For the Sake of Peace, Pray for the IDF
Here’s my thesis: The best thing that can happen for peace in the Middle East, today, is a decisive military victory for the IDF in Gaza – not an immediate ceasefire. Now that you’ve read that, take a minute to get angry, yell at me, tell me I’m wrong, and the like. Good. Next step, let me explain myself.
I am not going to discuss the question of whether this operation was a good idea, or a beneficial one. I honestly don’t know. I hear arguments on both sides, and I’m not convinced either way. That’s a question for historians, political scientists and ethicists. The question that we must ask ourselves is, “What to do now?” What is the best thing that can happen today? What ought we tell our elected representatives?
Right now, a lot of us on the left are pushing for a ceasefire. There are plenty of good reasons for this, including the suffering of both the Palestinian and Israeli people. Also, as has been pointed out, time and again, every act of violence on either side hardens the hearts of the victims, and lessens the prospects of peace in the future. There is also the pragmatic concern for Israel. If the war continues without a ceasefire, Israel risks making a fool out of itself, a la the Second Lebanon War. All of this made sense to me, and I agreed, until Israel launched the ground assault.
With that attack, the Israeli government rolled a scary pair of dice. The stakes are huge. A loss means an emboldened Hamas, a further erosion of Israel’s deterrent capability, and perhaps most clearly it means that Binyamin Netanyahu becomes the next prime minister, with a huge mandate. For the past while, Netanyahu has been running as a tough guy. He’s taunted the government daily, telling them that they’re not doing enough to protect Israel’s southern residents. Every rocket that was fired meant a new vote for Bibi. This pressure, perhaps more than any other one, is what forced Israel’s hand this winter.
On the other hand, success means the facts on the ground are changed. The South is safer – for the time being, Israel’s deterrent capability is enhanced, and Hamas is further isolated and weakened, which in turn emboldens Fatah. As for the internal politics, polls released this week already showed Bibi’s decline, with Labor suddenly turning itself into a serious contender.
I’ll give you another way of looking at this too. Henry Kissinger has an interesting take on the ’73 war. His idea is that after the resounding loss in ’67, Egypt was terribly embarrassed. It needed ’73 to reestablish its own confidence. After that victory, Sadat was then able to engage with Israel and sign the Camp David peace treaty. I wonder if this war can function the same way as ’73. If Israelis feel that they have the ability to defend themselves against aggression, then they will be more willing to compromise and sign a treaty. If, on the other hand, Israelis still feel weak and vulnerable, there is no way that they will be willing to further jeopardize their security.
So, here’s the deal. It’s not clear which way this war will go, but military success means that the ground is set for a possible peace settlement. A premature ceasefire guarantees a strategic loss for Israel, and the end for any potential agreement. The worst thing that we can do for Israel, for Palestine, and for peace in the region is ask our congressmen to press Israel for a ceasefire. It is counter-intuitive, it hurts, but just as in pursuing war, in pursuing peace we must always keep strategy in mind before contemplating tactics.
Peace is not something that will happen over night. It is a difficult and long road, and we must always hold on to that hope.