Winning the war you can win

A poor idea whose time has come:

Ahead of a potential new conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the IDF has drawn up plans to evacuate entire Palestinian villages and refugee camps from areas of conflict in the event of an Israeli incursion, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

During Operation Cast Lead, in the winter of 2008/2009, the IDF dropped millions of flyers over areas it planned to invade and made over a quarter of a million phone calls to private homes and mobile phones warning people to leave…

According to the new operational doctrine for the Gaza Strip, ahead of an invasion of the Jabalya refugee camp in a large-scale operation, for example, the IDF would give prior notification to residents and designate an amount of time they would be given to leave. The IDF would also enter potential conflict zones more slowly to permit residents to evacuate the area. — Jerusalem Post

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Goldstone report contained hundreds of accusations that Israel deliberately harmed civilians, and indeed even falsely concluded that the object of the operation was to hurt and kill civilians. The accusations were based mostly on hearsay evidence collected from Gaza residents by biased NGOs (Human Rights Watch, etc.) often with the assistance of Hamas-provided guides and translators.

It seems to me that the new guidelines would not prevent a similar ‘Goldstoning’, which is by nature a disingenuous process, a diplomatic lynching.  Indeed, by increasing the degree of contact with civilians — if, for example a village had to be evacuated — they would increase the probability of incidents which could be spun as brutality.

It also seems that this would provide an opening to create Mavi Marmara-like events in which ‘civilians’ would ‘resist’ the IDF’s attempt at ‘ethnic cleansing’, bringing about violent clashes.

Finally, it would give Hamas fighters an opportunity to set their booby traps and ambushes and fade away.

This is reminiscent of the approach to war-fighting now taken by the US in Afghanistan, in which the use of firepower and air support is being strictly limited in order to try to eliminate collateral damage. Of course the problems faced by the US and Israel are different in important respects, but the idea that reducing harm to civilians is higher priority than killing the enemy is similar.

This approach tackles the challenge of asymmetric warfare in exactly the wrong way, a way which amplifies the advantage of the side that uses irregular troops, deliberately fights from among friendly civilians, and ‘wins’ by getting outside powers to clamp down on the other side.

Some have forgotten that the object of war is victory, to crush the enemy, whatever that takes. Things like building civilian infrastructure may be projects that can and should be undertaken, but not as part of war, and not by soldiers. In actual fighting, all reasonable efforts which do not stand in the way of victory should be made to prevent harm to civilians, but these cannot override considerations of winning the battle and the war.

Israel can’t win in the UN no matter what it does. But it can win the war on the ground, and it should not sacrifice the latter for the former.

Yes, it sounds cruel and irrational. But war is the ultimate cruel and irrational activity — humans ought to build, not to destroy. Sherman’s dictum that “war is hell” is correct, and nobody should want to create hell on earth:

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. — Gen. W. T. Sherman, Sept. 1864

Hamas and the forces arrayed against Israel brought the last war and will bring the next one. They have tried, and to some extent succeeded, to turn the truth on its head and convince many that the Jews of Israel are the aggressors. But lying doesn’t make it so.

Those that make war on a nation that desires peace, as Sherman implied, are responsible for the consequences.

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3 Responses to “Winning the war you can win”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Why should the ‘Jerusalem Post’ or anyone else ‘learn’ about future operational plans of the Israeli Army?
    The best plan is the one which takes the enemy by total surprise and before they have taken time to react , have lost the option to do so.

  2. Robman says:

    Here’s a quote for you:

    “I only have three rules for you to worry about. First, bring every American home alive; second, don’t kill any more Iraqi civilians than necessary to get the job done; and third, by no means are you to let rule number two get in the way of rule number one.”

    Who said this and when? Brigadier General “Buster” Glosson, CENTAF Director of Campaign Plans, to F-16 pilots of the 388th TFW, based at Al Minhad AB, UAE, on the eve of Operation Desert Storm. [Quote taken from “Vipers in the Storm: Diary of a Gulf War Fighter Pilot”; McGraw-Hill, 2002, p. 150.]

    Now, if an Israeli general said this on the eve of Cast Lead, he’d be indicted by the International Court of Justice as a war criminal for sure!

    Once again, everybody, imagine how different things would be all around if McCain had won! What a difference one election can make!

    Two years, seven months to go…too long, too long…maybe we can hope for impeachment next year if the Senate turns over this fall…..

  3. Robman says:

    Oops! Forgot to cite the author of the book from which this quote was taken (still getting over jet lag from a recent overseas trip). That would be one Keith Rosenkranz, the fighter pilot in question.