Thursday, November 15, 2012

Israel, Hamas, Petraeus, Xi Jinping and BP

1) The conflict between Israel and Hamas is reaching new levels of escalation. As I predicted on Tuesday, the day before the conflict erupted, both Hamas and Israel have their own reasons for taking a tough stand. Regardless, in terms of my analysis now that the conflict is underway, I have a number of thoughts. First, in my view Hamas is to blame. Before Israel began to respond, Hamas had fired hundreds rockets at Israel settlements. No state can tolerate the continuation of such aggression. Israel had to respond. Now that Israeli forces are committed, Israel's objective should be to degrade Hamas ability to fire rockets at Israel and to challenge Hamas consideration of the consequences that such rocket attacks will incur. Second, in military terms, Israel should focus on air power rather than a ground force engagement. Facing an enemy such as Hamas, which revels in the use of human shields, any Israeli ground force action will inevitably cause significant civilian casualties (as well as put Israeli service personnel at far greater risk). In addition to the moral component of these casualties, Israel would suffer a strategic defeat in the public affairs narrative that would follow in media reporting. Populist sympathy among Palestinians would be driven towards Hamas and away from the more moderate leadership of President Abbas. Iran and Syria would attempt to use this narrative to drive a divide into the present anti-Assad alliance between Israel and Turkey. Iran and Syria would try to use such a narrative to distract attention away from their own activities in the region. In contrast to the risks inherent in a ground operation, the Israeli Air Force can continue to inflict severe damage on Hamas military infrastructure without ground force-comparative risks. The Israeli intelligence apparatus has extensive intelligence capabilities in Gaza and these assets enable effective targeting from the air.

2) The Petraeus 'scandal' rumbles along. It seems to me that this scandal represents the worst element of media sensationalism. The 'scandal' has seemingly not jeopardized any national security imperatives and yet the media are still baying for blood. General Allen, the ISAF commander, is now being dragged through the dirt for supposedly having committed the crime of the century - 'sending flirtatious emails'. Give me a break.

3) The coronation of the next Chinese leader is underway. Xi Jinping appears to be a pragmatist with some positive feelings towards the United States. We shall see. A strong relationship between China and the United States would be great for both countries. However, such a relationship must be built on a foundation of open dialogue and trust. Again, we shall see.

4) The BP settlement re- criminal justice sanctions, should draw a line under the Horizon explosion. Compensation has been paid, people have been fired. But we don't need a situation in which populist anger is allowed to drive the situation onwards into perpetuity.

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