francop ship arms 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Two recent events focus the mind on the growing failure of Israeli grand strategy: the UN's endorsement of the Goldstone Report and the capture of the Francop cargo ship, laden with arms destined for Hizbullah.
From 1948 until 1973, Israel's enemies fought conflicts that largely adhered to the traditional doctrines of combat. Wars had start and end dates, soldiers wore uniforms, and armies fought on behalf of states. Every time, however, they lost - often humiliatingly.
After the Yom Kippur War in 1973 the United States sought to preempt this constant conflict by forming an alliance that gave the Jewish state a conspicuous military advantage over any regional challenger. The Arabs got the message: Egypt and Jordan eventually sued for peace, and Israel's other enemies have not launched a conventional war since.
But those foes have not stopped fighting. Today, Syria and Iran - the so-called "resistance bloc" - pursue a new strategy of building up the capabilities of terrorist militias who fight in their place.
Despite the tactical defeat groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah have suffered on the battlefield, the larger strategy has been working. It allows Iran and Syria to take credit in the region for antagonizing Israel without risking retaliation on their soil; it detaches conflict from regime security, reducing the disincentive for war; and it forces battles into densely-populated civilian areas, undermining the IDF's military superiority and ensuring civilian destruction which today's media and NGOs - an increasingly meaningless distinction - blame on Israel, not on the terrorist groups who start the wars.
Perhaps most importantly, the resistance strategy creates a moral inversion: in both the Lebanon and Gaza wars, Israel was transformed in media coverage and public opinion from a victim fighting in self-defense into an aggressor perpetrating atrocities. If the highest objective in war is defeating the enemy's armed forces, Iran and Syria must be given credit for creating a strategy that often transforms the Israeli military advantage into a liability.
TODAY, LONG after the shooting has stopped, Israel remains the target of a cynical campaign of international opprobrium over its recent wars. Complaining about double-standards will never be successful: the Jewish state will always be the target of activists who know that it is easier to make inroads against a small, liberal, and self-critical society - especially one whose citizens crave international acceptance - than against a great power such as the United States. This is especially true when Israel can be forced to fight every few years and thereby provide its detractors with a constant supply of "evidence" of criminality.
The new strategy of creating proxy terrorist groups endowed with the potency and sophistication of armies, but with none of their restrictions or responsibilities, is racking up points. The goal is not to defeat Israel on the battlefield, but to wage a war of attrition that erodes its national confidence, challenges its moral clarity, and transforms it into a pariah among democratic peoples.
Yet this model of warfare depends for its success on one important factor: Israel's willingness to fight on the battlefields that Iran and Syria have assigned to it. Many argue that Israel has established deterrence with Hamas and Hizbullah. Perhaps, but it is only temporary - the Francop's missiles, grenades, and mortar rounds are testament to that.
More importantly, Israel is only deterring the junior members of the terrorist hierarchy, and they can renew their ranks and capabilities much more easily than can a regime. It is hard to imagine that in the coming years there will not be another conflict with Hizbullah that will lead to a predictable cycle of events: civilian deaths in Lebanon; condemnation of Israel; farcical UN and NGO investigations; and a deepening Israeli feeling of isolation that will make peace harder to achieve.
But the tables can be turned by shifting the target of retaliation onto the state sponsors of Hamas and Hizbollah. The military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz argued that "a major act of strategic judgment" is to distinguish the "centers of gravity in the enemy's forces" - and attack there, where it will make the most difference.
By fighting in Gaza and Lebanon, Israel is attacking its enemy's periphery, not its center of gravity. Its victories will thus always be ephemeral.
Starved of state patronage, Hamas and Hizbullah would become shadows of themselves. They would lose much of the weaponry, money, training, and ideological support that makes them such potent actors. The means by which pressure against the center of gravity is applied need not be according to conventional methods - there is no reason why asymmetry cannot be countered with asymmetry, or new diplomatic and economic initiatives pursued.
If Israel wants to see an end to the era of Goldstone Reports and cargo ships loaded with missiles, it must shift its focus to the source of the problem. Deterrence will never be meaningful unless it encompasses the full spectrum of enemies.
The writer is a graduate student at Yale University and a contributor to Commentary Magazine's blog, Contentions. Formerly, he was assistant editor of the Shalem Center's Azure magazine.