Ian Joseph

War After War, Timeout After Timeout

Timeout: a brief suspension of activity, intermission, or break –

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“War is the continuation of politics by other means.” — Karl von Clausewitz

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” — Isaac Asimov

“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” — Moshe Dayan

“The history of Israeli-Arab relations since 1948 can be summarized in one sentence: ‘War, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout, war, timeout. …’ What differentiates Israel from the Arabs and the Palestinians is how much more productive Israel has been during its timeouts.” – Thomas Friedman

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, the grieving widows and widowers, the bereft parents, the mourning siblings and friends, the walking wounded, the hostages, the refugees, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction wrought through Israel’s wars is committed under the name of Zionism, self-defense, self-determination, liberation of the oppressed, revenge, deterrence, or in the holy names of liberty, democracy, or religion? Their lives have either been irretrievably halted or forever changed, shattered, and forever cast in the shadow of their never-ending grief and loss. Loss so great that theirs is now a way of life never recovering what has been lost, only the hope that somehow they can forge a new life from the ashes of their losses.

Embed from Getty Images

In the 75 years of its existence, Israel has been in a state of war, fighting one campaign or war after another with brief or lengthy timeouts between the fighting. It’s been war after war, and timeout after timeout, without any pause for a long-lasting peace. Israel managed to buy relatively long timeouts with relatively short wars in the twentieth century. Most of those wars were fought against other states in conventional battles of limited duration. The best examples are the War of Independence, 1948/9, the Sinai Campaign 1956, the Six Day War 1967, the Yom Kippur War 1973, Operation Litani 1978, Lebanon War 1982, Lebanon War 2006, Gaza War (Cast Lead) Dec 2008-Jan 2009, Gaza War Pillar of Defense 2012, Gaza War Protective Edge 2014. All of these were characterized as wars or campaigns of short durations carried out in foreign territory at an acceptable cost to Israeli society.

Added to the above have been all the extensive ongoing military encounters with the Palestinians: the Fedayeen Insurgency 50s-60s, Palestinian Insurgency in South Lebanon 1971-82, South Lebanon conflict 1985-2000, First Intifada 1987-93, Second Intifada 2000-2005, the ongoing constant attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank on Israelis 2005-2024 and the ongoing conflict with Hamas which resulted in the current Israel-Hamas Gaza War.

Israel has, despite living under a state of almost constant war during the twentieth century and a protracted Palestinian insurgency, managed to build a modern state with an impressive economy, delivering first-world infrastructure, medical, educational, and other services to its citizens. This has been accomplished while walking the tightrope of balancing preparations for the next war, living with unending attacks on its civilian population, and attempting to live a normal life during timeouts.

However, the state of the Hundred Years’ War shows every sign of becoming a forever war, with timeouts either shortening in duration or disappearing and leaving Israel in an ongoing existential crisis due to the need to be constantly fighting the forever war without the opportunity to take timeouts to recover, rebuild and live a somewhat normal life.

The current 2023/24 disastrous Gaza War is highlighting the inability of the IDF to secure a durable lasting timeout for Israel in the face of a Palestinian enemy attacking Israel and waging war within an urban environment. The current conflict has also resulted in Israel evacuating tens of thousands of its civilians from the northern border areas with no indications as to when they can safely return to their homes and farms. So too the ongoing resistance of Palestinians in the West Bank to the Israeli occupation is constantly causing losses, death, and ongoing stress.

It would appear that the cycle of timeout, war, timeout, war has ended, replaced by ongoing war and insurgency/terrorism by the Palestinians carried out in the cities and towns of Israel rather than the wars of the past which were fought outside of Israel’s borders with little to no direct impact on Israeli communities in Israel. Today, almost every Israeli home has either a safe room or access to a communal shelter. These have been used extensively since October 7. Hamas, despite a six-month war, still has the ability to send the occasional rocket into Israel. Hezbollah still sits on an arsenal of approximately 150,000 rockets, precision and dumb missiles capable of hitting any target in Israel.

Embed from Getty Images

There is no military solution to the ongoing hundred-year conflict with the Palestinians. The only possibility for a durable, everlasting “timeout” from the Hundred Years’ War is a political solution. The only one on the table is the two-state solution. The alternative to the two-state solution is a forever war between the Israelis and the Palestinians where each side gets progressively better at killing the other with more sophisticated weapons and technology, tearing each other apart in an ongoing orgy of mutual destruction.

Unfortunately, I agree with Thomas Friedman who gives the chances of a two-state solution, at this point in time, only 5%. But… despite the low odds, it is the only game in town that gives Israel any chance of escaping the hundred-year war and a downward spiral of mutual self-destruction.

One can only hope that after the current war ends, hopefully soon, the state of Israel will utilize the ensuing timeout to make real progress toward peace and a final settlement with the Palestinians. Not to do so gives the extremists on both sides what they want, a forever war.

About the Author
Born and educated in South Africa, a graduate of Jewish day school and Habonm Dror, Ian Joseph served in the IDF as an officer in combat units, and currently resides in North Carolina and Cyprus. Ian holds an MBA from Shulich School of Business in Toronto, is certified as a Master Instructor by the American Sailing Association and is currently retired from IBM. Among other pursuits Ian edits a weekly newsletter of Israeli news items, teaches sailing around the world and certifies sailing instructors.