Strategy and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Kindred Winecoff

Tom Pepinsky cites some political science research on this and other conflicts, and concludes:

The most topical recent work on this is Anna Getmansky and Thomas Zeitzof’s forthcoming APSR piece, which finds that exposure to rocket attacks in Israel is associated with greater support for right-wing parties among Israelis. The core feature of the rockets fired from Gaza is that they cannot effectively target people or installations. They fall almost randomly. Looking back in history to an earlier insurgent war, Matthew Kocher, Stathis Kalyvas, and I findthat South Vietnamese villages exposed to aerial bombing from the United States and Republic of Vietnam forces were more likely to shift towards NLF (Viet Cong) control. Our argument also relies on the indiscriminate nature of this violence, which was simply incapable of separating true NLF supporters from neutrals or even RVN partisans within Vietnamese villages. …

If the goal is to compel civilians and non-combatants to change their minds about the conflict, to create a new kind of politics, then it will not. Most worryingly, if our findings are true, then this dynamic creates incentives for each side to make it harder for its opponent to discriminate between its own combatants and non-combatants. This is sad, and frightening.

We can actually say more about this. In a significant article in International Organization from 2002, Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter (singular) notes that terrorist and insurgent violence is often a tactic used in order to mobilize support for extremist groups. In this case, in light of the quotes Brooks provides that I recount in my previous post, we could perhaps say that Hamas is hoping to provoke Israel into indiscriminate violence so that it will garner sufficient domestic and international support to force Egypt into ending its blockade.

Israel appears more than willing to play its part, and that’s more than a shame. But if this is an accurate assessment then Hamas’ actions are incredibly cynical. It would mean that if Gaza was not under an Israeli assault then Hamas’ international position would be undermined by Egypt’s (effective) economic sanction. Its domestic credibility might be negatively impacted over time as well. In other words, Israel is not the only thing standing in the way of Palestine being truly free.

One thought on “Strategy and the Israel-Palestine Conflict”

  1. (One more thing then I’ll give it a rest for a bit.) I asked Brent Sasley about this recently (although in the context of Kuperman’s ‘Strategic victimhood’ ..which seems similar to this ?) and his response was “It’s a plausible argument. Question is whether a model stands if it doesn’t explain all the behavior of the same actor.” Which is something I’ve been trying to come to a conclusion about.

    We know enough about the splits within Hamas(between moderate and militant factions) and the role specific actions (such as the Gilad Shalit abduction) can play politically within the organisation. So my problem with the Brooks article you quoted (though I didn’t read it as have limited NYT links) is that it implies a singular, unchanging Hamas strategy, rather than one dependant on internal power struggles and the political context within Gaza. (Also the idea that it’s a ‘proxy war’ seems over the top to me, and something he lifted from a recent Times of Israel editorial afaict)

    I wouldn’t argue against you, Pepinsky or the reams of literature on this (genuinely) but I still can’t see it fitting into their posture *this time*. If you look at rocket fire from Gaza since the last ceasefire

    you notice it did drop until it spiked after the West Bank round ups. Also if we look at *some* of the reports in the past month that claim the initial escalations were by Islamic Jihad and other militant factions, and look at it in the context of the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation agreement in April, then it seems more plausible that they fell in to this(or at least the ground was ceded to more militant factions within Hamas)

    Admittedly this doesn’t really contradict your point or the article(which I’ve only read quickly at the minute) , though it does(perhaps) speak to how the US and Europe(probably not Israel) should begin to think about, and approach relations with Hamas. (although they have at times shown themselves willing to accept Hamas as no longer a solely rejectionist party, and one that could be a plausible partner in any peace deal)
    I do accept the point that Hamas deserve substantial blame for this conflict and the context in Gaza, but I think the political dynamics at work within Hamas rarely get the same coverage as the political dynamics within Israel.(for obvious reasons, but it still gives us only part of the picture)
    (sorry fot the length of this, I will leave it there!)


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