The current Israeli operation in Gaza will not strike a lasting blow against Hamas, according to 88 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders.
Many Insiders see the conflict between Israel and Hamas as cyclical, anticipating that Hamas will regroup and rise again after the Israeli offensive ends. "Wash, rinse, repeat," one Insider said of the operation. Another referred to a commonly used metaphor to describe the conflict: "This operation is just one more round of 'mowing the lawn.' The grass will keep growing back."
Some consider the current conflict an outright win for Hamas. "Each Israeli blow probably creates another Hamas supporter," one Insider said. Another went even further: "Bibi played right into Hamas' hand. He is wholly predictable. Hamas' local support is strengthened with the perceived overreaction, putting moderate Palestinians on the defensive."
Hamas's strength lies in its usefulness to Gazans, and the fundamental economic and humanitarian problems in the Gaza Strip are what perpetuate its hold on power and the conflict itself. Even once the current operation ends, "the underlying problems will still be with us," according to one Insider.
To make a lasting difference, some suggest alternative approaches. "Hamas is not going away. It answers a political need in Gaza," one Insider said. "Israel needs to get Gaza on its economic feet so radicals like Hamas have less appeal." Another suggested Israel take a more prudent political approach: "Israelis need to find a way to take actions that strengthen moderate Palestinian factions."
Generally speaking, a military operation is by definition unlikely to be effective, one Insider said. "Things that can be bombed are not the source of Hamas's power."
Separately, about two-thirds of Security Insiders say that President Obama should involve Congress in a nuclear deal with Iran.
Some of the Insiders that support involving Congress think that congressional approval is essential to the legitimacy of any nuclear deal. "Although foreign policy is rightly the purview of the executive branch, it can be made stronger if the president gets Congress (especially its most influential members) to support his foreign policy initiatives," one Insider said.
Another Insider was wary of the potential damage to the image of the U.S. overseas if Congress rejected a deal after it was struck. "Better to swallow a little political pride and go for congressional approval than have an embarrassing rejection, with the risk of a dangerous global perception of U.S. weakness and vacillation," the Insider said.
Insiders see a number of ways the administration could involve Congress. It could divide and conquer: "If he can split up Congress into camps so that Rand Paul, [Ted] Cruz, and [John] McCain are countered by a few other voices, its a huge plus." Alternatively, the president could involve a few congressional leaders in the negotiation process. "Think of the role played by Senator Lugar and Senator Nunn in cooperative threat reduction; the issue is important enough for the next generation of leadership to step up."
If Obama neglects to engage with Congress, there is more danger than just a large-scale foreign policy failure, according to one Insider. "He has no choice," this Insider said. "If he does not, he will face impeachment after the midterm election."
According to one Insider, congressional involvement in the deal is a chance for Washington to work as it should. "Could it be that this will be one of those rare cases where our system of representative government works, in this case to protect and advance core U.S. national interests?" the Insider asked. "Let us hope so."
While two-thirds of Security Insiders recommended that Obama work with Congress on the deal, the remaining third advised the president to stay away. "He's the commander in chief and has to act like one—Congress will always provide noise from the sidelines, but this is a time for the president to exercise leadership and act in the best interests of the country," one Insider said.
Acknowledging that Congress would eventually have to get involved in order to lift sanctions, these Insiders urged the president to keep the process out of the hands of Congress as long as possible. And according to one, even though Congress is agitating for a role in the deal, it doesn't really want to play a part. "This is a no-win situation, and Congress doesn't want to be involved in such actions (even if they say they do) as then it simply forces them into having to take politically difficult positions. See, e.g., strikes in Syria."
And one Insider found fault with this specific Congress. Asked whether it should be involved, the Insider said, "In principle, yes. Given this particular Congress and the interests influencing it—no."
Will the current Israeli operation in Gaza strike a lasting blow against Hamas?
Yes: 12% / No: 88%
"The time to weaken Hamas is right for Israel, given Iran's closer threat in Iraq."
"The Israelis will do all they can to decimate Hamas. They expect to be condemned regardless of what they do or don't do, and are tired of having their children run to shelters all the time. No one has forced Hamas to fire rockets. If they agree to stop, then Israel will have far less of a reason to seek to eliminate what is a terrorist group."
"Lasting in the sense of six to 12 months, but not much more."
"Israel is trying to sweep the ocean back with a broom. It will fail without a coherent politico-military strategy to deal with the Palestinian issue."
"Things that can be bombed are not the source of Hamas' power."
"There is no 'lasting blow.' Hamas is an entrenched political organization, with substantial support in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank. It is not an organization that uses terror tactics in isolation from its other governance activities. Each Israeli blow probably creates another Hamas supporter."
"The Israeli operation is strengthening Hamas."
"It is an effective enlisting device for the next generation of Hamas fighters."
"And if it does, the Israelis will next face a group even more fervently anti-Israeli."
"Hamas and similar groups have always demonstrated an opportunity to reconstitute themselves. The underlying problems will still be with us."
"Hamas is not going away. It answers a political need in Gaza. Israel needs to get Gaza on its economic feet so radicals like Hamas have less appeal."
"This is just the latest in Israel's war crimes against the Palestinians. And once again, the White House simply closes its eyes to the carnage in fear of losing pro-Israeli votes. Disgusting."
"We've seen these Israeli operations into Gaza before, and they have not significantly weakened Hamas' hold on Gaza. Hamas will only weaken if a broad majority of the Arab population decides that peace with Israel is in its best interest. There is some movement in that direction, but it's not enough yet."
"Not lasting for more than a year or two. Bibi played right into Hamas' hand. He is wholly predictable. Hamas' local support is strengthened with the perceived overreaction, putting moderate Palestinians on the defensive. Israelis need to find a way to take actions that strengthen moderate Palestinian factions."
"Short of full-scale ground invasion and long term occupation, limited military strikes will drive Hamas underground but not defeat them. Militant Hamas elements will only cease strikes against Israel when moderate Palestinians and other Arab supporters pressure them enough."
"The exchange is simply another incident that will surely be repeated until Hamas decides to seek a lasting peace."
"Tough to imagine you got a lot of yeses here. Hard to believe 'striking a lasting blow against Hamas' is what Bibi hopes to achieve."
"Not a lasting blow in the sense of a permanent blow, but certainly they can knock the wind out of Hamas for a few years, given the group's already weakened political position."
"I would hope, but unlikely."
"But Israel is clearly intent on hurting them badly while Hamas is isolated internationally."
"Hamas has the broad support of the Palestinian people and they are deeply embedded with the services they offer at the local level; this is matched by financial support from across the region by individuals and nation states... They will not break; hopefully they will bend."
"Experience indicates this operation is just one more round of 'mowing the lawn.' The grass will keep growing back."
"This is a recurring cycle that unfortunately repeats itself every three to four years—wash, rinse, repeat."
"The conflict between Israel and Hamas will only change its form over time. This is a fight to the finish by both parties, and both acknowledge that they can never win it in any meaningful way that would allow them to realize their ultimate goals. And neither sees any common interest upon which they could base a lasting negotiated peace deal. This conflict approaches Clausewitz's definition of 'absolute war' better than any other ongoing fight."
"Despite all appearances, this is not a physical, kinetic conflict. It is a skirmish in a much broader conflict with broader context. With 7/24 global information ubiquity, as we are exposed daily to regional conflicts with broader context, from the Ukraine to Gaza, we run the risk of desensitization and loss of relevance. To break that pattern requires courage. Northern Ireland is far from perfect, but far better than it was 20 years ago."
"Only a lasting peace settlement, over time, will have a lasting effect on Hamas."
"Gaza residents have so much hatred toward Israel, and are so tolerant of their radical and authoritarian leaders, that they have yet to be chastened and pursue a political solution. Israelis are so angry about Gaza's attacks that they are unwilling to find a negotiated solution."
Should President Obama involve Congress in a nuclear deal with Iran?
Yes: 65% / No: 35%
"Although foreign policy is rightly the purview of the executive branch, it can be made stronger if the president gets Congress (especially its most influential members) to support his foreign policy initiatives. This is particularly true in the case of controversial foreign policy issues—and any nuclear deal with Iran would certainly be controversial. In this case, the president should not only involve Congress, but he should actively solicit the views of key members who can provide insights and experiences he and the administration are lacking."
"Any agreement with the Iranians will be controversial and set the relationship for years to come. Better to swallow a little political pride and go for congressional approval than have an embarrassing rejection, with the risk of a dangerous global perception of U.S. weakness and vacillation."
"Any nuclear deal with Iran will involve constant charges by some in Congress, likely not without merit in some instances, of Iranian noncompliance with the accord, or of weaknesses or ambiguities in it. The best way for the president to protect his interests and sustain U.S. domestic political for the accord will be to involve Congress early. In negotiations with the USSR and then Russia on strategic arms, the Senate and House created arms control observer groups which met regularly with the negotiators, creating stakeholder support prior to submission of treaties to the Senate for advice and consent. This model should be followed for the Iranian negotiations."
"At a minimum, you would think the president would want to build support for a 'deal.' But I believe it is unlikely that the president will involve Congress in any meaningful way.
"At the very least, [Secretary of State John] Kerry should seek concurrence on a deal with Iran from the Senate. It is the duty and constitutional requirement of the Senate to provide advice and consent on matters of national importance."
"But narrowly focused on leadership who can make a difference and add value in the region; think of the role played by Senator Lugar and Senator Nunn in cooperative threat reduction; the issue is important enough for the next generation of leadership to step up."
"Even though it's politically painful, and Congress borders on incompetence and dysfunction, it is better to bring the leaders in and attempt to educate them. If he can split up Congress into camps so that Rand Paul, [Ted] Cruz, and [John] McCain are countered by a few other voices, its a huge plus. If Congress does the predictable thing of criticizing but running away from taking any real action, Obama can say that at least he tried."
"He has no alternative to involving Congress, because he's going to need legislation to lift all the sanctions that Iran will insist be removed. This is a dilemma for the administration, of course, because the only deal they can realistically cut is a bad deal for the U.S., and Congress (not surprisingly) is going to resist approving such a deal. Could it be that this will be one of those rare cases where our system of representative government works in this case to protect and advance core U.S. national interests? Let us hope so."
"He has no choice. If he does not he will face impeachment after the midterm election."
"He is too determined to get a deal, come what may. Which means it will be a bad deal."
"If he doesn't, Congress will undermine whatever deal he strikes, so he's better off involving them from the beginning."
"It's not that the president should involve Congress, it's that Congress will be involved regardless. Congressional action will either support or undermine any deal that's agreed to. By extending the talks past the November midterm U.S. elections, at least the president will know which Senate he's dealing with in the 114th Congress (or maybe he won't—it might all come down to the December runoff in Louisiana)."
"Otherwise, domestic politics could easily shoot down a foreign policy success. The administration ought to be bringing key members of the Senate on board now, with briefings and backgrounders. But they probably are not doing that, which will not help later."
"President Obama is in a no-win position with Congress. No matter what agreement is reached, it will not be good enough for some elements in Congress. But, if he fails to involve Congress, political outcry will be overwhelming. Obama should use congressional approval of any agreement as a tool to pressure Iran into a better agreement."
"To be pragmatic, yes. But it does depend on the nature of the 'deal.' "
"Yes, but as little as required by law."
"He's the commander in chief and has to act like one—Congress will always provide noise from the sidelines, but this is a time for the president to exercise leadership and act in the best interests of the country."
"Involving Congress in ongoing foreign policy negotiations is never a good idea."
"Not if he can help it. But Congress may have to get involved to lift sanctions."
"The less involved Congress is for the time being, the less risk there will be of Congress causing the negotiating process to collapse. Eventually, there will need to be legislative action for sanctions relief, but that can wait."
"In principle, yes. Given this particular Congress and the interests influencing it—no."
"Avoid the knee-jerk uncritically pro-Israel lobby as much as possible. The U.S. has important, stand-alone interests with Iran (e.g., stabilizing Afghanistan) which shouldn't be hostage to AIPAC's views."
"His track record in reaching settlements and establishing red lines or lines in the sand is not strong. The continuing vexing issue is that he will likely need congressional approval for any substantive agreement that ascends to the treaty level. Good luck."
"This is a no-win situation, and Congress doesn't want to be involved in such actions (even if they say they do) as then it simply forces them into having to take politically difficult positions. See, e.g., strikes in Syria."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Michael Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Mike Breen, Paula Broadwell, Mark Brunner, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Janine Davidson, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Todd Harrison, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Mark Jackson, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Michael Leiter, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Barry Rhoads, Wilhelm Richard, Bruce Riedel, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Gary Samore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, Tammy Schultz, John Scofield, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, James Stavridis, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the July 23, 2014 edition of NJ Daily as Insiders: Israeli Operation Won’t Strike Lasting Blow.