Lessons in Foreign Policy That Will be Referenced Forever

Israel’s Very Existence is Under Threat. Bad Decisions Do Not Help

Welcome to the Impossibilities of Foreign Policy

 Foreign affairs are often the most impossible endeavor in human interaction. It is a process filled with emotion and inadequate information. Personalities of leaders rise to the occasion or make it worse. One is often in conflict with allies and the necessity of working with adversaries.

Valid goals conflict with each other. Timelines are unforgiving. Risks may be high but almost impossible to measure as to likelihood. Choices are often all bad; at best, each choice carries real costs.

Events like the current war in Israel and Gaza is an example of how bad things can be, even in the best circumstances (which are not the case here – everyone has only bad choices now).

Know that foreign policy is organically unstable, unpredictable, and rarely wholly satisfying for everyone involved.

 Some Foundational Points Up Front

 This post is going to say some difficult things but before doing so, let’s be clear on essential points that frame what follows.

  1. The world owes Israel: There is no denying the Holocaust (although, remarkably, some do try to deny it) and that the world did far less than could have been done. The Jewish people deserve a secure homeland. This is not a blank check for governments and decisions as we see with Netanyahu, but a lot is owed.
  2. Hamas is a terrorist organization of the worst kind: Hamas has always been crystal clear. It has one goal: the complete destruction of Israel. It has one primary tool – kill as many Jews as it can, especially but not only in Israel. As will be noted later, this leads to the most horrific and inhuman acts imaginable. This is not a liberation organization or a political group. It is a murderous band.
  3. Israel is right that Hamas must be crippled (ideally eliminated): Netanyahu played along with the concept of working in some way with Hamas (more on that shortly), but even he must now know this cannot be. It makes no sense to try to figure a way for Hamas to continue to rule. It can be badly hurt, but completely eliminating it? Good luck with that. In fact, the current conflict will damage it badly, but as the war is going now, more recruits are being created daily.
  4. The Palestinians Have Been Treated Badly by Everyone: When Israel was founded, there was the prospect of a Palestinian state as well, although that concept had less substance and organization behind it. Still, Palestinians and their allies rejected the concept and the Palestinians have been homeless ever since. Arab states did little to integrate them or to support them in any meaningful way. There is a lot of blame to spread for the Palestinian situation – including the Palestinians.
Hamas is Responsible

 This posting will take a lot of people to account for where things are today, but let’s not lose track that what Hamas chose to do some 50 days ago is unacceptable. People need to face the specifics of this crime, in all its terrible detail.

In some ways, the worst thing is that Hamas had a strategy that has come about as they desired. The way Israel chose to strike back was exactly as they expected. Hamas willingly set up the people of Gaza to take maximum damage, thus breaking the progress of Arab- Israeli relations that might have been.

Two Other Men Made This More Likely to Happen

One is Netanyahu. As he moved increasingly to the right in domestic politics, he saw the PLO in the West Bank as a political challenge. He set out policies to marginalize the PLO (not hard to do – its is a famously ineffective and corrupt organization). He appears to have at least winked at Hamas, thinking the better they looked, the worse the PLO looked. Now he has a war like no other at home and next door and no viable alternative to Hamas for Gaza.

The other fellow, you may be surprised to hear, is Donald Trump. When Trump started his efforts to move Arab – Israeli connections, he made it clear the Palestinians were not even an afterthought – and the Arab states did not disagree. People who had no hope for 50 years now had even less. Desperate people with nothing to lose do terrible things.

 Bad Choices That Will Make All This Worse

In my view, Israel is unnecessarily losing the public relations war, and that can have real political and security impacts. Some examples:

  • The murders committed by Hamas in Israel are almost unimaginable. People have heard parts of them. Israel should show the pictures, film the survivors. Old and crippled were murdered in their wheelchairs. Children witnessed their parents being murdered. People were beaten, mutilated, then murdered. Show the atrocities. Don’t let people ignore what happened.
  • The early hospital bombing for which Hamas and Israel blamed each other. It does appear likely that it happened because of a failed Hamas rocket, as Israel claimed. But the debate continued for days. Israel would have been better served to have called for independent analysis with a transparent process and offer all the data they had, promising to fully cooperate with such an investigation.
  • The world has been properly seized by the suffering of Gaza residents, especially children and those in hospitals, lacking the most basic support. Once Israel began ground operations, they would have done well to have advised they would provide needed support to those in areas under Israeli army control. It would be an incentive to cooperate.
  • As painful to acknowledge as it is, the only way to defeat Hamas and minimize truly excess losses among civilians is urban warfare by ground troops supported by other fires, but not a fight led by bombardments. This means far more Israeli casualties, but the bomb them all course will not work, it will only cost.
Longer Term Bad Decisions

  • The extremist Israeli settlers on the West Bank are completely out of control. Netanyahu and his cabinet have effectively encouraged them. In the end, this will fail, badly. Israel has to get this under control and within international law.
  • Getting back to a two state solution is the only course that will end permanent insecurity for everyone in the region. Failing to do this, dooms future generations. Biden is right to push for this solution.
  • It appears there is no Plan B for Gaza. Israel has effectively destroyed it. No one is capable – or interested in – trying to govern it. It will take decades to rebuild. The last time Israel occupied Gaza, it was a mess for everyone concerned. I don’t see may leaders out there who have the vision or the capacity to change this.

The Last Hard Truth

Netanyahu is not the leader to solve any of this – he helped create much of it. Until Israel gets competent, moral leadership, it will suffer. So too the Palestinians.

For an excellent take on this conflict and what could follow, read Tom Friedman’s article, I Have Never Been to This Israel Before. It should be outside the pay wall.


Bill Clontz, Founder, Agents of Reason Bill Clontz

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