“War is the continuation of politics by other means” thus wrote the Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Some two centuries ago he knew what the current leaders of Israel have failed to grasp – a war must have a strategic purpose.
Such a goal barely exists on the agenda of the government of Israel. “It will be a fatal attack”, says Defense Minister Gallant. “We will eliminate Hamas”, announces Prime Minister Netanyahu. “This is our second War of Independence”, declares Minister Gantz. But neither they nor the vast majority of experts and commentators in the TV studios attempt to confront the most important question of all: quo vadis? Where are we going?
The decisions how hard to bombard from the air, when to launch a land campaign and how to handle the northern front are all tactical. Tactics should not be belittled – if they are successful, they save lives, and if not, they may cost lives. But let us not put our entire trust on tactics alone.
In times of crisis, the broadcast studios are filled with former generals and experts at “hasbara” – Hebrew for “explaining”, and in this context: public relations. However, both the military action and its public diplomacy actions must serve a strategy.
The public relations operation focuses entirely on showing who is good and who is bad, instead of serving a long-term foreign policy strategy, which sometimes needs collaboration with those who we normally try to demonize, such as Qatar. What in Israel is called Hasbara is often viewed abroad as cheap propaganda, it is usually founded on the assumption that the entire world is against us, while in reality many world leaders are fully supportive, in contradiction to the notion, which is manifested by anti-Israel demonstrations, and emphasized by the media.
The leaders of the liberal democracies are with us in the sense that they believe Hamas committed barbaric war crimes, and that taking a heavy toll from Hamas is justified. However, they do not agree to the notion of viewing all Gazans (and sometimes all Arabs) as being Hamas members or supporters. They see the complexity of the situation which we ignore, because our rage is blinding us. They are trying to understand what our exit strategy is, and they don’t think that it is in Israel’s best interest or ability to take over and control Gaza.
The absence of a diplomatic strategy and where we want to be after the war makes it difficult to recruit the world to assist us. If the direction is unknown, the military and public relations acts have no rational purpose other than emotional succor and the desire for revenge.
The prevailing public sentiment regarding the need to destroy the murderous Hamas, release the hostages and do it all with minimum loss of lives is impossible to achieve and we need to prioritize our goals, or we will fail to achieve all these objectives.
If we do not know where we aim to be when the fighting ends, the result might be similar to past military campaigns, which ended with an initial sense of military achievement, but in hindsight turned out to be disastrous. With no exit strategy we will be stuck in Gaza without the ability to leave, without any major changes on the ground.
Israel has a ministry which is responsible for diplomatic planning – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, it has systematically been deprived of resources, and its recommendations were ignored. Whereas president Biden is accompanied by Secretary of State Blinken, Netanyahu surrounds himself with his cronies, and his only motivation is selfish, short-term politics.
Netanyahu may have changed his clothes from a suit and tie to a black shirt, but has not changed his conduct. The man whose main heritage will be the ongoing effort to systematically destroy any political attempt to solve the conflict with the Palestinians, continues to do it, only this time it may be IDF soldiers who will pay the price for his conduct. The public does not see the urgency of a political solution during quiet times, and at a time of war the diplomacy always takes the back seat; this tragic lockdown serves Netanyahu’s political agenda.
Without giving thought to a diplomatic solution, we will achieve nothing, we will not be able to harness the world, we might lose the support of our allies in the region, and we will gradually receive an increasingly colder shoulder from our allies in the West. If Israel does not present a political purpose to the war, that point in time could arrive soon. The world is not interested in a regional war or in a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. Israel can be on the side of those who seek a solution, or on the side of those who create and enlarge the problem. The choice is ours.