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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.

Reader Discussion

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on July 14, 2014 at 17:06:48 pm

While it would take a war with that specific aim, the mindsets of the next two generations within the near perimeter of Israel and even longer in the further perimeters, have been fixed. Those will not change.

Until the inhabitants of Western Civilization come to understand the necessity of bringing and keeping pressures on the inhabitants of those perimeters that will constrain the revival of these conditions, they will continue indefinitely.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on July 14, 2014 at 22:25:43 pm

Did I just read this article correctly? The Reagan administration acquiesced in the murder of 241 Marines in Beirut? It is written above as if it is a widely accepted fact, unimpeachable by anyone. I admit that my youth prevents me from having witnessed the event as it took place, but that's still heavily at odds with what I have read. I stand puzzled.

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Jeremiah Bourque
on July 15, 2014 at 01:19:17 am

Did the Reagan administration make any serious response to the murder of the Marines - other than pulling out the survivors? I don't remember any.

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djf
on July 15, 2014 at 05:55:05 am

There was an A-6 Intruder carrier-launched raid on Syria, but I am at peace if you do not think it was a "serious" response. The implication, however, is that the Reagan administration was totally OK with the murder of Americans and cared nothing about it, or if anything, was happy to see them perish. That's pretty cold.

The idea here, which we're supposed to accept uncritically, is that the US was obligated to launch a regime changing war against Syria in vengeance for the slain prime minister and the slain Marines... whether or not Israel thought such a war would even be in its own best interests. The rest may be an argument, but that's an assertion so huge that my mind has been on fire at how it was thrown in as if an afterthought. Any nation that goes to war like that goes to war at a time and place of its enemies' choosing. That doesn't sound promising.

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Jeremiah Bourque
on July 15, 2014 at 09:26:28 am

Has anyone noticed that regardless of the topic or the year, Angelo's writing frequently follows the same four-point formula? It goes something like this:

1. It's unclear to me [Angelo] what the policy maker in question is doing, so it must be unclear to "them," whoever it is I'm criticizing today.

(Thus Angelo plays on the ignorance of the average reader, who is now flattered to suppose they know more than the policy maker in question--never mind the legion of factual errors that pepper Angelo's own writing. For the "them," insert, say, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II--or, in this case, Israel. Some of the arguments he made about Reagan and Bush I are virtually identical, for example, to those about Bush II.)

2. You have to have Clarity to be Strategic and be a Tough Guy like me, because Strategy (news flash) is about connecting ends and means, and we've already established that they lack Clarity. You have to be much, much, tougher than George W. Bush or whoever it is I'm criticizing today. And no matter what the circumstance, they aren't making War with a capital "W." You see, I'm expert on War with a capital W, because I know my Roman history. Now, let me throw in a few French and Italian words.

3. Therefore, Reagan/Bush I/Bush II/Israel isn't Strategic, isn't a Tough Guy, and isn't making War. (Unlike Charlemagne, De Gaulle, the Romans, and Angelo.) QED.

4. Oh, and by the way, back in the day I was once a staffer for the Senate Intel committee. So I know what I'm talking about. Now go buy my book.

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JL
on July 15, 2014 at 12:04:21 pm

JL:

Kind of funny!

However, let us not lose sight of one credible argument that Codevilla does make;

Israel has "suffered" under the beneficient oversight / prodding of the US State Department which has created, and works diligently to maintain, the fiction that a) Palestine is a credible negotiating partner and b) that Israel will benefit from the same self indulgent fantasy regarding the PLO /Hams / Fatah miscreants.

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gabe
on July 15, 2014 at 12:13:54 pm

JL - your comment is unfounded and malicious. I understand that you have an ax to grind, but how about going some other place with it? If any, Mr. Codevilla's "formula" is to emphasize the principles of statemanship and to illustrate then how they should be applied, by example - usually meaning that he will pinpoint in a situation how these principles were ignored (either through the actions or non-actions of the involved statesmen).

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Mark Dodds
on July 15, 2014 at 13:40:42 pm

Surprised that you did not also point out:

Generally, often narrowly, however presented, the Codavilla "criticisms" (or analyses) have been correct and fact based.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on July 16, 2014 at 22:22:15 pm

Prof. Codevilla did not write that the Reagan administration was "totally OK" with the murder of the marines. He wrote that the US "acquiesced" to the murder, by which he obviously means that it failed to make any meaningful punitive response. A meaningful punitive response would not have required a regime-changing war, but should have been more than a symbolic pin-prick.

What we were trying to accomplish by sending the Marines to Lebanon in 1983 is a good question. In retrospect, the fecklessness, incompetence and mindlessness of US policy in the Middle East dates back to the Reagan administration. In that sense, Obama is following in Reagan's footsteps.

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djf

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.