Friday, July 23, 2010

The IDF Gets it Right. Entirely.

Israel has allowed 50 Russian armored vehicles to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The PA had been training on the vehicles in Jordan, but Israel has now allowed them to be transferred into Israel.

This is an extremely positive step for both sides. For Israel, using Russian made vehicles and Palestinian personnel gives other actors financial and political responsibility for Israeli security objectives. It also brings Russia on board as a partner in security force building.

Israel should play up this transfer as an example of its commitment to creating a Palestinian security force. Sure, there are those who will say Israel should be transferring food and medicine instead of weapons, but the moderate center will percieve this effort as one part of an overall effort to create a capable Palestinian security force. The program is supported by major powers and is a tribute to the strong security cooperation between the PA and IDF.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The IDF Gets it Right. Mostly.

Today's release by the Foreign Ministry of Israel of "Gaza Operations Investigations: Second Update" is worth a read. The report makes clear that Israel legitimately cares about reducing civilian casualties. However, it is too strongly focused on the tactical level, while ignoring strategic and doctrinal considerations.

This is not unexpected considering both the conduct of the IDF in Operation Cast Lead and the IDF's history. A focus on tactics has positioned Israel as the country with the world's best counter-terrorism techniques, and a leader in tactical weapons. Yesterday's successful test of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and the 205 million dollars the Obama administration gave to fund it, are signs that Israel is a leader in the tactical elements of warfare.

Tactics are pervasive in IDF history. Most Israelis serve at the tactical level and understand better than most Americans ever will the kinds of technical and logistical challenges combat brings. Israel's military victories have all been described in terms of tactics. Thinking of Israeli military success conjures the brilliance of landing aircraft in the darkness of Entebbe, bombing Egyptian airfields during the pilot's breakfast time in 1967, and targeting the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq with pinpoint accuracy.

But overlooked in contemporary Israeli military planning are critical considerations of the larger strategy and doctrine. The ineffective blockade on the Gaza strip, which causes hardship for 1.5 million people to without tangible security benefits for Israel is a prime example.

This disparity has become more pronounced as Israel shifts from fighting conventional states to non-conventional actors. The strategy of a war is to use force to defeat the enemy. But how to execute this strategy is much clearer when the "enemy" is Egypt or Syria, and much harder when the "enemy" is Hamas, or IHH activists attempting to violate a naval blockade.

Doctrine too has gone underexamined. The principles of counterinsurgency are sorely lacking in Israel's approach to the occupied territories and southern Lebanon. While today's report from the Foreign Ministry emphasizes protecting civilians, it views this protection as a moral consideration rather than a strategic asset. Foreign policy is seen as the art of public relations to keep an antagonistic world at bay, rather than a critical component of Israel's long-term security.

The cost of these oversights has been paid in human blood.

The soldiers of the IDF are not to blame for these oversights, and they are not to blame for Israel's losses. They are constantly asked to do the impossible, and many times succeed in doing so. With few exceptions, they are good, hard-working, dedicated, moral individuals.

And it is their commitment to the IDF and Israel's security which obligates Israel's political leadership to take responsibility for Israel's security by reexamining its strategy and doctrine. Israel's leadership should better integrate the political and military considerations of defense. Specifically, it should:

1) Include counterinsurgency in its planning. The inefficacy of trying to "flip" a population by the strategy of denying it basic needs is evident after 5 years of a failed Gaza policy. Alienating Israel's Arab population by underfunding their villages and suggesting they should swear loyalty runs contrary to everything we know about minority communities in democracies. Israel needs to be not just good at COIN, but the best at COIN.

2) Examine the global political impact of its doctrine and strategy, not only its tactics. Israel must consider the hearts and minds of not only the target population but the international community as a whole. Do first, spin later has not served Israel as an effective PR strategy. Explaining why commandoes followed the ROE raiding a ship full of civilians means nothing to a pubic who find the Gaza blockade morally questionable in the first place. Israel should understand that the international community will judge Israel by what it does, and not by what it says.

3) Israel should more strongly support a Palestinian security force to protect civilian populations. Protecting civilians is not just nice. It's effective for achieving security interests. For Israel, it will be very hard to win the hearts and minds of a Palestinian population which for over 60 years has viewed Israel as the enemy. However, use of a Palestinian security force which can hold sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank will be an effective means of strengthening the desire of moderate Palestinians for rights and economic opportunity while isolating insurgents and terrorists. Even if the force is seen as Israel-backed, it need only be dominant and effective at providing people with their basic needs. The Sahwa in Iraq are one of many case studies.

Better integration of Israeli political and military planning will go a long way in helping Israel to achieve its long-term security objectives. It will help improve Israel's standing in the international community. And it will allow Israelis and Palestinians the chance for self-actualization they have never had, and so rightfully deserve.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Refudiating a Stupidiotic Claim

Dear Sarah,

I really took to heart your tweet from yesterday characterizing plans to build a mosque in downtown Manhattan as an "UNNECESSARY provocation." Your brave use of Twitter is an example to all Americans. Actually I prefer to call it "Freedom Texting."

It's refreshing to see a politician like you Sarah, calling for others to stop unnecessary provocations. And who better than you, Sarah Palin, to chastise others for starting political fights over non-issues. You Sarah, have never made provocations purely for your own interests or those of your political party. You have never juxtaposed the institution of religion directly alongside a sensitive political issue.

The connections between the mosque and terror are easy to see. makes it crystal clear: "
The New York City office of their American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), at 475 Riverside Drive, has for many years sat in the very building, on the very floor, immediately adjacent to the suite housing the New York City chapter office of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)."

That's right Sarah, the SAME FLOOR.

Also the mosque is being sponsored by the Cordoba Initiative.

And I totally agree that building a mosque near Ground Zero is a complete provocation. Despite their rhetoric about so-called "tolerance" and "respect for all," we can see through the lipstick Sarah. Lets not pretend like this isn't a slap in the face to the people who died in the World Trade Center - 60 of whom were Muslims. And never mind that last Thursday, Sunni Islamic terrorists from the Jundallah terrorist group killed 27 people. All Muslim. In a mosque.

I mean give me a break Sarah. Islamic jihadists attacking a mosque? To do that, their ideology would have to be so fundamentally different from moderate mainstream Muslim ideology that they would kill innocent Muslims at prayers. They would almost be un-Islamic, radical fundamentalists skewing the well-regarded and moderate interpretations of Islam for their own twisted ends. They would have to
"distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews — and against Muslims, themselves, who do not share their radical vision." Seriously Sarah, what kind of softie defeatist radical leftist socialist would make such an assertion?

So I too call for the participation of peace-loving Muslims. People who support mutual recognition and respect. People who promote interaction between the Muslim world and the West. It almost sounds like some non-profit's mission statement. But who are we kidding, what organization on Earth would actually fight for ideals like that?

Send my best to Todd and the kids,
The Confused Sheikh

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meridor Nails Loyalty Oath Inefficacy

Likud MK Dan Meridor's comments in the Knesset today regarding the proposed loyalty oath are right on target.

"Why does every bill need the word 'Jewish' in it – to show the Arab citizens that it doesn't belong to them?" Meridor said. "Then we're all shocked when they radicalize their stance. There are people here, why escalate and make things worse all the time? The majority doesn’t need to remind the minority that it is in fact a minority all the time."

Exactly. Making citizenship conditional on an oath will do nothing to improve the status quo, and only makes the schism between Israeli-Arabs and Israeli Jews greater. Social impacts aside, this schism degrades Israeli security because social isolation pushes the moderate Israeli-Arab center towards radicalism. The better strategy is to point out common ground between the two sides in an attempt to make Israeli-Arabs identify more with their Israeli Jewish brethren, denying would-be insurgencies the minds they require to harm Israelis and Israeli security interests.

PS - While you're at it, take a look at this interview with Frank Luntz. Regardless of his political views, he makes some good points about Israel's need to humanize itself in the media and to focus on the future.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Morning Critique

Michael Lame makes a good point in this morning's Haaretz about J Street's latest TV ad posted at (Presumably the URL was taken already):

"[J Street] mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics. Just as barriers between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East need to be removed, barriers regarding the future of Israel/Palestine should not be erected between Democrats and Republicans."

One of AIPAC's successes was framing Israel as a non-partisan issue. And just as J Street points out that disagreeing with the Israeli government does not make one anti-Israel on face, it also shouldn't define someone as Democrat or Republican. In the short term, aligning with Democratic Party rhetoric is clearly in J Street's interest. However, implying that conservative supporters of Israel are as conservative as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin may alienate the demographic of centrist pro-Israel Democrats, who are a significant voice in the pro-Israel camp. Additionally, engaging constituents who are knee jerk partisans will create a base which criticizes Israel out of adherence to liberal ideology, rather than a personal concern for the well being of the Jewish state. This will ultimately de-legitimize the center left pro-Israel camp, and I fear it may de-legitimize J Street.

Maybe it's just the academic in me speaking, but it seems like this conflict has enough ideological partisans as it is.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

IDF Video: An Analysis

Here are the two videos the IDF Press Desk released today giving the timeline of the Mavi Marmara raid:

The videos contain many arguments made by the IDF before, but do so much more cohesively. The videos themselves are also likely to receive more views in the long term than the IHH report about the raid.

However, the key question of the target audience remains open. The graphics and effects used indicate the intended audience to be pro-military and likely pro-IDF. And the video makes no mention of the individuals beign shot in the head or chest even though this is widely understood to have been the case. Ultimately it looks as if the audience most likely to be swayed by the videos are supporters of Israel looking for an articulation of their case.

But that's not the same as arguments which resonate with a centrist, leftist, or otherwise indifferent audience. Convincing these audiences requires finding points of resonance, not trying to argue that they all think wrong or ignoring facts.

Another issue is that the IDF tries to project itself as a faceless force. However, in asymmetrical conflicts, putting a human face on the military is a critical need. The videos are computer generated and clean. The narration is professional and impersonal (except when she refers to "our forces" of course). But the resonance of the human rights issue in the Arab world and international community is high. This doesn't necessarily mean the identity of the soldiers should be released to the world. But it does mean that the IDF needs to put a more human face on itself and its operations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Israel Lobby?

Professors Walt and Mearsheimer assert in their article "The Israel Lobby" that the New York Times is part of the lobby. But this article from today's JPost should quell any doubts about whether NYT is part of the dark cabal:

"I cannot even begin to grasp the embarrassment and shame some half-dozen New York Times reporters feel in the wake of their atrocious labor of disdain and professional sloppiness directed against the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria."
(read more)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why U.S. Jews Can Talk About Israel

On principle, I usually refrain from responding to Sara Honig and Isi Liebler if I can. But this week they both raise a long standing debate in a somewhat disingenuous way. This debate concerns the role of U.S. Jewry in Israeli politics. Honig and Liebler both argue that Americans have no right to express opinions about Israeli security matters because they do not deal with the immediate consequences of the policies which they recommend. A fair point to be sure. Of course, many of the American Jews who comment on Israel do so through groups like AIPAC, the ADL, and CUI, which Honig and Liebler seem to not have a problem with.

Their characteristically smug approach is partial and condescending enough this time to warrant a response. So, in true Washington D.C. talking points fashion, here are three reasons Americans are legitimate to express opinions about Israeli security.

1) The United States underwrites Israeli security. In 2009, the U.S. gave 2.55 billion dollars to Israel in military aid. This is a significant amount of U.S. aid money, and a significant part of Israel's defense budget. 2.55 billion dollars doesn't justify demanding an American approval for every single tactical move or force placement. But it's reasonable to say that it does give Americans the right to comment on what their tax dollars are being used for.

2) Doctrine and Strategy are theories and not unique to location. This means that evaluating Israeli doctrine and strategy is a matter of having expertise on these topics. It does not necessitate living in Israel. Additionally, issues like settlement building or the Gaza blockade are not purely military issues, but political issues as well. Furthermore, the political ramifications of these issues directly affect the United States. If an IDF raid on a Gaza flotilla impacts American security, Americans have the right to an opinion about it.

3) Israelis (justly) criticize U.S. security policy all the time. Including Honig and Liebler. Israelis are not shy about their thoughts on President Obama or U.S. power politics in the Middle East. And considering that U.S. policy affects Israeli security, it's more than reasonable that they should stay informed. But Israeli policy affects U.S. security too. Honig and Liebler love to talk about double standards, but their position on this issue is a double standard on its own. By fundamentally denying that Israel's political and military decisions matter to the United States, they undercut their own argument in their typical style of short-sighted reactionism.

I would be one of the first to criticize those on the American left who criticize Israel having never visited the country or spoken to Israelis. But many of us mobilized centrist Americans have extensive professional and personal ties to Israel. Some Americans are in fact clueless...but not all of us.

And it would be foolish to deny that our view is different than Israelis. Their view is more granular, more immediate, and more personal. These are undeniable facts. But our view is more far-sighted, more broad-based, and includes a better understanding of American politics and those of the international community. Neither view is better. Like a left and a right hand, we of both views must work together. Divisive diaspora-Israel politics serve only to prevent the kind of collaboration which allows Israel to holistically evaluate and thus preserve its security, a goal which we all can share in common.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Les Americains Ne Sont Pas Completement Fous.

The French Army has published its updated counter-insurgency manual, which is worth reading through. As a country which was not part of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, France has something of a 3rd-party perspective on the surge and the Sunni Awakening (France does have troops in Afghanistan, one of whom was killed yesterday in an IED attack outside Kabul). Israel should pay close attention to the fact that even a country openly opposed to the War in Iraq and not thrilled about Afghanistan invented understands modern population-centric counterinsurgency.

True to form, while the Americans call it a "COP network," the French refer to it by the classy term "quadrillage."