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.