Tag: Israel (page 1 of 3)

Play it Cool

Yesterday I had the great fortune to sit on a faculty panel discussing the Iran nuclear deal put on by my colleagues at Georgia Tech [I will link to the video when it is available]. A logic of thought that came up, in different formulations, related to the idea that the nuclear deal might transform US-Iran relations and/or change Iran’s domestic politics. Coincidentally, the New York Times reported yesterday the answer is apparently a resounding no from the Ayatollah Khamenei–Iran would not be having anything more to do with the US lest the Great Satan “sneak back in through the window.”  As a bonus, he predicted Israel will “not be around in 25 years’ time.” These comments are almost certain to provoke anxiety in Israel and give renewed strength to critics of the nuclear deal in the US. I would caution them to hold their fire.

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The Threat of the BDS Movement

Hello there! I’m very excited to be blogging here at Duck of Minerva for the next several months, and I’d like to thank all the full-time Ducks for the opportunity! For my first post, I thought I’d address something I’ve been thinking about ever since a student asked about it in my US Foreign Policy class this past semester. She asked about the BDS movement and whether I thought it had any chance of influencing Israel’s behavior towards the Occupied Territories and the Palestinians. Not having thought much about the issue before, I gave a typically hemming-and-hawing answer, but the more I think about it the more I think that the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divest Movement is, perhaps, the most significant threat faced by Israel today. (As an aside, this is not at all an area of expertise of mine, so what follows is more musing than academic treatise. I’ll post more serious  stuff in my area of academic expertise soon.)

Seriously, you ask? Yes, seriously. Seriously, you ask again? More significant than the rockets of Hamas and Hezbollah? More significant than Iranian nuclear proliferation? More significant than the civil war in Syria and the potential collapse of the Assad regime? Yes. Let me explain.

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The Strange Death of Liberal Zionism

This is a guest post from Ariel I. Ahram (@ariel_ahram), an assistant professor of government and international affairs in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in Alexandria, Va. He is the author of Proxy Warriors: The Rise and Fall of State Sponsored Militias (Stanford University Press, 2011).

Laments over the state of Israel have become increasingly common. Especially in the midst of this summer’s war in Gaza, Israel’s erstwhile sympathizers and supporters have come forward questioning the Jewish state’s viability and morality. Israel, they claim, has lost the pretense of liberal democracy and is careening toward a kind of Jewish ethnocracy, an apartheid state ruling over millions of Arabs between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Though this discourse often takes a tone of Jewish ritual atonement, it has ramifications far beyond the Diaspora-Israel relations. A common commitment to liberal democratic principles is a key component of the cultural linkages underpinning the special U.S.-Israel relationship. Israel’s perceived rightward seems to have dire implications for the possibilities of peace as well. Many believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has effectively ruled out the possibility of relinquishing territory to a Palestinian state. But the problem is deeper that leadership. Ugly displays of racism, such as when right-wing Jewish thugs abducted and murdered a sixteen year old Palestinian boy in Jerusalem this July, seem to indict Israeli society as a whole. Liberal Zionism is, in a word, dead. Continue reading

Jus Ex Bello in Gaza

The New York Times recently reported that unidentified Israeli officials claimed that Israel is looking to unilaterally end the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. After more than 1800 Palestinian casualties in three weeks of fighting, international pressure to cease hostilities appears to be working. However, this strategy of the “silent treatment,” rather than a negotiated settlement may not be right course of action. In fact, there may be no morally right way forward, given the complexity of this case.

The anonymous Israeli officials told the Times that they did not want to “reward” Hamas with negotiations or a ceasefire. Thus Israel would merely wind down operations, since it has destroyed many of the tunnels it claimed were its primary objectives. The logic, reportedly, is that officials hope that a slow truce will take hold, as it did after hostilities in 2009. Continue reading

If Gaza Isn’t a Genocide, What Is?: discourse as resistance

At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites,  facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. ” Continue reading

Anti-Semitism in Germany: A Comment

“Mutti,” aka Angela Merkel, is not amused. Neither is the rest of the German political establishment, the German media, or the vast majority of German people. Three days ago, some of the protesters against the Israeli campaign in Gaza yelled anti-Semitic hate paroles, a man wearing a kippah was chased through Berlin, and the police didn’t interfere. This is absolutely shameful for all of us Germans and it is very understandable that the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, condemned the acts in the strongest words. However, Mr. Hadas-Handelsman is wrong to insinuate parallels between the current situation and the Germany of 1938. Continue reading

The Responsibility to Protect: Israel & Gaza

gaza bomb

The London School of Economics Middle Eastern Studies Center recently advertised that it is going to hold a symposium on whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine applies to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. In particular, it is gathering a cohort of experts to debate R2P’s standing in the conflict, as well as if the norm is the correct framework to be “useful;” however, “useful” for what is not at all clear.

R2P, which holds that states have a responsibility to protect their peoples against gross crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, is a contentious and nuanced doctrine. How it applies to the current situation in Gaza is not at all evident, given that this particular situation is not an “easy” case. The conflict is not “internal” in the way that Syria’s civil war is, and as such, few have called upon the parties to clearly uphold their “responsibility to protect.” Thus before anyone rings the death knell for R2P (again), we ought to consider the facts of the case. Continue reading

Israel in Gaza: What’s the Plan?

10557671_684954708219777_6909228407805769384_o(Photo by Oliver Weiken—EPA)

What’s the Israeli plan with all of this? According to the Israeli Defense Forces statement, “The IDF’s objective as defined by the Israeli government (in the ground offensive) is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

Despite the somewhat ambiguous language here, what this apparently means is that the Israeli government wants to return to some kind of status-quo ante — albeit one with a weakened Hamas stockpile of rockets and tunnels. It doesn’t want to return to full-scale occupation in Gaza and it doesn’t want to defeat Hamas. Both would be too costly. As Aaron David Miller writes : Continue reading

The Collapse of the Status Quo in Israel.

Just over a week ago – two days before the discovery of the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers and four days before the abduction and revenge killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir — I sat in the family quarters of a young Palestinian shop owner in Jersusalem’s Old City sipping mint tea with two colleagues.  We met the young shop owner and his two cousins while bargaining over some textiles in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.  At the conclusion of the sale, they thanked us for a rigorous negotiation and invited us to their family quarters where they had a museum style display of textiles, rugs, and other artifacts that their family had collected in their 150+ years as shop owners in the Old City bazaar.

As we sat drinking our tea, we asked the young men about the political situation. Continue reading

Engineering Peace

Can third parties do more than foster temporary, unstable ceasefires? Without perpetually holding the belligerents at arms’ length via heavily militarized buffer zones? Is it possible to make peace self-enforcing at a reasonably low cost?

Recent work on conflict management suggests not. Less intrusive approaches to mediation, such as information provision, fail to solve the problem that poses an obstacle to efficient negotiate between the belligerents in the first place. More intrusive approaches such as deploying armed peacekeepers are often successful, at least if they come after a conflict ends, but entail great costs. You want lasting peace on the cheap? Good luck with that.

Writing with Anna Pechenkina, I have argued that the consensus view may be too negative. Third parties can raise the effective cost of war by promising to provide subsidies if and only if war is avoided. But even that does not solve the underlying problem. Subsidized peace may persist, provided the provision of the subsidies persists, but it is not self-enforcing.

In a fascinating paper, Rob Carroll offers some optimism. He demonstrates formally that third parties can remove the risk of war, in a fundamental sense, by engineering transfers of economic and military resources in such a way that the natural outcome of trade will reflect the expected outcome of war. Thus, neither side will stand to gain from fighting and will not be expected to do so. In equilibrium, the two sides make their own peace—but they would not have done in the absence of mediation.

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About Those Israel Academic Study Trips…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kavita Khory, Professor of Political Science at Mount Holyoke College.

Last spring the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Boston invited me to participate in a weeklong study tour to Israel.   Designed for scholars of international relations, political science, and public policy, the purpose of the educational tour was to provide an “in-depth firsthand exposure” to Israel and promote a “deeper understanding” of its politics and society.  The faculty study tour, now in its fourth or fifth iteration, is billed as the cornerstone of the organization’s public diplomacy initiative and its program for Israel advocacy.  I never made it to Israel, but I quickly developed a profound understanding of the Israeli government’s double standards and the limits of an American passport.

I was excited at the prospect of visiting Israel for the first time and yet skeptical about the value of a politically motivated program.  I wondered whether my participation would be seen as an endorsement, as some colleagues argued, of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians.  If I did not go on the trip, would I be passing up a unique opportunity to learn about Israel in the company of exceptional scholars and teachers?  Conversations with colleagues, including past participants in CJP tours, convinced me of the educational benefits of the program, despite its obvious drawbacks.  So I set aside my reservations and signed up.

A week before our departure, the CJP informed me that I (the only member of the group and a US citizen) would need to carry a separate identification document at all times—a “card” certifying that I had been “prescreened” by the Israeli Consulate in Boston.  While “technically traveling with a U.S. passport is sufficient in Israel,” additional documentation, I was told, would ensure a “smooth” trip. Continue reading

The “Israel Lobby” and the Nixon Administration

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Eric Grynaviski, who is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at George Washington University.

When Mearsheimer and Walt wrote the Israel Lobby, I was skeptical. I bought the argument that supporters of Israel influenced US policy, but because I am not a realist, I did not buy the argument that this necessarily deflected the US from pursuing specific policies during the cold war or afterwards. The primary reason for my skepticism was the evidence: because of how recent US support for Israel is, there are few archival documents that have been opened that show the extent of the ‘Israel Lobby’s’’ influence. This is compounded by the book’s focus on recent episodes, like Iraq, where there are few available documents. And, as many have argued, it’s unclear whether Israel exerts more influence than other lobbies in the United States.

While doing research for a book that is will come out with Cornell next year about the US-Soviet détente, I read the recently released Foreign Relations of the United States volume on the 1973 war. This is a very important case for the Israel Lobby argument because there was a lot of political organizing around Jewish-related issues, especially Soviet restrictions on Jewish emigration, featuring one early episode for organized lobbies in the United States pressing an administration over Israeli security issues. In the language of case selection, it is a ‘hard’ case for the Israeli lobby argument because the ‘lobby’ was only beginning to become an organized political force in Washington.

This volume is enormously interesting for the Israel lobby argument, in part, because it showcases Nixon and Kissinger’s fears of the lobby. I’ve read a lot of cooky Nixon and Kissinger shenanigans over the years, but these do stand out, in part because they emphasize Nixon and Kissinger’s concerns about the Lobby over strategic considerations.

My reading of the volume is that it provides some direct evidence of the influence of pressure from the Israel lobby on US policy, bearing out not only the Israel Lobby argument but more generally the importance of domestic politics to Nixon’s foreign policy.

Below are excerpts from four documents released as part of FRUS, recounting different statements made by Nixon and Kissinger about political pressure brought to bear and how they saw it organized. Continue reading

What Western Analysts Got Wrong About the Israeli Election

flag-israel-XLThis is a guest post by Brent Sasley. Sasley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. He blogs at Mideast Matrix and Open Zion. Follow him on Twitter.

The Israeli election results are far messier than anyone had hoped, leading to furious debates about who got what right about the Israeli electorate. This seems to be especially true among Western analysts and media that aren’t close Israel watchers but do comment on Israeli politics.

And it is messy. On the face of it, the religious (Shas, United Torah Judaism, Jewish Home) and rightwing (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and National Union) bloc did drop from 65 seats to 61 (a joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Jewish Home).

Yet United Torah Judaism increased from 5 to 7 mandates, while Jewish Home went from 3 to 12 seats. At the same time, the “soft” or center right also dropped: Kadima went from 28 seats in the previous Knesset to 2 today, while a new party, Yesh Atid, appeared with 19.

And the center-left and left did better at the same time: Labor picked up 2 seats (13 to 15) while Meretz doubled its representation from 3 to 6 seats. The Arab parties stayed the same at 11 mandates.

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“Dangerous Neighborhood:” Operation ‘Defensive Pillar’ and its Interpreters

This is a guest post by Daniel J. Levine (University of Alabama) and Daniel Bertrand Monk (Colgate University). Daniel J. Levine is author of Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique. Daniel Bertrand Monk  is the co-editor, with Jacob Mundy, of the forthcoming: The Post-Conflict Environment: Intervention and Critique (University of Michigan, 2013). The authors’ names for this essay have been listed alphabetically. 

tl;dr notice: ~2600 words.

“As Ambassador Gillerman has said many times on our show, ‘Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood.” —  Fox News, 16 November 2012

“As he was asking instructions…a man in his early 20’s came up, stuck the point of a knife against his back and ordered him into the lobby of adjacent building….The youth was…ordered to surrender his money. He explained that the only reason he was there at all was that he had no money…. The man closed his knife and said: “Look, this is a very dangerous neighborhood.  You should never come to this part of the city.”  Then he instructed him to his destination via the safest route, patted him on the back and sent him on his way.” — New York Times, Metropolitan Diary, Lawrence Van Gelder

The Arab Middle East may have undergone significant political transformations in the period between Israel’s 2008 ‘Cast Lead’ Operation against Gaza and the recent ‘Defensive Pillar’ campaign, but no one in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv appears to think that a review of Israel’s ‘grand strategy’ is warranted. If anything, seasoned observers suggest, the Arab Spring seems to have driven Israelis to assume out of resignation a position which Zionist nationalists like Vladimir Jabotinsky once held with fervor. Writing in 1923, Jabotinsky evocatively described a metaphorical “iron wall” that would protect Zion from the ire of its neighbors; for their part, contemporary Israelis (we are told) can only imagine a future in which they will be perpetually enclosed within a (quasi-literal) Iron Dome. Hence, Ethan Bronner  reports: Israelis have concluded that “their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous…”’ To them “that means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will ever be broadly accepted” in the region.

Interpreters of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the ‘Anglosphere’ and seasoned Middle East watchers often resort to the same curious euphemism: seeking to make the region’s unique patterns of violence intelligible to American audiences and to themselves, they explain Israel’s impatience with diplomacy, and its reliance on disproportionate use of force, by referring to the “dangerous neighborhood” in which it finds itself. Bolstered by an “ideology of the offensive” that has been present in Israeli strategic/operational thought since the 1950s (see here, here, and here), and by the ostensible ‘lessons’ of the Shoah for Jewish self-defense, this euphemism evokes positions so pragmatically self-explanatory that no further justification is felt to be needed. The IDF Spokesman’s Unit even released a meme (see the opening image) with the intention of rendering this logic visually explicit.

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Obama’s “1967” Play

What to make of it? Was it significant, or just more of the same?

Of course it was significant — it is the first time a U.S. president has publicly claimed the “1967 lines” as the basis for negotiations and it came after an apparent “angry” phone call from Netanyahu to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding that the language be removed from the speech. It was clearly meant to send a signal.

For the past five months, the Obama administration’s reaction to the Arab spring has been a blend of soft rhetorical support with a wait-and-see approach. (This, by the way, was exactly the approach George H.W. Bush’s team took during the East European revolutions in 1989.)

But, we now have a better picture of where things are likely headed. And, while the Israeli-Palestinian issue was a non-factor in the Arab revolutions thus far, that’s about to change.

Liberal democratic neighbors might ultimately be good for Israel. But, we’re not likely to see any in the region any time soon — democratic transitions are long and difficult — and inherently unstable. New elites will emerge and exploit populist appeals and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is low-hanging fruit. The type of violence against the Palestinians that erupted last weekend, coupled with continued settlements are ready made for demagoguery and exploitation by new (and old) Arab politicians seeking to carve out political space and support. Given popular (median voter) opposition to Israel, any elections are likely to produce governments that are more skeptical and confrontational toward the Israelis.

At the Herzliya Conference in early February, Alex Mintz of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya warned that the strategic time-frame that used to be in Israel’s favor is now against it. With unstable revolutionary transitions, a weaker U.S. position in the region, and greater regional diplomatic energy coming from Ankara and Tehran, coupled with dysfunctional Israeli domestic institutions, significant gaps in Israeli society, and with problematic demographic trends, Israel is now, in many ways, in a more vulnerable position than at anytime since 1967.

Netanyahu and the American right have been banking on the status quo to create new realities on the ground — more settlements = new and better lines to negotiate from. That approach is now not only unsustainable, but will become increasingly more dangerous for the Israelis in the wake of the Arab revolutions. The strategic time-frame has shifted and it clearly is not on the Israeli side — that seems to be the gist of Obama’s “1967” play.

Let’s whack them

Got to love the neocons. They are outraged by Wikileaks and by the Obama administration’s response. William Kristol challenges President Obama with a series of questions:

Why not use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are? Why can’t we disrupt and destroy WikiLeaks in both cyberspace and physical space, to the extent possible? Why can’t we warn others of repercussions from assisting this criminal enterprise hostile to the United States?

Of course the irony here is that perhaps the top beneficiary so far from this batch of documents has been the neocons’ number one project: strengthening Israel’s position on stopping the Iranian nuclear program. In the cables from the Ankara, Amman, Cairo, Ryadh, and several embassies in Europe there is a strong and unambiguous consensus that Iran is isolated in its position. This has been reported for some time in the press, but the press reports have not always been consistent or clear. The raw language from so many foreign leaders disclosed in these cables now sends an unmistakable signal to Tehran and seriously limits Iran’s room for maneuvering here. It also almost certainly lowers the risk of Iranian miscalculation (i.e., that they can play different regional and international actors off of one another and avoid serious repercussions for continuing their program). It’s clear the Saudis and other Gulf States are serious in their objections and may well acquiesce to an Israeli strike , there is no room for Tehran to leverage Turkey, both Egypt and Turkey are aggressively working to pull Syria away from Iran, and the Russians can’t be counted upon. Furthermore, the Israelis and others now have a comprehensive, and open record of Arab and European positions that they can exploit for stronger action against Iran.

It’s probably too early to see any indication of the diplomatic implications of all of this next week when Iran and the EU resume nuclear talks. But, the release of the documents, despite the various embarrassments and other damages, does have the potential to alter the strategy and outcome of diplomacy on this. Through a new blend of pressure and engagement, we may be able to resolve this without war.

If that happens, Kristol and company may want to thank Assange and Wikileaks before they “whack” them.

Drip, drip, drip

I do not own a copy of the George W. Bush memoirs, but I have been following the bits and pieces that appear in my newspaper. I’m going to try to blog about a few of the most important items, especially as they pertain to my past blogging and/or research interests.

For example, the former President confirms that Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2002. This has long been a matter of discussion on the Duck.

Even more interesting, Bush says he rejected Israel’s request that the US bomb the facility. Given Bush’s “preemptive” war policy, Israel may have viewed this as a perfectly reasonable favor. Apparently, however, the CIA “had only ‘low confidence’ that Syria had a nuclear weapons program,” though they had “high confidence” that Syria had built the reactor — thanks to North Korea.

What this means is that the Bush Doctrine did have limits after all!

Then again, perhaps it is more accurate to say that Israel simply implemented US policy:

“Prime Minister Olmert’s execution of the strike made up for the confidence I had lost in the Israelis during the Lebanon war,” Bush writes. “The bombing demonstrated Israel’s willingness to act alone. Prime Minister Olmert hadn’t asked for a green light, and I hadn’t given one. He had done what was necessary to protect Israel.”

I’ll try to examine additional tidbits soon.

Bill Clinton and the Russian Israelis

Former President Clinton jumped into the Mideast Peace process earlier this week. According to Josh Rogin’s reporting at The Cable, Clinton met with a group of reporters and, when asked to comment about the current negotiations, began by saying:

“I wouldn’t say too much about this if Hillary weren’t Secretary of State and in charge of these negotiations, so I’m darned sure not going to say too much now.”

Ah, but that’s not like Mr. Clinton.

And it wasn’t.

According to Rogin, Clinton then proceeded “to go in depth on the issue for more than ten minutes.” In case you missed it, he suggested that the massive wave of Russian Jewish migration to Israel over the past two decades now makes a peace agreement much more difficult:

“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton said. “It’s a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian.

According to Clinton, the Russian immigrant population in Israel is the group least interested in striking a peace deal with the Palestinians. “They’ve just got there, it’s their country, they’ve made a commitment to the future there,” Clinton said. “They can’t imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it.”

While the comments haven’t registered in the American press, they did trigger a strong response from the Israeli right and the Russian emigre community. Netanyahu called the comments regrettable and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing (and mostly Russian emigre) party Yisrael Beitenu blasted Clinton for his”crude generalizations” about Russian emigres.

But, Clinton is right. The one million former Soviet Jews who migrated to Israel since the end of the Cold War have significantly altered the political landscape in Israel. Israel is different today than it was a decade ago. Majorities of these immigrants now consistently vote for right wing candidates and their views on the peace process tend to be significantly more hawkish than the rest of the public. And given the fragmented nature of the Israeli political system, a coherent bloc of this size wields significant political influence. Yisrael Beitenu is the third largest party in the Knesset — behind Kadima and Likud and ahead of Labor — and, as a member of the ruling coalition, is threatening to bring down Netanyahu’s government if he doesn’t lift the moratorium on settlements this weekend.

Natasha Mozgovaya — who emigrated from Russia as a child and is now the US correspondent for Haaretz — has this assessment:

…the Russian immigrants are the sector of the Israel population which has had almost no contact with the Palestinians, and sometimes even the Arabs who live in Israel.

…Terror and the West Bank separation fence have prevented any direct positive contact with the Palestinians. Some of the immigrants lacked the nuanced knowledge about the conflict prior to their coming to Israel, but they were quick to impose the “we need to fight to win” attitude, rather than “we need to talk to solve this.”

“We saw this in Chechnya,” some would say. “We saw this in Afghanistan in 70s. It’s the same mentality. They understand only force.”

While some Israelis remember with nostalgia buying hummus in Arab cities, the “Russians” remember mainly the suicide attacks….

These developments, along with other trends in Israeli society, will only increase the constraints on future Israeli governments on the peace process. All of which make Clinton’s comments more relevant at this moment and makes Aluf Benn’s editorial yesterday in Haaretz more compelling.

But don’t hold your breath.

The new Global Views survey is here! The new Global Views survey is here!

I admit it, I usually look forward to the release of US and international public opinion data. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released this year’s Global Views survey aptly titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities. Only a quick look so far, but a couple of things jump out on first glance:

First, these views strike me as far more rational (in the Page and Shapiro sense) than the general tenor of elite and media discourse. In the past decade, the US has spent roughly half of the world’s expenditures on defense (i.e., slightly more than every other country in the world combined). Despite that, most Americans appear to believe that US influence and power in the world has dropped precipitously in the same time period. Apparently, not enough bang for the buck. As a result, the public wants to be more “selective” in engaging the world. No surprise here.

But, consistent with data over the past twenty years, this isn’t a call for isolationism. The attitudes continue to show support for the US to “do its share” to solve the worlds’ problems and include a lot of support for maintaining American military bases abroad coupled with a desire to see more multilateral burden-sharing. Seems to be a call for smarter international engagement with more diplomacy and less reliance on US military as the cornerstone of US policy.

Second, the public has far less faith in the utility of military power than it did in the months after 9/11. Again, given the fiascos in Iraq and and Afghanistan, no real surprise here. But contrary to the increasing chorus of “bomb Iran” or “let Israel bomb Iran” voices, these attitudes also carry over to assessments of US obligations to Israel in its feud with Iran. According to the Executive Summary:

“A majority of Americans (56%) think that if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel and against Iran.

Fewer than half of Americans show a readiness to defend Israel against an attack by its neighbors.”

The report does not reveal the saliency of these particular attitudes and the views could well change if we move from hypothetical survey questions to real world events. But, it is clear the American public is wary of yet another escalating conflict and war. And, while there is a long history of robust US public support for Israel, these views do strike me as carrying very real and additional risks for the Israelis.

The World’s Most Dangerous Crisis

[cross-posted at Current Intelligence]

Earlier this week, President Obama announced the end of America’s combat mission in Iraq and pledged his commitment to begin drawing down American forces in Afghanistan beginning next summer. A key theme in his address to the nation was the need for the United States to redirect resources from nearly a decade of two wars and invest in the economy at home. Yet, although the President is trying to move away from an era of “perpetual war,” Washington is already abuzz about the next impending military action the region: an Israeli strike on Iran, which would likely disrupt US objectives and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and create enormous political, strategic, military, and economic costs to the United States around the globe.

Jeffrey Goldberg triggered the most recent discussion with his article “Israel is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran: How, Why – and What it Means” in the current issue of The Atlantic. Based on dozens of interviews over the past few years, Goldberg’s assessment is that most Israeli leaders (and citizens) now view a nuclear Iran as an existential threat and, as a result, there is “better than a 50 percent chance Israel will launch a strike on Iran by next July.”

I spent a couple of weeks in Israel in June also talking to senior Israeli political and military officials and I came away with a similar impression. The Israelis will not tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons and they will take military action to slow it if no one else does.

To be sure, there is a possibility that the Israeli government is sounding particularly hawkish as a signaling ploy to generate a stronger international response to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But I concur with Goldberg’s assessment that the current Israeli leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the existence of the state of Israel and the entire Zionist movement is threatened by a nuclear Iran. They see the threat as both direct – a nuclear Iran will act more aggressively by unleashing Hezbollah and Hamas to launch direct attacks on Israeli cities – and indirect – as the next generation of educated Israelis will leave the country for the relative safety and comfort of the United States or Europe. As a result, both the security and demography of Israel will be irreparably changed.

Regardless of whether or not this is the true nature of the threat, and whether or not a nuclear Iran could be contained, the dominant view in the upper echelons of the Israeli government is that Iran with a nuclear weapon cannot (and will not) be tolerated.

I’ve spent the past twenty years studying decisionmaking and war. Decisions for war are often a confluence of heightened assessments of threat coupled with various psychological or ideological biases that discount the costs of war. In this sense, decisions for war are more likely when leaders perceive an enemy as a paper tiger – ferocious and dangerous if left unchecked, but easily dismantled by swift and concentrated military action. In these circumstances, war becomes more likely when it is seen as both a necessary and relatively low cost instrument.

What is striking about the debate in Israel today is that no one seems to be discounting the costs to Israel if it does strike Iran. The Israelis that I met with all agreed that Israel would be isolated in the world if it launched a preventive attack. It would trigger large-scale retaliations by enraged Iranians and radicalized Muslim populations against Jews and Jewish interests around the world. The Israelis also expect that an attack would imperil the Palestinian Authority’s statebuilding efforts on the West Bank and trigger counter attacks against Israel from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and from Hamas in Gaza. Israeli intelligence officers told my group that it believes Hezbollah and Hamas have acquired somewhere between 40,000 and 45,000 rockets from Iran in the past several years. These weapons are more sophisticated and longer range than Qasam rockets used by Hamas in Gaza and can now strike almost every city and town in Israel. This would compel a full-scale land campaign by the Israeli Defense Forces in both Gaza and Lebanon.

And, finally, the Israelis are conscious that a strike would trigger a reaction against American military personnel and interests throughout the Muslim world. This would profoundly affect all American efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. More broadly, it could seriously destabilize the entire Persian Gulf and broader Middle East, and be disastrous to the global economy.

Even with this analysis in hand, many in the Israeli leadership appear to believe that striking Iran would be the best option if nothing else is done to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The challenge for the Obama administration in the coming months is to simultaneously deter Iran from moving forward on its nuclear weapons program while persuading the Israelis not to take matters into their own hands. This will not be easy. The Iranian regime has shown little sign of altering its course. Constraining the Israelis – difficult under any circumstances – will be considerably more difficult after the mid-term elections in November if the hawkish, pro-Israeli Republicans do as well as expected.

Obama entered office as the most boxed-in President since Harry Truman – facing two wars and a global financial crisis. But it is this situation that may be the biggest challenge for his Presidency, and the most dangerous. If Obama fails and the Israelis strike, the regional and global reaction to both Israel and the United States will be severe. We almost certainly will be looking at a fundamentally altered environment, in security and economic terms, for the next generation.

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