Liberal Protests just aren’t the IDF’s Bag

Another incident with liberal, pro-Palestinian activists has hit the IDF squarely in the face, metaphorically speaking. This picture is a screenshot from the latest incident, when Shalom Eisner suddenly smashed his rifle into Danish activist Andreas Ayas’ punim. Despite whatever other articles have been published that try to emphasize the excuse provided, the video doesn’t show this particular man doing anything. In fact, he looks confused and oblivious to Eisner’s shouting.

It’s just the latest incident that didn’t have to happen. Activists have been coming to the West Bank and before 2005 Gaza for quite a long time. The sudden concern about publicity stunts like the flotillas on boats and “flytillas” on planes are a worrisome stain on the country’s reputation. The Israeli media delivers more attention to activists than any other country’s private and public coverage. It was unusual that such a minor publicity stunt, like May 2010′s flotilla, attracted such a massive amount of reporting. It put pressure on the Israeli navy that shouldn’t have been there.

Now the Israeli government is dealing with a dragged out media shouting match between Eisner and Ayas. The Danish ambassador has had to demand answers from Jerusalem. The attention given to Eisner’s broken hand, no matter how he got it, seems to be justifying some sort of rage coming from Eisner, which is inexcusable as well.

In retrospect, this isn’t the big incident that even this blog post might lead you to think it is. Accidents happen in crowd control, or someone does something stupid. This is nowhere near the uncalled-for pepper spray incident at UC Irvine last year.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AdDLhPwpp4&w=560&h=315]

This isn’t the flotilla debacle from two years ago, either. No matter how selective or unfair the editing is, Israeli commanders have to add media to their perspective on how to deal with things like this.

Turkey & Israel: The Turkeys in Turkey – Business Still Flourishing

So I’m sitting in class at Hebrew University listening to the latest lecture on Ottoman history. Going over the economic history of the empire, it can get relatively boring: the social structure brought on by hyper-organized guilds, economic protections, imports & exports, etc.

It’s all boring, but extremely relevant from where I sit in the academic capital of the Jewish State. Today, Haaretz posted a report that Israeli tourists were starting to go back to Turkey for cheap, close-by vacations.

Turkey has always been an economic hub being a fertile, particularly after the mass import of American products hit Europe. They went on to become niches for the cuisine in certain countries: the tomato sauce of Italian pasta & pizza; the potato in Ireland; the renown industry for Swiss chocolate. Gold proved to be a much bigger influence. Because so much extra entered Europe, the price of it went down and caused tremendous economic problems, particularly in the Ottoman Empire. It has always been a large market sitting between the centers of trade in India & Europe. That status is extremely true today, as its economy has grown roughly 10% annually like clockwork for the last ten years. That even includes strong economic relations with Iraq and especially Iraqi Kurdistan, even though there is a long-standing rivalry between the Kurds & the Turkish government.

But while we’re talking Turkey, we have to mention the recent failures in the relationship between the growing economy there and the strong one in Israel. The context of today’s trade is remarkable, because both sides have seen a massive collapse in military and diplomatic relationships. On the military side, the Turks have gone out of their way over the last three years to keep Israel from joining military exercises with NATO or bilateral games between the two countries on their own. In turn, Israel has scrapped some lucrative military industrial deals with the Turks, including a project to develop unmanned drones that Israel ended up shifting to Azerbaijan, costing Turkey access to new technology and massive economic losses. Prime Minister Reccip Erdogan was apparently livid when the Azeri deal was announced.

But other trades seem to be on the up & up despite the threats by diplomats and ministers to break the relationship further. In fact, the economic relationship seems to be completely independent of the military and diplomatic ones.

Traditionally, Turkey was a hub for agricultural exports to Europe from Asia, mainly in livestock. That included a breed of guineafowl nicknamed the “turkey hen” or “turkey cock” (i.e. a Turkish chicken). Peacocks and pheasants made their way through in addition to all the raw materials and silks from India & Persia. Livestock isn’t the main staple of the economy now. That would be manufacturing and machinery, in which Turkey is heavily involved in an international market where parts are imported or exported, assembled, then redistributed. Today, Israel is heavily involved and invested in that industry. About 900 Israeli companies are apparently active in Turkey and the Turks are the 8th largest export market for Israeli industry. Israel is only 17th to Turkey for centers of export, about 1.5% according to the article linked above. But Israel has free trade agreements with the United States and is a member of the European economic alliance, the OECD. Turkey is also a member, which not only means the two economies have easy access to each other but also are forbidden by organizational rules from boycotting other members of the alliance.

Turkey’s name has been significant in American exports since before the United States’ founding. The name of the newest discovery in cuisine, the turkey, came from being mixed up with the above mentioned “turkey hens” that came from India (India, “Hodu” in Hebrew, also being the origin of the Hebrew name for the turkey: “hodu”). What was once the tomatoes, turkeys and gold of the Americas has become chemicals, manufacturing and consulting services between the Turkey and the New World. With the US so close to Israel, it’s imperative that Turkey maintain its economic ties with Israel if it wants to maintain some level of diplomatic niceties with the United States. So while the reasons Turkey is stuck with Israel are apparent, they’re intertwined with the reasons Turkish businessmen aren’t looking for ways to divorce themselves from the Jewish State’s economy.

Turkish merchants haven’t forgotten Israel’s tech industry either, and their pressure on the government in Ankara has made it tough for politicians to follow through with threats against Jerusalem. The military is not the only interested consumer. Israelis are known for selling start-ups, but now they seem to be buying them. An example is the Turkish company Med Ilac, a medical tech company gobbled up by pharmaceutical giant Teva for 10s of millions of dollars. With medical and digital tech hubs in the Middle East located in Israel, the Turkish government has little pragmatic reason for severing the relationship with the Israelis to that degree.

As Turkey tries to break into the tech and R&D worlds, it’s previously close connection with Israel effectively makes the relationship indispensable. The Turkish military will look for ways to renewed cooperation, especially in weapons and communications. This is a general analysis, and it even reflects some of the points Israeli PR makes about industry and technology when it tries to draw attention from contentious Israeli issues like politics and the Palestinian territories. But it’s indispensable truth. Israel and Turkey will probably repair their relationship on financial grounds more than on strategic ones, but it seems inevitable.

The Syrian Civil War and Israel’s Strategy

Israel has to watch what is happening inside Syria extremely closely. Despite whatever announcements the government there or the rebels make, neither have proven trustworthy or able to verify any claims they make in the media. Who wins this power struggle, which will probably go on for at least a few more months, will have control over Syria’s foreign policy with both Iran & Israel. Neither side is likely to make a quick peace with the Jewish state. Frankly speaking, the two sides’ fighting will be what preserves Israeli security on the northern border.

Syria & Hezbollah’s Abilities Impaired

With Syria’s ability to make war completely incapacitated by the civil war inside the country, its resources are limited. It cannot expect to simultaneously support Hezbollah financially or logistically while it has priorities at home. And if Syria were to make war with Israel to try to deflect attention from the civil strife at home, perhaps in some naive attempt to unite the population against a common enemy, Israel’s military superiority and a probable strong support for the Jewish state’s retaliatory war effort would end the regime in Damascus. Even going through a proxy like Hezbollah is not so much of an option for this sort of distraction tactic, simply because of the reasons mentioned above that Hezbollah wouldn’t have the ability to sustain a war effort against Israel without dependable supplies coming from Syria.

Whom to Support?

The only certainty from Israel’s perspective is continued civil war. That also goes for what helps Israel’s security. The possibility is real that the two sides could fight for years, especially without intervention. If that happens, the two factions might try to solicit support from neighboring states. The rebels already have support from the West & Turkey. Even if the government offered Israel a favorable peace deal, Jerusalem probably wouldn’t risk its reputation to support such an unpopular and criminal regime – especially if it weren’t guaranteed they’d come out on top.

Then comes what options there are with the rebels. The rebels are mainly Sunni Muslims, the majority in the country and arguably the historically most hostile religious domination to Israel’s existence. This is a generalization, but it’s true Israel has always considered alliances with angry minorities and marginalized groups. That approach was active in Iraq with the Kurds and Lebanon with the Maronites (Catholics). In this case, the government is run by Syria’s minorities (Alawites, Druze, Ismailis & Christians). There is no automatic strategy for Israel to take.

Worldwide the argument has trended toward arming Syria’s rebels. Certain Arab countries already claim to be doing so, and the idea is popping up in Europe. Even the United States’ hawkish senators Joe Lieberman & John McCain are backing the idea, even though Syrian rebels have made statements accusing Israel of working with the Syrian regime and have even peddled anti-Semitic ideas like the matzah blood libel.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKN9-J4dPxg&w=420&h=315]

What Israel will do is likely, though not guaranteed, to be one of two options: 1. stay out of it or 2. arm both sides. This second tactic has been used before. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the United States simultaneously armed Saddam Hussein and the Iranians. It wasn’t just because America’s allies were divided on which country to support, rather there was value in keeping these two otherwise hostile countries from turning their attention to closer American allies like Israel or Saudi Arabia. Even the Israelis were involved in the Iran-Contra scandal that funneled weapons to the Iranians.

A Quick Scenario

Other countries certainly have a stake in the outcome in the Syrian Civil War. This article only focuses on Israel’s approach, and in a very general way. This post is lacking not mentioning how Turkey fits into the mix. Future posts will cover that. But these are fair and important points to make regarding Israeli policy toward the Syrian Civil War. This being said, I would think the Israeli military might actually be leaning toward supporting the regime in Damascus. This isn’t because Israel would want Assad to win.

The side map shows roughly where Syria’s minorities live, mostly along the coast and adjacent to the Golan Heights. Some people have suggested before that if a war like this were to have ever broken out, the regime might cut its losses and consolidate its supporters and the minority populations into a de facto separate state from the majority Sunnis. If that were to happen, there would almost certainly be continued war because that minority country would have full control of the coastline and crush the economy of the desert interior. That is just one scenario where the Syrian Civil War could actually create two separate countries who would have a much harder time threatening Israel’s security with such little resources divided between the two “new” countries.

If it were to come close to the end, forcing the two sides to continue fighting would keep them from quickly rebuilding a decimated Syrian military that would be hostile to Israel. This deserves much more though. I leave it at here for now.

Israel’s Submarines Might Pack a Surprise for Iran

Israel has been buying Dolphin class submarines from Germany the last couple of years. Last year, Germany might have even been delaying deals in order to push Israel on the peace process, but as it turns out Israel has gotten more armor from the European giant. In February, it leaked Israel might be buying three more.  That barely amounts to a handful, but the costs make the deal for Israel’s F-35 stealth planes look like a bargain.  Apparently, they cost about $659 million apiece.  But all in all, what could Israel do with merely six submarines?  No other country in the Middle East has that many, but what good does it do compared to the punch planes will have against foes in the field?

What should be appreciated is that Middle Eastern countries have a horrible history keeping navies.  It has been an Achilles’ heel for the past empires of Egypt and the Ottomans in the face of European technology and firepower, going back a millennium.  Facing Crusader threats in the late 1200s (opens PDF), the Egyptian rulers of medieval Palestine decided to literally destroy their own coastline because, “we just can’t defend her.”  Without a navy, they expected to spend infinite sums on maintaining coastal defenses, so they decided to level the fortresses and evacuate the coastal cities, forcing the major fights onto land.

The policy was extremely self-defeating, as it ruined the economic prospects of empires’ different territories and made holding them a chore.  They constantly had to keep troops in the field occupied and interested since they had made places like Ashdod, Yaffo and even southern Lebanon desolate and into a backwater.

Boats & Planes

But with the advent of the air force, is Israel really correcting a historical error by several Middle Eastern powers by investing heavily in this sort of navy?  Planes today effectively represent the navy, even in the United States.  The planes that live on aircraft carriers are actually navy planes.  Israel’s main enemies are adjacent or so close they can be reached in minutes if not seconds.  What do the submarines add?

They add the ability to quietly extend Israel’s reach in the Mediterranean and perhaps even the Persian Gulf.  These submarines can launch torpedoes, and Israel has invested the time into the tests and training on how to shoot them.  In 2000 & 2002, apparently working with India the two countries tested cruise missiles off the coast of Sri Lanka.  The range was thought to be short, but the boats Israel is buying and the ones the orders it’s already received from Germany could fire weapons with much longer ranges like the ones used by the United States.

A cruise missile is much harder to shoot down than a plane, and it takes less work to fire a missile 1,500 kilometers than launching a plane.

Positioning

Ultimately, Israel would have to get these submarines in range to fire.  If Israel had a 1,500-km capable missile, it would be able to hit anywhere in Iran from the Persian Gulf. It’s not an issue. They’ve been there before. But could Israel keep a constant presence in the Gulf at cost and be ready to enter into any battle? Israel only has 4 of its submarines right now. Two more are on the way, but won’t arrive till 2014 & 2016. If Israel goes it alone, does the punch just four offshore secret weapons weigh heavily enough to impact the fight?

Israel toward Egypt’s Christians

For Easter 2012, Egypt’s Coptic Christians had an opportunity they formally hadn’t had in decades – visit Jerusalem. Pope Shenouda III (who?), the leader of the Coptic Church (20 million+ members worldwide), passed away last month. In addition to his being a significant religious figure, the late Pope also banned Copts from making any pilgrimage to Jerusalem as so long as it was considered occupied. But his recent death has marked an unexpected shift for Egypt’s Christians and maybe Israel’s diplomatic opportunities around the Nile.
Copts have unprecedented pressures in Egypt: a revolution’s new wave of violence against Christians; Islamists’ election victory; and now, their spiritual and de facto political leader’s demise. At the helm since 1971, it is a tremendous power vacuum. Simultaneously, Israel’s link to Egypt is fraying and the country has no social traction with the Egyptian on the street. So, the Copts of Egypt should be a vital concern for Israeli diplomacy, and electing a newer Pope should certainly have some bearing on where either side goes in respect to each other.
The idea of leveraging minorities in neighboring countries is often a fantasy of Israeli commentators or enthusiastic politicos who can’t resist thinking of ways to make Israel’s security more solid. But it’s hardly unprecedented. Innumerable resources were poured into Iraqi Kurdistan pre-Yom Kippur War to pressure the Baath Party, and Israel was quick to align with the Catholics of Lebanon in 1982. Extending these policies to Egypt would be seeing an Egyptian Christian minority have controlling votes in a new parliament and blunting the political blades of Islamists in government. But it’s tough to tell if Egyptian Christians really would hold any measurable or favorable sway on their country’s foreign policy if they were to become more politically organized. But this latter event is a prerequisite to any significant amelioration of the relationship between Egypt and Israel.

Christians’ Politics

A new Pope already has more pressing concerns, like keeping open the opportunities the revolution has given and defending the community against ethnic and religious attacks. Israel has plenty to talk about with a new Church leader: priority among them would be the dispute over Coptic Church property in and around Jerusalem. Even if Israel does recognize, negotiate with and reach a deal over disputed spots in the holy city, that doesn’t translate into good will between Israelis and Copts on a general level. And even with a maximum outburst of positive emotions, Copts’ physical security (that is, their own preservation) is the overwhelming priority.

But taking the diplomatic path with a reinvigorated Church could bear unexpected fruit. At the onset of Hosni Mubarak’s power, the Coptic Church has been relatively independent. All it and the late Pope Shenouda III had to do was support Mubarak or stay out of his way. The side-effect was an uninvolved Coptic community, grossly unprepared for the better organized and experienced Muslim Brotherhood to win post-revolution seats in the parliament in December. Standard along with that, Shenouda III always toed the line on the social climate regarding Israel – before Mubarak, he vocally opposed Sadat’s normalization with the Jewish State. It doesn’t stop there.

Isolation is a tempting strategy in the Middle East, but what comes with it is letting enemies encroach on what minimal boundaries you have. An aggressive minority would have a better chance of defending its interests, and Copts should be initiating their own political parties, matching Islamist political enthusiasm and distinguishing their views from the Muslim Brotherhood. The community gains a sense of direction beyond politics with a well-defined platform. Fearing a similar result in the next elections, some vibrant counterbalance to Islamist politics isn’t against the interests of the Egyptian army.

Israel

Relations with Israel are a political issue, not unlike how Americans debated ties to Napoleonic France. Coptic authorities also dispute property in the Old City that Israeli police handed to a different Church in the early 1970s. These issues are probably interrelated. Resolving one would unbind the other. While Israelis consider gestures for the next Pope, he’ll in turn have a chance to solidify a political stance and philosophy being engaged with Israel.

Shenouda III was not John Paul II. But therein might lay a solution to the Church’s problems. In a broader scope, it works in defining the Coptic Papacy as a socio-political pillar in Egypt and the Arab World. tandem with promoting ethnic and religious harmony across the Middle East. Being an outspoken advocate for the fortune of Arab Christians will work well in tandem with promoting other causes for coexistence in the Middle East.

But ultimately, Copts will weigh the benefit versus the cost of being more open to Israel.  In today’s climate, they might be inviting more pressure from Muslim Egyptians.

Israel’s options for facilitating the reputation of such a man are limited, but probably more from a lack of imagination than ability. It would be in their interest to open a new chapter with the Church beyond traditional political issues and foment an alliance. Israel should facilitate a leader that can stabilize a shaky fault, and tremors in the Coptic community imply an opportunity to do just that. Anything Israel can do overtly and covertly to facilitate those mechanisms and developments ought to be a priority. It can change the calculus in Egypt and balance the equation across the Sinai.

Iraq’s New F-16s

Israel isn’t as anxious about Iraq’s new fighter jets as it is anxious to get a hold of some new ones for itself. Over the last few years, Israel’s been eager to be the first country to buy the newly developed F-35 Lightning jet fighter – a stealth jet. It placed its first order last year for 20 of them at a price tag in the billions of dollars.   Once Israel gets them delivered – maybe as early as 2015 – Israel will have, indisputably, the most powerful air force in the Middle East by a much greater margin than it has now.  So why make any sort of fuss over Iraqi planes which are actually an older model? Iraq has no air force of comparison right now anyway.

Israel might want to cover Iraqi skies on its way to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. It might also be anxious that those planes could end up aimed at Israel eventually, the beginning of a reconstituted Iraqi military that was once Israel’s greatest threat.

Saddam’s Iraq

Saddam Hussein posed the most significant military threat to Israel when he was in power.  He kept the Jewish state on its toes.  Even before Saddam, Iraq was viscerally opposed to Israel.  Iraqi Jews suffered Iraqi pogroms and expulsions before, during and after the Israeli War of Independence.  Arab nationalism particularly in Iraq took an emotional, near-psychotic approach to Zionism and Israel’s existence.  Iraq’s army was part of the Arab coalition in 1948.  Iraq’s army actually occupied the northern West Bank and Sh’khem/Nablus.  In 1973, Iraqi tanks entered the Yom Kippur War and fought Israel’s.  Israel’s strategy in the West Bank until 2003 was to defend against an Iraqi invasion.  In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq to destroy its nuclear facilities.  A rebuilt Iraq could one day be hostile – again – to Israel.

Arab Air Forces

Last year, a deal that gave Saudi Arabia a new fleet of F-15s caused the same sort of headlines. Saudi Arabia is a much more capable country than Iraq, buying a super package of military machines for over $60 billion including jets and helicopters. That deal increased pressure on Israel to pay the cash for the stealth jets, and the pressure on the United States to get the deal done and deliver the weapons to Israel.  Other Arab countries have sophisticated abilities also, like the United Arab Emirates (80 F-16s & 30 French Mirages) and Bahrain (33 F-16s & 16 Northrops).

Iraq is getting 36 F-16s, apparently as strong and capable as the planes Israel’s air force uses.  That could mean an even fight in the skies if the planes were to tango, like they might if Israel tried to hit Iran.  Iraq did buy sophisticated radar systems just last month.  But would Iraq actually get into a dog fight with the much more experienced and massive Israeli Air Force?  The US thinks the new planes can handle Syrian or Iranian jets while not standing a chance with Israel’s.  But is the Iraqi Air Force really going to be standing in the way of Syria’s or Iran’s?

Iraq & Iran

Iraq will eventually emerge from its internal problems. So the concern about the planes is more on the distant future, when Iraq might consider using them for offense. But this isn’t Saddam’s country. Ruled now by Arab Shi’ite Muslims, the conflict between Shi’ite Iran and the Arab World has put Iraq into a neutral position.  Given that, Iraq could play a moderating role, or at least stay as far away from conflict as possible.

The idea Iraq might be neutral is as much wishful thinking as a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The Iraqi government and military have strong, intimate ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.  Iraq’s political and religious elite spent decades of exile in Iran both in the seminaries and in the trenches against Saddam Hussein.  Iran offered asylum to the major Shi’ite religious families the Hakims and the Sadrs, both of whom have major representation in the big Shi’ite political parties in Iraq.

Iran’s influence has grown since the US military left Iraq last year.  How much is unclear, but whatever amount is enough to concern Israel’s strategists.  Now with Syria on the brink of collapse, Iran might want to replace its top Arab ally with a new one with more potential, far more assets and a steadier cultural connection (Shi’ite Islam).

This is all a brief overview of things.  But it’s important to pay attention to Iraq in the years to come and especially the opportunities weapons and technology companies will get to rebuild Iraq’s depleted military.  The Iraqi Air Force might only be one facet of the military, but it’s the most lucrative and packs the biggest hypothetical threat from a rival Iraq hostile to Israel.

Israel, Azerbaijan & New Problems Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

Israel will be testing its relationship with Azerbaijan much sooner than people would have thought. FP’s enlightening article on an Israeli-Azeri alliance surprised countless journalists, politicos and Israel enthusiasts, so hearing Israel might risk jeopardizing would seem downright stupid. But that assumes that everything you need to know about Azerbaijan was in that article. Like my previous post on Armenia, most of the focus has been on Turkey. Israel can’t commemorate the Armenian Genocide without drawing Turkish ire. That’s far less of an issue with Turkish-Israeli ties already so cold they couldn’t get more frigid. But with Azerbaijan, suddenly Israel might have the same problem as it did with Ankara and the Turks.

Azerbaijan is itself a Turkic country (as opposed to “Turkish,” “TURKIC” is a much broader category that includes a bunch of ethnic groups, countries and languages spread across Asia). It has a strong historical relationship with the Ottoman Empire and the Turkic tribes that eventually made their way to Anatolia and founded that empire. What separates Azerbaijan from Turkey and other Turkic countries is that it is Shi’ite Muslim, like Iran. Unlike Iran, Azeris are secular, mostly thanks to being a part of the Soviet Union until the early 1990s. The break-up though led to a reigniting of Azerbaijan’s historical rivalry with the nearby Armenians. With both groups having their own countries, the two have been at war since the end of the Soviets, with heavy historical baggage being carried by both sides of the conflict.

The war with Armenia makes recognizing the Armenian Genocide in some ways even touchier an issue than it would be for Turkey. The Armenians, for their part, also see Azeris as having been complicit in the entire episode. That being said, Azerbaijan also doesn’t recognize the massacres as having been anything other than the collateral damage of war and nowhere near anything as systematic as the Holocaust.

But the world disagrees, like has been said millions of times. So now Israel faces the Azeris and not just the Turks when it comes to putting this issue to rest. A diplomatic crisis might be in the offing. On April 6th, an Azerbaijani news outlet got to interview the country’s ambassador from Israel. What he said was disturbing:

Question: Recently, the committee of the Knesset has discussed so called “Armenian genocide”. Will this issue come to the agenda of the Israeli parliament?
Ambassador Michael Lotem: The committee will discuss, but I think it will not go beyond. This issue should be kept to historians, not dealt by the politicians.

Azeris are disturbed by the idea that more countries could recognize the event as a genocide, something publicly humiliating for Azerbaijan as much as it has been for Turkey. But why is Israel nervous about the entire thing? The questioner’s perspective seems to be one of anxiety, not anger. Despite the grandstanding and outrage from Turkey whenever a country brings up the historical calamity, it’s not power the Turks project but nervousness. Turkey and Azerbaijan need Israel as much as Israel needs them, and not just on this issue. More practical issues, like defense and the economy, have made the two countries’ relationship with Israel important. Azerbaijan might be an asset against Iran – a possible base for Israeli jets, rescue crews and monitoring technology – but Israel also has been big for the Azeri economy and giving Baku’s leaders more of an outlet to the outside world. The government there has a sullied rep, so good press fighting the dark side in Iran is welcomed press.

Members of the Knesset have always been split on the issue of disrupting ties with Turkey over this, but it’s an untested theory that Turkey would disrupt ties with Israel. It’s even further unknown, probably more improbably Azerbaijan would do such a thing. Armenia also has a border with Iran, and Azerbaijan would be in dire straits if it sacrificed all its connections with Israel in retaliation for the way Israel looked at history. It would be more ironic and humiliating if that resulted in Israel building up its ties with Armenia, creating a major problem for Azerbaijan’s security that wouldn’t have existed if not for a stubborn, emotional reaction to a token acknowledgement of an event 100 years in the past.

Israel lets other countries dictate its talk in the strangest ways, and the state is only undermining its assertiveness letting pressure from a non-ally, Turkey, bully the Jewish state into avoiding a simple moral statement. Turkey and Azerbaijan still need Israel as an ally against Iran; not just the other way around.

ICC Denial to Palestinians is Proof Settlements are Legal – Part II

What’s Customary about the Fourth Geneva Convention?

International Court of Justice

International Court of Justice

If the Fourth Geneva Convention is considered customary, then it shouldn’t matter if a party actually ever agreed to the treaty. Based on this logic, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (or any Palestinian militant group) would have to abide by it. But that doesn’t fully explain the opinion that Israel is still occupying a territory that isn’t its own. A more effective argument would be Israel doesn’t claim the West Bank, despite the settlements that exist there. No part of the West Bank or Gaza was ever annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War except East Jerusalem. Even though it strengthens Israel’s claim to the eastern half of the city, it still, apparently, doesn’t undercut the argument Israel is occupying territory that isn’t its own. So, it cannot be argued that Israel’s not annexing the West Bank is what makes the settlements illegal. If it did, all Israel would have to have done is annexed the land where houses were built. So what is the argument that Israel cannot build the settlements it has in the West Bank and that once existed in the Gaza Strip?

There is further precedent on the issue, going back to the Hague Convention of 1907. Though they are less than the 1949 rules, the 1907 rules define an occupying power and its responsibilities. But even in the most apparent of examples, post-World War II Germany, the Allied Powers never considered the 1907 rules relevant because they weren’t occupying a standing country – the Third Reich had been destroyed, so Germany, technically, ceased to be.

In an advisory opinion to the ICJ in 2004 on the legality of Israel’s barrier (intended to keep suicide bombers out of Israel), there is no explicit reasoning given to the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention other than its customary basis. By saying it might “alter the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and thereby contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the court is assuming the reasoning is based on protecting Palestinian civilians. But this treatment assumes that many of the clauses in the convention are irrelevant. In fact, considering the convention customary is difficult because it has never been implemented formally in any other setting until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the occupation of Iraq by the US and UK, as argued by those two countries, didn’t fall under the convention’s jurisdiction. Ideas like this declare a state’s irrelevance. But then again, the advisory opinion of the court isn’t binding.

Jumbled

Mahmoud Abbas

In fact, it also cites a 1980 UN Security Council resolution that calls the settlement policy a “flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.” But that resolution isn’t binding. It was issued under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which most international legal experts consider non-binding. It is the much rarer Chapter VII resolutions which are binding. Going further, it was an advisory opinion to the ICJ that considered the Chapter 6 resolutions binding. In effect, it would be one non-binding opinion solidifying that another non-binding opinion would actually be, well, binding.

For some reason, the ICC refuses to recognize Palestinians’ right to sue because there is no state. It would be a logical extension of the Fourth Geneva Convention understandings to extend it, but it hasn’t happened. The existence of a state is still relevant.

ICC Denial to Palestinians is Proof Settlements are Legal – Part I

The West Bank is an Anomaly under International Law

International Criminal Court

International Criminal Court

The ICC refused to hear the Palestinian Authority’s case against Israel for Operation Cast Lead because, according to the court, the Palestinians aren’t a recognized state. That carries more weight than the court perhaps intended, since it seems to add validity to Israel’s argument that it has the right to build in the West Bank because the territory technically doesn’t belong to anybody.

The Israeli case for the settlements’ legal status is based on the Fourth Geneva Convention. More specifically Israel asserts that Article 2 of the Fourth Geneva Convention undercuts Article 49. Article 2 reads like this: “The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party . . .” Article 49 says there shall be no transfer of the occupying power’s citizens to the occupied territory. Article 49 doesn’t bother making explicit the occupied territory belongs to the “High Contracting Party” mentioned in Article 2, because that would be redundant. The territory belonging to another country is a qualifier for the occupied territory being addressed in the Convention. Several international court decisions have not accepted this argument, but ex post facto provide no practical grounds (if any) for dismantling the settlements.

The argument though lacks the teeth that comes with the logic. It has been accepted by the United Nations and International Court of Justice that the conventions do apply to occupied Palestinian territory. The clarification has seemed necessary before because of this anomaly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, there might be an argument Israel occupied Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian territory after the Six-Day War in 1967. But Egypt never claimed Gaza. Jordan gave up its claim to the West Bank in July 1988 in favor of recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s claim. But the PLO didn’t have the international recognition to back it up. Going further back, Jordan’s authority in the West Bank was only ever recognized by itself and by the United Kingdom. Even the PLO might have boasted more support than that. But it was irrelevant. By transferring Israeli citizens to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel couldn’t have been said to be settling someone else’s territory.

The United Nations might have an older precedent to tangle with the settlements’ legality. The 1947 Partition enforced a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international (UN-administered) Jerusalem-Bethlehem. The agreement went into partial effect. Only Israel recognized it. As a matter of fact, the Fourth Geneva Convention didn’t exist before the end of the Israeli War of Independence. So, when the war ended after Israel had expanded its borders to the edge of the Old City of Jerusalem and in other areas, little could be said against Israel’s legitimate rule in the captured territories. The same went for Egypt and Jordan in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. It was in August that year the 4th Geneva Convention took effect.

Yasser Arafat was aware of this political ambiguity in the 1980s. In 1989, a Palestinian Declaration of Indepedence (November 15, 1988), Arafat said Palestine would become party to the convention. The Swiss Federal Council, which administers the conventions, refused to say one way or another if the joining was legitimate, “due to the uncertainty within the international community as to the existence or non-existence of a State of Palestine.” If Palestine is not a party to the convention, how can its territory be occupied? Certainly, the Israelis who have settled in the West Bank or Gaza Strip

Regardless, the State of Palestine would not represent the Arab State the UN Partition Plan intended to create. That state never developed, and would be something wholly different than a brand new Palestinian state, in 1989 or even in 2012. The 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence bases its legitimacy on the original Partition Plan, but it presents infinitely unfair implications. Recognizing the declaration would open the door for countless retroactive actions by different countries, conflicting with 40 years of other developments. It would also open the door to Palestine trying to claim Israel occupied areas that belonged to it at the end of the 1948 War of Independence. As mentioned before, legally it would be problematic. More practically, no country has ever given a substantial argument against Israel’s continued rule in those conquered areas (see map below).

Blue areas went to Israel according to the 1947 Partition Plan.  Pink areas were conquered by the Israelis in the War of Independence.

Blue areas went to Israel according to the 1947 Partition Plan. Pink areas were conquered by the Israelis in the War of Independence.

Switzerland effectively said the same thing in 1989 that the International Criminal Court said this week in 2012. There is no clearly existing Palestinian state, and only UN recognition could create one. In the 65 years since the Partition Plan passed, no Palestinian state/Arab state in the former Mandate of Palestine has been recognized by the UN. The Palestinian Authority, recognized by Israel, has only had “observer” status, just as its earlier Palestinian representatives had before the Authority came to be in only 1993.

As much as international organizations recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention as applying to all occupied, non-annexed territory as a matter of customary law (“minhag” if you will), the Palestinian Authority’s best argument for statehood and sovereignty right now is based on the areas it polices – Area A in the West Bank. It cannot even claim Gaza as its territory, since it belongs to Hamas. That brings up other major legal and philosophical problems.

Even if the Palestinians’ independence was recognized on November 15, 1988, for the four months between Jordan’s relinquishment and Palestine’s independence, the only power that can be said to have true and undisputed control of the territory was Israel. At that point, no claim against Israeli settlements, at least until 11/15/88 could stand. It is only by custom that the idea Israel doesn’t belong there make sense. The continued insistence by international organizations and even the United Nations that there is no Palestine brings into question just when a country has the right to declare territory its own.

Palestinians Can’t Sue Israel, so says the International Criminal Court

That is, if there is a Palestine.

Mahmoud Abbas was metaphorically hit in the face today because the International Criminal Court refused to accept the Palestinian Authority’s right to stand in court because it wasn’t a recognized state. The Palestinians had asked the court in 2009 to investigate Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. Only the UN or a “recognized state” can be allowed to bring a case or demand investigations into violations of international law.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are floored. But they should have seen it coming. The suit by the Authority would have overturned the understandings of international law that exist today. If the Palestinian Authority could bring claims, then any institution claiming jurisdiction over an area could be welcome to the court. It’s an extreme idea, but certain states do exist and function with much greater independence and ability than the Palestinian Authority – (Turkish) Northern Cyprus, (Armenian) Nagorno-Karabakh or the Somaliland state in the extremely failed state of Somalia. Fewer countries recognize those countries’ independence than that of the Palestinians, but they presumably would also be able to enter the court.

Back to the UN

The ICC left it to the UN to upgrade the Palestinian Authority’s status through the General Assembly or have it recognized as a bonafide, member state via the Security Council. Otherwise, it is merely an “observer” and not a so-called “non-member state.”

This doesn’t give Israel’s government much more time though than it had before. Abbas wants to go back to the UN and get his vote for recognition. The parameters have been set, and now Abbas knows what he needs in order to bring Israel to international court, where the bias might be heavily stacked in the Palestinians’ favor.