Best Defense

Israel: the age of permanent war?

Ariel Siegelman, an Israeli specialist in counterterrorism, offers the best explanation I’ve seen so far for what Israel was trying to do in the Gaza attack: For almost three years [after the 2006 Lebanon war], there were no illusions; we knew that we were training for Gaza. Unlike Lebanon, we knew that when we entered ...

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GAZA STRIP - JANUARY 12: In this handout image provided by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Israeli reserve forces enter the Gaza Strip January 12, 2009 in the Gaza Strip. Despite a recent United Nations call for an immediate end to the fighting, hostilities continued today between Israel and Hamas militants as Israeli troops entered the outskirts of Gaza City but failed to end rocket fire from Hamas. (Photo by IDF via Getty Images)

Ariel Siegelman, an Israeli specialist in counterterrorism, offers the best explanation I’ve seen so far for what Israel was trying to do in the Gaza attack:

For almost three years [after the 2006 Lebanon war], there were no illusions; we knew that we were training for Gaza. Unlike Lebanon, we knew that when we entered Gaza, the military goals and the execution of the missions in order to reach those goals would be methodical and well-prepared.

The IDF entered Gaza with realistic goals-significantly reduce Hamas’ ability to inflict damage on Israel and Israeli targets. We were told specifically that our goal was NOT to topple Hamas and was NOT to destroy all of its capabilities. Those goals would have been too difficult to achieve and would have set us up for defeat and a blow to the morale of the army and the nation. Likewise, the tactics would be unconventional. We were not to think in terms of conquest and holding territory. Concepts of front and rear lines had no place in this war. We were to frustrate and attack at the morale of the enemy, fighting much like he would fight us. The only rule was, don’t fight by the rules. The IDF went in, simply to wreak havoc on Hamas without getting into any situations that could afford our enemies the opportunity to achieve anything that would resemble a victory. We were to keep them at arm’s length, not attempt to engage them in combat, and use anything within our means to destroy them.

This makes tactical sense, I suppose. But I worry about its long-term implications for the security of Israel, especially the notion of not fighting by the rules, which the article doesn’t really explain, but which I think if done badly could further undermine Western popular support for Israel.

He doesn’t offer much hope for the future. Israel is recognizing that it is in a permanent state of war, he concludes: 

There is no such thing as winning in this new kind of war. The war is ongoing, with periods of more violence and periods of less violence, during which the enemy regroups and plans his next attack. When we feel the enemy is getting strong, we must be prepared to make preemptive strikes, hard and fast at key targets, with viciousness, as the enemy would do to us. Only then can we acquire, not peace, but sustained periods of relative calm.”

I know it’s easy for me to be critical sitting here in a comfortable hotel room in the eco-topia of Portland, Oregon. But that conclusion-an age of preemptive strikes in a long, twilight struggle–doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Especially his advocacy of “viciousness.”

IDF via Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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