Preparing to ‘Mow the Grass’ in Gaza

Even as Israeli leaders focus the world on a possible war with Iran, the neocons are prepping public opinion for another bloody assault on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, what one article likened to “mowing the grass.” Ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar sees the need for serious peace talks.

By Paul R. Pillar

The 140-square-mile patch of misery known as the Gaza Strip suffers from two degrees of inattention.

First, any hope of being lifted permanently out of the misery rests on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy that is now moribund. Benjamin Netanyahu’s war-mongering on Iran has succeeded in pushing the unresolved plight of Palestinians almost entirely off the Israeli-American agenda.

An Israeli Air Force F16I preparing to take off during Operation Cast Lead against targets in Gaza three years ago. (Credit: Yosi Yaari, Fresh Military & Security Forum, Israel, via Hebrew Wikipedia)

This was demonstrated earlier this month when a visit to Washington by Netanyahu and a major AIPAC conference were remarkable for how little either one explicitly addressed the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Second, to the extent that conflict gets any attention, the attention focuses more on the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), where continued Israeli colonization of conquered land is pushing a two-state solution ever closer to infeasibility.

There once were a few thousand Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip (in contrast to the half million in the West Bank), but as these numbers indicate, Israelis never coveted this piece of sand as much as they do lands to the east. Seven years ago Ariel Sharon pulled Israelis out of the strip, successfully dealing with the few diehard settlers who resisted.

Since then Israeli governments seem to have wished that the Gaza Strip could somehow just go away. That not being possible, they instead have dealt with it as if it were a den of unruly, infectious creatures that could be cordoned off, with an occasional overt use of force to swat the creatures down. The well-being of the people who really live in the strip, and the ways in which Israel’s assault on that well-being redound to Israel’s own disadvantage, do not seem to have figured into Israeli government thinking.

Whether or not anyone gives due ethical regard to the welfare of Gazans, the short-sighted cordon-and-swat Israeli approach will continually make the Gaza Strip a locus of trouble and instability.

The most recent reminder of that has occurred within the past week. The trouble began with the latest Israeli swat: the killing last Friday with an air-to-ground missile of Zuhair al-Qissi, the leader of a militant group called the Popular Resistance Committees. Palestine Islamic Jihad took the lead in retaliating by firing rockets back into Israel, which in turn led to more Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. By Tuesday the Egyptians had brokered a truce, which was still shaky as of mid-week.

The latest round of fighting demonstrates anew how Israel’s iron-fisted approach of blockades, airstrikes and invasions never has and never will bring peace to Israel’s southwestern border. It is little more than three years since Operation Cast Lead, a full-scale Israeli invasion that killed around 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and inflicted such extensive physical damage to the Gaza Strip that, combined with the effects of the previous blockade, it caused a humanitarian crisis that in some ways continues today.

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders seem anxious for a new war right now in Gaza. Some Israeli politicians have warned that such a war would risk undoing the success the war-mongering talk about Iran has had in diverting attention from the Palestinians’ plight and focusing it instead on the Iranian nuclear program. The successful operation of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket defensive system has relieved what might otherwise have been greater popular pressure on Israeli leaders to strike back faster and even more forcefully.

There nonetheless is talk in Israel about launching at some point another war against Gazans. Israel’s finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, said “sooner or later, and I don’t want to quote dates, we will have to do a ‘root canal’.”

The talk reflects another Israeli idée fixe, one that is just as short-sighted as the reliance on cordon-and-swat: an absolute refusal to have anything to do with Hamas except to try to crush it (and occasionally to exchange prisoners with it). This obsession continues no matter what Hamas does and no matter how substantial a portion of Palestinian opinion it may represent.

Hamas has not been involved in the most recent round of rocket-firing, and it was Hamas that sought Egyptian help to negotiate a cease-fire. Hamas’s staying on the sidelines of this latest round follows months in which it has spoken more of moving away from violent resistance and has tried anew to reconcile with the Fatah of Mahmoud Abbas.

Steinitz’s comments nonetheless indicate that making things as difficult as possible for Hamas is at least as important to the Israeli government as stopping any rockets. Israel “cannot accept in the long run,” he said, a Hamas regime in Gaza.

The counterproductive (if one were interested in peace, that is) Israeli attitudes at play are vividly displayed in a paper published this week by Efraim Inbar and Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a version of which appeared as an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. Their piece is titled “The Opportunity in Gaza”, it’s interesting how a violent, destructive clash is viewed as a “opportunity.”

They argue for a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip now, one even bigger and more damaging than Cast Lead, with the objective of destroying as much of Hamas as possible. They blatantly recommend exploiting the U.S. electoral calendar, arguing that “until November, the U.S. is likely to restrain rather than promote international action against Israel in response to an action in Gaza.” They say “deterrence created by Cast Lead” is “wearing thin,” and “military action now could restore deterrence.”

Someone should point out to Inbar and Singer than when you repeatedly have to go to war that means deterrence is not working. But they don’t seem to care, fully accepting the prospect that in the future “Israel will probably have to ‘mow the grass’ again.” There is not a single word in their paper about the lives and livelihoods of the residents of the Gaza Strip, or the effect what they are recommending would have on those lives.

May both Palestinians and Israelis be spared from such perverse thinking.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

19 comments for “Preparing to ‘Mow the Grass’ in Gaza

  1. Flavio Codarin
    March 30, 2012 at 23:31

    Hamas Warning The Situation Could Explode.

    Hamas spokesperson in Gaza Sami Abu Zuhri has warned the world that the present situation in the area could explode at any moment, because international aid has been cut off – to 165,000 government workers that have not been paid for the past two months. And when Hamas leaders were able to collect tens of millions of dollars in the Arab and Muslim world to counter the Western sanctions, the money could not be transferred to Gaza because of U.S. pressure on banks afraid of running afoul of Washington’s anti-terrorism regulations.

    From the Gazette May, 9, 2006.

  2. Flavio Codarin
    March 30, 2012 at 11:32

    American Money For Israel.

    America gives 3 billion dollars a year to Israel. That’s more than all the other countries in the Middle East combined. Its about $ 1.000 per Israeli civilian and $ 9.000 per Israeli soldier per year. Both of which are more than most Americans get from their own government! This coming at a time when more Americans are more broke than at any time since the Depression! According to an article in the New York Times, Sept, 23, 1991. U.S. aid was given to Israel: $ 77 billion since ‘1967’.Just in 2001, the U.S. donated to Israel 67 attack helicopters and more than 300 combat aircraft.

    Did you ever wondered why American banks had to be bailed out with 800 billion dollar by President Obama ? Now you have a hint why America is going broke. And they try to fool the American people, by showing that they are worry and do everything they can to save the banks of Greece from collapsing. While six of their own huge American banks had to be rescued. Obama said that he had to bail them out, otherwise, America would have had another economic crash like in 1929.
    Maybe Obama should wake up and put a stop in giving billions to Israel, and donations of Helicopters, combat aircraft, Etc…Etc….And start helping the poor and the 4 million homeless in America. Beside the 45 million Americans that are still waiting for the past 100 years to have Medicare for when they have to be hospitalized. For Israel there was always plenty of money. The reason ? They claim they are the chosen people. And God has blessed America for giving all those billions to Israel.

  3. Flavio Codarin
    March 30, 2012 at 09:58

    The Palestinian belief.
    We will endure, we will suffer, and we will win our independence by making it impossible for the Israelis to maintain their rule. Viva! Viva! Palestina.

  4. Flavio Codarin
    March 30, 2012 at 09:40

    If Israel continues with her aggressive and dictatorial behavior in thinking that she is untouchable. And that a few million Jews can forever push around 7 billion people of the world, in time they might have to face the antisemitism spreading out in every country of the world. It could provoke a hatred and such a violent reaction from all those countries, that they probably could wind up killing even more than 6 million Jews as during the Holocaust by Hitler.

  5. incontinent reader
    March 18, 2012 at 12:34

    Thank you Mr Pillar for the article and the cite. The Inbar-Singer report is shocking and is a proposal for another Operation Cast Lead with its indiscriminate “targeted assassinations” and collective punishment on a massive scale.
    It is also shocking that the Administration’s own targeted assassinations program with its Presidential discretion could very possibly be used as a shield to immunize this.

    To Judah the Lion and Mr. Kutzweil, enough of this fanaticism about the Palestinian issue. Read the history, including recent history covering the negotiations, settlements, etc.- and read it as written by some of the finest Israeli historians, including Shlaim and Pappe. And, read the recently published “The General’s Son” by Miko Peled,
    the son of Matti Peled one of Israel’s greatest generals who later became visionary for peace.

    If what you think you want is to take more and more on the false pretext that it is meeting Israel’s legitimate security needs, and to keep killing because you think you have the power to do so and can ignore international law and can ignore the human rights of your victims and of everyone else, then be honest about it. If what you really want is peace then work for it.

  6. Jesse Schultz
    March 18, 2012 at 12:08

    So far it seems that almost ALL the comments in this thread have been loony.

  7. Judah the Lion
    March 18, 2012 at 09:49

    more neo nazi lunnies!

  8. March 17, 2012 at 21:32


    • Fivish
      March 18, 2012 at 08:21

      Yes, they stole gaza by evicting 8000 jews! What a crock!

  9. Fivish
    March 17, 2012 at 19:14

    The author is a useful idiot of the islamofascist assault on the west. Israel is a state a country validated by the san remo convention and the british mandate as well as UN charter article 80. The arabs of gaza, judea and samaria have no territorial or political rights by international law. You would never suspect this from listening to the propaganda eminating from the anti-semitic media. The arabs are liars and chancers who have inherited the Nazi outlook on humanity. Islam is a vicious duplicitous death cult that has no place in the modern civilised world. The Pals are the worst humans that the world has ever seen. Devoid of the love of life they seek only death. Inculcated with irrational hatred they celebrate the murder of jewish children even babies in their persuit of world domination. Disgusting.

    • John
      March 19, 2012 at 12:51

      Fivish, you should be ashamed of yourself. The first suicide bomnbing of Jews in the area was after the murder of many Muslims in a Mosque in the occupied territories. The Jews who already lived in Palestine before Zionism didn’t want these secular trouble makers coming. Before Zionism Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in relative peace. Who was responsible for Sabra and Shatila? Sharon knew what was going to happen especially after he falsely told the Phalange forces that Palestinians were responsible for their leaders death. If you want Judea and Samaria, then give the Palestinians what is present day Israel along the coast, Canaan.
      You need to look hard at yourself in a mirror.

  10. March 17, 2012 at 17:45

    I do not necessarily defend Israel’s actions in Gaza. I have no doubt that they are excessively harsh.

    Nonetheless I find the article treats the Gaza issue and the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a whole as something of purely parochial interest, as if it were merely a matter of Israel making a few concessions, and everything would be hunky-dory.

    I think, on the contrary, that Hamas, together with its parent organization, the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, which backs it up at every possible opportunity, pose a strategic threat to Europe and the Americas. Islamic extremists will not be pacified by Israeli concession in the Middle East, no matter how generous. They routinely talk about conquering Rome, and are counting on the fruitful wombs of Moslem women to conquer Europe through demographic assault within one generation.

    Accordingly Israel’s conflict with Hamas is of vital importance to the West. Moreover, since Hamas is bent on Islamic world conquest, no Israeli concessions will bring peace any closer.

    Although Israel’s actions may be distasteful, Israel is the West’s only ally in the Middle East and poses a formidable obstacle to Islamist ambitions in the region. Consequently Israel is a bulwark of the West against the Islamist onslaught and we cannot afford to weaken her.

    Moreover I note that, while this article and Consortium News in general subject Israel to a barrage of criticism, nary a mention is made of the brutal oppression exercised by Hamas against Gaza’s population. Hamas’ idea of tolerance is to attack a Christian elementary school with rockets, and to set a Christian bookstore on fire and murder its owner.

    But its tyranny is not restricted to the hated Christians, but represents a heavy burden on the population as a whole. For details, read my article:
    This Fascist savagery is at least as likely to “make the Gaza Strip a locus of trouble and instability” as anything the Israelis may do.
    Paul Pillar writes that Israel pursues its harsh policies “no matter how substantial a portion of Palestinian opinion it may represent.” My reply to that is that we do not know what “portion of Palestinian opinion it represents” because Hamas — as such — has never participated in free general elections, but at most in isolated municipal and labor-union elections.
    In the Palestinian general elections of 2006, Hamas took part under the non-committal name of “Change and Reform”. The single mention that this shadowy entity’s electoral platform made of Islam was to stress what a tolerant religion Islam is! It was a purely democratic platform that contained not a hint of Hamas’ bloodthirsty supremacist ideology.
    Accordingly the 50% or so of the votes cast for “Change and Reform “were not cast for Hamas at all! Hamas subsequently seized power in Gaza through a bloody putsch, not through elections. Consequently Hamas’ rule in Gaza has no democratic legitimacy whatso. To allude coyly to its 2006 electoral “success” is a deliberately fraudulent tactic, because Hamas’ platform and policies were never discussed during that campaign. Instead, Hamas used a bland, unobjectionable electoral stalking horse to capture the votes of secular Arabs.
    Naturally, when Hamas violently seized power in Gaza in 2007 it totally ignored the Change and Reform electoral platform it had recently supported. Instead, over the radio Hamas announced the “end of heresy” and at once imposed the harshest conceivable Islamic regimen on Moslems and Christians alike.
    This shows that its democratic shenanigans were merely an opportunistic contrivance that did not reflect any true change in its bloodthirsty ideology of Islamic world conquest.

    Igor Slamoff

    • John
      March 19, 2012 at 12:40

      You’re all wet Igor. Hamas won the election which the US and Israel failed to recognize. Instead the US and Israel began arming Fatah even before the elction was over, in the hopes that they would supress any Hamas leadership, but Hamas was too quick for them to fulfill their plot. The West wanted Fatah to win so the supposed peace talks going nowhere would continue and Israel would persist in planting its illegal facts (settlements) on the ground, the real major issue. So Israel now deprives Palestinians of good water, food and already this year there power station in Gaza has been shut down 3 times because of lack of fuel. Sounds familiar to past Jewish history.
      Before that, in the 1980s Israel let the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yassin from Egypt into the Palestinian world. They gave him the right to receive grants to build Mosques and schools. Israel even gave him money. The purpose was to undermine the PLO leadership using the divide and conquor routine. In the end, Palestinian support for Hamas was mainly to counter corruption in the Fatah.
      The big problem is you treat people badly as Israel has the Palestinians you only begat trouble down the road. It’s a pre-twentieth century game to colonize a region in a modern smaller world. What people have quietly forfeited their land to a colonizer? Progress would have been made if Jews had treated Palestinians as equals from the start but they didn’t and the bitterness came and has infected the matter more and more deeply. What legal weight can be given to an ancient text saying this land was bequeathed by some super-being, to a certain people. And as it turns out, many of those people are more European than Canaanite. Anyway Zionism was a secular product but it sure is getting fundamentalist today when a Christian church over there has vulgar anti-Christian graffiti painted on it’s walls by a growing swath of Jewish fundamentalists.
      Jews are exploited by their own people who won’t let them free from the past. This fear is used for political gain which gets them in trouble as they use irrational methods to solve problems which could be remedied in more appropriate ways. There are so many sensitive feeling Jews who have learned to live without these shackles and get on in this world.

  11. Tyrone B
    March 17, 2012 at 17:01

    As a Racial Minority in the United States, I find it shocking that so many (undoubtedly) White Folks (worst of the Hypocrites) are condemning Iran, Syria, Russia, etc., so self-righteously, but without acknowledging their own Cruel, and Inhumane history. Tens of Millions of Blacks and Native Americans (the so called “Red Indians”) were systematically Worked to Death or Massacred for over 400 years in the USA for Greed and Profit.

    Even now in the 21st century (each year) Millions of Black and Hispanic young men are Illegally Racially Profiled and Hundreds are Brutally Murdered in the USA by (predominantly) White Police/Sheriff/Troopers officers and the “Internal Affairs Divisions – IAD” of the respective departments cover-up the Racist-Crimes with little or no punishment for the officer(s) (most of the time).

    So before you Hypocrites start shouting words like anti-Semite, Holocaust-denier, etc., talk about how White Americans owe American Minorities (Blacks and Native Americans in Particular) more than a Trillion Dollars in Reparations for 400+ Years of Crimes against Humanity. And just because Obama is now President (after 230+ years of rule by White, Male Presidents), it doesn’t rule out the “Worst-Ever” Crime against Humanity– the “Black Holocaust.”

    And since you Whites value Women’s Rights so much, Tell Me: How come our Country (USA) has never elected a Female President or Vice-President yet? After all, Pakistan (Muslim Country) and India (Hindu Country) have had Presidents and Prime-Ministers who were Women. Where is your Self-Righteous “moral compass” when you can’t vote a Female leader into power in over 230 years, but have the gall to condemn other foreign countries for violating women’s rights.

    First attend to the “Dirt at Home” (skeletons in the closet) before you start pointing fingers at Foreign Countries you Fake-Ass Hypocrites and Sell-Outs.

    • Judah the Lion
      March 18, 2012 at 09:48

      Remember Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner? Three Civil Rights workers (1 African American, 2 Jewish Americans) murdered… Many Jewish American marched and put there lives on the line along with Christian and other groups to end segregation and pass a Civil Rights Law. The results aren’t perfect but I never saw any Arabs or their countries marching for Civil Rights in the US then.

  12. Otto Schiff
    March 17, 2012 at 16:54

    The failure of peace talks must be laid on both parties involved in the conflict.The solution needs a neutral third party.
    The UN is supposed to be such a neutral third party. However it looks as if
    the UN can not overcome the pro Arab bias. that is not to say that Netanyahoos
    fascist outlook is any help.
    Peace is only possible if all parties to the conflict want peace. This is currently not the case

  13. Judah the Lion
    March 17, 2012 at 16:39

    Is Iran Responsible For The Attacks On Gaza?

    Ronn Torossian

    Largely disregarded by the Western media are recent reports indicating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was advised by Iranian officials to deflect worldwide criticism from him by diverting attention toward Israel and the Palestinians. Emails intercepted by Syrian opposition and released by The Guardian show that the bloodshed in Syria is being orchestrated by a mightier power.

    The coincidence of the increased terrorist activity since last Friday, firing approximately 200 rockets at Southern Israeli towns and cities from Gaza and the email chains, leave little to manufacture. This is a well coordinated attempt to distract the West from Syria’s mass killings and Iran is pulling the strings. One email urges Assad to center on: “Resistance”; “Hostility to Israel, the first enemy of the Muslims”; and “Protection of Palestinian people’s rights (real prayers should be in the direction of Jerusalem).” The email then added “Maybe here the president can reiterate his stance by condemning forcefully the recent Israeli practices and policies to Judaise Al-Quds (Jerusalem).”

    The Iranian advice to Assad is to use “powerful and violent” language in his opposition to Israel. If such language, email messages or other revelations ever emanated from even the furthest right-wing elements of the Israeli government, what kind of international uproar would be heard?

    The memo further stated:

    “Here the subject of Israel comes up and it becomes necessary to put stress on the particular merits of the president by linking the foreign pressures on Syria, which differs in its toughness and content to other countries in crisis, with the geographical proximity to Israel and the position of the people and the regime towards Israel.”

    Would it be absurd to believe that the Arab world is similarly asking Gaza’s Hamas to fire missiles at Israel to deflect the mass killings in Syria. Thankfully, at least for now the attacks were stymied by the Iron Dome system, and they have stopped for now. Egypt helped broker the tentative truce. Yet, few in the media asked the simple question of why the Palestinians were attacking from Gaza if they control Gaza? There is no “occupation” in Gaza – its controlled by the Palestinian Arabs, who elected the terrorist organization Hamas in 2007, and until today refuse to recognize Israel – a bit duplicitous.

    What did the terrorists in Gaza want? Could it really just be to kill Jews and eradaicate the Jewish state?

    Even the Jewish Telegraphic Agency seems to miss the point with a headline which reads “Israeli retaliatory strikes hit Gaza amid cease-fire,” as if Israel was hitting a real country, run by good, decent people who ceased fire. Media never questioned whether Al-Qaeda was to blame when America hit back following the attacks of 9/11. When innocent people get attacked and killed, a free and sovereign nation has the right – and the responsibility to respond. Considering that a terrorist organization controls Gaza why is it a surprise that the Israeli Army protects its people? A simple continued double standard.

    For months on end we heard about peace flotillas when Israel protected itself from Gaza’s previous attacks. It is still amazing that none of those concerned advocates have organized a flotilla to Syria – despite the facts that thousands have been killed by the Syrians, by their own president. Few remember that in the mid 90’s Israel received tremendous pressure to surrender the Golan Heights to Assad. President Clinton at the time said of Assad “I think he has reached the conclusion that in the interest of his people, his administration and his legacy can make a meaningful and lasting peace.”

    Is the man we see today the same one whom Mr. Clinton spoke about? How much more vulnerable would Israel be had it ceded the Golan? Even our religious and “right-wing” community desires peace. Hasbara Fellowships, a project of Aish International, created “Israel Peace Week” on 65 university campuses in the U.S. to counter the BDS and Israel equals Apartheid activities. The leftist media still ignores the fact that Israel wants peace, while others want to destroy the Jewish state.

    Is there a way for Israel’s publicity machine to be more effective in showing the glaring hypocrisy of certain media and anti-Israel pundits and advocates?

    Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, 1 of the 25 largest PR Agencies in the US

  14. Morton Kurzweil
    March 17, 2012 at 15:08

    The Arab League must take responsibility for the failure of peace negotiations and the promotion of Islamic extremism throughout the Middle East.
    The politics of Islamic dominance is based on the historic hysteria that sustained centuries of sectarian warfare and tribal genocide. Tribal dominance is used to control popular expressions of personal liberty. The interpretation of the Qur’an by extreme orthodox sects, the same insanity that has denied every flowering of learning since the seventh century, has kept the true path from Muslims wherever political authority and religious authority join to suppress the will of the people.

  15. Mark Thomason
    March 17, 2012 at 10:06

    “Mowing the grass” is a longstanding Israeli term for regular killing of Palestinians. No solution sought, just kill off some on a regular basis, those who lead or seem active. It is meant to keep the Palestinians as a whole paralyzed and compliant. It does.

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