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Hamas and Israel

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

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The Hamas Ceasefire ended this week (last week December, 2008). Hamas began firing unguided missiles from Gaza into Israel. This dialogue is a result. It began with this from View:

Israel and Hamas

Israel isn't going to eject Hamas from Gaza, and the Israeli government hasn't a chance of making any key concession that Hamas will accept. Hamas would have extended their cease fire practically forever in return for some control over their own destiny -- such as Israel relaxing the blockade so that Gaza could import fuel oil directly rather than having to buy it from Israeli concessionaires who control both the amount and price of fuel. It would cost Israel to have customs houses that merely search imports for contraband (like rockets); but one wonders if that would not be cheaper than maintaining the blockade and thus leaving Hamas little to negotiate about. When Israel evacuated Gaza (and blew up the settlements rather than leave them for the Palestinians reclaiming the land the settlements occupied) they did not give sovereignty to Gaza, nor did they give Gaza much control over its territory. The blockade remained, and equally importantly the Israeli monopoly on fuel remained.

Hamas won't concede Israel a right to exist. The Koran forbids peace with the Infidels. The Koran does not, however, forbid truces -- a ceasefire. I am no expert on Hamas and the way its leaders think, but Pournelle's Iron Law applies to Hamas -- and to the Likud as well. Hamas can't concede actual peace to Israel without losing its reason for existence. The Israeli politicians can't concede anything meaningful -- like the right to import fuel without letting a whole string of people wet their beaks in the income stream from the fuel monopoly -- without appearing to be "soft on Hamas".

Much of this was inevitable once the Israelis failed in their invasion of Lebanon, and thus consolidated Hizbollah as a legitimate part of the Lebanese government (for a discussion of that, see my dialogue with Joel Rosenberg). (For an earlier discussion of the Israel situation, see Is Israel Finished.) The Lebanon excursion sent the message that there is a limit to the Israeli will; hard fighting, endurance, courage, and iron will can cause Israel to flinch. That wasn't the message intended by the Lebanon excursion, and certainly wasn't what Israel intended when they humiliated the Lebanese Army and pretty well castrated the Pinetree Revolution, but it does seem to be the major result.

Once again, Israeli politicians swear war to the knife against Hamas. I suspect the result of this confrontation will not be the demise of Hamas; and if Hamas survives it will emerge stronger no matter how many casualties the Israelis inflict. For every actual Hamas agent killed there will be several unintended victims; the world press will continue to headline those casualties as innocent victims; the famous teddy bear will appear on front pages showing dead children; and there will be new recruits to Hamas.

The Israeli blockade has not prevented Hamas from getting rockets to fire at Israel; but any concession on the blockade which might persuade Hamas to extend their truce will be political death for the Israeli politician who negotiates it.

I will ask Joel Rosenberg, whose opinions I respect and who follows events over there much more closely than I do, to comment on this.

Joel comments:

As invited . . .

Where things are

I'm not going with the prevailing wisdom when I say that this: this isn't Israel getting serious about Hamas, but simulating it. Almost all signs are it's nothing more than that.

Years ago, in one of our discussions, I wrote:

The Gaza border is straight and well-defended; increasing use of counterbattery fire and decreasing worry about the fate of the Gazan human body armor can handle the missiles whenever there's a will.

While the Gaza fence has keep the shahids out -- just like the other one is doing -- it does nothing to stop the missiles, and the artillery is quiet.

Granted, there are elements that are obviously intended to convey seriousness. The news reported one instance, complete with secondary explosions, of Israel is not letting Hamas use a mosque as an ammo dump -- that's unprecedented, as far as I can tell.

But one attack on one ammo dump is not a change of course.

The gloves haven't come off. In the initial attacks, the numbers look something like 300 terrorists killed along with something like 20 civilians. Part of that was the element of surprise, of course, but in a city as tightly packed as Gaza City, and given the tradition of terrorists hiding among civilians, that means that a whole lot of targets were passed up; far as I can tell, it was mainly an attack on infrastructure -- smuggling tunnels, various HQs, training camps, with the odd symbol (like Haniyah's offices) thrown in. Lots of hits in the Philadelphi corridor; weapons resupply from Egypt appears to have been shut down, on the Gaza side; unsurprisingly, the total Egyptian activity has been to keep the Gazans bottled in, opening fire on the few who managed to escape.

This is a raid, not a war; fewer than 500 terrorists killed, so far, and senior Hamas people are hiding out in hospitals and mosques with impunity.

For good or ill -- and for reasons principled and/or political -- it's clear that Israel is more concerned about the fate of the Gazan human body armor than Hamas is.

Short term stuff

Okay, let's start with what isn't going to happen: Israel isn't going to be giving the death blow to Hamas in this. It's foolish for Olmert to say so and not mean it. The smartest thing to say would have been, "we'll let you know what our objectives are when we have accomplished them," and left it at that. (This if, of course, only possible in a democracy for an elected leader with a whole lot of political capital to spend; he has none.)

If Hamas is going to be conquered, it's going to be done by Fatah/PLO, under Abbass, after the IDF stomps them enough. (I think he'd be stupid to, but, I'll get back to that; that's not going to happen over the next couple of weeks, in any case.)

In the short run, what's going to happen is obvious: a replay of the last reprisals on Gaza, but with some ruffles and flourishes. That was the notion of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, after all -- Gaza would be free to go to hell in its own way without Israeli interference, as long as they kept their problems to themselves.

We're not going to see heavy terrorist body counts, and that's going to be a lack of will, not targets.

It's a lack of will, not of intel or munitions. Israel doesn't have to have great intel inside Gaza to look for additional targets, now that they've used up a few hundred of the easy ones. The Gazans are doing that for them; one NPR correspondent explained that he, like everybody else, has his family sleep in the part of their home furthest away from the Hamas outpost next door. Nighttime IR would map out thousands more targets. That's not going to happen.

I think that, for political reasons more than as military ones, infantry has to go in over the next week, on basically a land component of the raid. The Hamasholes have been talking about how they're eager to meet the Israeli soldiers one on one, and it's important for lots of reasons that this doesn't seem to turn into Operation Not Nearly Enough, Part II. The IDF must inflict large numbers of casualties while receiving very few; everybody knows that math. (Doesn't mean that they can't go in through the minefields, but they do have to clear them quickly and explosively.)

By the time Obama takes office, the ground forces will be back out, and it'll settle down to the status quo ante: Hamas will keep launching missiles at Israel, just at a reduced level, and, with "hudnah" (an old, traditional Muslim thing) and "tahdiah" (a new invention) used up, will coin a new euphemism for "truce-like thing we don't really mean", and Israel will respond more or less tepidly, while the situation in the ground continues to get worse and worse; the demographics haven't changed, and the smuggling economy will take weeks and months to reestablish itself, not days.

It's not much like Lebanon, actually, despite the muted cheering from various Arab factions -- like, say, the Saudis and Egyptians -- who have as little use for Hamas as they do for Hezbollah, and for much of the same reasons.

Medium Run

Let's face it, when we're talking about the leadership of Hamas, we are talking about the stupidest people on the planet.

This was just about the worse time to piss off Israel, for all sorts of reasons. Among the minor ones is that the lessons of the military mistakes in Lebanon have had time to percolate into operational changes (we won't see tanks moving along defensive lines, but crashing through; along the fence, Hamas "activists" are busy burying mines as I write); among the major ones is that the planned rescue from the US administration is, well, quite a ways away . . . assuming, as they are (and as I am) that The One will be more like the Bush/Baker regime was into trying to push Israel into counterproductive concessions than the Bush/Cheney administration has been.

And unless I'm seriously misreading the state of mind of the Israeli polity, Khalen Mashal and Bashar Al-Asaad have just elected Bibi Netanyahu as Israeli PM, and turned Gaza back over to Abbas, if he's stupid enough to take it back.

Tellingly, with the blood of their own people not on their hands quite so much this time, Fatah is showing some interest in the fate of the human body armor. In the past, we wouldn't have seen this on PA TV: 

"I say Hamas is the cause, in the first place, of all wars."

Yeah. And that's interesting. It's may be just the first step, but that, and all the other things that MEMRI's pointing to at  may be not just Fatah cutting Hamas loose (no surprise), but the Arabs of Judea and Samaria cutting their Gaza brethren loose . . .

. . . and that would be something new. And wise of them. But it's probably not happening. Something is, though.

I wrote, above, about Gazans unwittingly targeting Hamas for the IDF. The PLO is doing it, actively.

Some years ago, you pointed a Goldberg column out to me. Here's Goldberg today:

.... Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information.... "Let the Israelis kill them," he said. "They've brought only trouble for my people."

And that's not the only report. Fatah has not only given the IDF its blessing to attack Hamas, but is providing targeting data.

Okay, sure, first approximation: "the enemy of my enemy is my ally, at least for now". There's lots of talk that the big winner in this is Abbas: he gets to retake Gaza, one way or another, in the wake of this.

If you accept the principle that "the Arabs never miss and opportunity to miss an opportunity," then he will at least try to, and Hamas will try to stop him.

Foolish on both counts.

Let's back up a second. In previous discussions, we've gone into the demographics of Gaza and the PA. By cutting themselves off from the West Bank PA kleptocracy, the Gazans have worsened their own situation, hard as that is to believe. I used to write about a million Arabs on land that might support 50,000; now, there's half again as many, and the land hasn't stretched any -- it's still a third the size of the Los Angeles (the city, not the county), with a greater population density. (Imagine LA's problems if it didn't produce anything that anybody outside wanted except a credible promise of a cessation of missile fire.)

By cutting Gaza loose -- and perhaps finding a way to restore the danegeld from the oil states -- the West Bank portion of the PA might become viable.

But, then again, the Arabs never miss an opportunity miss an opportunity; my guess is that Abbas is going to try to take it back.

Winners and losers

Given all that, let me make a few predictions about who is going to win and lose out of this.

Big winner: Iran, of course. While attention is elsewhere, their nuclear program moves forward, and they get to prove, on whatever their schedule is, how feckless Obama's bold statements that it was unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons were. Gaza is, for them, a welcome distraction.

The one fly in the ointment from their POV is another big winner:

Bibi Netanyahu, for obvious reasons. He gets the PM job back. That is, from both Israeli and longterm US interests, the best news out of this, I think.

Then we have Abbas. Since he's foolish enough to want Gaza back, he gets to claim to be the winner by getting it back. His consigliere, Nimmer Hammad, called the Israli Defense Ministry official last week to say that the PA "believes in Israel's right to liquidate Hamas." He gets at least part of his score with Hamas settled, and gets somebody else to do most of the dirty work for him.

Other winners: Hezbollah and Syria, for obvious reasons.

Losers: the new US administration. While Obama's right that there's one president at a time, his supporters in Dearbon and Detroit, among others, will expect him to force Israel into another series of concessions, which is about as likely to happen under Bibi Netanyahu as Obama is to pay my mortgage and gas bill.

Israel. Some things are a zero-sum game, at best. When Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran win, Israel loses.

Big losers: the Gazan people, of course, whether they get Fatah back in charge, or not.

Joel Rosenberg

In summary: much of this is security theater. Israeli politicians must be seen to be doing something, but no one wants real war to the knife no matter what is being said. Evidence of this was forthcoming: today's papers say that the Israeli government says it is pausing to see if a ceasefire truce can be arranged, and seems to be inviting anyone -- anyone, please! -- to make that arrangement.

I am not in total agreement about the stupidity of Hamas. It is a bureaucracy and is governed by a committee. Whether it would be so foolish if a strong man were to take charge is not so clear. Arafat sometimes seemed to be a stupid man but he certainly managed to be an important one. He even got admirers in the West despite his corruption. Of course what the West calls corruption is the usual course of business in much of the Arab world, and is not seen as corruption but something else.

The real problem remains: Hamas desperately needs an end to the blockade and particularly an end to the Israeli fuel monopoly (which, so far as I can tell, takes corruption to levels that even Arabs see as corrupt). Hamas cannot concede Israel's right to exist because that would be making actual peace with the infidels, and is forbidden in the Koran. They are allowed truces, and some concessions on the blockade and fuel monopoly would be an incentive to agree to a real truce. The problem is that Israeli politicians who offer anything Hamas can accept will be denounced as traitors.

Regarding Gsza: there's little there, but there was little in Hong Kong. Palestinians given freedom might be capable of making a viable economic center. It's not likely. That's an understatement. But it's not impossible in a rational world. That's the Middle East, though, and that is not a rational world. The Hamas bureaucracy is subject to a number of irrational restrictions just as Israeli politicians are. Not quite so many; most restrictions are voluntary.

The Telegraph says that the obstacle to peace is Hamas
Hamas-is-the-obstacle-to-Middle-East-peace.html   in an article written by the Israeli ambassador. He also says that Hamas must be defeated before there  can be peace. Either this is theater, or he has just said there will never be peace in Gaza.

I completely agree with Joel that the big loser here is the incoming Obama administration. And I continue to wish Obama and Mrs. Clinton a great deal of success in this matter, while hoping they understand that it's not really America's business. We cannot avoid some entanglement but I do hope that Obama and Clinton understand that the less, the better. The managed news media will of course work to get us further involved: there will be pictures of damaged hospitals, ruined mosques, and dead children (but never pictures of Hamas launching rockets next to hospitals or mosques or houses with small children); there will be dead children with teddy bears; and a cut to an Israeli politician saying they cannot put up with these attacks from Hamas. If a Hamas rocket hits someone -- a few do -- there will be a fairly sanitary scene, but it won't hold a candle to the mass mourning you'll see when Hamas manages to induce casualties from the IDF. The result will be US pressure for intervention to stop the killing. Of course there's almost nothing we can do. And meanwhile Iran continues to spin the centrifuges...

The following is a comment I lifted from Al Jazeera:

Once again Israel’s arrogant self-righteous vengeance has got them backed into a corner. If they don’t follow up their “air war only” cowardice, instead allowing a truce to come into effect by the end of the week-end, then quite rightly Hamas will claim victory, because of Israel’s gobby Defence Minister vowing a “War to the bitter end”. If however ground forces do go in and succeed in a combination of the following: killing lots of civilians, having their spotty faced conscripts pissing in their pants and running home to mummy as in Lebanon, having a few dozen body bags containing the aforementioned spotty-faced conscripts, then they would have succeeded in demonstrating to the Arab world, whom they so want to frighten, that the IDF bar its US technology is effete and about as scary as the Easter bunny. Hamas fighters unfortunately are not disciplined like Hezbollah, and you can be sure that is the only reason that Israel may send troops in, is simply because Hamas is not Hezbollah.

Colin Mitchell, Johannesburg, South Africa


January 1, 2009

Hamas, round II

I found the Al Jazeera letter telling. Not surprising; the notion that the IDF ground troops are effete and useless is something that's common coin among the folks who haven't faced IDF infantry. And, whether or not there's a ground attack, that will be the pravda in the Arab world. Changing facts on the ground in Gaza, Judea and Samaria is much different that changing facts on the ground in Riyadh, Tehran, and Dearborn, after all.

That said, the air war in Gaza is largely over, although it probably is intended to look otherwise. The IAF got Nizzar Riyyan today -- he's the successor, more or less, to the late Sheik Saruman, err, Yasin, although he was also the top military commander. (Interestingly, the human body armor did not work, that time; his family was reportedly told to leave the building, but didn't.) The tunnels have been blasted, and, as far as I can tell, the IAF has pretty much run out of targets that are worth spending a smart bomb on -- best evidence of that was the making the rubble bounce attack at Haniyah's HQ yesterday.

That said, I disagree with you on this being simply security theater. (It is that, in part, sure.) So far, I think it's done quite a lot. Perhaps secondarily: a lot of the missile infrastructure -- manufacturing, dumps, etc. -- has been hit; with the tunnels blasted, those won't be quickly replaced. Probably what's most significant, though, is the attack on the ruling structures -- the police stations (which is how Hamas exercises local authority throughout the Strip), the governmental offices (coordination), and the tunnels (the rakeoff from which provides a lot of the money -- the tunnels are used not only for import of weapons materials, but food and other supplies, and Hamas takes their cut). And with the remaining Hamas leadership hiding, there's not a lot of governing they can do; if the PLO wants to step into the power vacuum, they can, although I'd be surprised if that happens over the next couple of weeks.

In terms of theater, though, what's most interesting to me is that Pallywood is apparently on hiatus; we haven't seen any productions, over the past few days.

The weekend will be telling. Once the clouds lift, we'll see whether or not the ground campaign launches.

Joel Rosenberg

Agreed that there are plenty of teeth left in the Israel tiger, and it's a lot easier to denigrate the IDF if you don't have to fight it.

I will defer to your judgment -- and clearly more extensive study -- on the issue of security theater. That said, I point out that in many cases like this, theater is more important than anything else. Just as surprise is an event that takes place in an enemy commander's mind, defeat is an event that happens in the same place; defeat is an act of will. Most armies that have surrendered have not fought to the last man mush less the last woman and child; most defeated armies and people have been capable of doing a great deal more damage if they had chosen to make the sacrifices needed. Theater is sometimes needed to defeat the will. Genghis Kahn and his "continuous storm" in lieu of siege engines comes to mind. (And in the siege of Leyden, on of the decisive battles of history, it was so close that without the determination of the Mayor the city would have surrendered before relief.)

Israel didn't lose much of palpable consequence in the Lebanon fiasco, but they did show that their will to fight is not infinite; that they can be defeated. That is a new factor and must be countered. Perhaps the latest incidents will do it.

I still see the key dilemma as this: Hamas cannot accept a truce without concessions that Israel could -- could and perhaps should -- make in blockade relief and especially in the fuel monopoly; but which no Israel politician can make. I don't see how that logjam can be ended. I don't believe it is possible to get a real truce from Hamas simply by beating on them; there will be too many collateral casualties and the world press will be only too willing to show them.


More on Hamas and Israel:

January 2, 2008

Hamas: interregnum

I guess I should get tired of being wrong; the IAF is still finding ammo dumps in Hamas homes. Turns out, by the way, that the one that they got yesterday was the inventor of a human shield strategy -- see .

That said, the air campaign is still winding down, as pretty clearly demonstrated by Olmert talking about some sort of ceasefire "guaranteed" by international observers. When Israel runs out of targets for expensive bombs, either there's a de facto ceasefire, or the infantry and armor go in.

You and PM Lawrence are, of course, right; there's no good reason that Gaza couldn't be the center of pretty much anything . . . except farming or mining -- and given what's been done not all that far away in terms of turning desert into farmland, I wouldn't even bet against the farming, given resources and will. Heck, Tel Aviv, which celebrates its centennial this year, was nothing more than a twelve acres of dunes outside of Jaffa when it was founded. (It may be worth noting that Tel Aviv only grew enough to dwarf Jaffa after the Jews were driving out of Jaffa in the 1921.

Driving the Jews out of Gaza hasn't worked all that well for the residents there, either; the Strip's only economic successes during living memory were during the Occupation, when some huge percentage of the adults commuted to work across the Green Line.

You bring up Hong Kong, and it's an apropos comparison, given different circumstances -- the economic miracle that is Hong Kong was made possible because the British created an entrepôt there; one of the many things that's held back Gaza, since Oslo, has been the corruption of the local governments, despite the pravda that the new Hamas bosses don't skim the way that the PLO ones used to.

Preposterous numbers of billions of dollars have already been poured into Gaza, for little better effect than to demonstrate that a permanent welfare state works badly; that money could have built pretty much anything; it's probably the most glaring example of the tragedy -- term used technically -- of the Arabs of that area.

But, sure. In step one -- now -- we have a million and a half people crowded into an area a third the size of Los Angeles. In step three, we have, say, a vibrant economic and trade hub on the Med, competing successfully with Beirut and Haifa.

It's step two that's the problem, because we don't get there either with a PLO kleptocracy, or with a Hamas theocracy which just brought back crucifixion as a state-sanctioned punishment. Nor, for that matter, do we get a lot of trading companies wanting to invest a whole lot of money in a desert, with a badly-educated population trained to a lousy work ethic, on a spot where missiles are going to be flying out frequently and bombs dropped back occasionally.

-- Joel Rosenberg 

"Miscellaneous is always the largest category." -- Walter Slovotsky

We don't disagree, but with the blockade in place there is no chance whatever that Gaza will be anything but a wreck, and the fuel monopoly extracts a good part of any external funding that comes in. I don't see any way out of this, because it is so highly likely that Hamas would use any crack in the blockade as a means to bring in more weapons and expand their "war". It is grasping at straws to say that ending the fuel monopoly and using the blockade more selectively or even ending it might get a ceasefire that would allow the people of Gaza to develop and economy so that there is something to lose and thus a reason for rejecting Hamas.

Fortunately it is not my decision. I don't have any relatives whose lives are at stake here. Most of my Christian friends in Israel have been marginalized or even driven out of Jerusalem and Bethlehem (as were most of those in Iraq, for that matter); the few friends I have left in Israel are all Jewish and they don't have any better idea of what ought to be done than I do. It may be that good fences will make good neighbors. Nothing else seems to do so over there.

If ever there was a perfect illustration of the effects of rule of law, examination of Hong Kong vs. other refugee areas would seem to be it.


And so the ground attack goes on

Looks like it's about 10,000 infantry and armor soldiers in, up against, depending on how you count, 9-12,000 Hamas. Which, for city street fighting, is vastly few, except that the Hamas leadership is locked down in their fuhrerbunkers, and Israel integrates air and ground forces about as well as the USMC does; given air supremacy, the only real question is how much damage Hamas can inflict on the IDF, and how much of the materiel gets blown up.

Expect to see a lot of destruction along the Philadelphi corridor; that's where the problems have been imported.

Going back to your last . . .sure: with the blockade in place, Gaza is screwed. (A fair, I think, restatement of your position.) But without the blockade in place, it still is, as the Gazans demonstrated when Israel withdrew. Took a fair amount of money to build the greenhouses that Bill Gates bought for them when the IDF forced the Jews out of Gaza; took just a few minutes to trash them. And the blockade, of course, wasn't imposed to force the Gazans to eat their UN-supplied beans without heating them up, but to prevent the smuggling in of the missiles and such. It also had the benefit, for those interested in the niceties of international law, of making it unambiguous that Israel doesn't have the obligations of an "occupying power" -- see The Hague convention of 1907, article 42.

Still, as was predictable, and predicted, things went downhill after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

I'll blame Sharon and Olmert. The implicit -- occasionally explicit -- notion behind the Gaza withdrawal was that Gaza was now going to be Gaza's (and the UN's) problem; if missiles flew out, it would be responded to disproportionately, and immediately. But that's not what happened; I think yesterday, as part of the battlefield prep for the ground campaign, was the first time that the IDF has used artillery there since before the withdrawal.

Onward . . .the battle that's heating up is the one between Hamas and the PLO. It wasn't exactly a secret that at least some PLO operatives were spotting Hamas targets for Israel. Also, not unexpectedly, Hamas began rounding up PLO supporters in Gaza -- killing some, and seizing others. What surprised me was that when the ground forces started moving in, Hamas executed the PLO prisoners.

Now, that's something new. My first gut instinct was that it was just Hamas misunderstanding the relationship between the IDF and the PLO, but, if it's not, or if it creates an ongoing working relationship, at least in terms of Hamas . . . that bodes very, very badly for Hamas.

-- Joel Rosenberg 

"Miscellaneous is always the largest category." -- Walter Slovotsky

The blockade would be more expensive if Israel forced all incoming goods to go through a customs house at the Israel/Gaza border to inspect for contraband (It would require building a port, for one thing); but with a short contraband list there would be the possibility of some economic recovery in Gaza. As it is, they are utterly hopeless. And the fuel monopoly is, I fear, more motivated by bureaucracy and the immense profits in having a monopoly than by any security considerations.

I do agree that Hamas / PLO is worth watching; if a real wedge can be driven there, this will be good news for the West Bank Palestinians -- assuming again that Israel can act sensibly there. Once again, though, the fuel monopoly is one of the main problems. The Fuel Monopoly has many friends within the Israeli government, and it is very profitable. I think that so long as the fuel monopoly continues, peace is utterly impossible; and of course any attempt to change that will be met with enormous resistance posing as security considerations, but really based on the profits.

I'd love to be shown I am wrong on this.

For observations on the IDF and conscripts, See View


Hamas 'bars injured leaving Gaza

"Egypt says the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza, is preventing hundreds of wounded Palestinians from leaving for treatment in Egypt.

Cairo says dozens of empty ambulances are at the Rafah crossing - the only one to Gaza which avoids Israel. "

Hamas claims this is all just taking time for the paperwork to be straight. In real life, they know their target audience will blame Israel for every death, so it is in their best interests to maximize those deaths.



The Gaza Affair [JEP]

I am hearing that the IDF has young conscript NCO's, which makes an enormous difference. And in the Lebanon invasion, soldiers were texting their friends with things like "never saw one of our tanks burn before" and "they gave us Michilen maps". This time the officers confiscated all the cell phones before the IDF went in. The IDF is mostly conscripts, but if they want to have a real army they need professional sergeants as well as officers. Apparently they don't have very many. I don't know if that is from lack of volunteers or some attempt at saving money.

It's pretty clear that the IDF is better organized this time. They have divided Gaza into two parts, and they are systematically searching much of the northern part of Gaza. They will search for rockets; we'll probably begin seeing what they have found -- thousands of rockets -- on international TV tomorrow morning. That will be the justification for the incursion, and they'll push hell out of it. Expect to see a lot of captured weapons being blown up.

A second objective is to restore the shock and awe: restore fear of the IDF. The Lebanon incident did a lot of damage to that reputation of invincibility; it needs to be restored. They badly need that. Hamas is saying that Gaza will be the graveyard of the IDF. This needs to be shown as false. IDF captains were denouncing the government in 2006, and with good reason. The government needs to regain the confidence of the officer corps, just as the IDF has to restore its reputation as the best army in the Middle East. "In war, the moral is to the material as three is to one," said Napoleon Bonaparte, who ought to have known. The Israeli government forgot that in 2006. Now, I think, they remember it.

The third objective, as Joel has observed, is to foment conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This seems to be working and the more that Israel achieves its second objective, the more they will achieve this one, so long as the operation is done with care. Israel needs a reputation of cold calculating prowess, sheer ability, and determination to achieve its objectives; and it needs to get that without gaining a reputation for cruelty and brutality. This is never easy when fighting a barbarous enemy who does not hesitate to use civilians as shields. The US Army had this problem in Germany in 1945, and in Korea in 1950. (The Chinese fought under the Laws of War. The North Koreans did not. Neither did the SS.)

In 2006 Israel showed incompetence and plenty of it, then failure of will. This time they appear to be doing things right: including having their own You-Tube channel rather than trusting the western media. Of course the Israeli channel selects what it shows. So does Al Jazeera. At least we can now see what each side is saying.

 Meanwhile. Joel Rosenberg continues his observations on the IDF/Hamas conflict.


Hamas, Ground War, Day 2.5

As far as conscript NCOs in the IDF go, sure. In the regulars, basically all IDF soldiers through Staff Sergeant are conscripts, and promotions through to Staff Sergeant are for time in, not merit (or really rank) promotions; corporals, for example wear the same insignia (or, actually, lack thereof) as privates. (When I heard that the first IDF fatality was Staff Sergeant Dvir Emmanueloff, for example, I knew that he was 21 or 22, and had been in for about two and a half years; he was about to complete his active service, and go into the reserves.)

Those that command units are called "Mashak" -- and, yup, basically all NCOs in the regulars through the rank of Staff Sergeant who command units are conscripts. The officer class is quite young, too; most career IDF officers retire in their forties and start another career. (As opposed to the reserve officers, who have already started another career. Can't think of another army where you'd have a guy leading a combat outfit for about a month every year, and then going back to his day job as a heart surgeon.)

It's a very different system than that in the US. Ranks through Staff Sergeant are all considered "enlisted" ; "NCO" ranks star at First Sergeant.

(I'm not at all sure it's a better model generally, but I am pretty sure that it's better for the Israeli situation, and very distinct from both the good class-conscious US model that's dependent on the career NCOs and warrant officers and the lousy enlisted-including-NCOs-as-ignorant-dolts model of the Arab world that's utterly dependent on the officer class. The offduty social distinctions between the NCO and officer class that the US inherited from the British aren't quite absent, but close to it, for example.)

Onward . . .

Well, we don't agree on everything; I don't think the fuel monopoly is as important as you do, in the larger scheme of things. Yup, if all the other necessary conditions for a growing economy were extant in Gaza, an outside fuel monopoly might be a big deal, but, well, I can think of at least four necessary conditions that are absent, just off the top of my head. If you're trying to set sail in a colander, which of the holes is the most important?

That said, what you and I have been calling a blockade really isn't; it's an embargo. That's not just semantics; Israel has only closed down three sides of the rectangle; the fourth is as open as Egypt lets it be. The Egyptians can take over supply into Gaza anytime that they want to, simply by, well, exporting stuff into Gaza -- certainly including fuel.

(And, in fact, the Egyptian smugglers have been sending in all kinds of stuff -- the NYTimes passes along one report that tunnels used for supplies aren't being touched; see If so, that bodes very well for the tactical side of OCL, as do some other things. Israeli tactical intelligence in Gaza is obviously of a very high order, as even accepting Hamas numbers, they've been getting targets at a 3-1 ratio over the human body armor. But knowing which of literally hundreds of tunnels are being used for what suggests an even greater amount of good data.)

I think the best analysis around is Kramer's at . It's by no means perfect. I think that he gives far too much weight to the reliability of Abbas and the PLO as a possible negotiating partner, despite all the evidence since (and, for that matter, before) Oslo that they're not. That said, it's obvious that the Eastern fence has become more effective than the Gaza fence, despite its flaws -- and that's because, I'd argue, that deterrence is working better there, because Abbas and company a: think that they have something to lose if the missiles start flying toward central Israel and b: aren't as stupid as Hamas.

If you want to look long term, the only viable solution is one you and I (among many others) pointed to, years ago -- for Israel to cut off what's beyond a given line, and let the Arabs work it out themselves, as long as they keep to themselves. If that can't be done with Gaza, where the line is easy to work out, there's no point in making concessions to try it in Judea and Samaria.

Like you, I wish the new President and SecState a lot of luck in dealing with the situation; they're going to need it. It's clear that the Arabs in Judea and Samaria are expecting a lot of help and support from the new administration; I'm not sure that they're going to get it.

Which suggests another thought -- assuming, at least for the sake of argument, that the top leadership of Hamas isn't stupid, that suggests that they had to set this off now, rather than wait another month or so until the Obama administration is in place. Which means that the embargo really did have Hamas thinking that they had to provoke something sooner than later, to distract the populace.

Meanwhile, the Golani, Givati, and Paratrooper brigades are in Gaza, and they're all awfully good. My guess -- and it's just a guess -- is that a lot of the reservists called up are among the Paratroopers.

-- Joel Rosenberg

I have no sources inside Hamas, of course, but I do have friends in the West Bank (Christians, mostly). You might be astonished at just how much the fuel monopoly is resented. I don't think Egypt has any means of delivering a lot of fuel to Gaza; certainly it has no way to do so to the West Bank. And of course the west bank of the Jordan River is a security zone -- it's a bit unsettling to see the Israeli side of the Jordan, which is a desolation, in contrast with the Jordan side which is amber waves of grain and fruit trees. At least it was that way when I was there perhaps a decade ago, and I doubt much has changed for the better.

I know that much is smuggled into Gaza through Egypt. I also know that Egypt has no love for Hamas (or the Muslim Brotherhood). But with current conditions there is no hope whatever for Gaza and everyone there knows it; and a land without hope but many children is a long term source of desperate young men who can be turned into martyrs. You and I both know how that is done. And so far there isn't a lot of reason for those in the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria as one chooses, to have much hope either -- and they really are in the vice grip of the fuel monopoly. The monopoly isn't a government entity, it makes profits; lots of profits; and a long chain of people, private and government bureaucrats, wet their beaks before a drop of kerosene or gasoline flows across the border. Enough so that one suspect there is no politician willing to take it on. Energy costs are a key to any kind of economy.

Obviously the soul of the US Army are the long term NCO's, just as the Chiefs are the heart of the Navy. With conscript part time sergeants an army is not going to do well; it's easier to be a part time officer than a sergeant. An army can't operate without company commanders, but it can't operate without sergeants either. There needs to be a gap between command and the troops; armies have found this out over thousands of years; there's always a bit of a gap between officers and the rest of the army. But there have to be NCO's as well. In a properly run army, the NCO's derive their authority from the officers, and the officers understand when to get out of the way, or look the other way -- and when to give orders. But this isn't a treatise on military organization and leadership. Old Doc Cameron's Anatomy of Military Merit does a pretty good job of that.

It looks to be an interesting month.


Enlisted V. "NCO"

Dear Jerry:

With all due respect, Joel Rosenberg is a bit off about enlisted ranks in the American military. All soldiers from E-1 (Private) to E-9 (Sergeant Major) are "enlisted" even if they select a career path. NCO ranks start at E-4 or Corporal/ Specialist. It takes more than "time in grade" to get promoted. There are promotion boards for E-5 and above. Your actual rank may not equal your responsibilities. Hence the term "working above your pay grade". If someone of the authorized rank is not available then it falls to someone of lower rank to do that job, which is critical. ASA had E-5 First Sergeants ( Normally an E-8 slot) when we were retrograding out of Vietnam. Morning reports wait for no man. There used to be Specialist Five and Specialist Six positions, but those were abolished when it became obvious that hard and soft stripes played no role in determining who was in charge.


Francis Hamit

In my time company officers took care of company promotions. I don't know if that's still true. That is the way military organizations have worked for thousands of years -- officers get authority from the state, NCO's get their from their officers. There can be exceptions, but it's the fundamental difference between the two classes, and there are very good reasons for doing things that way.

Democratic armies have tried other means including electing officers -- we did that a lot in the Civil War -- purchasing commissions, not paying officers at all to ensure they would be from the right social class, and so forth, but until recently we haven't tried democratizing the NCO's. Shortage of competent junior officers is usually the big bottleneck in creating big armies; shortage of effective NCO's is almost always the big bottleneck in creating effective large armies.


Just a short update

Either a: I wasn't as clear as I'd like or b: Francis Hamit misread me; I was talking about IDF ranks, where there is a distinction between what's generally called "enlisted" and "NCO"; they don't overlap. I know that in the US military, time in grade is only one factor in promotions; in the IDF, it isn't -- through Staff Sergeant.

Like I said, it's a different system.

As to T's comments about Caroline Glick, well, she's very smart, and she's there, and I'm not . . . but I think she's wrong if she's saying that the internal politics are the only reason that things are going as they are. (I'm not sure that she is, mind you.) But, sure -- it also explains Obama's silence, in part; he'd rather have Livni to push around than Bibi. But I don't think that just enough force to lose will win the election for Kadima and Labour; I think that they have to do a lot more, and I'm not sure that they will.

Meanwhile, today's developments were interesting. It only took a few hours for the AP to apparenlty come clean and admit that their reporters had interviewed Gazans who had seen the Hamas terrorists open fire from the UN school before the IDF tanks returned fire. We'll see how much play that gets on CNN and MSNBC tonight. Schools, by and large, would tend to make lousy pillboxes -- different design criteria.

But things have reached an interesting stage. There are some reports that the Hamas leadership is, well, pretty much gone; between those who have been killed and those who have thrown away their cell phones and are hiding in their fuhrerbunkers, there's not many left -- and the few who come out apparently feel that dragging children around with them will work.

What they can't do -- even if they want to -- in that situation, is give orders to stop the missile launches.

-- Joel Rosenberg

I understood you referred to IDF not US, but I ran Francis' letter because there were other points and I wanted to make my comments.

Can ANYONE stop the missile launches? The people in Gaza have no chance at all unless they simply rise up against Hamas -- and if they appear armed in the streets to throw out Hamas the IDF will kill them. It is not a good time to be a Palestinian. Or a Philistine. I gather there are more ethnic Philisines in Gaza than elsewhere in Palestine.

What Hamas needs is burning tanks, and they're not getting any. That in itself is a loss. The IDF seems to be regaining its reputation for invincibility.