Yehuda Hausman

The Strategic Problem with Israeli Optimism

Credit: "Israeli Optimism" - Made for the Author by Dall-E

The purpose of foreign ministries is to focus on what an enemy intends to do. Whereas the purpose of military planners is to study and prepare for what an enemy can do. Yet, on October 7th, both Israel’s civilian leadership and its military chiefs faltered. Yet, these failures, stark as they are, may pale beside the broader mindset that shaped them.

Diaspora Jews have long gazed upon Israelis with awe, captivated by their dauntless spirit, steadfast confidence, and lofty optimism. Day upon day, Israel breathes life into the Zionist maxim, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Despite the many triumphs of this unicorn nation, in the realm of defensive strategy, such an attitude represents a monumental Achilles’ heel.

In the preceding years, Israel watched Gaza’s obvious growth: condominiums rose up, a decline in rocket attacks, and a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit. Hamas aggression appeared to diminish before the allure of affluent capitalism. In a gesture of goodwill, Israel issued 20,000 work visas to industrious Gazans. Meanwhile, elite mujahideen settled in Rimal’s luxury villas, overlooking the hypnotic sea. 

As we know, it was all an illusion. Hamas was spinning dreams. As dawn broke on October the 7th, sirens blared throughout the south. Israel stirred from sleep and found herself enmeshed in a nightmare. The nation’s rulers, once so proud and confident, now stood duped, deceived, beguiled, thoroughly tricked. In the unfinished aftermath of such calamitous misjudgement, one ponders if there can exist for Israel’s leadership some measure of atonement? Yet, for Israel’s long-term security, the drama of recriminations will hardly matter.

Soon the inquiries will come and the ugly blame game shall commence. Heads will roll and scapegoats thrown off cliffs. A few of the accused will bravely claim to be victims. Across Israel, familiar civic fervor will surge: long marches, massive protests, and myriad scandals. Wagers will be placed on who will live and who will open a vein atop Masada. 

Of course, my words above are metaphorical. In a democracy, there is no real accountability for lawful decisions, even catastrophic ones. Minor transgressions like petty bribery or tax evasion lead to indictments and jail, but when a pogrom defiles the land, all we can do is heap shame upon our leaders, hoping they might depart – a rare occurrence without divine providence.

The military is another matter. Hamas’ machinations should not have swayed the Israeli Defense Forces. In warfare, deceit is a fundamental principle; the enemy invariably seeks the element of surprise. Victory hinges on exploiting every available advantage. Hence, the paramount duty of military leadership is to make ready for an adversary’s capabilities, and not fall prey to speculative intentions.

Fortunately, words such as ‘honor,’ ‘duty,’ and ‘honesty’ possess profound meaning for the women and men of the IDF. They comprehend what went awry: their lack of readiness. Contrary to the political class, they do not await commissions of inquiry to amend their errors. Amidst war, they now hasten to do what is necessary.

In the short term, military intelligence will disregard Hassan Nasrallah’s pronouncements signaling disinterest in escalation. The IDF, vigilant and resolute, shall strengthen its defenses in the North, South, and East, standing ready to rebuff any threats from Hezbollah, Yemenite Houthis, or Fatah militias in the West Bank. Moreover, they will maintain a watchful eye, guarding against any militant incursions from Jordan or the Sinai expanse.

But for how long can this vigilance endure? In five, 10, or 20 years, will not the politicians succumb to Israel’s national penchant for unyielding optimism? How long before the military, too, falls prey to the honey trap of overconfidence? The October 7th debacle was not an isolated incident of hubris but part of a pattern of relapse and remission.  

Israel excels in achieving the impossible. The nation, once impoverished and starving, declared independence and repelled seven well-armed Arab armies, despite an international arms embargo that included the United States. It developed a cure for malaria while draining mosquito-infested swamps and reinvented irrigation to make the desert bloom. The accomplishments are numerous: groundbreaking inventions, start-ups, Nobel Prizes, the Six-Day War, the Trophy System, and the miraculous Iron Dome. This trail of successes fosters an unwavering belief that any dream is attainable.

Yet time and again, Israel’s belief that all will be well leads to irrational decisions. Post the euphoric 1967 War, the nation assumed Egypt and Syria were subdued, setting the stage for the calamitous 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The settlement movement in Gaza and the West Bank was imbued with a near-religious conviction that, because we Jews are indigenous and God’s chosen, everything would resolve itself with the Palestinians, a people who had not ceased regarding us as malevolent usurpers. 

We built for years without offering them either their own state or Israeli citizenship. When we finally recognized our mistake, we turned to a terrorist, Yasser Arafat, for peace. In what realm of reality did we disengage from Gaza, convincing ourselves that an election among Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad would positively impact the region? America, ensconced in a distant haven, can indulge itself testing Jeffersonian democracy in places like Afghanistan or Iraq or Egypt. We cannot afford such exuberance. 

Israel exists in a harsh, volatile neighborhood. Yet, any hint of progress induces exhilaration. Peace treaties with Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, and possibly Saudi Arabia do not magically transform monarchies and dictatorships into Western-style democratic nations. Just because various Arab leaders wisely see the economic and military benefits of allying with Israel does not alter the underlying culture. Women cannot appear in public unescorted. Men take multiple wives. Courts punish offenders by whipping, amputation, or beheading, sometimes bypassing judicial processes altogether. There are no safeguards for free speech, homosexual relationships, or religious minorities. Islam has remained unchanged for a millennium. Quranic verse is always literal and unassailable. Whereas in the Mosque they teach that our Biblical tradition is corrupt. Thanks to technology, Allah’s word is spread via new mediums. Yet, this is not progress if Muhammad’s message is the same. 

Therefore, dear Israel, reserve optimism for other endeavors: planting on the Kibbutz, study in the University, dedication to Torah, or falling in Love. But let’s not mix politics with romance. Surely, it is right and proper to reciprocate when a Muslim extends a hand in peace. We declare in Scripture: ‘They who bless us, shall be blessed.’ But let us not be blind. The State of Israel’s purpose is to offer the Jewish people a measure of safety, peace, and the freedom to live. To fulfill this, Israel must perpetually be prepared for war.

About the Author
Yehuda Hausman lives in Los Angeles in the Pico-Robertson area. He is married with two beautiful children in local Day Schools. He fantasizes about making aliyah and bringing Pickleball to Eretz Yisrael. He thinks it's the perfect sport for the country.
Related Topics
Related Posts