The New War against Israel

By Pollak, Noah | Moment, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview
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The New War against Israel


Pollak, Noah, Moment


Is there a lesson that American Jews should derive from the bloody May 31st encounter between Israeli naval commandos and Turkish Islamists? The world seems to have learned the wrong lesson: Everyone from the Obama administration to UN officials criticized the blockade of Gaza and demanded that Israel be investigated over its interception of the flotilla.

Lost in the obsessive media attention and manufactured international "outrage" that followed the incident is the way in which this latest mini-crisis captured the essence of the new war that is being waged against Israel. Israel's enemies have accepted the fact that their military and economic weaknesses mean that they will have to convince more powerful forces to do their fighting for them. Now they are working to turn western democratic political opinion against the Jewish state so that it will be isolated, condemned, delegitimized and eventually destroyed. This strategy, unlike previous ones, is working.

During the first few decades of Israel's existence, those seeking to destroy the Jewish homeland pursued an unimaginative strategy of conventional war: for the most part, Arab states fielded soldiers against the Israeli military. But the wars in 1948,1956, 1967 and 1973 were disastrous for the Arabs. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Arab regimes still denounced Israel but privately accepted their inability to defeat the IDF on the battlefield.

And so they switched methods. Terrorism rose as the go-to tactic for sustaining the fight against Israel. Sponsoring terrorism was largely cost-free for the Arab regimes because the IDF would invariably defer regional war in favor of the far less costly option of increased domestic security and limited engagements with the PLO and Hezbollah. But the terrorism strategy also failed. The culminating point was the second intifada (2000-2004), in which Israel prevailed over the suicide bombing war by killing terror leaders, building a security barrier and fighting a few limited battles in Palestinian towns that had been transformed into suicide-bomber factories.

The current war represents the third large shift in strategy, and it combines crude military tactics with sophisticated PR: Hamas and Hezbollah, sponsored by Iran and Syria, build up a rocket infrastructure embedded in civilian populations. When fired at Israel, these weapons force a terrible dilemma on the Jewish state, which seeks to preserve both its moral standards and its international reputation: either take the punishment and be humiliated and weakened or fight back--and inevitably, no matter how careful the response, kill civilians.

Most everything modern western militaries do is grounded in the desire to separate soldiers from civilians. It is why our personnel wear uniforms; it is why only states are permitted to field armies, it is why we create elaborate and judicially enforced rules of engagement; it is one of the main reasons why we develop precision weapons. These innate cultural expectations about war are why we have such a hard time grasping the idea that the Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas military strategy is to bring the war into villages and cities and literally force Israel to kill Arab civilians.

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