Middle East


Israel and Palestine: Consequences of Deterrence

Palestinian and Israeli activists confront Israeli soldiers in Beit Jala, West Bank, while protesting Israeli strikes on Gaza, Nov. 17. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler, Shutterstock.com)

"Deterrence has to be maintained," said Gabi Siboni, a colonel for strategic affairs at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. "It was only a question of time until this moment arrived."

It seems the Palestinians are of like mind. As things stand, this latest round of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was probably inevitable. Escalation and de-escalation of defense has become a pattern of existence between both races. Deterrence instead of systemic political interaction seems par for the course in the military-industrial complex of Israel and its neighbors. In times of relative "peace" between Israel and the Palestinian territories, cross-border settlements, concrete barriers and the acquisition of missiles has been the modus operandi of governance between them instead of inter-parliamentary progression. For 20 years. That's an entire generation produced under threat—under "deterrence" since negotiations began for Palestinian statehood.

Today's conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, however, embodies the oldest intractable conflict of the Middle East. Evidently the means of addressing the current ones, particularly over the last two decades, is inadequate. Negotiations for Palestinian/Israeli statehood have so far failed to prevent conflict and all-out war, factors undermining the realization of Palestinian statehood. The processes have never been elemental in proactively dealing with security and discord. Indeed, given the amount of attention Israeli-Palestinian conflicts have received over the decades, the failure to resolve the core issue seems to be a major contributing factor to Middle Eastern political instability. Its resolution should after all involve a process that's instrumental in addressing the manifestation of conflict throughout the region. Why?

Although the root causes of this conflict range from theocratic divisions and racial ties to common lands, its causal dynamic—as with other intractable conflicts of the region—increasingly concerns an ability to wage war. "Deterrence" has repeatedly erupted into warfare since its contemporary conception in the 1940s. Rocket attacks and acts of "terrorism," surgical strikes, invasions, ceasefires and resolutions—all these processes have arisen out of negotiations with broken time frames, negotiations undertaken without a framework capable of generating progressive political stability. All of which has amounted to the escalation of weapons by both Palestinians and Israelis and their inevitable bombing campaigns.

"Continue to hit the Hamas military machine, to hit their command and control, to hit their arsenal where they store their weapons," Mark Regev, spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, told Al Jazeera recently.

There has never been a framework for developing security measures capable of addressing the collective accumulation of defense in respect of general security. There has never been a geopolitical framework applied to the problem of Israeli/Palestinian statehood.

Yet all Israeli and Palestinian conflicts have engendered consequences of the international arms trade. The industry has formed an economic platform of strategic alliances between superpowers and Middle Eastern states, alliances that preclude international regulation on the sale of weapons and fuel irresolute conflicts in the Middle East.

The common language of defense

While Israel points to Palestinian defense actions as terrorism, and Palestinians point to the grim reality of their divided existence on dispossessed lands, the fact remains, defense in whatever guise has evolved into the common language of both. The strategic rationale of deterrence and combat more often than not mandates their governance.

"We will not accept a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by the terror of rockets. No country would accept this," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in praise of the current operation. That was nine weeks before Israeli elections. Netanyahu is now expected to win them. And doubtlessly the Palestinians are once again questioning their ability to legitimize a homeland and consolidate their government without amassing yet another arsenal against Israel. Quite feasibly they'd be aiming for a greater one, thereby perpetuating the dynamic underpinning Israeli governance: threats, wars and fear.

"When the cannons roar, we see only Netanyahu and Barak on the screen, and all other politicians have to applaud them," Aluf Benn of Haaretz notes. Is it not feasible that Hamas follows suit? "In the past 24 hours, Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate rocket and missile attacks on its civilians," Netanyahu said when this latest bombing campaign began. "I hope that Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza got the message."

The pressure for defense seems the raison d'état of both. Instead of political action on two states and how they comply within a state system, both seem driven by their own need of military power. Countless rocket attacks, barricades, bombing campaigns and border incursions belie promises for political development. Their actions, which always speak louder than words, haven't engendered stability. With state rationale predicated primarily on defense against each other, their political actions are geared towards conflict.

Deterrence does not apparently amount to political stability in one of the most densely populated regions of the entire planet. According to The Wall Street Journal, Palestinians now consider that Israel's back down on a ground invasion reflects Palestinian's newfound power of deterrence. So it works both ways. That's the dynamic of defense. And as Al Arabya's Hishem Milhem notes on this latest incursion and its threatened ground invasion, "This is no political solution. The domestic position remains the same." Milhem says any resolution requires "new thinking" based on regional realities.

But they don't get it. Blinded by animus, Palestinians and Israelis ignore the geopolitical relevance of their own defence and its roiling deterrence. This is no quarantined state of affairs. The latest bombing round started with a strike on the Fajr facility in Sudan, subject to a war that's loomed on their horizon for months. It was no surprise. Stratfor Intelligence says Israel knew Hamas was acquiring Fajr-3 and -5 rockets that would take a war to eliminate.

How often does this happen in the Middle East? From Iraq to Syria and beyond, the accumulation of arsenals via strategic alliances, followed by bombing campaigns consistently, shows up as a predominant form of political interaction in and around Israel and its Palestinian Territories.

When does "the military complex of Israel" not have tensions with its Arab neighbors? And how many Middle Eastern states are heavily militarized? Too many keep undergoing civil wars and revolutions. Twice Israel fired into Syria after missiles from Syria's civil war landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights of Syria recently. That was headline news. Yet the many times Israel has fired over there now seem moot. Instead the question of bombing Iran's nuclear program is playing out like a broken record, especially since Islamic jihad fired an Iranian-built rocket at Israel. Neither Palestinians nor Israelis, however, have inclusively addressed their security in respect of the region.

"The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region," Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said. At the core of the region's security, however, is still the question of international trade in defense. Underlying all the conflicts in the Middle East is the corrosive legacy of international relations that could be still ramifying from last century's Cold War rationale.

Covert intelligence still seems to be the preferred modus operandi between international powers and regimes of the Middle East when it comes to security and defense. Does the industry of defense sway the direction of political power away from open progressive democracy? China and Russia, for example, both refuse to agree with resolutions on Syria, yet both powers maintain alliances with Middle Eastern states subject to defense sales. Moreover, Israel tops the U.S. Foreign Military Sales customer list. According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, total sales for fiscal year 2010 were $31.6 billion, with Israel at $4 billion, the highest value in sales, followed by Egypt at $2.6 billion.

There's no end to it. State defense, whether nuclear or not, manifests negatively beyond border trade into the region. This recent Gaza conflict, a conflict largely concerned with destroying a massive arms buildup, has poured oil on a region ablaze with two years of revolution and an out-of-control civil war in Syria. And it's all in the name of state power devoid of regional responsibilities. This is the common language of defense.

Five-year programs on a two-state solution that keep amounting to greater defense

"Israel has the right to security,but it won't achieve it through violence. The Palestinians also have the right to a state," the U.N. Security Council said after meeting on the Gaza campaign, whilst taking no action. The regional imperative, once again, is off the agenda. The current ceasefire, if it holds, will likely amount to yet another five-year program for the "two-state solution" in which the same scenarios of escalating defense, conflict and "de-escalation" will play out.

Cease fires and calls for "restraint" have rarely yielded stability within the region. Israeli forces went into Gaza in 2008-2009 after rocket attacks by Palestinians. Since then, Hamas mostly stuck to a shaky cease-fire and tried to force smaller militant groups to do likewise. Apparently they can't. What goes around comes around. Divide and conquer is proving problematic one way or another for Israel.

Without broader-ranging measures on security and defense regulation, splinter fighting groups can feasibly keep emerging from non-state actors such as the Palestinians. Meanwhile ostracised states, such as Iran, could continue supporting the umbrella branch, be they Hamas or Hezbollah, while denouncing Israeli defense. This is what Israel seems to be in denial of.

Is Israel incapable of geopolitical accord?

By directing nuclear angst at Iran and blaming Hamas militant leaders for the conflict, Israel may well be ignoring the dynamic of deterrence that keeps playing out in their own backyard.

"It remains to be seen to what extent the ceasefire will hold, and to what extent there is going to be progress opening up the blockade of Gaza, and on the other hand the prevention of weapons into Gaza," said former Israeli government advisor Yossi Apher.

Hamas now has regional political relevance. Together with the Abbas Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians are well placed to deal within a geopolitical framework for addressing the two-state solution, one capable of developing collective measures on security and regulative authority on defense industry all round. But is Israel?

"If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution, we prefer that," Netanyau said. Does he mean it?

In the West Bank, which is governed by the relatively conservative Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas, Israel continues to build Jewish settlements. In Gaza, under the governance of the more radical Hamas, militant resistance has apparently paid off. Would Israel dare put settlements there? Either way, the division of the Palestinian governance has not led to stability. The "two-state solution" has thus far amounted to expanded settlements in the Palestinian West Bank; squalor, horror and suffering pervading in the Gaza Strip; and hatred and terror transcending all borders with Israel. This dual territorial situation is hardly proving conducive to the long-term solution Netanyahu alludes to.

In the United States, the strategic Israeli military alliance has essentially left little room for negotiation on Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, going by Stratfor Intelligence. Maybe it's time for Washington to accept the Middle East as a region rather than a collection of strategic alliances. Maybe it's time for Israel to put down the burden of diaspora and get on with life in respect of the region and the world in which we all live.

As former President of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evens puts it, "Why not accept that Palestinian statehood has always been an indispensable requirement of Israel's own security?"

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