Parallels and Lessons: despite intense legal and public scrutiny, wars must be won decisively, because going half a mile will only invite additional aggression, chaos, suffering, death, and destruction.
The war in Ukraine has been dragging on since the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022. It has evolved into a trench warfare reminiscent of World War I. As of writing these lines in mid December 2023, Russia is still largely holding their defensive lines deep inside the occupied Ukrainian territory. This is while Ukrainians are waging a lopsided battle in which they are not given the capabilities to cross Russia’s “red lines” — the perceived notion that Ukraine, equipped with NATO-issued weapons, is attacking inside Russia’s territory, hitting its population centers, and key infrastructure. Due to these calculations, the Ukrainian “summer offensive” began nearly a year and a half after the initial Russian invasion, allowing the Russian military to regroup and well prepare for anticipated counterattack. The newly constructed Russian trenches and defensive lines proved highly effective, preventing from any breakthrough in the war. Given the uneven nature of this conflict, Ukraine’s chances of prevailing in the war are quite constrained.
On October 7th, global attention shifted from the war in Ukraine to the much more deadly developing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Israel’s declaration of war against Hamas, marked by an unprecedented rolling aerial bombardment, and a rapid full-scale ground invasion, displayed a sharp contrast to the evolvement of Russia-Ukraine war.
Warfare, according to Israeli military doctrine, should be done only on enemy territory, delivering a swift and deadly blow to the enemy, without being dragged into prolonged war. This strategy was repeatedly implemented in Israel’s war against Hezbollah in 2006, when the IDF invaded Lebanon, or operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the October War of 1973, the Six Day War of June 1967 and the Suez War of 1956.
It can be argued that there is a stark difference between Hamas and Russia. Russia is a superpower, equipped with nuclear weapons and vastly rich energy resources, while Hamas has approximately only 30,000-40,000 fighters without armored battalions, air force, navy, or electronic warfare capabilities. However, in terms of the objectives set by both Russia and Hamas, the means to reach these objectives, the existential threat they pose to liberal democracies and the necessity to eliminate these threats, lie the similarities:
- Israel and Ukraine are both democracies, in which the executive branch of government is chosen upon free and fair elections.
- Both Israel and Ukraine were attacked by a brutal, merciless, autocratic regime that disregard international law, conventions, human rights, and humanitarian principles.
- Both the Putin regime and Hamas are hell bent on a messianic mission to “liberate territories”, essentially embarking on expansionist land grab, domination, unbridled aggression and do not shy from mass slaughter of anyone who stand in their way, be it their own and certainly their enemy, on their path for control and domination.
- Both Hamas and the Putin regime loath western ideals of democracy, free speech, human rights, gender equality and liberal principles, yet both are making the most of cynically using western media, sensitivities in public opinion, as tools to achieve their sinister, chauvinistic, and extreme objectives.
- Both Hamas and the Putin regime are seeking to extend their messianic influence far beyond the focal point of current conflict (i.e. Israel and Ukraine) and stretch their vision of domination to other regions.
- A victory for Putin and/or Hamas, or even the perception of victory, would have a devastating effect on world peace and stability. Such outcomes could shake the defensive lines of liberal democracies around the world and the status quo of the rule-based world order formulated post-World War II and strengthened at the end of the Cold War in the early 90’s.
In both raging conflicts, Israel and Ukraine, liberal democracies around the world must make a firm stand – unwavering support for their fellow democracies fighting an existential asymmetric war against a brutal enemy that does not abide by the same regulations as democracies do. Because going half a mile will only invite additional aggression, chaos, suffering, death, and destruction.
Wars should (ideally) be won decisively, when there is little doubt as to which conflagration party came out on top, either vying for a ceasefire or outright surrender. In simple terms, winning a war, as Israel has demonstrated, involves either disabling the enemy’s ability to fight or inflicting such severe losses that the enemy is unable to sustain the conflict any longer.
The US together with its NATO allies constantly maintained control over Ukraine’s offensive capabilities against Russia, making sure that the weapon systems the Ukrainians received will not be used on Russian soil and certainly not against Russian civilians. NATO’s apprehension of a direct retaliation from Russia against NATO member states, potentially involving tactical nuclear weapons in the European continent, paralyzed the western battle planners working alongside their Ukrainian counterparts. The western main battle tanks, specifically the German Leopards and the American Abrams, took nearly a year to be delivered. And that followed in stages, starting from light armor to heavier armor APC’s, with increasingly more sophisticated and longer-range offensive capabilities. The HIMAR system, with its high precision artillery capabilities was delivered first by the Americans with limited range. The range of HIMARS munitions continuously increased, but always maintaining a threshold.
In Israel, however, the military doctrine, was completely different. Israel has gleaned valuable lessons about using different military technology and operational strategies, particularly in the context of conducting urban combat under intense legal and public scrutiny. When conflict erupts, as it did on Oct. 7th, the IDF is strategically poised to swiftly engage and eliminate threats on enemy soil through three phases: air campaign – ground incursion – precision-strike. The ground invasion into Gaza was preceded by massive bombardment of enemy headquarters, bases, command and control centers. This strategy aims to diminish the enemy’s ability to resist, and minimize the potential harm to the invading ground forces.
Western powers and NATO members should have learned the lesson that only defeat in war could have convinced Putin to reverse course and renegade on his aggression. And the appearance of a defeat, exacting unbearable prices from the Russian Federation, would have certainly invalidated Putin’s grasp on power in Russia. Ukraine’s military should have been allowed to hit Russian targets inside Russia’s territory. Anything serving dual purpose – factories, bridges, roads, airports, warehouses etc., should become targets.
An asymmetrical war requires asymmetrical means and methods in order to come out triumphant. A belligerent military force invading a country’s sovereign territory with the aim to kill and destroy should allow bending the rules of warfare in the struggle for triumph, removing the threat to survival. Both Hamas and Russia have pushed the “nuclear button” on Israel and Ukraine respectively. The West should not prevent Israel from winning the war as it so far has with Ukraine.