Let’s get something straight: I trust the IDF. I believe when they say they’re doing everything they can to avoid civilian casualties. I’m confident that a post-mortem will show we killed far fewer civilians than Hamas members than the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry would have us believe. I also believe them when they give the impressive numbers about “terror targets” they’ve hit – and therein lies the problem.

Aside from showing the world just how much Hamas are a bunch of monsters, the IDF seems to be exclusively focused on fighting a war by statistics. If you follow the IDF spokesperson on Facebook or Twitter, you know what I’m talking about: The IDF bombed such-and-such command centers, destroyed so-and-so numbers of rockets and rockets facilities and killed such-and-such number of Hamasniks.

The problem is that we’ve seen this before: in the Vietnam War, to be exact. For reasons unclear to me, American “experts” decided to measure success in the war in terms of numbers: bullets fired, bombs dropped, targets hit and so on and so forth. I’m sure the numbers were accurate, too. The US still lost.

Tactics cannot replace strategy

Contrary to the fantasies of many a wargamer and amateur military enthusiast, war is not a sport you can win on points. There is no umpire in the background to “award” a victory because of superior performance on the battlefield or a lopsided casualty ratio. You either win or you don’t. Don’t believe me? Witness Hannibal of Carthage, who achieved enormous military victories against Rome, yet ultimately lost the war.

Tactical success is no replacement for broader and attainable strategic aims – witness the fate of the Nazis to whom we are constantly compared – and frankly Israel doesn’t seem to have any. While destroying Hamas’ warmaking capability – tunnels, rockets and infrastructure – is certainly a laudable aim, it is temporary. We may have set back Hamas four or five years in their ability to wage war, but that is simply delaying the next round. I don’t know anyone in Israel who’s looking forward to that.

Bumper Sticker Politics

Sadly, I don’t see any good strategy on the horizon. Saying “Israel needs to have a strategy” is about as useful as saying “Israel needs to do more to avoid civilian casualties”. Without practical, detailed suggestions, such statements are good for Twitter commentary or sound bites but completely unhelpful to the people in the field dealing with complex problems.

But that’s the problem – all the proposed “solutions” I’ve seen are just bumper sticker slogans – not serious, well thought out proposals which take reality into account. Don’t believe me? Here are some of them: “Back Abu-Mazen”, “Take back the Strip and disarm Hamas”, “Deal with Hamas” and my personal favorite – “there is no military solution, only a political one”.

These ideas have very serious pitfalls which no-one seems to address: Abu Mazen only rules the West Bank – and barely I might add – so any deal with him is only with half the problem and not likely to last. Taking back the Strip would mean far more dead, months of direct military occupation and international condemnation (even if with silent support). “Dealing with Hamas” has proved pointless at the cease-fire level and is likely even more pointless at the permanent agreement level.

“End the Occupation” or “negotiate a settlement” is a nice moral rallying cry; it is no substitute for hard-nosed strategy. No Israeli right of Hadash wants to see Israel’s core industrial and population areas under threat of rocket fire and murder tunnels. If Gaza has proven anything, we have no patience for the “suck it up” arguments we keep hearing from Europe while rockets and missiles are flying over our heads. The Devil is in the Details, and lack of attention to them – and actual implementation of good ones – just ensures a political agreement will be a worthless piece of paper.

Got ideas?

Israel needs to have a strategy, in which it dictates the pace of events and doesn’t just react. It needs to be well thought out, detailed and something that doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. Suggestions in the comments are welcome.