The Israeli-Palestinian War: Escalating to Nowhere

The Israeli-Palestinian War: Escalating to Nowhere

The Israeli-Palestinian War: Escalating to Nowhere

The Israeli-Palestinian War: Escalating to Nowhere

Synopsis

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more than a local or regional dispute. Its ongoing and escalating nature increases the risk that the violence will spill over its present borders and contribute to both extremism and terrorism. While the Intifada from 1987 to 1993 was largely a popular uprising and a political struggle, the recent clash is a war with a steady escalation between conventional and unconventional forces. It is in the interest of all major powers, the international community, and the United Nations to press both sides to accept a realistic peace plan.

Noted Middle East expert Anthony Cordesman details this continuing struggle by explaining the issues at stake for each side; the various combatants (both directly and indirectly engaged); as well as the course of the war in its various incarnations. The situation on the ground is complex and the quest for peace is ever more uncertain. If the Intifada was a struggle for recognition that a peace had to be reached that was just for both sides, the Israeli-Palestinian War has polarized both sides away from peace, convincing them of the justice of their own cause and tactics and the fundamental injustice of the other side's tactics and goals. Each side has used human rights, international law, and civilian casualties as political weapons. The history of a near century of conflict is used to justify war rather than a search for peace.

Excerpt

One of the many tragedies of the war between Israel and the Palestinians that began in late September 2000 is that it has become a lowintensity conflict in which asymmetric warfare has replaced the peace process, and politics have become an extension of war by other means. There are still many reasons for hope. However, it is too clear that the peace process is reversible, that the Israeli-Palestinian War can become a progressively more lethal conflict, and that efforts to put peace negotiations back on track can fail entirely, or become locked in an explosive stalemate that could last for months or even years.

The present conflict differs sharply from the first struggle between Israel and the Palestinians. If the Intifada from 1987 to 1993 was largely a popular uprising, dominated by stone throwing and sporadic acts of violence, the Israeli-Palestinian War is dominated by the steady escalation of a battle between conventional and unconventional forces. The Intifada was primarily a political struggle, but the Israeli-Palestinian War is a war. If the Intifada was a struggle for recognition that a peace had to be reached which was just for both sides, the Israeli-Palestinian War has polarized both sides away from peace, convincing them of the justice of their own cause and tactics and the fundamental injustice of the other side’s goals and tactics.

Modern warfare has been a struggle of ideas as well as a test of force, and there is nothing new about the fact that each side sanctifies its own behavior and demonizes that of its opponent, while both sides struggle for the support of neighbors, neutrals, and world opinion. The Israeli-Palestinian War does, however, illustrate that it is incredibly difficult for two sides that have different values and use different tactics to understand the pressures that shape one another’s military behavior and the reasoning behind it. It also illustrates that combat does not have to be intense, and casualties do not have to be high, for war to become extremely bitter.

If anything, the Israeli-Palestinian War has shown that each step of escalation can lead to further asymmetries in tactics, weapons, and targeting. These asymmetries in turn convince each side that the other is not only guilty of immoral and illegitimate actions, but that it cannot be trusted to move back . . .

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