Friday, July 2, 2010

In praise of wars of choice


by Israel Harel


Whoever declares in advance that he is abandoning Israel's traditional combat doctrine - one founded on preemptive counterattack - is actually inviting the enemy to launch its own first strikes.


Moshe Sneh, one of the leaders of the Haganah, Israel's pre-independency underground army , was once sent to explain to the Palmach, its strike force, why the pre-state leadership was following a policy of restraint in the face of incessant terror attacks. The authorities' usual explanation - undefined "diplomatic considerations" - seemed weak even to him. "Unconvincing excuses," he wrote in a memo to himself. "I'll have to raise my voice!"

That is exactly what Ehud Barak did this week on the stage of the Institute for National Security Studies. In a long, apologetic and at times embarrassing talk, the defense minister tried to rationalize each and every military failure attributed to him. These include beating a hasty exit from Lebanon, failing to respond to the subsequent killing of three soldiers and the abduction of their bodies to Lebanon (after pledging that no restraint would be shown against such attacks following the pullout ), a limp-wristed response to the terror war ignited by Yasser Arafat ("It's ludicrous," Barak loudly asserted, "to link the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon with the outbreak of the second intifada" ), and even mistakes in the handling of May's flotilla raid.

Only when speaking of the first Lebanon war did Barak lower his voice. He glossed over his own command failings on the eastern front and focused on criticizing the war's strategic goal (as he defined it: the war's architects, prime minister Menachem Begin and defense minister Ariel Sharon, never defined it in this way to either the cabinet or the Israel Defense Forces ). This goal, he said, was effecting geopolitical change by banishing Fatah to Jordan, where it would unseat the Hashemite regime and create a Palestinian state. In that way, he continued (echoing a widespread but unfounded conspiracy theory ), Sharon hoped to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

The war's secondary aim (again, as Barak defined it ) also served the defense minister as a basis for his military doctrine: We must not intervene in a neighboring country's internal affairs. Fact: We failed in our attempt to put our Christian allies into power in Lebanon.

The view Barak espoused - that Israel must not wage war to bring about geostrategic changes - is fundamentally flawed. Yet many influential politicians and intellectuals, as well as military chiefs both past and present, have been beholden to this same error. This view has turned into official policy because many of its proponents were personally burned in the first Lebanon war.

Since the dawn of time, countries have waged wars of choice to effect geopolitical change. And even the enlightened among them do so to this day. Right now, there are soldiers fighting in Afghanistan from the United States, Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and dozens of other countries, even Jordan and Turkey. Are these countries - particularly those who deride our existential battle as illegitimate - fighting to protect their very existence, or to protect their citizens from rockets fired at their population centers? No, they are sacrificing their soldiers' lives thousands of miles from home to deprive one Afghani regime of power and grant it to another.

Iraq and Afghanistan are thus two of the clearest wars of choice imaginable. The hypocrisy of those countries that criticize us for taking elementary measures of self-defense - like stopping the flotilla to Gaza - even as they regularly kill innocent civilians is clear for all to see.

Israel's doctrine of renouncing, a priori, any initiated war - in part because those who established this doctrine, like Barak, suffered traumatic military and personal failures in the first Lebanon war (when six Israeli divisions, an air force in unchallenged control of the skies and an unopposed navy were unable to defeat numerically inferior Palestinian militias with inferior equipment ) is also mistaken in that it deprives the country of the ability to effect a strategic surprise.

Whoever declares in advance that he is abandoning Israel's traditional combat doctrine - one founded on preemptive counterattack - is actually inviting the enemy to launch its own first strikes, with all the attendant hardships they create. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan chose to absorb the first blow instead of being the first to strike, lest they be perceived as having launched a war of choice. The cost of the war price rose accordingly.

Do we now intend to absorb the first blow from Iran? Because this time the price is liable to be so terrible that it seems doubtful that Israeli society - given the stunning lack of fortitude it has displayed in recent days over a single captive soldier - would be able to bear it.


Israel Harel

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


1 comment:

JC Watchman said...

I Agree 100 percent....

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Location: Atlanta, USA

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