Why Israel wins wars

The Arabs' real margin is not military ability, but the fact that the West will rush in to save them from total defeat.

By BARRY RUBIN
September 3, 2006 20:02
4 minute read.

To understand why Israel, for all practical purposes, still holds a strategic edge in the region, it is useful to review why Israel wins wars. Here are a dozen factors that far transcend all the misguided analyses of late.

  • Quality over quantity. Precisely because the Arab states have more population and money, Israel must make every shekel and soldier count. This philosophy continues to guide the Israeli military. The Israeli soldier must be better trained, better educated, better equipped, and better briefed than the adversary. And despite shortcomings, by and large this remains true.
  • Correcting mistakes. This is extraordinarily important. It requires an honest evaluation of what went wrong, and how it can be fixed. Such willingness to admit error and energetically repair it differentiates Israel's army from the adversary which, partly for political and societal reasons, is much more secretive and slow to admit doing wrong. Already, after-action reports and committees here have evaluated the Lebanon war and begun work on doing things better.
  • Initiative for officers. Given the dictatorial and top-down nature of Arab and Iranian society, decisions are taken at the top and deviations are punished. A good example is the rigid structure of the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war. But armies must be able to react to new technology and battlefield situations. Failure to do so spells defeat. This factor is very much incorporated into Israeli training and practice.
  • Technology. This is one of the better-known issues. Israel is at the cutting edge of research and development. Even when it buys weapons systems abroad it modifies them based on experience and its own studies. Keeping ahead is a never-ending battle, but it is being done. Israel also benefits from American technological advances while the Arabs no longer have the USSR, which was inferior even at its peak.
  • Value of the individual soldier. For enlisted men especially, conditions in Arab armies are terrible. They are not treated fairly, much less respectfully. The high motivations of some groups, like Hizbullah, is unusual and only applies to small numbers of soldiers. When Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated he never believed Israel would go to war over two kidnapped soldiers he shows he does not understand the Israeli ethos. Other Arabs look on this Israeli mindset with envy. And soldiers know they will not be abandoned or generally mistreated.
  • Not being suicidal. The willingness to be a martyr is highly touted by Hizbullah and some other groups. Yet in fact, while sometimes it has its use, it is not very good strategically. It is no accident that Gen. George Patton said the object of war was not to die for one's country, but to make the SOB on the other side die for his. You do not want to sacrifice your most highly motivated, best-trained soldiers and their equipment if you can avoid it. Half of being a man, says an Arab proverb, is knowing when to run away. Suicidal behavior does not win wars, and no number of na ve media articles will change that fact.
  • Air superiority. While the limits of air power were shown again in the Lebanon war, having control of the air is of major importance. Indeed, one of the biggest problems Israel faced - using tanks to hit bunkers when Hizbullah had advanced anti-tank weapons - was caused by the insufficient use of air power (a mistake that is already being corrected). If Israel ever gets into a war with Syria, the meaning of air superiority will be seen quite clearly.
  • Armored superiority. Even if Hizbullah destroyed more tanks than Israel liked during the Lebanon war, it would be far worse to face a sizable enemy armored force, as Israel did in the 1967 and 1973 wars. If tanks are kept improved ahead of anti-tank weapons, this factor is of great value.
  • Superiority at sea. Being able to interdict sea traffic and bombard enemy coasts is a great advantage which Israel could not assume in the past.
  • A reliable source of resupply. True, Hizbullah receives generous arms from Syria and Iran, but they will not necessarily arrive on the battlefield. Weapons used up cannot easily be replaced during the battle. Israel can, in contrast, depend generally on Western sources, though of course there are some problems here.
  • Superior intelligence. Despite carping about a lack of information on the details of Hizbullah bunkers and some other issues, Israeli intelligence remained remarkably good. Forgive me for not going into details, but if one takes for example the location of longer-range Hizbullah missiles and Syrian resupply convoys, Israel did very well.
  • Deterrence. While Israeli deterrence has supposedly been dented, this is more big talk than real belief. The key to the Israeli strategic system is the ability to take the war to the enemy and inflict heavy damage. This only does not work if countries can fight their battles on someone else's territory and thus don't care (as with Iran and Syria in Lebanon) about the damage. But one miscalculation and Syria would have found itself a target, as its leaders had better know if they are going to avoid disaster. Ironically, it is forgotten that the real Arab margin, in Lebanon and past wars, is not military ability but the fact that much of the West will rush in and try to save them from total defeat. In the 1956, 1973, 1982, and 2006 wars this was the only thing that spared the Arab side from catastrophe. Of course, there are Israeli weaknesses, and these have been widely discussed, though some are mythical. Nonetheless, Israeli strengths remain far more important. In that respect, nothing has been changed by the Lebanon war, where shortcomings were a wake-up call to eliminate them in future. Virtually none of the above strengths can be found on the Arab or Iranian side. This is what everyone should keep in mind when talking about the military factor in the Middle East. The writer is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs.


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