Mark Perry has a mini-blockbuster of a story in Foreign Policy revealing that a team of CENTCOM intelligence analysts offered a report about what U.S. military policy should be toward Hezbollah and Hamas. The results are exceedingly pragmatic, sensible, and for that reason, controversial:
…Senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams.
…The…report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces…The Red Team’s conclusion…is perhaps its most controversial finding: “The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities — the government of Lebanon and Fatah — that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively” (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas “embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies,” the two groups are “pragmatic and opportunistic.”
This is going to have the Israel lobby mavens screaming bloody murder and the Republicans crying: “You see, we told you Obama couldn’t be trusted on Israel.” Probably in a day or two Admiral Mullen and Gen. Petraeus will be trying to get the horses back in the barn.
I think what will anger these folks is that the Red Team is only speaking common sense to anyone who knows anything about the politics of Lebanon and Palestine. Of course, Hezbollah and Hamas, though many of their views and policies may be anathema to some living in western democracies, represent legitimate political opinion within their respective societies. And we’ve got to stop viewing such phenomena through our own particular U.S. lens and try to understand things more in the context of the Middle East.
Here is more reason bound to give Israel apoplexy:
…The CENTCOM team directly repudiates Israel’s publicly stated view — that the two movements are incapable of change and must be confronted with force. The report says that “failing to recognize their separate grievances and objectives will result in continued failure in moderating their behavior.”
I can just see Mort Klein, Malcolm Hoenlein and Bibi foaming at the mouth and dripping with sarcasm: “Instead of fighting murderous Middle Eastern terrorists you hopeless western liberals try to “understand” them and negotiate with them.”
We should be realistic in noting that no radical shift in U.S. policy is in the offing. But the fact that senior intelligence officers at the military HQ responsible for the Middle East region is contemplating the formerly unthinkable and has leaked such a report is significant:
“There is a lot of thinking going on in the military and particularly among intelligence officers in Tampa [the site of CENTCOM headquarters] about these groups,” acknowledged a senior CENTCOM officer familiar with the report. However, he denied that senior military leaders are actively lobbying Barack Obama’s administration to forge an opening to the two organizations. “That’s probably not in the cards just yet,” he said.
It’s that “just yet” that will have Bibi and Ehud and Gaby crapping in their shorts.
The report directly contradicted the claims of the Israeli military and intelligence regarding the nature of Hezbollah:
The Red Team downplays the argument that the Lebanese Shiite group [Hezbollah] acts as a proxy for Iran. The report includes a quote from Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, stating that if Lebanon and Iran’s interests ever conflicted, his organization would favor Lebanese interests. “Hizballah’s activities increasingly reflect the movement’s needs and aspirations in Lebanon, as opposed to the interests of its Iranian backers,” the report concludes. It also criticizes Israel’s August 2006 war against Hizballah as counterproductive. “Instead of exploiting Hizballah’s independent streak … Israeli actions in Lebanon may have had the reverse effect of tightening its bonds with Iran,” the authors note.
Regarding Hamas, the Red Team notes the clearest possible reasons why Israel might want to maintain the Islamist group as its national bogeyman:
…The senior intelligence experts…ignal their unease with Israel’s anti-Hamas policies, particularly the continuing Israeli siege of Gaza…[They] note that Israel’s strategy of keeping Gaza under siege also keeps “the area on the verge of a perpetual humanitarian collapse” — a policy that the intelligence report says “may be radicalizing more people, especially the young, increasing the number of potential recruits” for the organization. The report argues that an Israeli decision to lift the siege might pave the way for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which would be “the best hope for mainstreaming Hamas.” The Red Team also claims that reconciliation with Fatah, when coupled with Hamas’s explicit renunciation of violence, would gain “widespread international support and deprive the Israelis of any legitimate justification to continue settlement building and delay statehood negotiations.”
This passage lays out in bright lines why Israel desperately does NOT want Palestinian reconciliation and does not want to end the siege or see Hamas moderate its positions. It could mean the death of the settlement movement, the death of Greater Israel, and the death of the Occupation–all of which are phenomena many Israelis refuse to live without. Not just that they believe they cannot live without them, but that if they must renounce them it would endanger the State’s existence.
There are those among Israel’s right-wing supporters who claim that Hamas is irredentist and irredeemable. That simply isn’t true. As a NY Times column today by two U.S. Mideast counter-terrorism experts points out:
…When we talked to Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas…he said that his movement could imagine a two-state “peace” (he used the term “salaam,” not just the usual “hudna”…
After reading the following passage I think I’ve discovered a few new heroes. And who’d-a-thunk I could ever view a military intelligence officer as a hero? But there you have it:
…The CENTCOM Red Team report has been read by outgoing CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus…There’s little question the report reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East….A CENTCOM senior officer told me that — so far as he knows — there is, in fact, no parallel “Blue Team” report contradicting the Red Team’s conclusion. “Well, that’s not exactly right,” this senior officer added. “The Blue Team is the Obama administration.”
When it comes to the IDF I would advise a wise Israeli political leader (perhaps an extinct species) to run as far as he or she could from what the army or military intelligence advises as far as policy is concerned. When it comes to the U.S. military I’m shocked to say I believe just the opposite. It is the political leaders who are lost in the dark and those in CENTCOM who have the freshest and most innovative approach for resolving the conflict.
The Red Team report is also especially important in light of the groundbreaking testimony of Gen. Petraeus before Congress that the lack of resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict drives the Muslim world away from us, foments hatred, fuels militancy, and ends up costing the lives of U.S. troops. That’s the truth, a truth that few policymakers at the highest levels are willing to digest (yet). Or if they are digesting it, they’re still not willing to act on the realization. When Pres. Obama gets tough on Israel, demands an end to the Gaza siege, demands Israel accept a return to 1967 borders, that’s when the lesson will have sunk in–and not before.