Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel retains the upper hand

Zalman Shoval

There is no consolation for what happened, but explanations and conclusions, such as the army will raise in its debriefing, must be had. We and the nation of Israel suffered a serious blow, but the basic facts haven't changed -- we set out on a battle against Hamas not on a whim and not because of some politician's irresponsible rhetorical device, to wit, "patriotism," but because the ongoing threat on residents of southern Israel had to stop. This was clearly a no-choice war.
Another thing that hasn't changed: As Operation Protective Edge edges past its second week, Israel has definitely retained the upper hand and is steadily achieving each and every goal it laid out beforehand, namely, maximally reducing Hamas and other terrorist groups' terrorist and offensive capabilities in the Gaza Strip and securing calm for southern Israel. This war won't mark decisive battlefield victories such as in the Six-Day War or Yom Kippur War, and that isn't because either the Israel Defense Forces' might has been reduced or the enemy's bolstered (the opposite is true), but because the nature of war has changed.

NATO is now talking about "hybrid wars." According to this doctrine, the wars of the future will be a composite of armies confronting armies, the terrorist activities of relatively small yet destructive groups, special operations by forces on the other side, cyber warfare and the sophisticated use of media through social networks.
Civilian populations had already become a significant strategic factor during World War II, for all belligerents. But in the wars of today and tomorrow, fought against entire populations, employing the aerial terror of missiles, drones and the like, making a showcase of your population's victims -- unlike during previous wars, when belligerents tended to cover up victims and enemy-inflicted damage -- whole populations have become increasingly part and parcel of war strategy. The Protective Edge War (perhaps it is more appropriate to call it a war than an operation) is indeed a "hybrid" conflict, and an enervated Hamas is doing the best it can, especially through the international media, to use its weakness and reshape the situation on the ground from defeat to victory.
Even without Carl von Clausewitz -- one of the forefathers of modern warfare -- saying that "war is a mere continuation of politics by other means," clearly what we've seen in Gaza is not just a localized battle, but a cog in the greater war machine that a segment of the Arab world -- perhaps most of it -- has been operating against the very existence of the State of Israel and its deterrent efforts. At the same time, the war is also a chapter in the free world's ongoing struggle against the Islamist current that seeks its destruction.
Israel's public diplomacy efforts, especially those of the Prime Minister's Office and the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, have been unquestionably more effective during this operation than during previous wars, but there is still room for improvement. Care must be taken not only for those whose presence in the media is advantageous, but also for those who'd be better shut up. Not everything must be said on TV or radio.
Unlike the Second Lebanon War and actually all the wars of the last few decades save the Six-Day War, not only has Operation Protective Edge shown full coordination between the political and military departments, but the political steps taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet -- including unilaterally accepting both Egypt and the U.N.'s cease-fire proposals -- have powerfully ensured crucial international support among Western nations and a portion of the Arab world, at least as far as the current juncture. Erdogan, the evil clown of Ankara, has of course continued to unmask his dark side at every possible opportunity.
Hamas' breaching the International Red Cross humanitarian cease-fire in Shujaiyya after Israel acceded to a cry for help from Hamas -- which caused most of our casualties -- was another story, and clearly we've reached an end to such gestures.

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