I just watched an interview of Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.  She was giving the interview in order to push immigration reform, stating she believed it was the next major issue on President Obama’s agenda after saving us from going over the fiscal cliff.  In the interview, she mentioned that illegal immigration rates were down 40% (I didn’t hear her say from what) to levels not seen for 40 years.  She seemed to allude to her official line that border enforcement was the cause of such a drastic dip.  When asked if an improved U.S. economy would increase the number of illegal immigrants coming across the border every year, Secretary Napolitano stated, after a few seconds of nonsense, that it was “all related,” without specifically answering the question.  Although she supports immigration reform, and states the border can never be closed completely, she is unwilling to admit the truth; illegal immigration is almost entirely explained with the theory of supply and demand.  Border enforcement has little if any effect on the total number of migrants illegally crossing U.S. borders.  If there are jobs, workers will come to fill them, regardless of the risks of the journey.  Those jobs represent more than money; they also represent hope.  Right now, the American economy is depressed (in a technical sense), making jobs harder to come by.  Therefore, immigration numbers are down.  When the economy begins to improve, the numbers of migrants looking for work will improve along with it.

The risks migrants face on the journey north only mirrors the reality they face every day when they step out of their homes.  If they meet a horrible end on the road north, they will perish knowing it was in the service of making a better life for themselves and, in many cases, their families.  The risks of coming to the United States will never outweigh the risks of doing nothing.  I have visited communities in Guatemala that have over 70% of the male population away in the United States for work.  If they hadn’t left, the majority of them would have few options.  Many would be forced into subsistence farming, a move to a find work in a factory where pay can be as low as 5 dollars a day, or increasingly, work with criminal organizations.  Of course, horror stories abound about the journey north, yet the stories do little to dissuade people that the trip no vale la pena (is not worth the sorrow).

Last year, I spoke with a group of Hondurans at a soup kitchen in Nogales, Mexico.  They had just been deported back to Mexico.  I was volunteering at the soup kitchen where recently deported migrants are able to get a bite to eat before going on their way.  For most, this means heading back to the border for another attempt.  I asked them why they were attempting to enter the United States in Arizona, considering how strict Arizona immigration laws had become.  They informed me that it was better than crossing into Texas, because the Zetas now controlled most of the border and the chances of being kidnapped, or worse, were much higher there.  This told me two things. One, the Zetas Cartel is whom they are most afraid of, not the U.S. Border Patrol or the laws they enforce.  Second, although the Zetas’ presence affected their decision, these Hondurans could not be deterred from crossing into the U.S.  They had options, and so they took the path of least resistance.

Even the most draconian border policies won’t stop migrants looking for work from coming.  Even if it affects the decisions of the few, it wouldn’t have a net effect on the total number of migrants willing to make the journey.  On the Texas/Mexico Border the Zetas are in control of the black market.  The Zetas control the border with sheer terror and violence.  They are obviously not attempting to stop migrants from coming across the border; they just want to rape them for as much as they can first.   The migrants try to mitigate the risk in myriad ways, but at the end of the day they understand they may end up dead, or worse, if they attempt the crossing.  My Honduran friends routed away from Texas because of the Zetas, and so “border enforcement” by the Zetas did have an effect.  However, not every person has the option to decide where he or she crosses over.  Many migrants go where they have family.  Even more do not have the finances or connections to choose their route or their coyote.  The Hondurans had a serious network and experience crossing the border.  Not all migrants will have more than one option, especially the most poor or vulnerable, including women and children.

Aside from the fact that most, if not all, Americans would agree Zeta tactics would not be an option for controlling our borders, the Zeta presence obviously does not stop illegal migrants from passing into Texas.  The Texas border, especially the I-35 corridor, remains a hot zone for illegal migrants to cross into the United States. If fear of the Zetas can’t stop migrants from crossing over, how do we expect law enforcement, or even the military, to do the job?  What is more, when the entire 2000-mile border is taken as a whole, no organization could enforce complete control.  The fear of the Zetas creates a plug in certain areas, just as border enforcement does the same.  However, the border just springs a leak somewhere else as migrants move further into remote regions of the border in order to cross.

I am not sure what to make of the irony.  The United States is a shining beacon of capitalism in the world.  Americans are, for the most part, evangelical in their love of the economic system.  Yet, for some unknown reason they, by and large, cannot grasp how supply and demand applies to issues that are considered political; and therefore, fall apparently outside the bounds of common sense.  They extol the power of the capitalist system to create wealth and improve lives, but do not grasp that the supply of cheap labor and illegal commodities will always exist as long as demand exists, and vice versa.  A poor woman will always be willing to take a job no one else wants, and a poor man will always carry heroin in his stomach.  A farmer will always be willing to grow poppy, and a heroin addict will always need a fix.  The United States has many existential problems right now, and many of them are problems of its own making.  In the case of illegal immigration, it is simply a question of economics.  Until we can take politics out of equation, we will never have the sane immigration policy that Secretary Napolitano says she wants.


Life is war.  This is not a quote to be written on your mirror or a bumper sticker on a redneck’s car.  However, it is possibly the most important phrase to be remembered when attempting to understand the Middle Kingdom.  Competition is the driving force behind this internal war.  Of course, all humanity is at war for survival, but the Chinese have a very clear sense of it.  In their war, attributes such as intelligence, patience and cunning are considered more valuable than brute strength.  If they are able to make their adversary capitulate due to psychological pressure and illusion, then they have achieved the ultimate victory.  The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a philosophy of life, as the multitude of recent self-help books on the subject have made clear.  Geopolitical and social pressures helped shape this philosophy, just as they shape a nation and its people.

China is a country consisting of a massive population and limited resources, infrastructure or opportunities for them.  These factors help push China towards a more structured society where personal freedoms are less important than social control.  China believes it cannot have the majority of its citizens choosing the path less traveled.  They worry this sort of behavior could, and most likely would, lead to chaos.  Instead, social behavior is highly defined, and the path to success along with it.

It is simply a question of numbers.  In regards to resources, environmental scientists have spent the past decade or so attempting to explain the basic math.  If there is a finite resource (and lets face it, everything is finite on earth), then only a certain number of people can have access to the resource before it is gone.  In theory, resources can be shared equally among the global population (forgetting for a second who would pay to distribute it all), however, in the end, the resources will still eventually be depleted.  History has also shown this system to be untenable for a number of other reasons.  One reason is that people begin to take more than their fair share, usually by force.  Opportunities operate on the same basic principal of supply and demand.  When there is a finite number of opportunities and a massive supply of potentials to fulfill them, competition for those positions is typically fierce and brutal.  Fates can turn on the smallest advantage and the ability to separate from the pack is so limited that life becomes a game of dynamic chess, otherwise known as war.

The decades of exceptional economic growth has increased the number of Chinese who are now theoretically capable of upward mobility based on their level of education and professional skill sets.  This specific population growth has helped to create a bottleneck for access into higher social strata.  More Chinese have an expectation of success while a smaller percentage of them actually achieve it.  As China’s youth face ever more competition for fewer spots at the table, the pressure on the individual increases dramatically.  These pressures, and others, drive the war fought in the pursuit of success.    In China’s highly formalized society success is determined in very quantifiable terms.  The path, and the goals that must be achieved along it, is drilled into children from an early age.  They know what they must do, and they dread the ruin that could befall them, and their families, if they fail.  It remains to be seen if this pressure will finally boil over destroying a system that no longer offers them a measure of success.

In reality, almost anyone can recognize and appreciate the forces behind competition within their own society.  Every parent feels the pressure to provide for their children, just as most children want to make their parents proud.  We all fight everyday to succeed, however that is defined, and when we do succeed it is usually to the detriment of someone else.  The degree to which the Chinese must compete to succeed is exceptional.  There are many lessons to be learned from the Chinese about what life can be like when certain geopolitical, environmental and social realities are imposed on a large population of human beings living in a country with limited resources and too few opportunities.  The Chinese are a people forged through generations of competition and atypical warfare.  It would serve us well to learn from them as much as they learn from us.

First, a story…

The first time I ever had a pistol to my head, Ernesto (name change for obvious reasons), an ex-intelligence officer from the feared Guatemalan intelligence service, was on the other end of it.  He pulled the trigger and…click.  After a few seconds spent staring into my eyes with a half smirk on his face, he broke into a loud guffaw, pointed at my privates and exclaimed “ vos serrote, hay juevos!” (This loosely translates to – “you piece of shit, you ‘actually’ have balls!”).  In reality I was in shock.  Nary a single nerve twitched telling me to duck, run or in any way move.  I would later find out this was completely normal reaction and took years of training to overcome.  At the time, I wondered how someone with his training could make such a mistake as to think I actually had juevos.  The more I got to know him, the more I realized it was no mistake at all.  He knew exactly what had happened to me, but it was his way of telling me I was alright, for a pinche gringo.  He expressed his friendship the only way he knew how, down the barrel of an unloaded gun.  Clearly, I wanted to keep the friendship intact because I could guess how he expressed the ending of said friendship.

Years later, I was having a drink with Ernesto when he informed me that a mutual friend of ours, (lets call him Carlos), had been assassinated a few nights before.  He believed Colombian assassins had carried out the hit.  The killer apparently followed Carlos from a bar as he made his way home.  When Carlos pulled over to take a piss, he took two rounds to the head, execution style.  I asked Ernesto what this meant for Guatemala.  Were the Colombians going to muscle in and take the routes north to the US?  After all, the closer a trafficker gets to the United States, the higher price he can get for the cocaine (and other products).  If the Colombians control the routes right up to the border of Mexico, they can ask 4 to 5 times the amount for a kilogram of cocaine.  It is the same reason why the Mexicans also want to take over the Central American routes.  It reduces the price of a kilo of cocaine and it reduces friction in the supply chain.  For every 100 miles closer to the border of the United States, the price of cocaine and other narcotics goes up.  Ernesto stared into my eyes with the same smirk as years before.  He leaned in and whispered, “This is Guatemala, and it is ours.  Fuck the Colombians; they won’t take shit.  Nobody can out kill us.”


The average Guatemalan has been raped and pillaged by the wealthy and powerful for damn near all of their known history.  Being a victim of the strong and powerful teaches a person to survive.  It also makes very clear what is necessary for survival.  For example, a Guatemalan will not stop coming to the United States if there is work.  Build a fence, hell, cover the border in landmines, it won’t matter.  They will find a way, and someone will be willing to smuggle them in for the right price.  These smugglers also have something they won’t give up – complete control of the routes running through their country to the United States.  The outlaws can be co-opted, bought off, and contracted to the highest bidder, but Guatemalans remain in control of the actual routes and surrounding geography.  They may work for the Zetas, or supply Sinaloa, but if the foreign organization loses power at home in Mexico, Colombia or anywhere else, and can no longer pay, the people, and more importantly the drugs, will still move north, and the Guatemalan traffickers will still get paid.  They are not Zetas; they are Guatemalans.  The cartels are corporations, and when they go away, the demand, routes, and people willing to move the product will remain.

The Central American isthmus is a very difficult region to control by a centralized authority.  Some would argue the Mayans did a pretty good job.  However, the Mayan Empire was a loose confederation of powerful city-states, not a nation controlled by a government that exerted control on all of the Mayan people.  The reason for the city-state configuration is simple; a country of mountains, jungle and mountainous jungle is not an easy place to build the infrastructure necessary to integrate an entire “country” under centralized control.  Without access to a massive amount of capital, it is impossible.  Central American countries do not have the capital or any way to raise it.  Resources that are available for profit are extracted and profited on by multinational corporations and their Guatemalan enablers; with very little left over for the development of the country.  When a government cannot build infrastructure, it cannot project its power over its territory, therefore making it difficult if not impossible for them to provide for the people or protect them from the men with the biggest guns: landowners and outlaws.  The landowners in the periphery, who are almost always ladino or European descent, come from the cities (or another country like say, Germany), and buy or steal all of the land from indigenous subsistence farmers.  The landowners typically have support of the central authority because they are all one and the same: wealthy elites.

Outlaws in Guatemala understand the game.  They know who is in charge, and how to profit from the system in place.  They will sell their services to Mexicans or Colombians or anyone else wanting to move product through their country.  Walther Overdick (believed to be the leader of the Zetas in Guatemala who was arrested and is facing extradition to the United States) is no more a Zeta than I am.  He is a good businessman who realized the Zetas could help him monopolize control of some of the most important routes into Mexico by helping to kill his competitors, bankroll his operations in the country, and supply him with more cocaine to traffic than he ever dreamed.  It is a dangerous game of course, as some believe the Zetas sold out Overdick after he became too greedy and possibly double-crossed them.  It seems strange to think the Zetas wouldn’t just hang him off a bridge, but the Zetas are much better businessmen than the mainstream media give them credit for.  Turning him in, if in fact that is what happened, was the right play at the time.

If the Zetas or any other cartel is ever forced to pull their forces and their money back into Mexico, the Guatemalans who worked for them will find other patrons wanting to move product north, or they will just do it themselves.  There are signs that the Zetas are currently doing just that, with some analysts believing the Zetas are cracking.  Especially after the apparent killing of Heriberto Lazcano, believed to be the Zeta numero uno.

Businessmen are always looking for the best way to maximize their profit, which in turn increases their power.  This typically results in the diversification of products and clients.  However, when a client is able to completely overwhelm the profits to be had through diversification, they are able to guarantee the “loyalty” of a vendor.  Drug traffickers and producers are businessmen.  As long as the Mexican cartels can guarantee massive profits, they can continue to co-opt Guatemalans to do their bidding.  If that dynamic changes, so will the relationship between the Guatemalan traffickers and Mexican cartels.  Guatemala cannot be tamed by any central authority without massive investment into the country, and this goes for governments in the capital and drug cartels from Colombia or Mexico.

Vagabond FM

I am certain Israel is telling the truth when it says it was hit with rocket fire in the days before the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the operational commander of Hamas’s armed wing.  I am also certain this was not a new reality for the citizens of Israel living along the Gaza border.  However, the re-election of President Obama forced Israel’s hand, or so the Israelis say (and some might even believe).  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are about as far apart on the Iranian solution as two leaders of the US and Israel can be. This relationship, or lack thereof, was the driving force behind Israel’s decision to launch operations in Gaza at this time.

Israeli policy makers believe armed conflict with Iran is coming.  By lighting a fire in Gaza, they risk conflagration, but they knew that before they attacked.  They are willing to risk…

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Colombia’s New Counterinsurgency Plan

March 29, 2012 | 0859 GMT


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By Colby Martin

Colombian security forces attacked a camp belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on March 26 in Vistahermosa, Meta department, killing 36 members of the guerrilla group and capturing three. The operation, which Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said resulted in the deaths of more FARC members than any other single strike in the 50-year-long conflict between the Colombian government and Marxist guerrilla groups, came shortly after a similar action in Arauca state in which 33 FARC members were killed and 12 were captured.

The operations were launched as part of an aggressive new Colombian counterinsurgency strategy dubbed Operation Espada de Honor (“Sword of Honor”), created in response to the increasing violent activity by the country’s guerrilla groups. The plan expands the list of targets for security forces and the locations where they will engage guerrillas, with the goal of crippling the FARC both militarily and financially.

Espada de Honor is the latest of several plans by the Colombian government to combat militancy in the country. To fully understand the plan and its implications, it is helpful to examine the nature of Colombia’s guerrilla groups, previous government counterinsurgency strategies and how the FARC has reacted to them.

Limitations to Colombian Security

Colombia’s central government has never been able to control all of its territory. The Magdalena River Valley represents the heart of the country, where — along with the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali — most of the country’s population lives. It is isolated from the rest of the country by Andes mountain ranges on either side. Outside the heartland is a combination of jungles, mountains and plains, largely uninhabited with limited infrastructure development.

Even with U.S. military aid, the logistical challenges involved in projecting power into Colombia’s hinterlands make extended deployments unsustainable. Military operations outside the core have never been able to establish the security conditions needed to permit effective law enforcement on a large scale or for a significant period of time. The Colombian state is thus largely absent from the hinterlands, and the economic inequality in these regions is severe, giving rise to criminal organizations and insurgent groups.

This would not be a point of contention if not for the fact that the regions outside Colombia’s core are rich in extractive resources such as oil, gold, precious stones and rare earth elements — as well as marijuana, coca and opium poppies. The state and insurgent and criminal groups are in competition for these resources, and the state is trying to secure the regions, regardless of limitations. Because the government lacks the resources to properly address the underlying issues of lack of development and inequality, eliminating insurgent groups is almost impossible. Instead, the government must concentrate on inhibiting their ability to operate and attempt to secure its interests as it seeks ways to improve conditions in the countryside.

Colombia has been in conflict since its creation as a republic in 1819. In the past 50 years, the conflict has centered on Marxist insurgences and the cocaine trade. Each new government plan to deal with these insurgencies has evolved from previous plans, though since the late 1990s, its strategies have been increasingly based on U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine.

Plan Colombia

In the late 1990s, President Andres Pastrana attempted to peacefully resolve the conflict with the FARC. Under Plan Colombia, Pastrana asked the United States, Europe and others for aid, both to combat the FARC and other insurgent groups and to address poverty and the lack of development in Colombia, issues he considered the underlying causes of the insurgency. This was intended to be coupled with peace negotiations in a demilitarized zone in San Vicente del Caguan, Caqueta department.

However, the plan that was actually implemented in 2000 focused much more on drug eradication and counterinsurgency than on development.

Nearly 80 percent of counterinsurgency funding, all of which came from the United States (which has spent nearly $7 billion in Colombia since 2000), went to the Colombian military and police, while developmental aid from other countries never fully materialized. Peace talks failed, the military moved into the demilitarized zone and the conflict escalated. Security operations were focused on the southern and eastern areas of Colombia, which were considered strongholds of the FARC and, not coincidentally, two of the main coca-producing regions in Colombia.

Plan Patriota

In late 2003, President Alvaro Uribe began to implement a counterinsurgency strategy titled Plan Patriota (“Plan Patriot”), a second phase of Plan Colombia. Uribe felt that in order to truly defeat the FARC, the military needed to take the fight to the guerrillas. Under the plan, the military would target high-value FARC leaders, drive the guerrillas out of strongholds in southern and eastern Colombia and hand control over the territory to civilian leadership. Along with this, the Colombians began a top-to-bottom overhaul of their military with support from the United States.

The tactics used during Plan Patriota were consistent. First, intelligence was gathered on locations of FARC camps and leaders. After the targets were acquired, fixed-wing attack aircraft and helicopters would bomb the targets to soften defenses, disorient the defenders and kill as many guerrillas as possible before special operations forces swept through the target area in order to capture or kill remaining combatants and collect any intelligence. Computers, thumb drives, cellphones and other documents were collected in these operations. This intelligence led to more successful operations against the FARC and its supporters.

The plan successfully reduced the FARC’s capabilities and membership. There were about 16,000 murders in 2008, down from nearly 30,000 in 2002, and the FARC’s membership was reduced from about 17,000 to 9,000. The FARC also was driven away from traditional base camps closer to coca and cocaine production sites and forced to look for new routes and base camps. The successes of Plan Patriota laid the foundation for the tactics used in Operation Espada de Honor.

Plan Rebirth

The success of Plan Patriota did not destroy the FARC, but it did force the group to change how it operated. In late 2008, after realizing it could not succeed in direct confrontations with Colombian security forces, FARC leadership devised Plan Rebirth. Under the plan, the group retreated to its traditional strongholds, decentralized its leadership and formed into smaller units. The group also changed tactics accordingly, relying more on hit-and-run ambushes, improvised explosive devices and small, mobile sniper teams that allowed the guerrillas to strike government forces without engaging them directly in conventional combat.

The FARC’s target set also changed to focus more on strategically valuable, less-secure linear infrastructure such as transportation and oil pipeline networks. The group’s reasoning was twofold: First, it could use the threat of these attacks to extort “revolutionary taxes” from companies operating in the area. Second, because the government relies on energy and resource extraction for economic growth, these attacks could give the FARC leverage in any future negotiations. The tactic appears to be somewhat successful; Emerald Energy has shut down operations in the San Vicente del Caguan region in the past year, and others, including Occidental Petroleum Corp., are threatening to do the same unless security improves. Nevertheless, foreign direct investment continues to increase, giving the Colombian government more targets to protect and more reason to attempt to control the FARC.

Operation Espada de Honor

Operation Espada de Honor, then, is an attempt by the Colombian government to aggressively counter the FARC and other hostile organizations in areas where the groups and Colombia’s economic interests overlap. The end goal is to reduce the “capacity” of the group by 50 percent over the next two years and limit its ability to attack the state or its interests.

The new strategy will continue to target the group’s leadership but also expand its focus to eliminate 15 of the FARC’s 67 fronts that represent its most powerful economic and military forces. According to Colombian newspaper El Espectador, the 52 remaining fronts are no longer in direct contact with FARC leadership, operating as criminal gangs and making agreements with everyone, including former enemies. Colombian armed forces commander Gen. Alejandro Navas recently estimated the FARC’s current membership at between 8,000 and 9,000, although the true number is difficult to discern.

The operation will continue to focus on the FARC’s traditional southern and eastern strongholds as well as the Catatumbo region and the departments of Arauca, Cauca, Valle, Narino, Tolima, Putumayo and Vichada. The military will also improve its intelligence capabilities through the creation of a joint fusion center among all branches of the armed forces and national police and increase the size of the army by 5,000 troops and the National Police by 20,000.

Notably, though the FARC is currently the primary target, the operation also changes how the state combats what it calls bandas criminales, or “bacrim” — criminal groups with roots in the United Defense Front (AUC) paramilitary organization. Traditionally, the military has dealt with guerrilla insurgencies by groups such as the FARC and National Liberation Army, while the National Police has dealt with bacrim with support from the navy. In the announcement for Espada de Honor, it was mentioned that the military would now be leading the fight against the criminal organizations as well.


Operation Espada de Honor is less about a major strategic shift in the war against insurgency and crime than it is an admission by the Santos government that the end of the violence in Colombia is not around the corner. The government has put aside the goal of completely defeating the FARC and other groups, instead focusing on strategically defending its interests by disrupting the enemy through tactical offensives.

Just as the United States has learned in Vietnam and Afghanistan, insurgencies are very difficult to completely stamp out. Certainly, an armed victory over the FARC, or even a negotiated settlement, will not be the end of armed criminal groups in Colombia. The geographic limitations, severe inequality and cocaine trade all create the conditions in which Colombia will continue to struggle to control its territory. The new importance of the military in the fight against the insurgencies makes it clear that the government was never able to establish effective control over the outer areas of the country. Without this control, the regions where the conflict rages cannot begin to solve the underlying problems of inequality and lack of development.

In the short term, the expansion of targets and locations will increase the likelihood of violence. The operations could also reduce the amount of cocaine coming out of Colombia as the government endeavors to cut the FARC’s funding and the targeted organizations try to hunker down and survive. Over time, the operation could lead to a further decentralization of the FARC as more leaders are captured or killed, including midlevel leaders. Rank-and-file members could decide to desert in order to survive the onslaught. This dynamic would create even more violence as remaining FARC members fight with organized-crime groups and drug traffickers for control over the highly lucrative territory. It is the monopolization of control by one group or another, including the government, that reduces the threat.

However, it is important to remember that this escalation in the conflict does not mean these competing gangs pose the same existential threat to the state as a large Marxist insurgency with 20,000 fighters does. But as long as there is a market for cocaine and the extractive resources found in Colombia, insurgencies and criminal groups will have the means and motivation to continue the conflict.

Read more: Colombia’s New Counterinsurgency Plan | Stratfor

I am certain Israel is telling the truth when it says it was hit with rocket fire in the days before the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the operational commander of Hamas’s armed wing.  I am also certain this was not a new reality for the citizens of Israel living along the Gaza border.  However, the re-election of President Obama forced Israel’s hand, or so the Israelis say (and some might even believe).  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are about as far apart on the Iranian solution as two leaders of the US and Israel can be. This relationship, or lack thereof, was the driving force behind Israel’s decision to launch operations in Gaza at this time.

Israeli policy makers believe armed conflict with Iran is coming.  By lighting a fire in Gaza, they risk conflagration, but they knew that before they attacked.  They are willing to risk a wider conflict now because they believe they have the upper hand.  If the Israelis are able to further pacify Hamas without a greater conflict emerging, then a security objective is achieved.  It is extremely important for the Israelis to keep Hamas as impotent as possible, and these operations in Gaza have the potential to not only physically hurt Hamas, but also put its benefactors, namely Iran and Egypt, in positions of weakness.  The Egyptian leadership is put in a  particularly untenable political situation the longer the conflict goes on.

The Iranians overreached with their power grab in the region and they are now trying to secure their foreign policy gains before it all falls apart.  Iran is reeling in Syria and their power in Iraq is being checked.  They also face growing discomfort inside the country because of economic sanctions.  Because of these factors (and others) Israel decided the time was right to go after Hamas.  Hamas is using Fajr- 5 rockets in their attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  Again, the security objective of destroying the domestic rocket production sites and disrupting the smuggling routes into the country across the Sinai are valid military objectives.  In the larger strategic game, it is also important for Israel to continue to point out that these are Iranian rockets (or based on an Iranian design) being used to kill Israeli citizens.  This will help Israel make it’s case to the world that something must be done about Iran and their proxies.  The use of Fajr-5 rockets by Hamas against urban centers in Israel begs the obvious question of what would happen if Iran developed nuclear weapons? Israel’s answer is that Iran is capable of anything, and if they had a nuclear weapon it would only be a matter of time before either Iran or a proxy group such as Hamas uses it, most likely against the Jewish state.

The ability to put severe pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is another reason why the Israelis chose to attack Gaza now.  Egypt relies heavily on US support (to the tune of $1.3 billion in military aid for 2012).  However, the relationship between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood is well documented.  The conflict in Gaza could force the Muslim Brotherhood to make a decision about exactly who they are, and whom they support – especially if the operations in Gaza continue.  If the Muslim Brotherhood goes to far one way or the other in their support for Hamas, they could risk losing the backing of the US.  A military coup could even become a real possibility in Egypt if the military decides it will not accept the loss of US support.   At minimum, it will exacerbate existing fractures between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian military.  If the Muslim Brotherhood is forced, by political calculus, to let Hamas fend for themselves, the repercussions from their base could be devastating for the party.  Egyptian President, Mohammad Morsi, stated on November 14, “the Egypt of today is not the Egypt of yesterday,” and so far, the Egyptians have kept the Rafah border crossing open.  At the same time, they are pushing a cease fire, and quickly, because they know the longer these operations continue, the more likely it becomes they will have to make a few hard choices they would rather not have to make.

The current operations also make it much more difficult for the United States to stay out of the region’s current conflicts.  Israel needs the US to attack Iran and their “nuclear sites,” something Obama won’t even discuss without solid, actionable intelligence that proves Iran is developing a WMD program and there is relative certainty of success.  Even then, it is not a forgone conclusion that the US would act with force.  If Romney had won the presidency, it is very likely Israel would have held off on operations in the Gaza strip until they could discern the new American administration’s intentions towards Iran.  With the Obama administration, the Israelis know where they stand, but they have decided to up the ante to force the United States back in the game.

Israel always believes they are fighting for their lives, and that the fight is never over.  With the attack on Gaza they are attempting to control the timing of the fight.  They believe the pressure they are putting on Hamas, Iran, Egypt, and the United States works to their benefit, regardless of the risk.  If the operations spark a wider conflict in the region, they are on the front foot against an enemy they believe they will have to fight eventually.  If it doesn’t, it forces the hand of the other players in the game and increases the pressure on each of them.  At minimum, they severely degrade the capabilities of a sworn enemy.  It is a dangerous game, but one the Israelis are destined to play.

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