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Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns

A scene from the eight year siege of Montevideo during the Uruguayan Civil War. Via wikimedia.

A scene from the eight year siege of Montevideo during the Uruguayan Civil War. Via wikimedia.

The conflict in Gaza has renewed focus on Israel’s military strategy. Zack Beauchamp demonstrates that Israel in fact lacks a central strategy for dealing with threats. Israel scholar Brent Sasley argues Israel strategic goals are unrealistic, and even then doesn’t have a plan to achieve them. Also on the subject of Gaza, the blog Justice in Conflict is hosting a six-part series on R2P, Israel, and Palestine. In a wide-ranging essay, Haviv Retig Gur compares Hamas’ strategy to that of the Algerian independence movement and examines the conflict’s strange politics of weakness and strength.  Finally, Sean Langberg rebuts Thane Rosenbaum’s WSJ op-ed, arguing there are in fact civilians in Gaza.

The New York Times has an inside look at IS-controlled Raqqa, Syria. As ISIS advances, it is showing tactical flexibility many doubted it possessed. Alternatively, as Joshua Keating argues, ISIS may be faltering. Lastly, the LA Times has an in-depth portrait of how, as the war drags on in Syria, rebels face despair and economic pressures that force some of them to retreat from front line life.

Business Insider has an absolutely fascinating article about terrorism expert Aymenn al Tamini’s ambiguous relationship with the groups he studied, and how his career began to fall apart. Also on the subject of terrorism and twitter, the State Department is losing the public relations battle with jihadists.

Writing at Reinventing Peace, Alex deWaal offers a preliminary investigation of the relationship between corruption and human insecurity.

Former ambassador John Campbell notes that Boko Harm is showing some signs of territorial statehood. However, they face an uphill battle, as jihadists have traditionally struggled to institutionalize their rule and accrue legitimacy.

Robert Pape, Kevin Ruby, and Vincent Bauer argue that government data on terrorism is faulty, consequently exaggerating a spike in recent terror attacks.

Bolivia’s coca policy has succeeded in reducing violence by giving growers’ unions strong incentives to self-police while simultaneously increasing government seizures of illegal coca.

In eastern Ukraine, the final days of the People’s Republic of Donetsk leave civilians caught in the crossfire. In the Monkey Cage, Austin Carson argues that even if Russian personnel did not fire the rocket that downed MH17, they are guilty of “gross negligence.” Next door in Poland, politicians may still deny it, but the country aided the CIA in the torture of detainees writes Hanna Kozlowska.

Good news has been hard to come by in CAR recently, but Louisa Waugh writes that reconciliation programs have contributed to the return of calm to the capital Bangui.

The links between domestic gang violence and international political violence rarely pop up in scholarship, but Rachel Strohm has a two-part series on this very topic.

Daniel Solomon takes a look at the local drivers of conflict that make Al-Shabab resilient.

Is War Really on the Decline? And if so, Why?

By Lionel Beehner

Courtesy of Jayel Aheram.

Courtesy of Jayel Aheram.

AlexAK, who commented on our “Would Someone Please Explain This to Me?” post, asked this question:

Do you agree that the recent decline in inter-state warfare (and as some claim all kinds of warfare) (aka Pinker/Goldstein…) is a result of the transformation of war (as argue Shaw, Kaldor, etc.)? (and not a result of democratic peace, nuclear weapons, unipolarity, etc. –> theories that view war as a constant).- If so, is the main culprit that opened up these new spaces of violence really found in the economic sphere (aka economic globalization –> weakening of the state) as Kaldor, etc. claim? Could one not make an equal claim that this is the result of technological, political, judicial, moral, religious, changes?

A good question that might require a dissertation-length answer. Lemme try to square the circle that has Dick Cheney telling Politico that, “The world’s not getting safer, it’s getting far more dangerous,” at the same time that there is a cottage industry of new books proclaiming “peace in our time” and that war is over. So which is it?

Let’s review: Incidents of terrorism are thought to be on the increase, but Pape and others challenge the validity of the government-sponsored data. Looking at war, the overwhelming bulk of conflicts remain internal or irregular, which explains the renewed attention among academics and policymakers to civil war studies (and blogs like this one). Last year, for instance, there were zero interstate conflicts but 24 intrastate conflicts, according to Uppsala Conflict Data Program data. A few analysts have pointed to a new kind of warfare. Call it what you will: John Schindler refers to it as “special war,” Mary Kaldor calls them “new wars,” and John Nagl has dubbed them “knife fights.” Most observers describe it as a kind of “hybrid warfare” that is asymmetric, legally messy, involving targeted killings, Special Force units, chemical weapons, terrorism, cyber warfare, and other indirect means to achieve ends that are anything but clear-cut. Regardless, we can expect such types of conflicts to be more frequent in the future (see here and here). Of the 41 lethal uses of force – or what Micah Zenko calls a discrete militarized operation (DMO) – by the US between 1990 and 2010, all but five were against nonstate actors.

So what do IR theorists have to say about all these trends, if anything? Many scholars have struggled to account for, much less code, these new types of war. From a social scientist’s perspective, many of these so-called “new wars” can get lost in the data, given the unconventional style in which they’re fought. As James Fearon asked last year in the Monkey Cage, “Is the US fighting one war, or four?” It’s made murkier by the fact that states no longer formally declare war, for reasons Tanisha Fazal outlines here. The prevailing wisdom points to the distribution of power within the system as accounting for the decline of interstate violence (Wolhforth and Monteiro outline these contrasting views nicely). A few chalk up the decline to the spread of democracies or the presence of Golden Arches. John Mueller has pointed to the public’s revulsion of war as an “idea” of settling disputes, much as slavery and dueling became seen as abhorrent and outdated (a notion Christopher Coker, among others, has challenged).

Moreover, there is widespread skepticism within the field of some of the theories advanced by Pinker et al., about the decline of violence throughout history (Pinker more or less chalks it up to a “pacification process”; Goldstein points to the success of peacekeeping, whereas Gat says peace has just gotten more profitable; Fry says that war is an aberration; Morris argues just the opposite). At least one prominent political scientist/anthropologist I know called Pinker’s theories complete bunk!

So then what explains the relatively sharp drop-off in fighting between states, and might the events of the past year (Crimea, Syria, Iraq, eastern Ukraine) presage the reverse of this recent trend? That is, are we on the precipice of this century’s Norman Angell moment? Doubtful. Russia’s latest military forays into Ukraine have come at the expense of its economy. Ditto China and its military maneuvers in the South China Sea. This is not to say that economic interdependence is not an important variable. But, if anything, the rise of countries like the BRICS should correspond with a rise of incursions and other “hybrid conflicts,” not a decline (by some counts, China violated Indian sovereignty by as many as 400 times over the past few years). Throw drones into the mix – over 70 states now possess some kind of lethal drone technology – and you have a recipe for more conflict ahead.

Maybe we’ll see less escalation because of mechanisms outlined by Kaldor (and Angell over 100 years ago) related to globalization, the presence of peacekeepers, or more robust international norms prohibiting the use of force (the non-use of a drone by China in 2011 against a Burmese drug lord in the Golden Triangle is an encouraging sign). Moreover, some analysts might conclude that as we move toward a more multipolar world, we can expect more interventions and, by extension, more conflicts. By contrast, I would argue that war is not becoming obsolete, but it is changing. “Winning” does not tend to lead to land grabs or looting of resources (Crimea aside). Interventions are increasingly limited in nature and carried out in the name of “self-defense.” (To be sure, this is not a new trend per se, as Cold War-era interventions by India in Bangladesh, Vietnam in Cambodia, and Tanzania in Uganda suggest. But data I am collecting suggests that incursions against non-state actors are more likely than previous decades.)

I hate to say it, but this may be the one time when Dick Cheney was right.

Updated to reflect the fact that according to Micah Zenko, the US has used lethal force in 41, not 45 as the post originally stated, DMO’s between 1990 and 2010.

Measurement of Regime Type Effects on Police Focus

By Erica Chenoweth

An Iranian policeman operates a speed gun. Via wikimedia.

An Iranian policeman operates a speed gun. Via wikimedia.

This post, part of our “Would Someone Please Explain This to Me?” series, is in response to Grant’s question from last week: 

Is there any measurable way to tell whether police become more or less focused on crime prevention and public safety in nations that are not fully democratic?

Interesting question. I guess answering it would have to start with a good theory as to why police would change their priorities and behaviors in less democratic countries. Most existing work seems to refer to the fact that democracy provides a level of transparency, public oversight, and accountability over police practice, which make police more professional and responsive to the rule of law than they might be in non-democracies. However, I’m not aware of any scholarship looking at your precise question (i.e. the effects of regime type on police focus on crime prevention and public safety).

Measurement is a bit of an issue here. Measuring whether a country is a democracy or not (or where it falls on a range of different regime types) is fairly straightforward. But the public safety/crime prevention focus is the real challenge, so one would want to explore several potential measurement strategies.

First, one would have to identify precisely what a “focus on crime prevention and public safety” would look like. One would have to find a valid indicator (i.e. the indicator you choose fairly and accurately represents the concept you’re attempting to measure). Is it police attitudes toward their own professional roles and responsibilities toward crime prevention and public safety? Is it doctrinal changes, accompanied with actual evidence of implementation, that police ought to focus more on public safety and crime prevention? The latter two are probably optimal, since they are the closest to the concept you’re trying to measure. Other indirect indicators might include a decline in homicides and other violent crime, or public opinion polls showing that people feel more secure AND that they attribute this increase in security to the police.

Second, one would need to devise a data collection strategy that allows you to observe the indicator you choose across time and/or space. Your question is a bit tricky. Most existing surveys and polls are snapshots in a single country—they are conducted once or more than once in a single country that hasn’t changed much during the course of the study. Due to the nature on your question, you’d either have to (1) conduct the same surveys in a single country whose regime type changes over time (a tough one to anticipate!); or (2) conduct the same surveys in countries that are similar in many ways except for their regime type (i.e. one is democratic and the other is not). But this leaves you quite vulnerable to problems with reporting bias—the fact that surveys in non-democracies may not accurately affect attitudes there because of fear of reprisals, mistrust, and many other factors that change the way that respondents approach the survey/poll.

That leaves you with (1) using someone else’s survey data (which may or may not have had your precise research question in mind); (2) finding an alternative indicator that proxies for your concept; (3) writing up a really solid theory with clear observable implications and testing those.

Hope this helps!

The Blame Game

By Andrew Kydd

Flowers outside Amsterdam Airport in memory of MH17's passengers and crew. Courtesy of Roman Boed.

Flowers outside Amsterdam Airport in memory of MH17′s passengers and crew. Courtesy of Roman Boed.

The downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine with the loss of almost 300 lives may open a new chapter in the long simmering conflict.  It was quickly confirmed that the aircraft had been shot down, and given the cruising altitude of commercial jets, it must have been by a surface to air missile rather than small arms fire.  This reduces the number of actors who could conceivably have done it and may facilitate identification of the culprits.  However, we are probably in for a lot of finger pointing and vigorous denial, as the parties try to divert blame to the other side.  Avoiding blame is important because the parties think the international community may impose some punishment on whichever side it decides was responsible for the crime.

Unfortunately, the fact that the international community may punish the party it deems guilty but cannot be sure who is guilty generates incentives not just to avoid blame, but to commit the crime in the first place.  There is an interesting strategic dynamic at work.  For instance, if the Ukrainian government thinks the rebels will be blamed for the crime, the government should commit it, since this will result in the rebels being punished.  The rebels, in turn, should definitely not commit the crime because that will just bring down punishment on their own head.  However, this should make the international community blame the government, since they are certain to commit the crime and the rebels are certain not to.  The same holds in reverse; if the government will be blamed, the rebels should commit the crime and the government should not, but this should make the international community blame the rebels.  So it is clearly unstable for one side to commit the crime and the other side not to, since this will result in the side committing the crime being punished.  Should they both commit it?  Should neither one?  Should they flip a coin?  Situations like this call for a little game theoretic investigation, which I outline below.

The main implication of the analysis is that if the international community is biased in favor of one actor, that actor is more likely in equilibrium to commit the crime than the other side is.  In the Ukrainian case, if the international community is biased in favor of the government side, that actually gives the government side a greater incentive to commit such crimes in hopes that the rebels will be punished for them.  Thus the presence of the external actor and its bias generates perverse incentives for actors to commit crimes that they would otherwise have no incentive to commit.

This kind of analysis is of course no substitute for actual investigation of who is responsible for the downing of the plane.  In an alternative model in which blame can be allocated accurately, there is no incentive to commit provocations in hopes that the other side will be blamed.  The analysis does suggest, however, that in environments where it is difficult or impossible to allocate blame effectively, the possibility of punishment does generate incentives to engage in provocations for all sides, especially for those likely to be spared by the punisher.


The Game

Consider two actors involved in a conflict and a third party observer.  One of the two players is selected at random and, unbeknownst to the third party, presented with an opportunity to commit some crime that will be impossible to trace for sure to either of the two actors.  If the player does not commit the crime, the game ends and no one is punished.  If it does, then the third party has an opportunity to punish one or the other actor.

Payoffs are as follows.  Each player gets 0 if no one is punished, 1 if the other side is punished and -1 if it is punished.  The third party gets 1 if it punishes the guilty party and -1 if it punishes an innocent party.  In addition, it gets a benefit b (assumed to be less than 1) for punishing player 2, reflecting a bias against that side.

After observing the crime, the third party will have some probability estimate, call it g1, that the first actor is guilty and a corresponding probability estimate g2 = 1 - g1 that the second actor did it.  Call the equilibrium probabilities that the players would commit the crime if given the chance p1 and 2.  If we posit that each player is equally likely to be given the opportunity, the posterior probability that player 1 committed the crime is, from Bayes Rule, g1 = p1/(p1+p2), and for player 2 it is g2 = p2/(p1+p2).  So the third party’s beliefs about who committed the crime depends on their actual likelihood of committing it in a straightforward way, the greater p1, the greater g1 and likewise for p2 and g2.

What are the equilibrium likelihoods that each side will commit the crime?  If we try to imagine an equilibrium in which one side is punished for sure, we know the other side must commit the crime for sure if it has the chance and the side getting punished will not commit the crime.  This will invalidate the third party’s strategy because now the side being punished has zero posterior likelihood of having committed the crime.

Therefore, the only equilibria in the game must involve some chance of each side getting punished.  This means the third party must be indifferent between punishing each side in equilibrium.  The payoff for punishing player 1 must be equal to the payoff for punishing player 2, so g1 g2 g2g1 b, so g1 = g2 + b/2.  In terms of the likelihoods of committing the crimes, this condition is p1/(p1+p2) = p2/(p1+p2) + b/2, or p1 = p2 + b/2*(p1+p2), or (1-b/2) p1 = (1+b/2)p2, or p1 = p2(1+b/2)/(1-b/2).  Since the term containing the bias parameter is greater than 1, we know that in equilibrium p1 > p2.  This means that player 1 is more likely to commit the crime than player 2, the side the third party is biased against.  Therefore, bias in a third party encourages the side it is biased in favor of to commit provocations.

Finally, Each of the players must also be indifferent between committing the crime and not.  Let the likelihood that the third party imposes sanctions on player 1 be s1 and for player 2 s2.  For player 1, the payoff for committing the crime is –s1 + s2, which must equal the payoff for not committing the crime, which is zero.  So we know that s1 = s2, and the two sides must be equally likely to be punished in equilibrium.  The same analysis holds for player 2.

Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns

The Spanish village of Belchite was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, and has been left ruined as  a monument to the conflict. Courtesy of Flickr user Angel.

The Spanish village of Belchite was destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, and has been left ruined as a monument to the conflict. Courtesy of Flickr user Angel.

Writing well in advance of yesterday’s Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, The Jewish Daily Forward examined the political buildup to the conflict in Israel. Gregg Carlstrom provides context for Hamas’ preparation for conflict, arguing that while the organization is very weak, it probably does not face an existential threat. Fast-forwarding to Thursday, Carlstrom has three main conclusions on the development of the conflict: the peace negotiations were an Israeli-sponsored sham, Hamas is deeply divided, and it’s not entirely clear how the conflict ends. And despite the escalation, Israel and Hamas both need each other politically. The four Gazan children killed on a beach while playing soccer made headlines around the world Wednesday, and the New York Times’ Tyler Hicks has a particularly poignant take. Human Rights Watch’s Bill van Esveld delivers a stinging indictment of Israeli military policies in the role of the four boys’ death, “…they were the inevitable result of the IDF’s practice, seen in several incidents in Gaza since July 7, of firing before determining that the target is military…” Finally, it seems real threats of violence makes Israelis and Palestinians less supportive of peace.

The other major story of the week was the downing of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight over eastern Ukraine. For now, the most probable sequence of events is that pro-Russian separatists lacked the technology to determine they were firing at a civilian airliner. At Think Progress, Hayes Brown offers the geopolitical context for the incident. Lastly, Joshua Keating reminds us that the MH17 is the most recent in a long history of air disasters.

Writing on Thursday night, David Rothkopf notes that low-intensity conflicts, such as those in Gaza and eastern Ukraine, are often decided by well-publicized accidents, “Nations act as though the careful plans of their militaries and intelligence operations can harness the chaos of combat and guide it to advance their interests. And then the unplanned happens, collateral damage occurs, and it has a bigger impact on politics and the position of combatants than all the calculated elements of the conflict added up.”

The UN’s Force Intervention Brigade has been a revelation in the eastern DRC, and analyst Christoph Vogel examines its performance thus far. The next obstacle is confronting the FDLR, but political obstacles may prove more daunting than military ones.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave NBC’s Meet the Press a very candid interview as the deadline for Iranian nuclear negotiations approaches. Between minutes 6:00 and 9:00, Zarif presents a very nuanced portrait of Iranian domestic politics.

A fascinating new study, summarized in the Monkey Cage, argues that religion did in fact mobilize protesters in the Arab Spring, but not in the way one might expect. Koran reading was positively correlated with protest participation, while frequent mosque attendance was negatively correlated with the same phenomenon.

Building on Alex DeWaal’s work on the concept of a “political marketplace”, Marielle Debos examines patronage networks and cycles of conflict in Chad.

South Sudan has struggled mightily since independence three years ago, and Lesley Anne Warner traces how the world’s youngest country finds itself on the brink. An excerpt from a book on South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar’s late wife concisely outlines just how complex conflict is in the country. Finally in South Sudan, the International Crisis Group demonstrates the many complications of including civil society in peace negotiations.

Rachel Strohm argues scholars researching how to end conflicts have neglected to understand the durability of peace.


Why Is ISIS the First Islamist Rebel Group to Claim to Resurrect the Caliphate?

By Allison Beth Hodgkins

A 1911 map of the original Caliphate by American cartographer William Robert Shepherd. Via wikimedia.

A 1911 map of the original Caliphate by American cartographer William Robert Shepherd. Via wikimedia.

In response to our Would Someone Please Explain This to Me? post, commenter Chris C wrote:

Why is Islamic State (ISIS) the first Islamist rebel group to claim to resurrect the caliphate? It seems like someone else would have tried this strategy some time in the past century, even with the risks associated.

1) Previous Islamist groups were (and arguably still are) products of national struggles and have a nationalist focus and nationalist objectives. The notion of a caliphate is transnational, eroding the very boundaries that movements like Hamas, Hezbollah, the FIS (Algeria), and even arguably the Taliban, sought to either liberate or preserve.

2) Previous Islamist groups were focused on driving out or defeating the crusader/ colonial infidels, not the Shia. The caliphate was associated with the earliest period of Islam, but it is also associated with the Shia, Sunni schism. This history is being reconstructed in the present as part of the struggle in Iraq and Syria. I cannot stress enough how modern this reconstruction of sectarian strife is for most of the region. The rifts were there but the frenzied jingoism around the “Shia” threat in predominantly Sunni countries is really new (I am still having a hard time getting my head around some of the stuff I hear). So there is a contemporary purpose for this reincarnation that didn’t have relevance to the struggles in Lebanon or Palestine.

3) Not many people want to live under the caliphate and smart groups know it. The extremism and brutality of da’ash is really off-putting to your average guy on the street. They don’t see this as legitimate resistance very far beyond the really radical fringe. Smart groups know that the national-religious combo allows for cross-cutting alliances; these guys leave no room for the aging, Christian Marxists who stand up and cheer (with whiskey in hand) when Nasrallah rails against the Zionist entity on satellite TV.

The Paradox of 2014

By Erica Chenoweth

The sculpture "Non-violence" in front of the United Nations building in New York. Courtesy of Luke Redmond.

The sculpture “Non-Violence” in front of the United Nations building in New York. Courtesy of Luke Redmond.

In recent weeks, a number of people have asked me whether I think we’re headed for World War III. Maybe it’s the intense media coverage of the centennial of WWI. Maybe it’s all the violence heating up in Israel & Gaza, Iraq, and Ukraine, and wars raging in Syria, Nigeria, and DRC. Maybe it’s the fact that several of these wars are activating great power tensions in ways that haven’t been seen since the Cold War, or that diplomatic crises are shaking the United States’ friendships with foundational allies. Maybe it’s the speculation by some pundits that we are, indeed, teetering on the precipice of a new world war.

All of these recent trends stand in stark contrast to claims made by a number of recent books about how war has declined. In fact, 2000- 2010 was arguably the most peaceful in recorded history.

Since the publication of the “war is almost in the dustbin of history” books of 2011, there is no doubt that the march toward peace has suffered a major reversal. There is a lot of violence around the world right now. 2013 was the bloodiest year with the largest number of refugees worldwide since 1994. As weapons manufacturers make money hand over fist, the weapons they produce are the most lethal ever created (and they are everywhere).

At the same time, there are more people in the world today actively working to avoid war than in any other period in recorded human history. There appears to be no taste among great power publics for war. The United States’ own preventative and preemptive tendencies have been tamed. There are international governmental organizations (IGOs) like the UN and supranational organizations like the EU working daily to avoid war. There are thousands of global nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) actively lobbying against war. Very few intellectuals make serious arguments in favor of using military action as a solution to today’s conflicts. Blockbuster films depict defense contractors as bad guys. The known alternatives to armed conflict are ever more ubiquitous, generating a higher burden of proof for those arguing that kinetic military action is a superior way of obtaining political goals. And there is an active global peace movement, which has grown in influence since WWI and has many skillful proponents at the grassroots level as well as advocates within the halls of power.

This, to me, gets to the paradox of 2014—that while violence is on the rise, tensions are high, and the technologies of warfare are lethal, the world also features the most active and mobilized population interested in preserving peace that the world has ever known. Given all of the bad news in the headlines and the palpable awareness that great power peace is neither permanent nor inevitable, the forces for peace make me cautiously optimistic that the world will emerge from these disturbing reversals without descending into WWIII.

Why Hamas Escalated, When Before They Didn’t

By Allison Beth Hodgkins

Home destroyed in Beer Sheva by rocket fire. July 11th IDF photo.

Home destroyed in Beer Sheva by rocket fire. July 11th IDF photo.

Just a short while ago it seemed that the Islamic militant group Hamas had everything to gain by moderation and had little interest in escalating tensions with Israel. As I wrote previously on this blog, Egyptian president Morsi’s ouster was a disaster for Hamas. Since late last year, Egypt’s crackdown on the tunnels into Gaza and loss of support left Hamas struggling to pay the salaries of its civil servants and witnessing a slide in public opinion polls. The unity deal not only gave Hamas a bump in the polls, but also promised financial relief and the prospect of improved access to the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Of course, all these incentives were dependent on maintaining quiet. 

And then we have the kidnapping and murder of three teenage Israeli settlers in the West Bank, an uptick in rocket fire, this July 4th screed to warn of hellfire and brimstone and then, as of July 7, 2014, Hamas made good on the promises in their most recent screed and lobbed there rockets as far as the outskirts of Jerusalem. And as Israeli airstrikes drove up the number of Palestinian dead, Hamas, almost gleefully, warned airlines to stay clear of Israel’s Ben Gurion airport.

 So what gives? After upholding a ceasefire agreement for almost two years and swallowing the crow sandwich that was the unity deal, why let loose and risk it all just for the pleasure of proving what big rockets they have?

At the risk of sounding Kerry-esque, the simple truth is that Hamas was against escalation until it was for it. The chain of events since those teens were seized en-route from Jerusalem has steadily eroded Hamas’ room to maneuver and backed it, inexorably, into a corner where it had to chose between the Russian roulette of escalation and irrelevance. It chose the former — a high stakes gamble to reclaim the mantle of resistor in chief on behalf of the struggle and shore up its tenuous stake in the Palestinian marketplace.

To a large degree, Shlomi Eldar gets it mostly right here when he says that Hamas’ main objective is to avoid looking like a defeated movement. What it really can’t afford to look like is a religiously conservative version of Fatah: weak, ineffective and seen as trading a continued hold on power for continued occupation. While the business of governing the fractious Gaza Strip has forced Hamas to make compromises in order to pay the bills and keep the sewage from overflowing, these compromises have required enforcing the November 2012 ceasefire on all the resistance factions in the strip. This is no easy task in good times (or not so bad times), but with the popular mood turning from generally irritated to downright irate, groups like Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and other new challengers smell blood in the water.

According to this very convoluted report, there was a meeting in Gaza around July 2nd in which Hamas apparently tried to convince the various armed factions to uphold the truce. They failed. The other factions in the meeting saw no reason to uphold a truce, especially since the newly formed government of national consensus decided not to pay the salaries of Gazan civil servants as supposedly promised in the unity deal. The street wanted escalation and so they would have it, calls for moderation be damed.

The IDF claims that there were around 5 or so rockets being fired out of Gaza on a daily basis throughout the month of June. Those rockets appear to have been of the limited range variety. From July 1, the number of rockets increases slightly: to 10, 15, 20 and finally 40, however the range is the same. This pattern concurs with the assertion that the early round of missiles was largely the work of the PFLP or other factions with less firepower and an interest in demonstrating their resistance bonafides. It is not until July 7, after Israel struck a tunnel and killed 7 Hamas militants that Hamas unleashed its long-range arsenal and the overall number of launches jumps to over 80.

In other words, the macabre peeing contests currently taking place is not between Israel and Hamas, nor even Hamas and the PA, but between Hamas and the rest of the resistance camp. Real resistance movements can hit Tel Aviv or threaten to close down Ben Gurion airport; the rest are short range wannabes.

As was pointed out here, the murder/kidnapping in the West Bank demonstrates the extent to which Hamas has lost control. The suggestion that attackers planned to murder the teens from the start further confirms that the objective was to incite violence, undermine the unity deal and punish Hamas for even hinting at the prospect of moderation. Hostage negotiations require calm; murder brings swift retribution. While Hamas may have initially tried to manage the pace and scope of escalation, as the spiral of tit-for-tat increased in size and frequency, it came out of the corner swinging.

This escalation is a high-stakes, high-risk gamble made in effort to disprove its weakness, reassert control over its ranks and distance itself from chargers it has sold out in the interest of money and power like its Fatah rivals. There is also a ‘use it or lose it’ element to the rocket strikes. Most of this material, especially the long range stuff, was smuggled in overland from Sudan via Sinai. With a new regime in control in Egypt, that road is closed. As Israel’s strikes into the strip grew more ferocious, Hamas probably calculated they best launch them before they were vaporized. 

In the end, this gamble may pay off. The Hamas leadership is aware that neither Netanyahu, President Sisi, nor President Obama want to see an all-out ground war in Gaza. All indications are that a ceasefire will be brokered before it gets to that point. Of course, in the fog and friction that currently has hold over the densely populated strip, neither side may be able to prevent the whirlwind they have sown.

Nevertheless, when a ceasefire is eventually reached — which it will be at the end of the day — Israel far prefers Hamas to chaos, and Hamas may gain access to the border and other perks, like the re-release of re-arrested prisoners that it can claim as the fruits of its righteous struggle. If such an outcome is on the account of a few hundred Palestinian civilians, so be it. Resistance after all, is a sacred endeavor, especially when it raises market share.


Would Someone Please Explain This to Me?

By Erica Chenoweth

When this blog was just a couple of months old, we experimented with a series called “Would Someone Please Explain This to Me?”  In this series, we simply ask our readers to submit puzzles, head-scratchers, and other questions to our humble blogging group for response. Given that it is summertime (and many of us need some blogging inspirations anyway), we thought it was time to resurrect the series.

So, here goes. Post your questions in the comments section, and we’ll write posts responding to them as we can!

Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns

Cornelis Verbeeck, "A Naval Encounter between Dutch and Spanish Warships," 1620. Via the National Gallery of Art.

Cornelis Verbeeck, “A Naval Encounter between Dutch and Spanish Warships,” 1620. Via the National Gallery of Art.

In a wide-ranging essay in the London Review of Books, Owen Bennett looks out at ISIS’ organizational history. He argues that while ISIS’ brutality has gained them supporters, it is also politically dangerous — “Every time a jihadi movement has won power it has lost popularity by failing to give the people what they want: peace, security and jobs.” In the same publication, veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn paints a vivid portrait of how ordinary Iraqis are reacting to ISIS’ advance. Stathis Kalyvas examines what we do and do not know about ISIS, arguing its modus operandi is more revolutionary than Islamic. Finally, Barak Mendelsohn comments on ISIS’ attempts to position itself within jihadi circles and the global Muslim community.

The Palestinian Authority, Israel and Hamas all have a great deal to lose from spiraling violence, and while it may be in each player’s interest to avoid escalation, a compromise may be hard to find. Hamas’ new rockets, the M-302, provide the group a greatly increased range, but are also wildly inaccurate. IDF officials claim the rockets were smuggled into Gaza sometime last year.

Marc Lynch takes on the tough question of ethical scholarship, and specifically what the responsibilities of political scientists are when studying the Middle East. Jay Ulfelder wrote a short response piece.

Sixty-seven women escaped from Boko Haram after being kidnapped in mid-to-late June.

The war in Ukraine has been repeatedly described as a “phony war”, and Foreign Policy’s most recent dispatch describes a similar scenario. Rebels clinging to a ‘People’s Republic’ are holed up in Donetsk after a Ukrainian army advance. An uneasy calm pervades, but the future is highly uncertain.

The South Sudanese Minister of the Interior announced that violators of Juba’s nighttime curfew will be shot on sight: “It is only witches who move at night.”

James P. Rudolph outlines how humanitarians gather political will, ultimately arguing for an advocacy strategy that focuses less on awareness-raising and more on shaping global institutions.

What’s the problem with activists describing themselves as “revolutionaries”?

Patricia Vieira on the numerous issues with identifying “women and children” as a distinct category in conflict.

In Uganda dozens were killed after attacks on government buildings by the shadowy ADF militia. Somewhat relatedly, if recent defectors from the LRA are to be believed, then Joseph Kony hasn’t been seen in years. (Via Rachel Strohm.)



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