009 10:51:28 AM PST by Bokababe (
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To: dennisw; Cachelot; Nix 2; veronica; Catspaw; knighthawk; Alouette; Optimist; weikel; Lent; GregB; ..
Middle East and terrorism, occasional political and Jewish issues Ping List. High Volume

If you'd like to be on or off, please FR mail me.

9 posted on 01/27/2009 10:55:05 AM PST by SJackson (The American people are wise in wanting change, 2 terms is plenty, Condi Rice)
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To: Tolik

Thanks for the ping.

10 posted on 01/27/2009 1:23:51 PM PST by GOPJ (Corrupt business decisions get bailed-out. Why should I play by the rules?FReeper-pierrem15)
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To: Tolik

“A clear majority of Israelis would instantly hand over the West Bank and its settlements along with Gaza for a real shot at peace with the Arabs”

show me the vote. I don’t believe him.

11 posted on 01/27/2009 4:00:12 PM PST by dervish (Gitmo, coming soon to a neighborhood near you)
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To: dervish

Oh I do. I’ve had some people tell me they would gladly give up their own houses for peace with the Arabs. Of course, it’s not their house that would actually be taken - just someone else’s - but it reflects their real desire of anything-for-peace.

The Israelis scream for peace at all costs, the Arabs scream for victory at all costs. Doesn’t look good.

12 posted on 01/27/2009 5:20:18 PM PST by forkinsocket
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To: forkinsocket

“some people” is not a “clear majority.” Stats show Israelis, even on the left, have learned the lessons of size and proximity to hostile fire.

13 posted on 01/27/2009 10:10:15 PM PST by dervish (Gitmo, coming soon to a neighborhood near you)
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To: dervish

No, most Israelis are willing to do anything for peace. Peace, peace, peace, that’s all we ever hear. & even if it pains them, they will end up giving more land when the next politician comes along & pushes them to do it. They always do. That’s because land for peace is the only plan that is ever offered. The right wing have no real plan other than opposition.

14 posted on 01/28/2009 2:48:32 AM PST by forkinsocket
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To: dervish

Sharon removed settlements from Gaza. It was painful and not unanimous. Its still painful (as far as I can tell from afar). But that became an accepted reality.

It used to be that the whole idea of a Palestinian state (I mean another one besides Jordan) was taboo and a very minority view. Its now a majority view in Israel - let them have a state and eat it too.

Israel gave up Sinai (with its oil). And Begin who did it is not considered a criminal or idiot, so the country accepted the deal.

I think that if there was a real partner who could deliver on promises of stopping violence, Israeli would do ANY painful thing required (short of return of Arabs into the Israeli proper - that is suicide, and even Meretz and communists do not support that).

15 posted on 01/28/2009 4:55:31 AM PST by Tolik
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To: Tolik

Gaza and the West Bank are very different. West Bank includes East Jerusalem. West Bank is within spitting distance of major Israeli population centers.

The ‘if’ in your syllogism is an insurmountable barrier since no one can promise it today let alone guarantee it tomorrow. We are not talking about the civilized world with our moral standards. We are talking about a culture/religion that recommends lying and traitorous dealings.

16 posted on 01/28/2009 10:44:48 AM PST by dervish (Gitmo, coming soon to a neighborhood near you)
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To: dervish

As far as I know, we have same opinion on the matter. So, allow me to exercise in splitting hair: your point earlier was that you want to see electoral majority proof that Israelis will give up land for peace, specifically in the West bank. My point was that in some land-for-peace deals previously, and in changing attitudes on so many old taboo issues, Israelis demonstrated flexibility. The whole Totten’s conjecture was hypothetical. Because, as you say, and I say - there is nobody to agree with. But Israelis would jump on the real opportunity of final peace.

As it stands now, the best they can do is to maintain the deterrence and reputation (looks like now restored) of tough fighters that will do what’s necessary, when one needs to think twice before attacking them. Most likely when all settles down, Hamas will continue to send rockets to Israel in some limited quantity, recognizing that when they cross some invisible line, Israel will repeat this last military exercise.

17 posted on 01/28/2009 11:32:01 AM PST by Tolik
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To: dervish

Yeah, and to add to my last post, the exercise in hypothetical is not totally useless. I use it in arguments with critics of Israel to prove a bigger point that regardless of specific minute details when Israel may be in the wrong here and there, if we indeed want to see the forest and not the trees, the big picture is that Arabs need to prove their willingness for peace. Israel did its part and will do again. In the mean time, the critics of Israel should face the reality that while its easier and safer to criticize Israel for anything, its pointless, because there will be no peace until Arabs will stop trying to kill the Jews.

18 posted on 01/28/2009 11:43:40 AM PST by Tolik
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To: Tolik

Yes we do mostly agree.

Let me explain that my objection to Totten’s comment was that it was too broad and encompassing - how much of the West Bank for one thing. Also his timing is wrong. Israelis now appear on the verge of expressing their dissatisfaction with the Appeasenik land for peace swappers (Kadima, Livni, Olmert) by electing a Likud guy, Netanyahu, who says no deals now and I warned you not to give back Gaza then.

So when Totten makes this comment he appears either tone deaf or trying to influence the election away from the party opposed to giving back land.

Also Jerusalem has never been a card Israelis are willing to deal. Nor the Golan.

19 posted on 01/28/2009 11:59:47 AM PST by dervish (Gitmo, coming soon to a neighborhood near you)
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