Can Israel Learn from American Mistakes?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

An article in the journal’s new issue offers lessons that leadership in Jerusalem should take away from Washington’s blunders in the Middle East.

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Last month, Al Jazeera compiled recently-published statistics about the war in Gaza, and the numbers reveal astounding levels of violence: in the last six months, at least 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, with 77,000 wounded and 7,000 missing. An estimated 62% of all homes in the territory have been damaged or destroyed, and more than one million people are facing severe malnutrition and starvation. 

With the humanitarian situation worsening, Israel maintains its refusal to negotiate, a strategy that dates back decades. In the last several months alone, it has rejected multiple attempts at a ceasefire, most recently on May 7th, despite Hamas’s announcement that it would agree to the recent Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal. Analysts believe the wider issue is that Israel is not willing to agree to a permanent ceasefire, even after Hamas releases Israeli hostages. 

The current approach continues to fail; Hamas is far from destroyed and Israel has provided no alternative or solution. The Netanyahu government appears to have learned little from the last two decades of conflicts in the region, the most devastating of which its most important partner, the United States, has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan; Jerusalem now seems on track to follow. 

In a new article published in Middle East Policy, “Lessons for Israel’s Gaza War in America’s Strategic Blunders,” Mahmood Monshipouri analyzes the failures of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and argues that Israel must pursue a long-term strategy that stretches beyond the military and security dimensions. 

Monshipouri’s analysis finds that Washington was unsuccessful in these wars for one primary reason: the war on terror was founded on a strategy of regime change through military intervention, rather than “achieving a realistic political settlement.” The declaration of a war on terror, he says, “creates expectations of victory even though the long-term process is complex and requires empowering local actors and even former enemies.” These expectations are often let down when this approach inevitably leads to recruitment of aggrieved civilians by terrorist groups who were never approached socially or politically. 

Despite the situational differences, the parallels between the Washington’s post-9/11 wars and the ongoing Gaza war are striking, and the author argues that this may provide an opportunity for Israel to learn from blunders that came before. The scale of violence, the goal of total eradication of Hamas, and possibly the destruction of Gaza will achieve the ultimate Israeli goal of stability and security. Millions of aggrieved Palestinians have been placed in a position to not only further defy Israel, but favor resistance.  

Palestinian aspirations for dignity are bound up in the quest for statehood, and as long as Israel blockades Gaza and expands settlements in the West Bank, the population is likely to support the next resistance group that can prove its effectiveness,” writes Monshipouri. 

Much like in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel’s actions may also cause significant disruption in the region as Hezbollah, Houthi rebels, and Iranian proxies are drawn nearer or into the conflict and Arab states are pushed to take a stance. 

The reality, though, is that Israel seems uninterested in taking a new approach. The issue can only be truly solved with a long-term social and political strategy, not a military one. Still, the far-right supporters of the government have “signaled not just that [they] will continue the war, seek to destroy Hamas, and leave the Palestinians in limbo, but actually drive out the civilian population.” Such a stringent position leaves little room for reconsideration, even though Monshipouri argues the government has multiple other options.  

Even if Israel succeeds in a temporary “victory,” it will have failed to solve the issue that troubles not only its own stability, but that of the region. Monshipouri quotes Alastair Irwin’s warning that “the counter-terrorist must be sure today’s solution is not the seed of tomorrow’s insoluble problem.” Whether or not this will be the case for Hamas is yet to be seen, but unless Israel changes course and tackles the root of the Palestinian issue, the outcome of the Gaza war could be another example of failed over-militarization in the Middle East.  

Among the major takeaways readers can find in Mahmood Monshipouri’s Middle East Policy article, “Lessons for Israel’s Gaza War in America’s Strategic Blunders”: 

  • Israel should learn from US strategic errors in Afghanistan and Iraq, as reliance on force rarely—if ever—result in durable solutions, especially in the Middle East. American errors include: 
    • Maintaining a military presence too long 
    • Attempting to impose an alien political system and cultural values 
    • Failing to consider deeper and more sustained ideological issues that exacerbate extremist ideas and encourage recruitment 
    • Giving up on reconciliation and negotiation 
    • Failed understanding of social and political dynamics or forming a long-term strategy that considers civilians 
  • Israel’s response to the previously unpopular Hamas puts Palestinians in a position to renew their support for the group, while its extreme actions in Gaza could reverberate and encourage action by other regional extremist groups or states. 
  • Israel’s approach to the conflict has been largely in violation of international law as it targets civilian infrastructure. 
    • The excessive use of force has called into question the intent of the war and whether it has gone beyond the extent of self-defense law. 
  • The conflict with Palestine has always been more political than material, but the approach fails to address the critical social issues that underly the current war. 
  • Israel has five options to end this war and topple Hamas: 
    • Reoccupy Gaza and take indefinite responsibility for its governance, which could include making living in the territory so unbearable that Palestinians are forced to leave, likely still resulting in radicalism. 
    • Create a demilitarized buffer zone between Gaza and Israel to withdraw troops. This would be a near return to the status quo, although possibly with the near destruction of Gaza and threat of a power vacuum. 
    • Place Gaza in the hands of an Arab, multinational, or international force, though many argue no country would step up to fill that role. 
    • Give Gaza to the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA. however, is deeply unpopular and Israel would be taking steps to offer some sovereignty to Palestine, which is unlikely. 
    • Develop a one-state solution wherein Palestinians and Israelis live alongside each other in a democracy, requiring significant governmental ideology shifts. 
  • The primary lessons for Israel to learn from US involvement in the Middle East include: 
    • The campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate the risks of prolonged, divisive, and costly military interventions. 
    • Much like the now Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, even if Hamas’s military structure can be destroyed, the idea of resistance and struggle for self-determination cannot. 
    • Regional peace, stability, and the normalization of relations cannot occur without a viable political solution to the Palestine issue. 



(Banner image: Ted Eytan)

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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