How Israel must fight, part II

In case you missed it, part I of “How Israel must fight” is here.

In part I, I argued that excess restraint intended to reduce collateral damage does not improve Israel’s image, does not help prevent intervention by outside actors, and may interfere with the achievement of military objectives — both directly, and by increasing Israeli casualties.

In part II, I want to argue that the nature of Israel’s enemies is such that the strategy of ‘surgical’ fighting is not only less effective, but empowering to the enemy in both a military and political sense.

The Arab nations and Iran have long known that direct confrontation with the IDF would be painful for them. Despite the huge advantages of manpower on the Arab side, plus  the elements of  surprise and Israeli unpreparedness, the Arabs lost badly (at least militarily if not politically)  in 1973. Since then, most anti-Israel aggression has been carried out by proxies such as the PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah, fighting according to the principles of asymmetric warfare (I’ve discussed the overall asymmetric strategy of the Arabs and Iran here).

This brings us to the most basic ways in which restraint is counterproductive: Hamas and Hezbollah troops fight out of uniform, making use of non-combatants and civilian institutions (schools, mosques) as shields. The more careful the IDF is to avoid hitting these shields, the more effective enemy fighters can be. Another issue is that reduced tolerance for collateral damage slows down the progress of an operation, providing opportunities for enemy fighters to escape and for outside actors to intervene. I alluded to these factors in part I.

Yet another very important concern is the completeness of a victory. There is no question that Hamas was soundly defeated in every contact that it had with the IDF in Cast Lead. But estimates put the number of Hamas fighters at more than 20,000, only a small portion of whom were killed or injured. The Hamas headquarters were not destroyed, and most of the leadership was not killed or captured. Like Hezbollah after 2006, Hamas retains the ability to fight and is occupied with rebuilding its rocket stockpiles and bunkers, training, etc.

From a psychological point of view, incomplete victories are bad for Israel and good for Hamas or Hezbollah. Israelis (as Ehud Olmert said in his oft-quoted statement), are “tired of winning…”, and the endlessness of the struggle is having serious effects on its ability to field a quality army. Hamas and Hezbollah, on the other hand, take great pride in having survived their confrontations with the mighty IDF, and use this in their recruiting efforts.

But there’s even more. The Israeli strategy improves the morale of the enemy. Hamas soldiers (and Gaza civilians) do not believe that Israel cares for the lives of Arabs. Rather, they see the efforts to protect non-combatants as indicating that Israel is afraid of world opinion, and even that Israelis are afraid to strike boldly at their enemies by killing as many of them as possible. After all, that is how Arabs relate to enemies. At the same time, the morale of the Israeli troops is damaged by seeing Hamas fighters escape as a result of restrictions designed to protect civilians.

Israel’s battlefield policies mirrored Olmert-era diplomacy, in which Israel apologetically made concession after concession, getting nothing in return. While some viewed Olmert’s surrenders as taking risks for peace, the Arabs saw it as giving way out of fear and weakness.

The fact that Israel is perceived as lacking in courage — and this perception grows so long as Israel tries harder and harder to make war without hurting anybody who is not demonstrably an enemy soldier — combined with the fact that Israel never wins a complete victory (as a result of its own hesitation or outside intervention), has given rise to a strategy of attrition by its enemies.

The long, low-intensity conflict, with periodic diplomatic offensives punctuated by violent flare-ups, is designed to wear Israel down, to validate Olmert’s defeatist remarks.

The Arabs and Iran realize that the way things stand they may not win today, but they will never fully lose. So why should they take another approach — like serious peace talks — when they think that someday, if they struggle long enough, they will get everything they want in precisely the bloody way that they want it?

Daniel Pipes was savagely pilloried, called a racist and worse when he called for “crushing the Palestinian will to fight“. But Pipes actually did not call for the Palestinians to be wiped out:

Ironically, Israeli success in crushing the Palestinian Arab war morale would be the best thing that ever happened to the Palestinian Arabs. It would mean their finally giving up their foul dream of eliminating their neighbor and would offer a chance instead to focus on their own polity, economy, society, and culture. To become a normal people, one whose parents do not encourage their children to become suicide terrorists, Palestinian Arabs need to undergo the crucible of defeat.

The key concept here is not destruction but defeat. Israel’s enemies need to be beaten badly enough to make them give up the idea that Israel can be eliminated by military means.

The primary goal, therefore, in future wars must be as complete a victory as possible: the enemy’s army must be shattered, its leadership killed or captured, its arms and installations destroyed. Victory must obtained as quickly as possible, before outside powers intervene; and it must be achieved with overwhelming force, to multiply the psychological effect. Humanitarian concerns will necessarily take a back seat.

In the long run, of course, the end of the long war and the acceptance of Israel by its neighbors — they will have no other choice — will provide far more humanitarian benefits for the entire region.

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One Response to “How Israel must fight, part II”

  1. Robman says:

    You cannot separate war against the Palestinians from war with the larger Arab/Moslem SW Asian bloc. The PA is only the “tip of the spear”. In fact, what they are is cannon fodder with the tips of the spears of their “supporters” in their backs, being forced into the Israeli guns.

    Among the rest of the Arabs, the Palestinians are rather like a daughter who has been raped – as such would be treated in an Arab family – insofar as they “lost” the war against the Jews, and because of their failure, holy “waqf” is now in the hands of the people of a third-class religion. Of course, it is a collective failure, but it is the Palestinians who live directly under Israeli rule, they are the “front line”, and so they make a handy scapegoat.

    The Palestinians are in effect told by their brethren that they will not be able to sit at the same table as equals, they will not be able to regain their all-important “pride”, if they don’t completely vanquish the Jews at any cost, so as to return the whole of the Levant to Moslem control.

    So, no matter how crushing a defeat Israel visits upon the Palestinians – at least within the boundaries of what Israeli and world opinion would tolerate even at the realistic extremes of the same – the Arabs and Iranians will just push more up to the fore to be slaughtered. And as more are killed, the contest will be portrayed by their lackeys around the world as being as unequal as possible, so as to promote the idea to a larger world audience that Israel is no better than 1970s Rhodesia or S. Africa under Apartheid. This in turn will be leveraged into isolating Israel and strangling her with economic and diplomatic sanctions. The final act, per this strategy, looks like Biafra, or if readers need a more recent example, Darfur.

    Is this a realistic strategy? Up to a point. Certainly, we have seen that in recent decades, opinion leaders throughout the Western world in academia, journalism, and the political realm have been more than happy to prostitute themselves for the Arabs for the sake of this agenda. However, Israel’s military power makes this a risky proposition, particularly her posession of nuclear arms.

    Did anyone besides me see a blurb on the news lately that the IAEA is now demanding that Israel sign the NPT and submit to the requisite inspections and non-proliferation regime? Israel will tell them to f*** off, of course, but we can expect such pressures to increase.

    I agree that Israel must summarily vanquish her foes on the battlefield. But we must be realistic about the larger environment in which Israel operates. Her battlefield is not limited to the West Bank, South Lebanon, Gaza, and the Golan.

    It is an unfortunate fact of political geography that Israel is in such close proximity to Europe. She can live without trade between herself and the pathetic midget economies of her immediate neighbors, but she must have access to the first-world markets of Europe. I have no doubt that behind closed doors, whenever a shooting crisis like the recent Gaza war occurs, the Europeans raise the spectre of a boycott, which would be devastating to the Israeli economy. Also, you can bet that the Arab Lobby in D.C. goes into high gear in such situations, threatening American leaders with high oil prices, dumping dollars on world currency markets, etc., so as to intimidate U.S. policy-makers into pulling hard on the “leash” they have on Israel. These dynamics, I am afraid, explain a lot of what appears to many of us as irrational, “weak willed” Israeli behavior.

    So, we cannot simply speak of a solution in terms of war strategy that focuses only on clashes of arms. The Israelis have, man for man, unit for unit, among the most proficient armed forces on Earth. I’m sure they know what they would need to do to deliver the kind of decisive victory we all want.

    Before Israel can carry out such a campaign, she must attend to other dimensions. Israel has to counter the Arab/Moslems propaganda machine so that she does not fall into their intended trap of becoming a pariah state.

    She – along with all of us who support her – must promote a consistent, easily grasped narrative that can successfully challenge the perceptual box the Arabs have put her in with respect to relevant world opinion.

    Netanyahu understands this very well, it seems, and he is beginning to do this. He will need our help. Some points all of us need to stress:

    -Israel fights the very same enemy we in the West do generally in the “war on terror”. Except for them, they don’t have to go halfway around the world to confront their opponents; “Afghanistan” is right next door!

    -The oft-cited “settlements” issue, as an “obstacle to peace”, is a bogus charade. The REAL obstacle to peace is Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This should be no more controversial than Turkey recognizing Greece as a Greek state, or Russia recognizing Poland as a Polish state (these examples are intentional, as they were both contentious issues in their day as well). And just as we have every right to pursue the complete annihilation and dismantlement of Al Queda, so too does Israel, in the absense of recognition, have every right – nay, duty to her citizens – to dismantle the PA who openly seeks her destruction.

    -Israel is to the “war on terror” what West Berlin was to the Cold War. Handing West Berlin over to the Soviets would not have ended the Cold War one day sooner, yet this sort of appeasement is the very logic that passes for “conventional wisdom” with respect to the Middle East (thank you, Mearsheimer, Walt, ad nauseum). IF WE COULD STAND UP TO THE SOVIETS OVER BERLIN, EVEN TO THE POINT OF RISKING A CATACLYSMIC WORLD WAR, SURELY WE CAN STAND UP TO THE PUNY ARABS OVER ISRAEL!!!!!

    -The Palestinians frequently cite the principle of “majority rule” in their claims on the West Bank…so why is this very same principle ignored right next door in Jordan, which has an overwhelming Palestinian majority??!! This is absurd. JORDAN = PALESTINE!!!!

    -The Arab attitude towards Israel is, in essense, no more enlightened than that of a racist white lynch mob trying to force a black family out of a white neighborhood during the pre-civil rights Bad Olde Days here in the U.S. We must invoke this analogy – which is highly accurate – at every opportunity.

    I could go on, but this post is already plenty long, and you all get the idea.

    Remember, if all anybody ever hears is that 2+2=5, after a while they will start to believe it in the absense of any claims to the contrary. However, it requires great effort and expense to convince people that 2+2=5, as the Arabs have been trying to do for 60+ years. Our task is far simpler; we only have to remind people that 2+2=4. And in my experience – which is not insignificant in these matters – there are many non-Jews out there who would be happy to join with us, if only we show the elemental courage to validate their convictions by standing up and proclaiming that 2+2=4!!!

    What is our “end game”? What kind of world will support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense? As our goal, we should be aiming for a world/national political environment in which:

    -American/Western support for Israel and her right to defend herself is no more controversial than South Korea’s right to defend herself against North Korea. Does anybody suggest an “even-handed” policy for the U.S. between these two states? Of course not. So too it should be for Israel vis-a-vis the Arabs.

    -Imagine a world environment in which the summer Olympic games could be held in Tel Aviv. Hard to picture isn’t it? BUT WHY SHOULD IT BE??!!!

    TEL AVIV IN 2048!!!!