Monday, May 13, 2024

More writings about the Israel-Hamas War: Biden's dream, IDF goals, casualty statistics, Israel divestment

I have seen several recent useful posts and comments about the Israel-Hamas War so I wanted to share them.
First, an interesting analysis from Dan Rather about Biden's Big Dream For The Middle East:
...why did Hamas attack [on Oct 7] seemingly out of the blue after years of, if not peace, then detente, in the Middle East? Perhaps because of a “grand diplomatic bargain” or “mega-deal” being negotiated among the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel — a deal that would include normalization of relations between Tel Aviv and Riyadh. Yes, the Biden administration had been quietly working on this deal for months, and Iran-backed Hamas reportedly wanted to blow it up. The ambitious agreement has far-reaching and game-changing implications.
... “Five leaders in the Arab community were prepared to help rebuild Gaza, prepared to help transition to a two-state solution,” Biden told CNN.
If Biden can hammer out an agreement with Saudi Arabia and Israel, it could be a diplomatic masterstroke that has many upsides: forging a pathway for Israel and the Palestinians to live as neighbors, improving Arab-Jewish relations in the region, reducing Iran’s power, perhaps appeasing voters at home, and finally bringing peace. The president is dreaming big. And in the Middle East, dreams die hard. Will this dream have a different ending?
Next, a fascinating post on X from British soldier Andrew Fox, on the ultimate war goals of the Israel Defense Force. 
I have no idea whether he is right in this analysis but maybe he makes a useful point.  His post is too long to embed, so here is the text plus the Gaza map he included:

The IDF are conducting another assault in the North of Gaza, around Jabalia .... Critics are asking why the IDF are repeatedly going into areas they have already cleared and claiming this is a flaw in operational design (see @2023gazawar’s excellent map). These critics have totally misunderstood what Israel is trying to do. Here’s what I think:
The answer is simple: the IDF have absolutely no intention of using the clear / hold / build counterinsurgency tactics the West tried in Afghanistan. Why would they? Those tactics were a disaster in Afghanistan.
The flaw in Western analysis is always the same: “we wouldn’t do it that way”. ....
If you look at what’s possible, what the best version of “success” looks like, and what Israel are doing… I put it to you that in Gaza we are seeing a masterpiece of operational design.
Ignore the “destroy Hamas” political rhetoric. The IDF are not *trying* to clear Gaza.
So what are they doing? What’s possible? Any kind of political solution? Definitely not. No-one on the international stage has expressed any interest in helping with governance in Gaza. According to polling, 2% of Gazans support an Israeli-backed administration. The majority want Hamas back. Israel’s solution? Let them have Hamas.
But the version of Hamas they’ll get is one heavily degraded militarily, but most importantly, with vast swathes of their tunnels and civilian-embedded infrastructure destroyed.
“Never again is now” isn’t just an empty slogan. Israeli operational design isn’t built around destroying Hamas, or regime change, or political change in Gaza. Those things aren’t possible. The operation is built around making sure 7th October can never happen again. Absent the possibility of any enduring political solution, that’s what success for them looks like for Israel.
Israel have methodically razed what civilian-embedded Hamas infrastructure they could find in Gaza City, Khan Younis, and now Rafah.
They have secured the Netzarim corridor (middle of the map) to control freedom of movement from South to North. It looks like they are trying to do the same thing along the Philadelphi corridor and Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, to cut off the inflow of weapons and supplies to Hamas (see the blue, bottom right corner of the map as the IDF break in to Rafah).
Facial recognition software in controlled areas allows the IDF to stop known Hamas commanders moving around. This also allows the IDF to strike as and when concentrations of Hamas are identified, to degrade their manpower, then withdraw again (see the Shifa hospital operation and the current Jabalia operation).
At the same time they have destroyed buildings to create a 1km buffer zone around the Gaza border. This will prevent any repeat of 7 October. Nobody in Gaza is getting anywhere near the border.
The operational end state here is significant infrastructure destroyed, Hamas fighting capability degraded, and the border secure; with the IDF retaining the capability to strike into Gaza at will. All whilst shifting hundreds of thousands of civilians out of harm’s way and minimising innocent casualties (Hamas’ human shield tactics aside).
The downsides: the destruction of Hamas-infested civil infrastructure has caused enormous damage. Urban warfare always comes with civilian casualties. The Egyptians look very twitchy about Israeli control of the Southern border. This isn’t a long-term political solution. The destruction has, of course, drawn huge international condemnation. Failure to communicate the plan has damaged Israel’s international standing, and they have been crushed in the global information war for the narrative. But: none of these are show-stoppers yet, strategically speaking.
Debate the morality in the comments. But, militarily, this is quite brilliant operational design within the bounds of what was realistically possible.
In another post, Fox continues:
I think Hezbollah is next. Gaza needs finishing first to avoid a ground war on multiple fronts.
Next, the casualty figures cited for the number of Gazans killed in the IDF assault are apparently now being questioned: But regardless of the ultimate totals, to argue that the number of Gazans killed is "only" 25,000, not 35,000, is really just a distinction without a difference -- it still means that thousands of people have died too soon.
Next, some discussion about the divestment demands from Canadian campus protests - here's an interesting article in The Logic by Martin Patriquin: The divestiture campaign at McGill and beyond is bound to fail. Maybe that’s the point Asking an institution to target companies that don’t deserve it makes little sense—unless you want to make the institution look bad:
... the history of protest-driven divestment seems poised to take a turn. Make no mistake: the universities won’t cease investing in Israeli companies and those doing business with them. There are several reasons for this, not least that the list of targeted companies is voluminous to the point it suggests delusion on the part of the protesters.
The protests have highlighted the horrors visited upon tens of thousands of civilians killed or wounded since Israel’s devastating attack on Gaza in response to the Hamas-led massacre of Oct. 7. But they’re also a reminder of the complexities behind divestment campaigns—and of Israel’s critical importance in the world of business and tech. “Divestment from Israel is not going to happen,” Christopher Marsicano, the director of the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College in North Carolina, told me recently...
...the list underscores the importance of Israel’s tech sector on the world stage. The country is known as Start-Up Nation for a reason. It has more than 7,200 startups and tech companies within its borders. This includes more than 850 climate tech companies—which have been crucial to decarbonization efforts, including oil divestment campaigns.
“I wouldn’t consider myself to be particularly pro-Israel,” Marsicano, who researches how higher learning institutions affect public policy, told me. “But you cannot deny the fact that the Israeli economy is high-tech, high-service in ways that are doing innovative things that help with ESG strategy and environmental challenges.”
Oil divestment pushes are simple, in that there is a checklist of fossil fuel companies who’ve been named and shamed many times over. Convincing institutions to boycott a country like Israel is exponentially more difficult, because the vast majority of the companies on the list are doing little more than renting hotel rooms, hawking soda pop and selling soap, among other benign capitalistic endeavours. As such, they are hardly legitimate targets.
Protesters at McGill, UBC and U of T want the world to equate Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, and act accordingly. Yet even if you accept the analogy in moral terms, the economic comparison doesn’t hold. South Africa was a pariah state long before apartheid was snuffed out, with foreign investment collapsing to two per cent of the country’s GDP 17 years before Nelson Mandela was elected president. The same can’t be said for Israel, where foreign investment has risen since the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against it began in 2005.
“I think that the leaders of the movement have to take a step back and say, ‘Even if the reasons for protest are understandable, are we perhaps inhibiting progressive economic forces that may help us to achieve other desirable goals?’” as McGill philosophy professor Daniel Weinstock told me....
The campus protests may turn out to be just as pointless as the "Freedumb Convoy" was:

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