Is Israel at War?

As Hamas empties its current stock of artillery rockets (some 10,000) from Gaza onto Tel Aviv and southern Israel while its allies in Lebanon launch similar projectiles into Galilee, and as half of Israel’s population rushes in and out of shelters, no one can forget that the Arab world (minus Egypt and Jordan) is at war with Israel in fact as well as formally. Nor does the Arab world leave doubt about its war aim: to destroy the Jewish state. But as the Israeli air force strikes gradually at the rockets’ launch sites and storage areas and picks away at some of Hamas’ mid-level leaders, as some 40,000 army reservists prepare for a possible invasion of Gaza, the aims of Israel’s military operations are by no means clear. It is clear, however that these operations do not amount to war. That is because, obviously, they do not aim at winning peace for Israel.

Militarily, the latest round of rocket fire, which started on June 11 and hit its crescendo in July differs only quantitatively from the previous one of November 2012. Hamas uses up its stock of rockets, absorbs some damage, rebuilds the stock especially in underground factories, and gets ready for the next, bigger round. Each round reminds the Israeli public of how irremediably precarious its existence is.

With each round as the leader in the fight against the Jews, Hamas strengthens its claim to primacy over other Palestinian politicians. That strengthens its claim for money from the Muslim world as well as from the left wing forces that dominate European and, increasingly, American politics. Because Hamas has effectively incorporated its Palestinian rivals into a “unity government,” the U.S. government itself now funds Hamas to the tune of $440 million per year.

With each round of attacks, more of the world’s Progressive socio-political forces de-legitimize Israel and force divestment from it. Whereas, decades ago, the effect of the Arab world’s boycott of Israel was primarily to isolate the Arab world, nowadays shunning Israel is becoming fashionable if not de rigueur among the world’s “best and brightest.” With each round, Israel’s support from America seemingly weakens. President Obama’s reaction to the current one has been to urge “restraint” on both sides while offering to broker a cease-fire. Through how many rounds can Israel hold out? Creating a sense of inevitability is the essence of protracted war.

Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor told the United Nations that the objective of Israel’s military operation, “Protective Edge,” is “to dismantle the infrastructure that Hamas has amassed.” How much dismantling before Israel agrees to a cease-fire seems to be the only question in Israel’s political discourse. The amount of dismantling would determine how long the interval between the next round might be. This does not qualify as a “war aim,” because it does not envisage peace.

Few have noted that none of Israel’s four major and several minor competent military campaigns have aimed at establishing peace. Each has aimed at survival now, at winning the peace, and securing breathing space. Necessity and the constraints incumbent on a small nation dealing with incomparably larger foes explain Israel’s behavior only in part: Israel could never have forced Syria or Egypt to change their ways by occupying their capitals because the entire Israeli Defense Force would be a blip inside Damascus, never mind Cairo.

But there is a deeper reason why Israeli elites have not thought of how to translate military superiority into peace through strategic victory, namely the mentality of European socialism. According to that doctrine, all of mankind (albeit at different rates) evolves through the several states of socio-economic contradictions and eventually resolves them. The distinction between Jew and Arab would matter no more in mankind’s final, socialist state than any of the other distinctions that have bedeviled mankind. This tacit assumption is among the legacies of Israel’s founding generation.

That generation, however, bequeathed a practical substitute for victory that served reasonably well: what Israelis used to call their “posture of deterrence.” In short, Israel produced something like peace by assuring Arab leaders that any attack on Israel would result not just in defeat, but in losses so disproportionate as to threaten their very domestic legitimacy. Such deterrence was the long-term objective of the 1967 and 1973 military campaigns.

And then the Israelis, under U.S. pressure, abandoned that strategic posture. It began in 1983. Israel, having been attacked by the PLO state-within-a-state in Lebanon, was in the process of destroying it in cooperation with Lebanon’s Christian government. But the U.S. government prevailed on Israel to stop. It saved the PLO, transferred it to Tunisia and Sudan, and financed it. The U.S. then acquiesced in Syria’s murder of Lebanon’s pro-American and pro Israel Christian prime minister, as well as in the murder of 241 U.S. marines in Beirut. Then, in 1993, the U.S. government helped persuade Israel that its safety lay in the so called Oslo Peace Process, which involved the creation of a de facto PLO state in the West Bank and Gaza into which terrorists from all over the Middle East found a home, subsidized by European and American taxpayers as well as by Arab states. From this de facto state as well as from a Lebanon now dominated by Hezbollah, a series of attacks on Israel have come to which Israel has been pressed to respond “proportionately.” Adieu deterrence.

Israel’s enemies, ever more radical, ever bolder, are waging war in a manner reasoned to succeed. What would it take to stop —never mind to reverse — the Palestinian authority’s educational program for hate and destruction of Israel? To re-orient the economy of the Palestinian territories from converting welfare income into production of armed force to the production of civilian goods and services? Certainly, it would take many thousands of new and different leaders. But such leaders could arise only over the dead bodies of the current leaders. Producing these dead bodies would take a war.