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Logic of a Soldier and Advice for Gaza
  Written By: Claude Salhani *
  Article Date:
January 05
, 2009



The latest escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip between Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, and Israel, serves as a reminder to the powers able to influence the parties in conflict, primarily the United States, the European Union and the Arab world, of two points of paramount importance.


First, as long as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians remains unresolved, the risk of a wider conflagration in the Middle East is never far off. And second, that Israel and the Palestinians must come to realize that there can be no alternative to peaceful negotiations.

By now  it should be quite clear to both sides that more killing will only amplify the hatred and guarantee the desire for additional revenge. And unless the cycle is broken, violence will only breed more of its kind.

When the protagonists are so close to the issues, as the parties currently involved in the Gaza debacle are, they often fail to see the greater picture. It might be worth reminding them of past success resulting from exchanging ideas rather than artillery shells.

Years ago, in the mid 1970s, while covering a communist-supported insurrection in the Dhofar, in southern Oman, an Omani military helicopter dropped me off on a remote mountain-top firebase near the border with what was then South Yemen.

The chopper plunged down from 4,000 feet in a few seconds to avoid being shot at by the rebels and their South Yemeni allies. The forward firebase was situated on a breathtaking mountain top plateau some 3,000-4,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, just a few miles from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, or PDRY, the only Arab country to go communist. As such, it enjoyed the full backing of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was also being fought in warm climes.

A British soldier (really a mercenary) working for the Omanis who was waiting for me, told me to follow him as the helicopter took off just as rapidly as it had come in to avoid the incoming fire. It’s called landing in a ‘hot zone’.

The Briton told me to follow him as we ran for cover in a foxhole where we spent the next 20 or so minutes waiting for the mortar barrage to cease. No sooner than the first mortar rounds began to hit around our positions than the batteries of Iranian Army 155mm Howitzers graciously sent by the shah, began to repost.

As the Iranian artillery began to open up, I stuck my head out of the foxhole to catch a glimpse. My British escort commented: “Oh, they always do that.”

He explained: “PDRY lobs a few mortars on us, we reply with 155s, they hit back and we repost.” It was as though he was outlining the bizarre rules to some macabre game. “One day someone will forget to fire back and the war will be over,” commented the British mercenary.

Well, it didn’t quite happen that way, but almost. Sultan Qaboos, who had just deposed his father, decided to try a different approach than armed conflict to counter the insurgency. And it worked. The moral of this story is that the infernal cycle of violence can be broken. Hamas and the Israelis, who in the past few days have escalated the violence in the Middle East to dangerous new levels -- Hamas firing 60 rockets on Israel on Christmas Eve, Israel firing back with air strikes and killing more than 300 people -- could learn a lesson or two from the Omani approach to conflict resolution.

The conflict between Hamas and Israel is not going to be settled on the battlefield, but at the negotiating table. Hamas must understand that it is unrealistic to believe that Israel can be defeated. It cannot. Israel is a nuclear power and if the Gazans take time out to remember their own history, they will recall the story of Samson. It was supposedly in Gaza that Samson brought down the temple where the Philistines kept him in chains, rather than continue to be humiliated and enchained by his enemies.  

And it is equally important for Israel to recognise the fact that Hamas cannot be eradicated. The more they bomb them, the more determined the Palestinians become. Israel has been trying to eradicate the Palestinian resistance for the good part of 40 years now. They have bombed them, carried out targeted assassinations of the Palestinian leadership, invaded and occupied neighbouring countries to weaken and distance the Palestinian resistance from their borders. To date, nothing has really worked, except direct negotiations. It has worked with Egypt, it has worked with Jordan and it has worked with the PLO. 

There is now a very real danger of the violence spreading to northern Israel if Hezbollah intervenes to help remove some of the pressure on Hamas. The next 20 or so days, the time between now and January 20 when Barack Obama is sworn-in as president, is a crucial time. Israel might try and take advantage of the political void to try and ‘clean-up’ Gaza before the Obama administration moves into the While House.

Such recourse may buy Israel some time, but ultimately, it will not settle the issue.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington, DC