Beyond de­ter­rence


Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By GER­SHON BASKIN The au­thor is the founder and co-chair­man of IPCRI – Is­rael Pales­tine Cre­ative Re­gional Ini­tia­tives (www.ipcri. org). His new book In Pur­suit of Peace in Is­rael and Pales­tine has been pub­lished by Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity Press.

Wars hap­pen. When they do, gen­er­ally the publics on both sides of the con­flict line rally around the flag. Pa­tri­o­tism, flag and coun­try en­able gov­ern­ments to send their young peo­ple into bat­tle with a will­ing­ness to die (and to kill). It is truly amaz­ing how easy it is to rally the troops be­hind the lead­ers. Threats are per­ceived – usu­ally based on gen­uine dan­gers, and then em­bel­lished by the politi­cians, who can never say for sure what the out­come will be.

The ex-gen­er­als line up on tele­vi­sion to beat the drums of war and to is­sue their warn­ings to the other side. Rarely are voices of cau­tion and calls for al­ter­na­tives to the use of force heard. The “ex­perts” take their turn es­ca­lat­ing the mood and the readi­ness to “let the other side get what they de­serve.” It is only af­ter the war that crit­ics are heard, while the pub­lic is lick­ing its wounds and bury­ing its dead. And then comes the lines of ex-gen­er­als and politi­cians who de­clare vic­tory and is­sue more warn­ings to the other side – “they haven’t seen any­thing yet – wait un­til the next time!”

This time it seems that Rus­sia, the re­gional over­seer, man­aged to con­tain the volatile flare-up that oc­curred last week­end with the breach of Is­raeli airspace by a Ira­nian drone launched from Syria. Un­til now, Is­rael has pretty much en­joyed a free hand in the skies over Le­banon and Syria – breach­ing their airspace and sovereignty at will. Tens of at­tacks in Syria have been at­trib­uted to Is­rael, and not de­nied, over the past years.

Is­rael has main­tained a pol­icy that it would not al­low the trans­fer of rock­ets and other weapons from Iran to Hezbol­lah. Is­rael has also de­clared that it would not al­low the Golan Heights on the Syr­ian side to be­come a base of op­er­a­tions for Iran. Against all the Is­raeli at­tacks there was vir­tu­ally no Syr­ian or Hezbol­lah re­sis­tance. Up un­til now Iran did not in­ter­fere di­rectly, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Rus­sia, and good luck, have pre­vented al­ter­ca­tions with Rus­sian troops on the ground.

Yet, even with a free hand, Is­rael is de­terred from launch­ing an overt, full-scale of­fen­sive against Hezbol­lah and Syria and of course Iran, be­cause of mu­ta­ble fac­tors in­clud­ing the Rus­sian pres­ence on the ground (and se­cu­rity un­der­stand­ings be­tween Rus­sia and Is­rael) and over 100,000 Hezbol­lah rock­ets pointed at Is­rael with the abil­ity, ap­par­ently, to hit any­where in the coun­try.

Hezbol­lah is also de­terred from launch­ing at­tacks at Is­rael fol­low­ing the Se­cond Le­banon War of 2006. Is­rael and Iran have also main­tained a bal­ance of de­ter­rence that seems now to have been tested. Iran’s de­ci­sion to send an ad­vanced drone into Is­rael’s airspace is cer­tainly test­ing the bound­aries. Is­rael’s force­ful at­tack against Syr­ian air de­fenses and, as re­ported, also Ira­nian manned air de­fense sys­tems are also tests of bound­aries.

The down­ing of an Is­raeli F-16 fighter jet, af­ter more than 30 years since the last Is­raeli war­plane was downed, has em­bold­ened, at least in words, and im­pres­sions, the Syr­ian and Ira­nian sides – per­haps Hezbol­lah as well. But be­cause the stakes are so high all around, and be­cause the en­tire world is still very un­clear about what US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump can and will do, in the ab­sence of any co­her­ent Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy, and be­cause Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin seems to be an ef­fec­tive war­lord, mu­tual de­ter­rence will prob­a­bly be main­tained – for now.

The ac­tions and rhetoric we’re hear­ing are very much part of a “cave­man” men­tal­ity, lack­ing any diplo­matic so­phis­ti­ca­tion. This is be­lieved to be the cul­ture of the Mid­dle East. We have heard it so many times: if you show any sign of weak­ness in this re­gion, you are dead. Any­thing less than threat­en­ing “fire and fury such as the world has never seen” is per­ceived as weak­ness. The Is­raeli ex­pres­sion of “fire and fury” is “the land­lord has gone crazy.”

Hezbol­lah leader Has­san Nas­ral­lah has his own spe­cial rhetoric as well (“Haifa and beyond,” “Di­mona,” etc.) that eas­ily adds more fuel to the fire. Is­raeli politi­cians are now ex­press­ing that the next war in the north will not be be­tween Is­rael and Hezbol­lah, but be­tween Is­rael and the Le­banese state – so that all of the peo­ple of Le­banon have been warned (as if they didn’t un­der­stand that from the war of 2006 – which was then against the Le­banese state and not just against Hezbol­lah).

It is true that Is­rael must main­tain its strong po­si­tion and qual­i­ta­tive edge. This is es­sen­tial for Is­rael’s safety and se­cu­rity. I sup­pose the bel­li­cose grand­stand­ing of Is­rael’s gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials is at times nec­es­sary. For years now, I have been wait­ing for an­other voice to come from se­nior Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials – a voice that would speak out to our neigh­bors in the re­gion in a dif­fer­ent tone, with­out reser­va­tions and con­di­tions, a voice for peace, recog­ni­tion, mu­tual se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity.

If only we had a for­eign min­is­ter who was a di­plo­mat or un­der­stood diplo­macy, or a min­is­ter for re­gional co­op­er­a­tion who ac­tu­ally ful­filled the ti­tle of the of­fice (the one we have is only a puppet spokesper­son of the prime min­is­ter). If only we had lead­ers from the op­po­si­tion pre­sent­ing al­ter­na­tives to the pub­lic – but the op­po­si­tion lead­ers in Is­rael are com­pet­ing over who is more pre­pared to use brute force and the power of the mighty Is­raeli army and air force. When the only lan­guage heard in the re­gion is one of force, power and vi­o­lence, how can we ever ex­pect to break out of the shack­les of the con­flict?

We know that there are mil­lions of peo­ple in Iran who do not sup­port the regime – per­haps even a ma­jor­ity of Ira­ni­ans. They have lit­tle rea­son to hate Is­rael. The same is true for Le­banon and prob­a­bly for Syria as well – where many have wit­nessed the hu­man­i­tar­ian aid pro­vided by Is­rael to hun­dreds of Syr­i­ans who have been wounded and treated in Is­raeli hos­pi­tals. It is true that no real peace will be es­tab­lished be­tween Is­rael and its Arab and Mus­lim neigh­bors with­out en­ter­ing into a gen­uine Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace process, but there is a lot of room to be­gin to change the cli­mate at the level of the peo­ples of this re­gion. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Is­raelis sin­cerely wish no harm to their Arab and Mus­lim neigh­bors – and the re­verse is also true.

Words mat­ter. In our on­line world the words of lead­ers are heard in real time beyond bor­ders and are taken se­ri­ously. Words shape re­al­ity, and our de­vel­op­ing re­gional re­al­ity is very dan­ger­ous. Re­spon­si­ble lead­ers must not only flex their mus­cles and beat their drums, they must first and fore­most pre­vent the next war. De­ter­rence is of­ten one kind of fix, but its longevity is usu­ally quite lim­ited. There are al­ways other op­tions to­ward reach­ing out and cre­at­ing a more pos­i­tive re­gional re­al­ity. How much has that been gen­uinely tried and tested? Not very much, I fear.

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