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International consensus and the air war
By NACHMAN SHAI
11/20/2012
The visit of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Gaza and the new regime in Egypt may prove to be the foundations for a settlement in the south.
 
The First Lebanon War in 1982, also known as Operation Peace for the Galilee, was the watershed between “wars of no choice” and “wars of choice.”

Before that, Israel fought wars with its neighbor states and their armies. These “large-scale” wars were followed by “small-scale” wars between Israel and terrorist organizations in the north and the south. (This does not include the First Gulf War in which Israel played a passive, non-reactive role.) These new wars, between a state and terrorist organizations, are completely different from the other wars. On one hand, they are total wars.

They go on all over the place and all the time, particularly at the initiative of the smaller, weaker side. On the other hand, they are limited – the state cannot utilize its technological and other capabilities to the fullest, and is drawn into long-term, low-intensity conflicts, in which it is the underdog that manages to win the hearts and minds of the public.

Moreover, the clear-cut boundaries between wars of choice and wars of no choice, and the clear definitions such as “subduing the adversary” and “victory” are blurred in this new form of warfare.

Thus, the dilemma which Israel faces in its conflict with its opponents in Gaza and Lebanon is different from what it faced in the past. Just as Israel can decide to take offensive action, it can also decide not to take action and to “contain” attacks up to a certain point.

But this year things went too far and Israel was left with no option but to attack Hamas. It chose one of the unique methods that it has developed, thanks to its sophisticated technology and intelligence service: targeted killings.

This tactic gives it an advantage, even if only in the short term, as do the attacks on ground targets, particularly the camouflaged rocket launching pads. However, from this point on, Israel could cross the boundary between “choice” and “no choice” and be drawn into a dangerous and complex ground offensive. If the air attack is not sufficient, the ground offensive will turn “choice” into “obligation.”

In the current international climate, when Israel crosses the border into Gaza, it will also cross the border of international consensus, which sees the targeting killings and air attacks as legitimate but opposes occupying territory, which usually involves massive and inevitable injury to innocent bystanders. Thus, the scales are tipped in favor of continuing the air attacks on various targets as needed, and against a ground offensive.

I believe that a ground offensive will have limited achievements compared to the harm it will cause us in the international arena as well as from within. Thus, the relative euphoria that greeted Operation Pillar of Defense at the outset will dissipate and casualties on our side, civilian or military, will force the government to stop the ground offensive before it has an effect.

Israel has already had experience in long-term and short-term ground campaigns of this sort. In the Lebanon experience that I mentioned earlier, the IDF frequently used them before and after Operation Peace for the Galilee. Each time we found that the ground offensive does not achieve its objective of securing an extended period of quiet.

That was also the case in Gaza, where we launched a number of ground offensives before Operation Cast Lead and, as we see, their effect wore off within two years.

In this case it is appropriate to paraphrase the Prussian military historian, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831, one of the founding theorists of modern warfare), who stated that war is a continuation of democracy by other means; so too, diplomacy is the result of the war efforts. Thus, whatever we do from the air or on the ground will inevitably lead to an agreement with Hamas, based on political mechanisms and in partnership with the UN and certain states, including Arab states.

Israel may not like Security Resolution 1701 (August 2006, the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War, with the deployment of UN forces and the Lebanese army in South Lebanon) or the political-military mechanism that followed, but so far, it has given us quiet on the northern border.

The visit of UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon to Gaza on Tuesday and the new regime in Egypt may prove to be the foundations for a settlement in the south.

The writer, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is running in the Labor Party primary for the 19th Knesset.
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