Sunday, June 5, 2011

Israel Border Protests Need A Political Solution

UPDATE: Andrew Exum, who actually has tactical military experience, concurs.

Original Post:
For the second time since May, Palestinian protesters demonstrated on the Syrian border with Israel. Today's protest was in commemoration of the Naksa, or "setback" which refers to displacement of Palestinians in the wake of the Six Day War in 1967. Casualty reports from the protests were mixed. SANA, the official Syrian news agency, claims
20 people were killed. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims 31 were killed. The IDF confirmed at least 12 injuries, but did not confirm casualties.

The protesters were not non-violent. They used both molotov cocktails and stones against Israeli soldiers on the other side of the border. In response, Israel used a combination of tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesters. When protesters reached the border fence itself, the IDF used live fire allegedly aimed at the lower extremities. At the moment, the protesters are camping out at the border, and may continue protests again tomorrow.

In the wake of the first round of protests on May 15, the IDF adapted its tactics to better control the situation and keep it from escalating. The IDF's rules of engagement on the border call for a verbal warning to protesters, followed by warning shots, and then shots at the lower extremities of those involved in a breaching attempt. Verifiable information at the moment indicates these rules of engagement were followed. However, the number of fatalities remains unclear. The figure of 20 fatalities is being widely reported in the Western media after initial reluctance for most of the morning to do so. Furthermore, while the IDF has not confirmed any casualties, it has also not claimed there were no casualties. It is imperative that the IDF continue to study the lessons of today's protest, regardless if protesters were killed or not, in order to minimize future harm to protesters as much as possible.

On a more general level, however, it the Israeli government, not the IDF which must take steps to alleviate the pressure on Israel that the protests cause. Whether or not civilians were killed in today's protests is largely irrelevant. Those who sympathize with the Palestinian protesters will believe that 20 people were killed regardless of what the IDF claims. The protests are not about the IDF's rules of engagement, but rather about what protesters feel is Israeli insensitivity to the needs of Palestinians. This battle is entirely political, and falls largely outside the operational purview of the IDF. Regardless of whether protester's claims are justified or fair, Israel's only effective response in the long-term will be a political one. The longer the Israeli government waits, the more its political leverage will be constrained by more protests and more international pressure.

It appears the IDF is taking all efforts to address the protests in a way which prevents needless injury or political escalation, though many may disagree with that assessment. It is unrealistic to expect any military in the world to stand by while protesters actively attempt to violate a border. Yet even were the IDF to perform at 100%, injuries and political pressure would still occur. Therefore, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Israeli government to proactively address the underlying causes of the protests, rather than hide behind the IDF.

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