Mowing the Grass and Taking Out the Trash

Israel doesn't want to wipe out Hamas, and putting it in a corner will only backfire.

Nobody seems able to stop the Gaza war. The conflict kicked off in earnest again last week with continued Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli strikes on Hamas commanders. Perhaps more troubling, even if negotiators reach a cease-fire, both sides think another round is inevitable -- there will, it appears, be more death and destruction in the months and years to come.

Although the conflict is often portrayed in existential terms, in reality the goals of both parties are far more limited. Israel has no desire to reoccupy Gaza: Doing so would be a diplomatic disaster, require Israel to care for and govern Gaza's residents, and force Israel to fight a grinding counterinsurgency campaign against Hamas and other militant groups. Instead, Israel simply seeks quiet on its border. Hamas's calculations are more complex. On the one hand, it considers itself a "resistance" organization dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, and points to Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and 2011 swap of over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for captured Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Gilad Shalit as proof that only force compels Israel to make concessions.

Yet Hamas also sees itself as -- and in reality is -- the government of Gaza. As such, it wants to prove that it can exercise power effectively: In other words, it aims to ensure law and order, pick up the garbage, educate its young, and enable citizens to prosper. Governing also helps Hamas fulfill its ideology, as it believes it is advancing God's will by running a government in accord with Islamic law. Politically, Hamas tries to offer itself to Palestinians as a more competent organization than its more moderate rival, Fatah -- and indeed triumphed over Fatah in 2005 legislative elections in large part because Palestinians saw it as better at providing services and less corrupt. Running Gaza well will help Hamas cement its power and enable it to rival Fatah for leadership of the Palestinian people.

Making this even more complex, Hamas is divided. Some leaders have accepted the necessity of working with moderate Palestinians, and thus grudgingly accepting the reality of Israel's existence. Others, particularly among its military wing, believe that any cease-fire is simply a period to rearm and reload for the next round of violence.

Israel has often tried to use deterrence to win quiet in the Gaza Strip -- but due to the nature of both Hamas and the Israeli leadership and society, this has proved easier said than done. For deterrence to work, Israel must convince Hamas that launching rockets, kidnapping Israelis, or other violence will be met with a response so tough that Hamas will be in a far worse position after the dust clears. However, although Israel seeks to deter Hamas, its policy is predicated on the assumption that any deterrence successes will not endure. Israelis describe their counterterrorism policy as "mowing the grass" -- the idea is that Hamas's leadership and military facilities must regularly be hit in order to keep them weak. Broader destruction of Gaza's infrastructure also reminds Hamas leaders that they and their people will pay a high price for attacking Israel.

Yet if we look at the latest round of fighting, as well as Israel's two prior wars with Hamas since the group took over Gaza, the problems with Israel's approach become clear. Deterrence has a strategic logic -- but in this conflict, both sides are driven more by domestic politics than strategy. Israeli leaders compete to maintain their security credentials: While most democratic leaders struggle to convince their people to use force when necessary, Israeli leaders must struggle to explain that force can often backfire. Then-Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, part of the hawkish wing of Netanyahu's Likud party, was just one of the figures who threatened to turn the war into a political liability for Netanyahu in its early days -- he was a vocal advocate for an extensive ground campaign in Gaza and publicly criticized the decision to temporarily accept a cease-fire, leading the prime minister to fire him.

On the Hamas side, the domestic politics are cloudier but probably even more significant. Hamas is struggling to unite a movement that has branches in Gaza and the West Bank, a headquarters in Qatar, and a large presence in the Palestinian diaspora. These factions regularly debate such hot-button issues as the degree of reconciliation with Fatah, how much to prioritize rule in Gaza over the group's needs elsewhere, and of course whether and when to confront Israel. And rival groups are constantly baying at Hamas's heels: Palestinian Islamic Jihad and militants in Gaza with an ideology closer to al Qaeda than Hamas criticize any break in the fighting as a sign that Hamas has given up on freeing Palestine. At times, rival groups have launched attacks on Israel in spite of Hamas's orders, and at other times Hamas has looked the other way while they acted.

There is one ironic danger of Israel's war against Hamas -- for deterrence to work, you don't want your enemy to become too weak. A weaker Hamas makes rogue attacks more likely, and disarming Hamas, which Israeli leaders have at times called for, would risk Gaza being controlled by even more extreme groups.

Deterrence also failed to stop Hamas this time around because of the dismal position the Palestinian group was in prior to the war. Hamas was squeezed from every direction: Israel and the international community deliberately sought to isolate Hamas and keep Gaza's economy in a wretched state, past promises to partially lift the blockade never materialized, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government engaged in an unprecedented crackdown on cross-border smuggling into Gaza. In such circumstances, Hamas had little to lose -- and potentially much to gain -- by restarting the conflict. It might just work: After the latest destructive round of violence, Gaza is back on the world agenda, and moderate Palestinians are embracing Hamas's position on ending the blockade.

Violence also helps Hamas politically in its struggles with Palestinian rivals. When Israel attacks -- particularly when the attacks kill appalling numbers of civilians, as happened in the 2008-2009 war and in the current conflict -- it makes moderates like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas look at best like fools and at worst like collaborators with the Israelis. It also makes peace negotiations impossible, denying Abbas his most important tool for delivering on a Palestinian state. Hamas is particularly likely to gain influence in the West Bank, where Palestinians applaud striking Israel but do not suffer the brunt of Israel's response.

Israel also faces many limits when trying to deter Hamas. The Jewish state won't escalate indefinitely -- it has no desire to reoccupy Gaza, and Hamas knows this. In addition, Israel is highly casualty-sensitive: If Hamas kills 10 Israelis and Israel kills 100 Gazans, then Hamas claims victory -- and Israelis agree. This means that a lucky Hamas rocket hit or a successful Hamas operation against Israeli troops can dramatically transform the political equation, making Hamas a "winner" and Israel a "loser" overnight. Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has helped Israel reduce this risk, but it remains real, particularly as the range of Hamas's rockets steadily increases, enabling the group to terrorize Israelis throughout the country.

If Hamas cannot be fully defeated, and if isolating it politically and economically makes it more likely to lash out, then the Israeli goal should be to use deterrence as part of a broader strategy to transform Hamas. Because Hamas cares about governing Gaza as well as defeating Israel, it should be given a stark choice: If it ends its own violence and launches a full crackdown on other militant groups in Gaza, the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza will be eased. Palestinian moderates, working with the international community and Israel's neighbors, would control crossings to prevent the smuggling of arms. If not, the blockade will remain, and Israel will strike Hamas leaders and at times conduct more massive military campaigns: In other words, the suffering will continue.

Under such a deal, Hamas will be given a true chance to govern -- but the price of that legitimacy is an end to violence. With this approach, Israel and its backers should change their policy toward Hamas's feud with Fatah. They should want Hamas to be tied to more moderate elements, and thus be part of a technocratic Palestinian unity government. Indeed, if Hamas is implicitly part of such a government, it strengthens Hamas's acceptance of peace and helps the Palestinian Authority regain its influence in Gaza. It also strengthens Palestinian moderates, showing that a peaceful path can lead to progress.

The good news is that negotiations underway in Cairo have all the elements of such a broader deal -- but politics on both sides stands in the way. Israel doesn't want to reward Hamas for the latest round of violence and, in general, is skeptical that Hamas will ever transform into a more peaceful movement. Hamas, for its part, wants to retain the legitimacy it gains from the occasional use of violence, and believes that only the threat of force will move Israel. The result, unfortunately, is that both parties are only thinking of a short-term stopgap measure. Mediators need to describe what a sustainable solution would look like, laying out specifics about Hamas's responsibilities to stop the violence and the extent and nature of the easing of the blockade of Gaza.

Such an offer will lead to a crisis in Hamas from which Israel can only benefit. If Hamas rejects such terms, it will anger Gazans who want an end to violence, alienate any international support for the group, and legitimize a strong Israeli response. If Hamas accepts the offer, however, then it is implicitly accepting Israel's right to live in peace and moving away from violence. It would also compel the group to crack down on more violent groups in Gaza.

The transformation of Hamas will not occur overnight, and Israel may have to mow the grass again. But the stark choice should remain, allowing both Israelis and Palestinians a real chance for peace.



All the Queen's Men

Why can't British intelligence prevent men like James Foley's killer from fighting in Iraq -- or coming home?

He is "Jailer John" to his prisoners but "Jihadi John" to London's tabloid newspapers, and right now, he might just be the most wanted man in the world. "He" is the jihadist seen beheading the captured American journalist James Foley in Syria. He is British. He is our problem. Worse still, he is not alone.

If Foley's executioner were a rogue radical or "lone wolf," it would be easier to dismiss him as a lunatic extremist of the sort with which all countries are afflicted. But he is not a one-off. The jihadist who executed Foley is one of, it is estimated, at least 500 British citizens likely to be fighting with the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. He is believed to be the head jailer, responsible for guarding a number of foreign hostages in IS's de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria. He and his British colleagues, it is reported, are nicknamed the "Beatles" by their murderous colleagues, a nod to their country of origin.

But it's also a nod to something else. It speaks to the fact that, far from being products of an austere and rigorous religious fundamentalism, today's jihadists are just as likely to come from Western backgrounds that would ordinarily be considered utterly unremarkable.

Across Europe, from France to Belgium to Sweden, there are reckoned to be several hundred Islamic extremists fighting with IS in the Middle East. And the United States isn't immune to the phenomenon either. But Foley's murder has returned the spotlight to Britain's particular -- and acute -- problem with homegrown Islamic radicalism.

As Prime Minister David Cameron, writing in the Daily Telegraph this week, put it: "We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology, which I believe we will be fighting for the rest of my political lifetime. We face in Isil [the Islamic State] a new threat that is single-minded, determined and unflinching in pursuit of its objectives." The threat, he insisted -- just days before "Jihadi John" littered YouTube with his bloody act -- is domestic as well as foreign. "[I]f we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent. Indeed, the first Isil-inspired terrorist acts on the continent of Europe have already taken place."

Foley's executioner is not even the first British jihadist to orchestrate the beheading of an American journalist. The kidnapping and subsequent execution of the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl was organized by Omar Sheikh, a 28-year-old radical from north London. In other words, this is a long-standing problem and one that resists easy solution.

Last summer, for instance, two Muslim converts -- Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale -- stabbed, killed, and then attempted to decapitate Lee Rigby, a member of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, on a south London street in broad daylight. In a video taken at the scene of the crime, Adebolajo explained that "The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by [sic] British soldiers. And this British soldier is one.... By Allah, we swear by the almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.... You people will never be safe."

Not all of Britain's jihadists are motivated by religious passions. For some -- terrifyingly -- the jihad has become a badge of radical chic. A lifestyle choice like any other. Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, another London jihadist, recently posted a picture on Twitter of him displaying a severed head. His message: "Chillin' with my homie, or what's left of him."

In 2008, an internal MI5 report, obtained by the Guardian, claimed there was no "typical pathway to violent extremism." The report, written by MI5's behavioral science unit, was based on case studies of hundreds of extremists known to the security services, and it found, disturbingly, that few could reasonably be considered highly religious Muslims brought up in strict Islamic households. Many of the men who had gone on to commit violence, in fact, were not regular attendees at mosques; a disproportionate number, in fact, were converts to Islam (like Rigby's killers). Most of all, the report found, Britain's jihadists are "demographically unremarkable," their backgrounds reflecting a cross-sample of life in Britain's Muslim communities.

Many are motivated less by an austere vision of Islam than by the simple thrill of joining a cause. In that respect, Western-bred jihadists are little different from supporters of non-Islamic extremist political organizations. For many, Islam is a vehicle for the cause more than it is necessarily -- or, at least, initially -- the cause itself.

For instance, two British Muslims arrested and charged with terrorist offenses after having returned from fighting in Syria were discovered to have purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon. If there were a checklist of characteristics that identified an individual as a potential jihadist, it would be easier to monitor likely suspects. But there is not. No wonder the security services often seem to be in the dark. Clamping down on radical preachers or keeping a wary eye on Islamic societies at British universities might be a start. But these efforts have been ongoing for nearly a decade now and it is plainly not enough.

Of the 500 Britons believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to take up arms with the Islamic State, Britain's security services -- MI5 and MI6 -- suspect as many as half have subsequently returned to the United Kingdom. Identifying and then monitoring these individuals is the single greatest task facing the security services.

Richard Barrett, formerly head of the MI6's counterterrorism operations, expressed confidence that Foley's murderer would be identified and dealt with -- one way or another -- "sooner or later." British intelligence officers are using voice-recognition technology to assist the quest to identify the man, but Barrett added that the sickening nature of these crimes means that the search for his identity will not be confined to the intelligence community. "He will have had many acquaintances and friends in the United Kingdom, and those people will wish to see him brought to justice." That confidence reflects the fact that the greatest allies the state has in the identification of potential and actual extremists come from within Britain's Muslim communities themselves. Human intelligence still matters.

But identifying "Jihadi John" and stopping him is a different matter. Military action against the Islamic State might suppress the threat the organization poses in the Middle East, but it could further radicalize other British Muslims who would interpret airstrikes against IS as another "war on Islam." Gains in one arena might easily be offset by setbacks in another. Yet doing nothing is not an attractive option either.

The British government says it can -- and must -- do more. It is announcing plans to confiscate the passports of suspects who might intend to travel abroad. This tactic has been used in the past to limit soccer hooliganism, but today's threat to civil order is of a rather different magnitude. The government has also said it will ramp up efforts to strip citizenship from those whose terrorist affiliations are deemed to have forfeited their right to be considered British. Even so, these measures can only be reckoned a small part of the solution to the problem of radicalization. Britain -- as a state and as a society -- needs to find a way of talking to disaffected Muslims in ways that help diminish the appeal of violence and extremism.

The optimistic view is that Britain's homegrown radicalization problem is a fire that will die out of its own accord. In this view, "IS chic" is just a passing fad, soon to be replaced by something new. But few optimists are to be found. It is, after all, nine years since homegrown terrorists killed 52 Londoners in a series of bombings on July 7, 2005. Although there has been no successful attack in Britain since then, most analysts think it is only a matter of time before another bomber gets through Britain's intelligence and police defenses. Each month brings with it the revelation that another group of would-be jihadists has been discovered; each month fresh prosecutions are brought on terrorism charges. And yet the supply of young men prepared to fight for the Islamic State or other radical groups shows little to no sign of being exhausted.

These problems certainly are not unique to Britain, but they are most seriously felt here. Not for nothing does U.S. intelligence worry that "Londonistan" is a prime threat to American security. Jihadi John is not alone.

Photoillustration by FP