This may be the last thing you want to hear if you happen to be a big defense contractor, but your state-of-the-art combat aircraft, warships and main battle tanks don’t impress the guerrilla-style forces that call the tune in modern warfare. Just ask the Viet Cong, who remember well how they humiliated the Americans. US intervention in Vietnam over the course of two decades and four administrations ended with American troops withdrawing from Saigon with their tails between their legs. Such was the case in our first Lebanon adventure, as Israeli forces dug into that closer to home deathtrap for many years until we announced that we were pulling out, and literally ran out. And such has been the state of affairs in successive operations in Gaza, where we always leave the job undone and the resident guerillas/ terrorists live to fight another day.
Let’s face it, we did not win the war in Gaza, any more than we did in Lebanon or than the Americans did in Viet Nam. Sure, in this last round of fighting we knocked off around a thousand terrorists. The problem is that we unintentionally killed just as many civilians, which is exactly what Hamas needs for its propaganda purposes. The mixed results of Operation Protective Edge are not promising for Israel. While Jerusalem is bracing herself for accusations of war crimes, however unfounded, Hamas is claiming victory, however undeserved, and many Israelis admit that we didn’t achieve our war aims. Hamas may have sustained heavy losses, but they are now poised to regroup, restock their supplies of rockets and mortars and rebuild their terror tunnels for the next round. Do we have the intestinal fortitude to continue this asymmetric conflict on their turf and on their terms, or is it high time we come up with a better game plan?
Here is an alternative strategy that would be less “old school” but more politically expedient: In our next round with Hamas, Hizbollah or whoever else stands in line to attack Israel our air, ground and naval forces should be relegated to a standby role. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these regular players would be taken out of action, but suggests that they might be more effective as bench players. On balance, the IDF can overwhelm Hamas, but Israel cannot come to grips with the media backlash that always results from anti-terror operations fought in populated areas. While conventional warfare is not obsolete, neither is it always effective. In our lop-sided wars with Hamas, the infusion of less predictable forces at work along with the usual armed forces on the sidelines can be a viable option.
No, the IDF is not about to beat its swords into ploughshares, but the “bench presence” of F-15 fighters, Dakar submarines and Merkava tanks in a non-combative observer role gets a message across: Israel has ample firepower to destroy Hamas, level the Gaza Strip and send the survivors running to the desert, but chooses not to do so – not while it has more efficient means to defeat the enemy, as follows:
Propaganda warfare: Hamas wins this battle every time, and we never even try. I don’t see the Israeli Government recruiting PR experts to disseminate information about all the wonderful contributions the Jewish State has made in the fields of hi-tech, medicine and agriculture. I don’t hear anyone talking about how Israel is the only country in the Middle East that champions freedom of speech, freedom of the press and women’s rights, or how these basic civil liberties are denied in Arab societies. I don’t hear anyone praising Israel for letting Syrian refugees into the Golan, or treating wounded Palestinians while we were fighting Hamas. And as far as I know there is no official Israeli preemptive strike to charge Hamas with the horrific war crimes it committed in the recent conflict. Instead, we concede the propaganda weapon to our sworn enemies and do nothing as they condemn us for the crimes that they themselves committed against their own people. Where is the effort to win the hearts and minds of those many misinformed Europeans who are so susceptible to anti-Israel slander? The dissemination of information is imperative in wartime, and even more so in the deceiving quiet time between wars. Why are we giving up this fight so easily? Where’s the Israeli initiative? Where is our budget and just who is in charge of our unremarkable efforts to win world public opinion?
Defensive warfare: According to the old adage, offense is the best defense. With the impressive performance of the Iron Dome rocket interceptor, the IDF has proven that sometimes defense is the best defense. The Israeli military establishment is working on an Iron Dome derivative that can intercept short-range mortars, and aims to develop a technology for locating and identifying tunnels. The protection of civilians is an Israeli high priority; Hamas couldn’t care less about Palestinian civilians, and willingly sacrifices them for the propaganda that has worked so well for them. Ultimately, their cynical regard for human life will backfire on them, while our survivability skills give us an asymmetric advantage that we should build on.
Special Warfare: In a future wartime scenario, Israel will have to rely more on its covert Special Forces to take out high value enemy targets and avoid hitting innocent Palestinians who get caught on the battlefield. This will involve a stronger emphasis on Special Forces training, fielding handheld precision weapons, robust intelligence and no small amount of Palestinian collaboration. In the last days of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas started to crack only when its bigwigs were wiped out. In the event of another war we should pick up where we left off, and our Special Forces may be better equipped to do the job in pinpoint operations that won’t leave trails of dead civilians. The human shield is Hamas’s ace in the hole; its leadership is its chink in the armor.
But ultimately the most effective weapon that Israel has in its arsenal is its political option. The last thing Hamas wants is a serious process of negotiations that strengthens the Palestinian Authority, gives hope to the Palestinian people and leads to a Final Status agreement. As luck would have it, that is the same course of action that the current Israeli Government is so reluctant to put into effect, for fear that such a strategic shift would undermine its raison d’etre and alienate its strong supporters. But after Operation Protective Edge, Israelis from both sides of the political spectrum, from the libertarian kibbutzniks in the Gaza Envelope settlements who bore the brunt of the last war to card-carrying Likudniks, are starting to sing the same tune: Things won’t change for the better until there is a political settlement. Are you listening, Bibi?