Missing Mandates, Part I

Ed. Note: This is one in a series of observations from the 26th JINSA Flag & General Officers Trip to Israel that took place in September.

Ed. Note: This is one in a series of observations from the 26th JINSA Flag & General Officers Trip to Israel that took place in September.

The 2008 Flag & General Officers Trip took place during a period of political and military flux. The upcoming changes in the administrations of the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority were a constant presence and possible source of additional instability. Many Americans are unaware that Abu Mazen faces the end of his legal term in January. Half of his constituency lives under direct Hamas control in Gaza, and Hamas is making military and political inroads on the West Bank as well.

The political uncertainties made it difficult for security professionals to focus on the broader implications of any specific policy, or the absence of policy. We were struck in three areas by the impression that we were speaking with good people doing important jobs, but with only partial mandates from their governments. The political gaps ensure that: a) the job won’t be done, because security professionals can only work under the mandate they are given, and therefore; b) important security matters are being pushed down the road, where they will only metastasize into greater threats.

The Commander of UNIFIL forces in Lebanon, the American general in charge of training Palestinian security forces, and various Israeli military officials in charge of various parts of policy for Gaza were frank in their descriptions of their jobs and more than willing to discuss the problems. But in each case, the result was our understanding that they were focused very narrowly on things they could do, ignoring (sometimes of necessity) the security implications of the “missing mandates.”

Each of these areas – Lebanon, Palestinian security and Gaza – will be considered in more depth in upcoming JINSA Reports.

But the first, overriding concern is that while Israel and the United States – and even some Palestinians – find themselves unable to move forward on vital issues because of politics, others in the region have no such problem.

Hamas has been preparing for defensive warfare in Gaza, laying mines and moving from a terrorist command structure to that of a small army, while upgrading its rocket capabilities. Jordan, Israel’s security partner, has responded to the growth of Hamas influence in the West Bank by opening a dialogue with the organization that formally seeks its destruction. Iran has replaced and upgraded what Hezbollah lost in Lebanon in 2006. Syria is trying to entice Russia back into the region; the Russians thus far have agreed to sell weapons to Syria on credit. There are credible reports that elements of the Fatah security forces have approached Iran for money and support, and that Fatah is establishing a “Hezbollah-style” militia in the West Bank.

The threats to security for Israel, and the implications for regional stability, require that politicians stop worrying about (re)election and begin to provide leadership for their security establishments.