Israel’s Catch-22

Charles Krauthammer states Israel’s position quite nicely in today’s column, “Why They Fight.”

Next June will mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War. For four decades we have been told that the cause of the anger, violence and terror against Israel is its occupation of the territories seized in that war. End the occupation and the “cycle of violence” ceases.

The problem with this claim was that before Israel came into possession of the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War, every Arab state had rejected Israel’s right to exist and declared Israel’s pre-1967 borders — now deemed sacred — to be nothing more than the armistice lines suspending, and not ending, the 1948-49 war to exterminate Israel.


Exhibit A: Gaza. Just last September, Israel evacuated Gaza completely. It declared the border between Israel and Gaza an international frontier, renouncing any claim to the territory. Gaza became the first independent Palestinian territory in history. Yet the Gazans continued the war. They turned Gaza into a base for launching rocket attacks against Israel and for digging tunnels under the border to conduct attacks such as the one that killed two Israeli soldiers on June 25 and yielded a wounded hostage brought back to Gaza. Israeli tanks have now had to return to Gaza to try to rescue the hostage and suppress the rocket fire.

Exhibit B: South Lebanon. Two weeks later, the Lebanese terror organization, Hezbollah, which has representation in the Lebanese parliament and in the cabinet, launched an attack into Israel on Wednesday that resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers and the wounding of two others, who were brought back to Lebanon as hostages.

What’s the grievance here? Israel withdrew from Lebanon completely in 2000. It was so scrupulous in making sure that not one square inch of Lebanon was left inadvertently occupied that it asked the United Nations to verify the exact frontier defining Lebanon’s southern border and retreated behind it. This “blue line” was approved by the Security Council, which declared that Israel had fully complied with resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Lebanon.

Grievance satisfied. Yet what happens? Hezbollah has done to South Lebanon exactly what Hamas has done to Gaza: turned it into a military base and terrorist operations center from which to continue the war against Israel. South Lebanon bristles with Hezbollah’s 10,000 Katyusha rockets that put northern Israel under the gun. Fired in the first hours of fighting, just 85 of these killed two Israelis and wounded 120 in Israel’s northern towns.


In 1967 Israel acquired the “occupied territories.” In 1948 Israel acquired life. The fighting raging now in 2006 — between Israel and the “genocidal Islamism” (to quote the writer Yossi Klein Halevi) of Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran behind them — is about whether that life should and will continue to exist.

Krauthammer is certainly right that “occupation” was always a pretext for grievance and that the real issue is the refusal of most Arabs to recognize Israel’s right to be. The problem, however, is how to address this situation.

Clearly, simply giving up territory isn’t working because, as I explained in an earlier piece, the terrorists can dominate the agenda. Just as clearly, though, military action hasn’t garned Israel much peace, either. Major wars in 1948, 1967, 1973, 1982, and countless smaller uses of force have made Israel’s might respected, to be sure, but have done little to cause their enemies to give up their desire to wipe Israel from the map.

I’m afraid I have no solutions, simple or otherwise, for this dilemma.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Fersboo says:

    I’m a proponent of Israel occupying Gaza and Southern Lebanon and allowing the current residents to emigrate to a country of their choosing, as long as it isn’t Israel.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Fersboo: They essentially tried that from 1967-2004 and 1982-2000, respectively, without achieving the desired results. The underlying problem is that two sets of people claim exclusive rights to land that their ancestors grew up on.

  3. legion says:

    Many people are currently accusing Iran of being behind this quasi-offensive against Israel… I’m unconvinced that Iran actively directed these attacks (or if they did, that they’d be stupid enough not to leave themselves plenty of deniability).

    That said, I can’t imagine why these jokers would choose this particular time to _dare_ Israel to clean their clocks unless they believed Iran (or some other regional power… could Syria or Jordan fit the bill?) would back them up & make some move of their own. Whether that’s just what Hezbollah, et al, believed or what they were told by Iranian reps is something we may never know… or it may be answered in the next few days if Iran really does something nutsy like strike Israel (or eastern Iraq) directly.

  4. Fersboo says:


    I shouldn’t have said ‘allow them to emigrate’, but I was trying to be diplomatic. They’ve, the non-Israelis, have been given their respective chances and have used those territories to attack Israel. Any claim to the land is moot as far as I am concerned.

  5. Anderson says:

    Legion, I was wondering whether Iran wouldn’t direct the kidnappings in order to (1) draw Israeli antagonism and (2) encourage an attack by the U.S. or Israel on Iran, on the theory that Iran could then tell the EU “see, look at the crazies we have to deal with, of course we need nukes!”

    But that is probably too paranoid.

  6. ATS says:

    How do you know that “giving up territory isn’t working”? Have you been to Gaza? Gaza isn’t so much territory as it is a dust-caked prison.

    The real land and water is in the West Bank, and Israel is annexing it by colonization in defiance of international law and every assurance given the US over the years. Do you deny this?

    Try reading something other than our cowering media and, by the way, seek out translations not butchered by (Mossad-backed) MEMRI. See the world through a prism other than that of Wolf Blizer, former Washington correspondent of the (!) Jerusalem Post.

    As for Krauthammer, he has been writting the same hysterical column for the last twenty years. One Israeli soldier is nabbed and it justifies bombing Beirut back twenty years. A third of the duly elected Palestiniian parliament is in Israeli jails and Krauthammer’s POST has no objection.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    So, ATS, specifically, what do you propose?

  8. Here’s my solution:
    Ask yourself, What would Tony Soprano do?

    CRUSH the opposition in the most brutal manner possible. This is war! They have an option of seeing the blood of their nation slowly seep into the battlefield over a period of years or they can wipe out all thoughts in the enemy’s mind that they can compete on the battlefield.

  9. henry says:


    What significance do you think the terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel by Hebrew nationalists (1946) had in establishing the current state of Israel?

  10. Fersboo says:

    I don’t know henry, why don’t you educate me.

    The King David Hotel was the site of the British military command and the British Criminal Investigation Division. The Irgun chose it as a target after British troops invaded the Jewish Agency June 29, 1946, and confiscated large quantities of documents. At about the same time, more than 2,500 Jews from all over Palestine were placed under arrest. The information about Jewish Agency operations, including intelligence activities in Arab countries, was taken to the King David Hotel.

    A week later, news of a massacre of 40 Jews in a pogrom in Poland reminded the Jews of Palestine how Britain’s restrictive immigration policy had condemned thousands to death.

  11. yogi says:

    It has become clear that although this new Israeli offensive was initiated by a humanitarian need to rescue the kidnapped soldiers, it now seems as though the initial mission has warped into a well-timed assault on the Hammas. Let’s face it folks, while the plight of the miilions of Palestinians cannot be overlooked, or overshadowed by the kidnapping of a uniformed Israeli soldier, one cannot help but think of the Israeli mindset – one that consists of contantly being preocupied by attacks and threats of one form or another. Is that any way to live, and if so, is it any wonder they react in such a manner? Wouldn’t we react the same? All we have to do is remind ourselves of those morning hours of September 11 and revist the agony all over again. Le me be clear that Israel lives it every day. If anything, we must take a lesson from the way Israel fights terror so we can adapt and not linger over the political-correctness of our Middle-East policy. I agree with President Bush’s attempt in calling for restraint, from both sides, and also support his decision to stand by Israel, not because of a specific love for that nation, but because I agree with that nation’s right to exist, and see it prosper in peace which for them it is in such short supply. And before I hear some angry remarks from those who will soon rebuf my remarks with the eve so convincing struggle of the powerless Palestinians, let me be clear: the role of a peace-lover is not to secure peace with the threat of violence, nor is it his role to secure peace with hate and the obliteration of a whole peoples. For what benefit would such people offer humanity but a glimpse of the fruits of hate and intolerance for mankind. Love thy neighbor holds true for all in the Middle-East – be they Jews, Christians, or Muslims – but it begins with the oppressed.

  12. henry says:


    Would you care to quote your sources on your claims? Also, Who cares? Innocent civilians, including some Jews were killed. That, my friend, is TERRORISM cut and dry. Or are you calling them freedom fighters? That has a familiar ring.

  13. Fersboo says:


    You asked a question and I looked it up; try You will hear no moral equivalence from me, I presented the information without commment. I was hoping you would educate me to its relevance to today’s situation.

  14. My comments about crushing the enemy were not received well, but see what Ralph Peters writes today in the NY POST:
    A U.S. government official put it to me this way: “Israel’s got the clock, but Hezbollah’s got the time.” The sands of the hourglass favor the terrorists – every day they hold out and drop more rockets on Israel, Hezbollah scores a propaganda win.

    All Hezbollah has to do to achieve victory is not to lose completely. But for Israel to emerge the acknowledged winner, it has to shatter Hezbollah. Yet Israeli miscalculations have left Hezbollah alive and kicking.