- By Marc Lynch
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements.
I spent the morning at a lecture organized by GWU’s outstanding Homeland Security Policy Institute’s Ambassador’s Roundtable Series featuring Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor. It was a profoundly dismaying experience. Because if Ambassador Meridor is taken at his word, then Israel has no strategy in Gaza.
Asked three times by audience members, Meridor simply could not offer any plausible explanation as to how its military campaign in Gaza would achieve its stated goals. Indeed, he at times seemed to offer this absence of strategy as a virtue, as evidence that the war had been forced upon Israel rather than chosen: "we have no grand political scheme… we were forced to defend ourselves to provide better security, period." With current estimates of 550 Palestinians dead and 2500 wounded, and the region in turmoil, the absence of strategy is not a virtue.
Meridor’s narrative is assuredly familiar to anyone who follows the op-ed pages. He argued repeatedly that "this was not a matter of choice, not something we picked or were hoping for", but rather a war launched by Hamas to which Israel was forced to respond. Hamas must be understood as part of the global struggle against radical Islamic terrorism, he insisted, a war led by Iran ("the world’s largest exporter of terror") and employing "sub- conventional weapons of mass destruction" (suicide bombers). The goal, he explained, was to create "a better, more secure situation for us and the Palestinians" by degrading Hamas’s capabilities and by re-establishing the credibility of its deterrence.
But how, exactly? After he failed to respond to an initial question about the end-state Israel hoped to achieve, I asked him directly about his government’s strategic logic. How, precisely did Israel’s government expect its military campaign to achieve its goals? His answer tellingly focused almost exclusively on body counts and targets hit: over 1000 Hamas targets hit ("not a small number"), many headquarters and tunnels and rocket production facilities destroyed. Tactics over strategy.
But as to a political strategy tied to the military campaign, nothing. No guidance as to whether Israel would re-occupy Gaza, or on what terms it would accept a cease-fire. No thoughts as to whether the campaign would cause Hamas to fall from power or help the Palestinian Authority regain political power. An absolute refusal to entertain a question about the negative effects of the images from Gaza on the wider region (the important image of the war, he nearly spat, should be that "terror is not allowed to win"). Would the military assault at least change Hamas’s strategic calculus? "This is for the future, only the future will tell."
In short, Meridor quite literally offered no strategy beyond hitting Gaza hard and hoping for the best. "In terms of creating damage we are certainly on the right path," noted the Ambassador. Few would disagree with that assessment, at least. But some might hope that the bloody, battered path might actually be leading somewhere.
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| The Cable |