Ian Joseph

Winning the Battles, But Losing the War, Still

“Without victory, there is no survival!” – Winston Churchill

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” – John F. Kennedy

“The greatest disappointment is winning all the battles then losing the war” ― Mouloud Benzadi

“War ends at the moment when peace permanently wins out. Not when the articles of surrender are signed or the last shot is fired, but when the last shout of a sidewalk battle fades, when the next generation starts to wonder whether the whole thing ever really happened.” — Lee Sandlin

Israel is losing the war. On October 7 Israel lost, and has carried on losing since, despite winning battles, killing thousands of Hamas terrorists, destroying Hamas infrastructure and blowing up Hamas tunnels. Deterring the enemy, gaining periods of calm, managing the situation, and minimizing casualties is not winning. It’s losing. Living without peace is losing. Constantly suffering the loss of young men and women in the military is losing. Constantly losing men, women and children to terrorism is losing. Conscripting your children for years is losing. Being forced to spend large percentages of your budget on defense is losing. Children being traumatized is losing. Providing one’s enemies with ammunition for antisemitism is losing. Providing Israel’s enemies with justifications for propaganda is losing. Being accused of genocide in the International Court for Justice is losing. Being accused of apartheid is losing. Facing boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions from BDS is losing.

Israel will continue to lose until there is peace and there has not been peace for more than 75 years. The only way Israel can gain peace and win is to compromise with the Palestinians and accept a second state. 

“Compromise is often seen as weakness, as pitiful surrender”, “ the lives of families, neighbors and nations, choosing to compromise is in fact choosing life”. “The opposite of compromise is not pride or integrity, the opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death.” – Amos Oz

Far better the state of Israel without all of the land of Israel than all of the land of Israel without a state of Israel. However, there are more than enough right wing Israelis who have wanted the Land of Israel at all costs since 1967 and seem prepared to pay any price to maintain the occupation.

Peace cannot be won unless it is stated as a clear objective and the resultant desired outcome of any actions. The lack of definition for the day after, in the current conflict, mirrors all the previous conflicts. At no time in the 21st century has any Israeli government stated that its first priority, over and above all others, is to gain a lasting peace for its citizens. While stating over and over that Israel desires peace, nonetheless belligerent actions, policies and acts have produced the reverse – a constant war that has ebbed and flowed without providing lasting peace.

There are those who claim that the Palestinians are neither interested in peace nor are they interested in building a state. Rather they claim that the Palestinians are only interested in killing Jews and driving them into the sea. Such claimants insist that only force of arms can protect Israel and ever increasing force must be used until the enemy, the Palestinians, surrender and accept terms dictated to them by Israel. History has demonstrated over and over, in many locations around the world, that force and destruction deployed against civilians rarely, if ever, meets its aim of forcing that population to surrender. Germany had to be invaded and its armies subdued to win the war in Europe. Japan only surrendered after two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Israel has conclusively beaten the Palestinians over and over, occupied the West Bank and Gaza without ever producing the desired effect of a total surrender from the Palestinians. The current war in Gaza will not result in a total surrender from the Palestinians. On the contrary, it will fuel further resentment, hate and radicalization from a traumatized, humiliated and downtrodden population.

While some historians will write Israel’s military history as a series of different wars, in different areas against different enemies, regular and irregular, the current war is one that has been smoldering, flaring up and dying down periodically for more than 75 years. It is the Israel-Palestinian war which will never stop in the absence of a permanent peace agreement. On the Palestinian side it is generally fought by irregulars classified as terrorists pitting themselves against civilians and regular forces. In some cases the Palestinians who fight, kill and murder are lone wolves, not members of any organization. They set out to kill with unconventional weapons, knives against guns, motor vehicles against guns. The virtual certainty that their efforts are almost guaranteed to result in their death has not deterred the many who have tried to kill Israelis. It is almost impossible for Israel’s security forces to detect and prevent lone-wolf attacks.

Whether one classifies Palestinian irregular fighters as guerrillas, terrorists or freedom fighters, whether one sees them as lone wolves or organized groups, whether they are trained, organized, inspired and financed by Iran or by any other group, the fact is that they will continue to set out to kill, terrorize and maim Israelis as long as they perceive themselves to be occupied, oppressed and humiliated by Israel.

“There is no way this [Israel – Hamas War] will end when Israel can say we are victorious,” says Eyal Hulata, who was Israel’s national security adviser from 2021-2023. “Israel lost this war [on] the 7th of October. The only question now is if we are able to remove from Hamas the ability to do this again. And we might succeed, and we might not.”

The carnage will continue until there is a political solution. Israel will continue winning battles, but losing the war until there is a permanent peace. Losing the endless war has long term impacts on Israel’s viability and potential to prosper and even survive. Which parents will want to raise their children and live in a country which has no hope for peace? Which companies will want to base key components of their business in a country when key, productive workers can be called up to the reserves at any time? Which venture capitalists will want to invest funds in a country whose economy is wracked by political instability and ongoing security issues.

While I have no doubt that Israel will muddle through in the next few decades, nonetheless to achieve its full potential it has to win the war and not just the battles. Winning the war can only be achieved through real, lasting peace, until then Israel will keep on losing.

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.