Charles Elias Chartouni/Dilemmas of Truce and the Unfinished War/شارل الياس شرتوني: معضلات الهدنة والحرب غير المنتهية


Dilemmas of Truce and the Unfinished War
معضلات الهدنة والحرب غير المنتهية
Charles Elias Chartouni/This is Beirut/December 26/2023

The moral and strategic equivocations of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, far from being incidental, are inherent to the political narrative and the military purview that underlie the massacres of October 7, 2023. The nihilistic attack reflects Hamas’s political vision and concurs with the strategic objectives of Iranian power politics: the destruction of the State of Israel. Hamas and Palestinian extremists were vocal in their opposition to the Oslo Accords when they initiated waves of terrorist attacks that targeted civilians throughout Israel, refused to acknowledge the nascent Palestinian national authority and fought against it, rallied the Islamist ideological mainstream and redefined their struggle upon its assumptions.

The elective relationship between Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Iranian regime, despite its pitfalls, was predicated on Islamism and joint strategic interests. The goriness of the South Israel attack was based on the idea of a stalemated political horizon, the total war scheme, the instrumentalization of the deepening fractures of the world order, the disruption of the normalization dynamics elicited by the US-Saudi negotiations and the completion of the Abraham Accords. We are definitely in a well-entrenched conflict dynamic that extends between past and future, running along the ideological and strategic fault lines of the emerging world order and its regional inflections.

The nihilistic bent of this war accounts for its moral ambiguities and their attending strategic consequences. The pogrom in South Israel was meant to create an open-ended state of war, drag Israel into the Gaza urban war and instrument the human shield strategy and the subterranean war galleries, while cynically dismissing their devastating impact on the civilians living in such a dense and overpopulated environment. This strategic perspective was inherently malevolent and meant to be so, to elicit international endorsements, restructure leftist-wokeism around Palestinian militancy, crystallize the strategic divides of the new Cold War era, resuscitate antisemitism, reactivate dissensions among Jews within Israel and worldwide and exploit the growing disarrays of international governance and its normative breakdowns.

The brunt of overlapping conflicts is highlighted through the proliferation of international wars (Ukraine), virtual wars (South China Sea), and dormant wars (Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen), the volatility of the West Bank, ramshackle Syria and lame Lebanon, the Iranian destabilization strategy spreading throughout the Near East, the alliance between leftist movements in Western democracies and the late Muslim migration trends manipulating this conflict to further their respective agendas.

These calculations have generated major backlash within Western democracies that demonstrated adamant support for Israel insofar as its right to self-defense while advocating for the strict implementation of just war theory* (ad Bellum, in Bello, post-Bellum, rules of engagement, operational thresholds, civilian immunity, collateral damage, proportionality, management of truce …). The operational obfuscations and breakdowns caused by an asymmetric war, normative discrepancies and retributive war conduct have led to a full-fledged war process which obviated the usual fallback on limited reprisals and mandated total war as an inevitable recourse to defeat Hamas, engage Hezbollah and confront Iran.

The humanitarian tragedies caused by the evolution of a war of necessity and its rules of engagement are counter-weighed by the severity of human casualties, the magnitude of urban destruction, the tragic deterioration of life conditions and the dramatic issue of Israeli hostages. The claim for an unconditional truce is a hypocritical proposal that omits the gravity of the casus belli, devalues the critical strategic and security issues of Israel, dismisses the inevitability of future wars and continued terror and ignores the strident ideological polarization and rise to the extremes on both sides. The need for intermittent truce, humanitarian pauses, exchange of prisoners and hostages and management of relief are urgently requested but can never substitute war injunctions unless one of the parties concedes defeat and capitulates.

These are basic observations that apply to war conduct and its contextual constraints. One can hardly see Israel swayed by the declaration of total war, cowed by marauding terrorism and coexisting with hovering Iranian terrorism and its regional proxies. The conflicting mandates of ethics and military strategy, the clash of extremisms and the demise of political moderation are givens that should be reckoned with when international mediators engage the intricacies of the ongoing conflict and strive for conflict resolution. Peace proposals are self-fulfilling prophecies when they fail to understand conflict issues and dynamics. Nonetheless, the post-Bellum imperatives cannot be overlooked if the search for security does not override the precepts of peace-making and justice. The balancing acts are not easily achievable but should always be kept in sight if actors are ready to make the ultimate leap of faith that the search for peace earnestly enjoins.

*Charles Elias Chartouni, Just War Theory and the Problem of Terrorism, Essay in Politics, Ethics and Strategy, in Communautés et sociétés, Annales de sociologie et d’anthropologie, volume 16-17, 2005-2006/ 2009- FLSH, Saint-Joseph University, Beirut.