War, deterrence and capitulating to terror

Israeli military doctrine considers deterrence preferable to war, but the state has not attained the necessary conditions for it to work, and has capitulated to terror instead.

By Mordechai Kedar, INN

Winning a war depends on two main factors. The first is real, tangible and measurable, and is attained by destroying or paralyzing the military capability of the enemy.  The second is virtual, emotional and psychological, and requires convincing the enemy that he has been defeated, so that his only choice is to completely abandon any desire to return to the fight.

The first factor is a necessary condition for the existence of the second, because as long as an enemy has military power and the ability to make use of it, he will not give up the desire to fight.  Once the first factor has been achieved, chances are good that the second, psychological one will follow, but that is not necessarily the case, because even an enemy that has been routed militarily can continue efforts to rebuild its strength and renew hostilities. Peace is possible only after both objectives of the war are achieved: Utter destruction of the enemy’s military power and a complete change in his mental state. The clearest example of this is Germany’s defeat at the end of WWII.

The catch is that in order to achieve peace on the lines of that agreed to by Germany and its neighbors, an out and out war is unavoidable. Significant elements of the enemy’s forces along with a large number of his people, his economy and infrastructure must be damaged extensively.  The world has developed the theory of deterrence in order to avoid this kind of war and the price both sides have to pay for waging it: In order to prevent a war, you do not have to destroy the enemy, his economy and infrastructure, all you need to do is paralyze his desire to employ force against you because of the high price he will have to pay for acting against you. Deterrence provides a de facto peace, with all the benefits it entails, without your investing the effort needed to wage a war and without having to suffer its resulting fatalities.

Deterrence, however, is a mental state, and every psychological state is subject to change when the conditions that brought it about are altered.  The most deleterious effect on deterrence is the other side’s ceasing to be perceived as dangerous and seen as losing power because it has lost the desire to make use of that power. This is a very dangerous situation, because the side that was once subject to deterrence can decide to return to the battlefield and aim its entire weapons arsenal against its no longer fearsome opponent.

Israel’s military outlook has undergone a major change over the years. Until the first Lebanon War in 1982, Israeli doctrine called for destroying the enemy’s forces and eliminating his desire to fight, in order to engage in peace negotiations from a position of such power that the enemy would be forced to accept Israel’s conditions. From that period onward, Israel has changed its mindset and the doctrine of a decisive victory has become a doctrine of deterrence based on the advanced military technology Israel can bring to bear in its operations, along with its ability, desire and intention to use this technology for as long as necessary. Israel’s decision makers do not want to be responsible for soldiers’ funerals and are willing to do anything to avoid war – and that means settling for deterrence.

To Israeli politicians, the peace that prevails between Israel, Egypt and Jordan serves as proof in justifying this approach, because it is generally believed that these two Arab states signed the agreements as a result of a change in their mental state regarding the Jewish state, leading them to believe Israel is too strong for them to destroy on the battlefield. No Israelis  think that this peace continues to exist as a result of any great love the Egyptians and Jordanians have for Israel, but because the two Arab states are afraid of the high price of reneging on it.


Israel’s war against Hamas has the same two components: Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip have a massive and varied arsenal of weapons at their disposal, some manufactured in the world’s best munitions plants. One such weapon is the Russian Kornet, the antitank missile that hit a bus this week, turning it into a smoking ruin and injuring one soldier. Others are of local manufacture and less efficient, sometimes injuring those activating them instead of hitting their targets. The terrorist organizations in Gaza have other kinds of weapons, from attack tunnels to incendiary kites and balloons. It is almost certain that as long as these groups have weapons of any kind, they will want to make use of them and will do so if they have reason to.

Israel’s position on Gaza is actually not different from its position regarding Egypt and Jordan, because the Israeli public believes that deterrence is enough to bring Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza, to agree to the same cold but functional peace Israel has with Egypt and Jordan. Since mid 2007, when Hamas terrorists took over Gaza by force, Israel has been attempting to achieve a level of deterrence that could succeed in attaining that goal. It  has done that by targeted elimination of Hamas leaders (Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Salah Shchada, Ahmed Aljabri, for example), destroying terror tunnels, bombing specific targets, but it has never decided to destroy the movement itself and end its rule over Gaza, in reality accepting its existence and trying to deter  it from attacking Israel.

At first glance, this seems like the right approach, since Hamas has no intentions of leaving Gaza where its civil and military control is strong and deep-rooted enough to have convinced Israel’s top brass and Intelligence services that “there is nothing to do about it,” that “war cannot eliminate terror,” and that “we are not going to go out to fight a war where many of our sons will go to their deaths only to bring the PLO back to Gaza.” The problem is that as soon as an Israeli says that, he encourages Hamas terrorists to believe that Israel is weak and unable to use its power because it has lost the will to use its state of the art weaponry. The feeling that Israel is weak and lacks the desire to use its power is the fuel that keeps the Jihad fires burning and terrorist ideology flourishing in Gaza.

And that is exactly what happened this week: On Tuesday and Wednesday Hamas terrorists launched more than 400 rockets and mortars into Israeli territory. What would the UK have done to anyone who launched 400 rockets at its civilians? How about just one rocket? What would France do to anyhone who dared launch one single rocket at its territory? What would any US president do to Mexico if it dared launch one mortar shell at America? Israel began to act decisively against Hamas targets and Hamas leaders, in order to stop the Israeli war machine that might destroy their accomplishments, decided to stop firing and declare a ceasefire.

Israel was dragged into the current situation and fell right into a trap, letting Hamas become the sole party to decide when war against Israel is to be waged, how serious a war it is to be, and when it is going to end. Do you get it? A terror organization is now dictating to a powerful state the conditions for a ceasefire, and in the midst of this absurd scenario, a cowardly government has to decide what it is to do with Hamas.

Is it any wonder that this government actually agreed that a hostile country like Qatar, a supporter of terror by means of funding and political backing for every Sunni Jihadist movement, can transfer tens of millions of dollars in hard cash to Hamas so as to keep its motors running, pay its personnel and enhance its ability to stand up to Israel and dictate the terms for a ceasefire?

Worst of all is that Qatari money is being transferred at Iran’s behest. Iran’s rulers, under severe economic sanctions at present, do not want peace and tranquility between Israel and Gaza. On the contrary, they want the smoke rising from a war between Israel and Gaza to divert media attention from Iran and  the “deal” which granted the Ayatollahs 150 billion dollars in cash with which to destroy the Middle East. Qatar, a long time supporter of the terror espoused by organizations whose ideology originated in the Muslim Brotherhood, backs Hamas publicly. It has, for the most part, built the infrastructure, including the military one, for a Hamas state in Gaza. Qatar’s media Jihad channel, Al Jazeera, broadcasts 24/7 and serves as Qatar’s propaganda arm against Israel.

The absurd situation in which Israel allows Qatar to fund Hamas terror, capitulating to this terrorist organization’s dictates, will most definitely lead to Israel’s Right having to face the existential question of “to be or not to be.”

Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Op-ed  Editor Rochel Sylvetsky.

November 16, 2018 | Comments »

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