16 January 2009 - No to cease-fire in Gaza
Israel is currently negotiating the terms of a cease-fire, signing agreements with the United States and talking to Egypt, which is an intermediary for Hamas in Gaza. At the same time, the Damascus wing of Hamas is meeting its Iranian and Syrian patrons at a summit in Doha and promising "victory."
Never mind, for the moment, the conditions of the cease-fire now under discussion. The process is deeply flawed and not one that will lend itself to any sort of successful agreement, whether short-term or long-term. Ironically, perhaps, the best alternative for long-run peace is continued war.
I am not one of those who thinks Israel's goal in Gaza must necessarily be to get rid of Hamas, nor do I think Israel must press for victory at all costs (though I don't think Israel should simply be satisfied with re-establishing its deterrent force, either).
But there is simply no way a cease-fire is going to achieve anything when there are two separate sets of negotiations going on--and where the reason for that is that the dominant powers in the region, the U.S. and Iran, are at odds and the latter has no interest in an overall peace process.
That will not change even after January 20. President-elect Obama and Secretary of State Clinton may want to "engage" Iran, but Iran does not want to "engage" the U.S.--and may not have any reason to, if it is as close to developing a nuclear weapon as some people seem to think it is.
(The term "tough diplomacy," by the way, which was sold by Obama to the public during his election campaign and which Clinton has now enthusiastically embraced, means nothing. It is an oxymoron, a weasel word. Diplomacy achieves nothing unless it is backed by rewards for progress and threats against failure.)
So at the moment we have two negotiations going on, each stage-managed by one of the regional powers, each purporting to describe the region as each side would like it to be: the U.S. maintaining the façade of an overall peace process, Iran issuing its usual threats about wiping out Israel.
Neither picture corresponds to reality. There is no longer a meaningful peace process, despite the best efforts of the U.S. to pretend otherwise. And Israel's impressive military and psychological victory over Iran's Gaza proxy has set Iranian ambitions in the region back significantly.
The only way a real peace process can begin to come together is if Iran realizes that it has to reduce tensions with the U.S.--and not just because the new American administration plays nice, but because the Iranian regime begins to realize it has no other choice if it wants to have a chance at survival.
During the American election, two alternatives were presented. One, championed by McCain, called for containing Iran through both diplomatic and military pressure. The other, proposed by Obama and now Clinton, proposed unilateral gestures of compromise and reconciliation to appease the Iranian regime.
It is not too late for Obama to reverse course and simply adopt his rival's policy, since it is the more sensible one. (He has already done so on Iraq.) But either way, both approaches depend on a largely unknown factor: the strength of internal opposition to the Iranian regime.
It is in America's best interest to bring about internal change in Iran, much as it did in the Soviet Union. Reckless hostility to Iran could serve the regime's interests by giving it a reason to crush dissent; but consistent military and political pressure combined with openness to diplomacy could help the regime's internal opponents.
Lately, Iran's weak opposition has been emboldened by public frustration with the regime's support for foreign terror groups like Hamas and Hizbollah, which drains resources from the Iranian economy and has worsened the country's economic and political isolation from the west.
The worse Hamas fares in Gaza, the stronger that opposition grows in its contention that Iran's vast expenditures on its proxies are a waste of money and life. That is why Israel's success thus far in Gaza is so important: it has not just made Israel look stronger but Iran weaker--especially to Iranians.
If there is no real peace process, but just a meaningless sentimental display in Washington and an even more ridiculous parody of talks in Doha, then the only way to bring both sides together is to create a new military and political reality that both regional powers have to acknowledge and take an interest in.
That new reality--there is no alternative--has to be Israel's ability and willingness to crush the extremist threat on its borders while there is no willingness on the Arab side to accept reasonable peace terms or even acknowledge the obvious military and political realities on the ground.
Perhaps a short-term cease-fire would allow that reality to sink in, and present the opportunity of an end to this war, to the great relief of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. But if Iran--and especially the U.S.!--cannot see the cease-fire "talks" as the sham that they are, then Israel must continue crushing Hamas.