Notes on Israeli threats of launching a ‘Dahiyeh’ attack on Gaza

1. Some prominent Israelis are calling for a ‘Dahiyeh’ operation against Gaza.
I just watched this clip from a news/discussion program on Israel’s Channel 2. In it, “military analyst” Roni Daniel openly calls for the implementation of a “Dahiyeh” operation (“like in Beirut”), against Gaza. Dahiyeh is the simply the Arabic word for “suburb or neighborhood”. In this context it refers to the extensive and very highly populated southern suburbs of Beirut where, during the Israeli war against Lebanon of summer 2006, the Israeli military flattened an entire, more than kilometer-square area of 7- and 8-story buildings, the vast majority of them civilian apartments.
The topography and population density of the Beirut Dahiyeh (which has since been extensively rebuilt) is very similar to that of most parts of Gaza City and the six other cities that run down the long-besieged Gaza Strip.
When the Israeli military struck against the Dahiyeh in July 2006, the 450,000 or so residents of the area were able to flee. They fled en masse, ending up gaining a degree of refuge in mosques, schools, churches, and monasteries all over Lebanon. That mass relocation under fire was accomplished in a somewhat organized way by Hizbullah and its supporters because they had gained so much experience undertaking similar mass relocations-under-fire during Israel’s many previous assaults against both South Lebanon and other areas of the country. Relief supplies poured in to help the large groups of displaced families– who meanwhile lost all their worldly possessions as their homes were pulverized by the Israeli air force.
Israel’s authorities could threaten or even implement a “Dahiyeh Doctrine” assault against Gaza if they wanted. But where would the civilian residents of the targeted areas flee to?( And how could the supplies so necessary to their immediate relief after their dislocation be gotten into them?) The Gaza Strip is closed off from the outside world by the lengthy Israeli siege; and no part of the area inside it is immune from Israeli attack.
Already, many thousands of Gazans have received leaflets, phone calls, and text messages from the Israeli military telling them to flee their home areas. They regard those messages as a sick joke or an insidious form of psychological warfare. Where should they flee to?
2. Even the ‘Dahiyeh Doctrine’ DID NOT SUCCEED, strategically, during its seminal implementation, against the Beirut Dahiyeh in 2006.
The strategic goals of that war that PM Olmert and his generals launched against Lebanon in July 2006 were two-fold. Primarily, they were trying (as they openly stated) to inflict such pain on the population of Lebanon that the population would turn against Hizbullah and force it to give up the arsenal that it still retained under its control despite the fact that it had also, since 1992, been an active participant in Lebanon’s parliamentary system. In a secondary and broader way, the war was launched to “re-establish the credibility of Israel’s deterrent power” which, the generals thought, had been badly damaged by the unilateral withdrawal that Israel had made from South Lebanon in May 2000, bringing to an end a military occupation of the southern portion of Lebanon that had continued since 1982.
During 33 days of extremely damaging fighting, during which the Israeli military destroyed large portions of Lebanon’s national infrastructure, killed many hundreds of civilians, and dislocated more than a million people from their homes, the people of Lebanon rallied ever closer and closer around Hizbullah. Most certainly they did not “turn against it” or repudiate and seek to punish it, as Olmert and the generals had hoped.
Pres. George W. Bush gave Olmert a complete green light to continue his assault as long as he wanted, and provided some much-needed resupply for Israeli munitions as they started to run low. But still, Israel was unable to force Hizbullah and the Lebanese people to bow to their demands. After 33 days, the conflict was also becoming disruptive, to a small degree damaging, and definitely embarrassing to Israel. (A ground attack against South Lebanon that was a last-minute way the military sought to impose its will on the Lebanese turned out to be an extremely poorly planned fiasco.) So Olmert himself became increasingly eager for a ceasefire; and with the help of the Americans one was organized on August 13, 2006. The ceasefire terms notably did not include any mechanism for the disarming of Hizbullah.
This was also not great in terms of re-establishing the credibility of the Israeli deterrent. So in 2008, Olmert felt he had to try again to achieve this… which he did in late December 2008, against Gaza. Once again, there, he and his generals were unable to force their terms of capitulation on their target (Hamas), which was able to prevent the Israeli ground forces from taking control of any of the Strip except a small portion; and which survived with its leadership structures and its political positions unbroken… And so it goes.
It is, however, important to note that though it might feel “good” to some portion of Israelis if their government implements a “Dahiyeh Doctrine”, actually, even that is extremely unlikely to bring to the Israeli government the politico-strategic goals that its seeks. It is more likely, indeed, to be extremely counter-productive at the politico-strategic level.
3. Some good resources on the “original” Dahiyeh assaults:
To understand what it was like for one Lebanese civilian social activist to live in Beirut under the onslaught of the Dahiyeh Doctrine, read Rami Zurayk’s amazing and poignant, 60-page-long War Diary: Lebanon 2006, which my company published last year. You can get it as a paperback, or an e-book.
You can read the fairly detailed analysis of the 2006 war that I published in Boston Review in Nov/Dec 2006, here.

3 thoughts on “Notes on Israeli threats of launching a ‘Dahiyeh’ attack on Gaza”

  1. To my knwoledge.Dahiyeh in arabic means victim . Israel always plays the role of a victim in its policies but the real victims are the Palestinians and the American taxpayer.

  2. I am always a bit puzzled by Palestinian and Lebanese discontent with the discovery that in the war of missiles against cities, nothing succeeds like excess, and that the parties currently succeeding against previous analyses are Palestinian and Lebanese, and they are succeeding handily. A cheap, easy means of dissolving the State of Israel now presents itself, one that multiplies its strengths through the inherent weaknesses of Israeli society: its individualism, its lack of fortress architecture in the cities of the coastal plain, its imbrication in Western values systems that will not allow Iran-Iraq style replies to the strategic missile threat. (And in fact Iran and Iraq are the only powers who have fought to a standstill with these weapons, with levels of destruction exceeding that of Israel in Lebanon, exceeding that even of the Lebanese civil war, rivaling some parts of the air war in WW2.) So I am always a bit mortified by an Israeli calculus that seeks to turn up the volume when it has been clearly demonstrated that Israel is uniquely vulnerable to the noise, and I am quite grumpy about Lebanese and Palestinian views on collateral damage–the residents are going to have to find some way to restrain the militants, or change the strategic goal of the militants to something other than the dissolution of the State of Israel and its replacement by a unitary Palestine on the pre-1923-revision Mandatory border. More likely, they will persist until some sort of final victory that will leave all three polities devastated.

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