Monday, 27 October 2008

Deterrence or Occupation?

In a Washington Times article from September 14th of this year, Daniel Pipes bases himself on a recent report by Major General Yaacov Amidror to argue that it is possible for the conventional armies of democratic states to defeat terrorist insurgencies.

General Amidror is a recently retired Israeli general. His report, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is available here.

General Amidror argues against the opinion often expressed by political and military thinkers that counterinsurgency wars are unwinnable. As Pipes says, "This debate has the greatest significance, for if the pessimists are right, Western powers are doomed to lose every current and future conflict not involving conventional forces (meaning planes, ships, and tanks)." Amidror lays out six conditions which he believes to be necessary for defeating insurgencies:

1. The decision of the political echelon to defeat terrorism and to bear the political cost of an offensive
2. Control of the territory from which the terrorists operate
3. Relevant intelligence
4. Isolating the territory within which counterterrorist operations are taking place
5. Multi-dimensional cooperation between intelligence and operations
6. Separating the civilian population that has no connection with terrorism from the terrorist entities

I would like to discuss Ariel Sharon's 2005 disengagement from the Gaza strip and northern Samaria in light of the second and fourth of these conditions (the ones dealing with territory).

But first I must quote a passage from Pipes. He explains that if Amidror's conditions are met,

the result will not be a signing ceremony and a victory parade but something more subtle – what Amidror calls "sufficient victory" ... By this, he means a result "that does not produce many years of tranquility, but rather achieves only a 'repressed quiet,' requiring the investment of continuous effort to preserve it." As examples, Amidror offers the British achievement in Northern Ireland and the Spanish one vis-à-vis the Basques.

After these conditions have been met, Amidror argues, begins "the difficult, complex, crushing, dull war, without flags and trumpets." That war entails "fitting together bits of intelligence information, drawing conclusions, putting into operation small forces under difficult conditions within a mixed populace of terrorists and innocent civilians in a densely-populated urban center or isolated village, and small tactical victories."

Amidror thus envisions two stages in the fight against an ongoing terrorist insurgency. The first stage, whose success depends on the six conditions listed above, aims to deprive the terrorists of their operational ability to carry out attacks. Amidror points out that this first stage "does not influence the terrorists' intentions." This is why the second stage, beginning once the goals of the first have been achieved, aims to prevent those who wish to carry out terrorism from reacquiring the means to do so. This second stage is indefinite in duration.

The Israeli security forces, guided by Ariel Sharon's government, successfully implemented the first of these two stages during the second intifada, defeating it approximately four years after it began in 2000. Sharon, however, chose not to live with the kind of status quo that General Amidror's second, indefinite, stage represents.

Rather than accepting the status quo of Amidror's second stage, Sharon carried out his unilateral disengagement. There are several different ways of understanding the disengagement; several different logics to impute to it. Ehud Olmert was among those who emphasised the demographic argument in favour of disengagement at the time: territorial concessions are necessary in order to safeguard the Jewish majority within Israel. Haim Ramon pointed up the logic of responsibility, arguing that Israel should not accept the continuing responsibility of governing the ungovernable Gaza. Ramon was among the few who clearly understood that Gaza was more a liability than an asset. Sharon, for his part, emphasised that disengagement was important in that it allowed Israel to take the diplomatic initiative and avoid a situation in which Israel would be vulnerable to increased international pressure, perhaps culminating in an imposed settlement. Incidentally, Sharon’s strategy in 2004 and 2005 coincides nearly perfectly with what he describes in his autobiography, Warrior (written in the late 1980s), as the approach he finds most likely to yield a successful resolution to the Israel–Arab conflict. I hope to explain this more fully in a future post. A fourth rationale for disengagement is well illustrated by Shimon Peres's position. His support for disengagement appeared largely to be based on the somewhat diffuse hope that it would improve Israel's international standing. By pointing out which rationale Sharon himself most emphasised, I do not mean to imply that he had any important disagreement with the demographic (Olmert), responsibility (Ramon), or international standing (Peres) argument, or indeed with the fifth rationale which I am about to discuss.

There is at least one more logic to disengagement, a fifth, and it is interesting to consider it in light of General Amidror's argument about counter-insurgency. This fifth logic, which might, incidentally, be most strongly associated with Ehud Barak, is that disengagement has the potential to transform an asymmetrical counter-insurgency war, with its attendant problems of urban warfare and long-term occupation, which tend to negate the advantages of a powerful conventional army such as the IDF, into something more like a conventional inter-state conflict. With the drawing of a definite border between Israel and Gaza and the rise of a Palestinian leadership there with most of the attributes of sovereignty, the possibility of protecting that border through classical, or semi-classical deterrence begins to appear.

General Amidror's conception of counter-terror in his second stage does not rely on deterrence; instead, it relies on constant military occupation with operations designed to prevent the development of any military capability on the part of the terrorists. The distinction at issue here is between protecting Israel by deterring her enemies and protecting Israel by allowing her enemies zero military capability.

Over these past few months, since Israel reached a cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza, Israel’s south has had quiet. It is beginning to look more and more as if this cease-fire is actually proof that for the first time since disengagement, Israel has developed the ability to deter Hamas in Gaza. This situation, should it hold and become more stable, is far preferable to that of permanent occupation. Long periods of tense quiet such as Israel has had on its Lebanese border since the withdrawal from southern Lebanon (carried out, incidentally, by Barak) are preferable to daily violent incidents between Palestinians and the IDF, Palestinians and settlers, and settlers and the IDF.

Periodic border wars, such as that against Hezbullah in 2006, are unfortunately to be expected. Such wars break out when the balance of deterrence shifts or becomes less clear. But even such wars are preferable to ongoing daily violence. The periods of quiet between such wars allow people to live normal lives, and in the wars themselves, the IDF is able to operate more freely and at something closer to its full potential.

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