Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The IDF is Right About Protests

Senior IDF officials in Israel's Central Command opined to Haaretz reporters today that Israel would be unable to contain a mass Egypt/Tunisia-style uprising in the West Bank. They also stated that the IDF has been focusing on inter-factional relations between Palestinians, social media like Facebook, and coordination with Palestinian security forces.

First and foremost, these comments illustrate that there are pragmatic and intelligent leaders in the senior command of the IDF. They are anticipating threats and have already implemented strategies to prevent such threats from becoming real. Should such protests occur, the Israeli government's reaction would be under significantly more scrutiny than Egypt and Tunisia's governments. This is because the international media focuses more on Israel as a liberal democratic state, and because it would be the first case in the current wave of protests of a non-violent uprising by Arabs against a non-Arab government.

Secondly, the comments illustrate a disconnect between IDF leadership and the current government in Israel. While the IDF anticipates that it may be ill-equipped to deal successfully with a mass uprising, the government seems not to be considering the role its policies play in this threat. Coming on the heels of yesterday's news that Israel is one of the most negatively viewed countries in the world, the government needs to understand the very real effect this will have on how its response to the protests are seen by the international community. Low public opinion will constrain the Israeli government's ability to employ force, even non-lethal, against Palestinian protesters. There is almost no conceivable protest situation in which Israel's image would improve. In this regard, the IDF understands has it right: Prevention is the key. But when prevention involves political rather than military changes, the IDF can only do so much.

The Israeli government obviously understands that delegitimization is a security threat to the state. However, what the government's actions seem not to reflect is the understanding that policy choices which prolong the occupation are responsible for a certain amount of the delegitimization. To be sure, anti-Semitism and double standards play a role in delegitimization. But policies which deny the Palestinians fundamental rights are something that Israel can actually do something about. The IDF seems to willing to be pragmatic and reasonable about addressing the threat to Israeli security. It will be up to the current government to adopt the same policy for the sake of Israeli security.

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