Trapped by a failed strategic ‘conceptzia’
Israel’s leaders do not appear to know how to win a war against a terrorist
Netanyahu, Barak, Liberman press conference Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post
For Israelis, there is a simple answer to the result of the recent conflict with
Hamas: We lost.
No, it wasn’t a catastrophic loss, and no, it was not
without battles won, especially the execution of racist mass murderer Ahmed
Jabari and – surprisingly – the media war. All the same, it was a loss, and a
It was disturbing because, like many such conflicts in
the past, it was not lost by the IDF, which performed brilliantly, or the
Israeli people, who held up – as they always do – with quiet dignity and
strength in the face of the monstrous war crimes of their enemies.
lost by the political echelon, and most especially by Prime Minister Binyamin
Put simply, Netanyahu snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory. With surprise, military superiority, and international support – for
once – all on his side, Netanyahu nonetheless failed to retaliate for attacks on
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, forwent a necessary ground operation, accepted an
ignominious cease-fire, and left tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers without
the chance to fight back, which they both wanted and deserved.
THAN invade Gaza on the ground, uproot its terrorist infrastructure, and place
Israel in an excellent position to dictate terms for its withdrawal, he relied
on air power, just as his predecessors did in the Second Lebanon War, and got
the same results. International pressure and, in all likelihood, pressure from
within his own government, pushed him into a humiliating cease-fire that de
facto accepts the legitimacy of Hamas and handed the genocidal terrorist
organization a psychological victory.
This defeat was primarily due to a
failure of strategy. Israel’s government is suffering from a strategic
“conceptzia” as damaging as that which dominated Israeli thinking before the Yom
Kippur War. Put simply, Israel’s leaders do not appear to know how to win a war
against a terrorist organization.
Lacking any ability to quantify victory
against a group like Hamas, they have fallen back on their knowledge of the art
of war against large armies and nation states.
They understand victory
only through a material lens: How many weapons destroyed, how many casualties,
how much damage to the military infrastructure. Whoever comes out on top of the
numbers game, they believe, is the winner. And from this point of view, Israel
was indeed the winner of its latest war against Hamas.
against a terrorist organization is very different. Terrorism is psychological
warfare. Its goal is to foment fear, hopelessness and defeatism through the
conspicuous commission of acts of horrendous violence.
weapons and its methods are psychological, victory cannot be achieved by the
destruction of its capacity to make war. It can easily regenerate the crude
means it employs to commit its war crimes. As a result, victory against a
terrorist organization must be psychological.
This is something Israel’s
early leaders understood very well. In the 1950s, faced with a series of
cross-border atrocities committed by Palestinians under Jordanian protection,
thenprime minister David Ben-Gurion enacted a “policy of retaliation.” He used
specially trained commando units – most famously, the legendary Unit 101 – to
strike back at the terrorists in an intense but limited series of
The policy did not destroy the terrorist infrastructure in
Jordan, nor was it intended to. But Ben-Gurion nonetheless knew he had scored a
victory: He had proven to the Israeli people that the IDF could strike back at
terrorism; he had severely retarded the terrorists’ ability to strike Israelis
with impunity; he had proven to them that Israel was not helpless; and he had
made the terrorist organizations look impotent and vulnerable to the people who
supported and manned them. Palestinian terrorism remained a problem, but it was
a minor factor in Middle East politics for a decade thereafter.
Netanyahu pursued such a policy on a larger scale – invaded on the ground,
humiliated Hamas and its leaders, proven the group incapable of protecting Gaza
from the IDF – and then dictated the terms of an Egyptian- and
American-guaranteed cease-fire in which Hamas would remain more or less
disarmed, he would have scored a massive psychological victory against the
terrorist organization, brought its popularity and ideological momentum to a
screeching halt, and left Israel far more secure both materially and
Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s lack of leadership qualities
and the strategic “conceptzia” that dominates his government made this
impossible. He was both unable to live up to his carefully crafted image of
toughness and unable to realize that, against terror, a psychological victory
translates into a material victory, but not vice-versa. Sadly, none of his
opponents appear to be any less flawed in these departments.
Let us hope
that, sooner or later, this will change.
The writer is an author and
editor living in Tel Aviv. His latest book is Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite.