Israel and Hamas

Gordo writes about how Israel is already planning to sabotage the truce in Lebanon, by effectively insisting that the international peace force come from European countries rather than neutral Muslim ones such as Malaysia and Bangladesh. So far so good. But then he explains that Israel created Hamas in 1978 in order to discredit the secular PLO and is still deliberately radicalizing the region.

Of that, the only part that is true is that Israel did in fact encourage an Islamist movement in the 1970s as a way of undermining public support of the PLO. By the time Ahmed Yassin founded Hamas and started committing terrorist attacks, he was independent of Mossad.

Furthermore, it would take a particularly stupid hawk to want the Palestinians to elect Hamas as a way of delegitimizing the Palestinian government and continuing the occupation. A movement elected democratically will invariably moderate: consider FDR, Attlee, Reagan, Lula, Sharon, and arguably Gandhi/Singh. Since its election, Hamas has changed its focus from terrorism to attacks on the IDF, and many Hamas leaders have publicly called for recognition of Israel. If only Nixon could go to China, then only Hamas can recognize Israel without there being a noisy right-wing flank that allows Likudniks to keep pretending that most Palestinians want to kill all Jews.

Gordo’s classic leftist assumption, namely that nationalist governments are being deliberately provocative, is rarely true. In the case of the I/P conflict, it was only true in a few dubious cases of assassination, which Israel has never felt are covered by ceasefire or truce agreements.

Usually, it’s more a case of sheer stupidity caused by bounded rationality. If I were a right-winger trying to mastermind war, I’d do something far more provocative than raid Lebanon: I’d likely bomb civilian targets and then claim it was a mistake. It would inflame the people more than raids and let me off the hook for bombing civilians throughout the conflict when I could raid.

While Israel’s government is not an official military junta, it can’t be distinguished from one in its foreign policy. One of the characteristic pathologies of juntas is that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Although Olmert himself doesn’t come from within the military establishment, he was never supposed to be Prime Minister in the first place, so all he can do is imitate his ex-General predecessor.

Unfortunately, juntas only fall when they lose a military campaign spectacularly, as in Falkland Islands. Israel won’t, not because it can win – the current conflict has just shown it can’t – but because unlike the average junta, it’s so dependent on global and especially American public opinions that it needs to pretend it doesn’t indiscriminately kills civilians. While killing fewer civilians is generally good, in Israel it allows the right to advance a stab-in-the-back myth, with the UN replacing the social democrats.

12 Responses to Israel and Hamas

  1. SLC says:

    Your statement that Israel can’t win is seriously in error. The IDF failed to win an overwhelming victory because of the indecisiveness and uncertainty of the Olmert government. This has been pointed out by a number of former American officers, especially Colonel Ralph Peters and also by columnist Charles Krauthammer. Olmert has proven himself to be even more incompetent then James Earl Carter, a tough task indeed. In fact, the failure of the IDF to win a quick decision over a rag tag opposition will probably lead to an all out war with Syria in the not too distant future as Assad is already making noises about what he presumes to be the weakness of the IDF. In addition, the incompetence of the Olmerts/Peretz duo also squandered the initial tacit support of the Sunni Moslems in the Arab world who devoutly desire that Hizbollah be crushed.

    There were three strategies that could have led to such a total victory.

    1. The strategy proposed by Colonel Peters in which a large ground force would have invaded early on. As Colonel Peters states it, the butchers bill must be paid sooner or later; sooner leads to a smaller bill.

    2. The Inchon strategy, proposed by the IDF high command, in which naval vessels would land a force just South of the Litani river, which would then deploy acrosss the communication lines of the Hizbollah fighters to the South. This strategy was enormously successful in the Korean war, where a force was landed at Inchon, in turning a looming defeat for the UN forces trapped in the Pusan peninsula into a rout of the North Korean forces whose communication lines were cut by the Inchon invasion.

    3. The “Curtis Lemay” strategy, whereby the part of Lebanon South of the Litani would be turned into a parking lot. This was proposed for North Vietnam in the Vietnam war by General Lemay, the retired commander of the US Strategic Air Command.

    As I am sure that Mr. Levy can guess, I would have favored # 3.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Hezbollah was anything but ragtag; most of the IDF’s problems since 1973 have come from arrogantly assuming that Arab militarties are weak. Man-to-man, Hezbollah is better than the IDF. There appears to be rough parity between Hezbollah and the IDF’s best units.

    None of the three strategies you suggest could have worked, even if you ignore the fact that there would be at a minimum thousands of civilian casualties. The Peters strategy would end up pitting regular troops against elite troops; even if the IDF could in principle win at the end, in practice the thousands of dead troops would have forced an early withdrawal. Early on, Hezbollah showed the ability to inflict serious casualties even on elite units; the IDF only got decent at this later on, but if it had waited until then to formulate a strategy and know what and where to hit, there would have been no war in the first place.

    The Inchon strategy worked because MacArthur was fighting a regular army, and even then it was a very risky move because it involved splitting forces. Furthermore, the North Korean army had advanced very quickly, overextending its own communication lines; as Hitler’s Barbarossa campaign and MacArthur’s own counteroffensive into North Korea show, this is a bad thing in general.

    Finally, the Curtis Lemay strategy would just not work at killing members of Hezbollah; you can’t kill a fly with a cannon. On the other hand, the thousands if not myriads of dead civilians would prompt the US, which basically pays Israel’s bills, to tell it to stop, since even Bush is not that blatant.

  3. SLC says:

    The need for steadfastness
    By Col. Ralph Peters August 2, 2006

    As I have been writing in The New York Post during this crisis, Israel cannot afford to show weakness — but the Olmert government has been tragically weak. In warfare, those unwilling to pay the butcher’s bill up front pay it with compound interest in the end.

    I have despaired of the Olmert government’s fecklessness and incompetence (in military matters), and it has been shocking to watch Hezbollah mislead Israeli intelligence (culminating in the artful set-up in Qana, which lured the Israel Defense Forces into creating a photogenic “atrocity” stage-managed by Hezbollah).

    At present, since Olmert belatedly approved the broader use of ground troops, there is some reason for hope; however, this is the last quarter of the game, and ISRAEL must display ruthlessness and uncompromising seriousness on the battlefield.

    Thus far, Hezbollah has been winning both the information/propaganda war and the “shooting war”. Having delayed the commitment of ground troops, the cost of their commitment will be higher now, since Hezbollah is convinced that it is winning and has its adrenaline flowing. Still, a determined IDF — that is not called off prematurely — can cripple this atrocious terrorist organization.

    The Bush administration is furious at Israel. Bush has been doing his best to buy time for Israel to finish the job — while the international community of Israel-haters cry for a cease-fire that would hand Hezbollah victory. Bush insiders are frustrated because of Olmert’s weak prosecution of the war. They wanted Israel to go in and finish the job — time is of the essence in war in the media age.

    Bush has been steadfast in his support of ISRAEL during this crisis. The problem is that ISRAEL has not been steadfast to itself.

    Nor does the United States trust U.N. peacekeepers. We know they favor Hezbollah. And, personally, I suspect that the strike on the U.N. outpost was conducted by the I.D.F. on purpose — for good reason, because the U.N. observers were passing intelligence to Hezbollah.

    Perhaps I’m wrong about that — it is only my analysis — but certainly the U.N. has coddled and helped Hezbollah.

    I do not have confidence in the current Israeli chief of defense staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz — an air force officer who fell in love with technology. He forgot that, in this new day of Cain-and-Abel violence, warfare remains a matter of flesh and blood.

  4. SLC says:

    Israel’s Lost Moment

    By Charles Krauthammer
    Friday, August 4, 2006; A17

    Israel’s war with Hezbollah is a war to secure its northern border, to defeat a terrorist militia bent on Israel’s destruction, to restore Israeli deterrence in the age of the missile. But even more is at stake. Israel’s leaders do not seem to understand how ruinous a military failure in Lebanon would be to its relationship with America, Israel’s most vital lifeline.

    For decades there has been a debate in the United States over Israel’s strategic value. At critical moments in the past, Israel has indeed shown its value. In 1970 Israeli military moves against Syria saved King Hussein and the moderate pro-American Hashemite monarchy of Jordan. In 1982 American-made Israeli fighters engaged the Syrian air force, shooting down 86 MiGs in one week without a single loss, revealing a shocking Soviet technological backwardness that dealt a major blow to Soviet prestige abroad and self-confidence among its elites at home (including Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev).

    But that was decades ago. The question, as always, is: What have you done for me lately? There is fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America’s war on terrorism.

    America’s green light for Israel to defend itself is seen as a favor to Israel. But that is a tendentious, misleadingly partial analysis. The green light — indeed, the encouragement — is also an act of clear self-interest. America wants, America needs, a decisive Hezbollah defeat.

    Unlike many of the other terrorist groups in the Middle East, Hezbollah is a serious enemy of the United States. In 1983 it massacred 241 American servicemen. Except for al-Qaeda, it has killed more Americans than any other terror organization.

    More important, it is today the leading edge of an aggressive, nuclear-hungry Iran. Hezbollah is a wholly owned Iranian subsidiary. Its mission is to extend the Islamic Revolution’s influence into Lebanon and Palestine, destabilize any Arab-Israeli peace, and advance an Islamist Shiite ascendancy, led and controlled by Iran, throughout the Levant.

    America finds itself at war with radical Islam, a two-churched monster: Sunni al-Qaeda is now being challenged by Shiite Iran for primacy in its epic confrontation with the infidel West. With al-Qaeda in decline, Iran is on the march. It is intervening through proxies throughout the Arab world — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq — to subvert modernizing, Western-oriented Arab governments and bring these territories under Iranian hegemony. Its nuclear ambitions would secure these advances and give it an overwhelming preponderance of power over the Arabs and an absolute deterrent against serious counteractions by the United States, Israel or any other rival.

    The moderate pro-Western Arabs understand this very clearly. Which is why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan immediately came out against Hezbollah and privately urged the United States to let Israel take down that organization. They know that Hezbollah is fighting Iran’s proxy war not only against Israel but also against them and, more generally, against the United States and the West.

    Hence Israel’s rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for its great American patron. The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically. Iran would lose its foothold in Lebanon. It would lose its major means to destabilize and inject itself into the heart of the Middle East. It would be shown to have vastly overreached in trying to establish itself as the regional superpower.

    The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later. He has allowed his war cabinet meetings to become fully public through the kind of leaks no serious wartime leadership would ever countenance. Divisive cabinet debates are broadcast to the world, as was Olmert’s own complaint that “I’m tired. I didn’t sleep at all last night” (Haaretz, July 28). Hardly the stuff to instill Churchillian confidence.

    His search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but America’s confidence in Israel as well. That confidence — and the relationship it reinforces — is as important to Israel’s survival as its own army. The tremulous Olmert seems not to have a clue.

  5. SLC says:

    1. Your statement concerning the splitting of forces by MacArthur fails to take into consideration the fact that the Pusan peninsula was too small to even support the existing forces that were there, let alone add additional forces. Therefore, the Inchon landing was the only way to engage a larger force.

    2. Your statement concerning the comparative fighiting capabilities of the Hizbollah forces vs the IDF fails to take into consideration the vast advangtage in firepower enjoyed by the IDF. Unfortunately, this firepower was poorly applied due to the incompetence of the clowns back in Jerusalem.

    3. You are probably right that the parking lot approach would not have been supported by the US becaues of the collateral damage. However, especially if low yield tactical nuclear munitions were employed, it would have completely annihilated the Hizbollah forces South of the Litani.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    1. I’m not criticizing MacArthur’s strategy. I generally don’t criticize things that work, unless I have strong evidence that they only worked by chance. I’m criticizing the applicability of the same strategy to Lebanon.

    2. The IDF does have superior firepower, but it’s based on, as you say, airplanes and technology. The guerilla tactics of Hezbollah when fighting within Lebanon minimize that advantage.

    3. Low-yield tactical nuclear weapons wouldn’t have done anything to Hezbollah. Israel doesn’t have the warheads for full coverage, which would probably kill a few hundred operatives along with the hundreds of thousands of civilians in the region. Without good intelligence, all of this is worthless; with good intelligence, Israel wouldn’t need more than 200 elite troops to take out key members of Hezbollah.

  7. SLC says:

    1. There was a commentary by Edward Luttwak in the Jerusalam Post, which is unfortunately no longer available, which disputes the notion that Hizbollah inflicted inordinate casulities on the IDF.

    2. Mr. Levy makes a good point concerning the IDFs’ proposed Inchon strategy, although for the wrong reason. The most serious objection to the proposal is that the IDF had no experience in conducting such amphibious operations, in contrast to the US military which had extensive experience in WW 2 (e. g. North Africa, Sicily,
    Normandy, Okinawa, Iwo Juma, etc.). However, considering the alternatives, I think it might have been worth the risks as placing a substantial force in the enemys’ rear in a supprise attack has always proven effective in the past.

    3. By low yield, it is meant ~1 Kt, which is far more powerful then any conventional bomb, even the MOAB. Contrary to Mr. Levys’ assertion, it is known that the IDF has developed a large number of such bombs for the simple reason that Hiroshima sized bombs or larger would have limited use in the compact Middle East areas. The size of Israels’ nuclear arsenal is somewhat in dispute with the DIA estimating 82 devices, Vanunu claiming 200 and John Steinbach claiming 600. The strategy for their use would be below ground implosions, with a delay mechanism to allow the bomb to penetrate the ground before detonation. This would have minimized radioactive fallout and collateral damage but would have destroyed tunnels and underground shelters used by Hizbollah forces far more effectively then conventional munitions.

  8. gordo says:


    Just to be clear, I didn’t say that Israel created Hamas. I said that Israel tacitly supported Hamas, which I think is supported by the evidence. Sharon did so fairly blatantly, attacking PLO targets in response to Hamas attacks, and handing over Hamas-dominated Gaza while holding PLO leader Arafat under house arrest.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza has plenty of explanations other than deliberately trying to tacitly support Hamas. Sharon didn’t want to withdraw from any area, but had to as a way of deflecting attention from the corruption scandals involving him and his son. So he picked Gaza, which would on the one hand seem like a big change, since in the public’s mind Gaza is one half of Palestine, and on the other would only require removing a few thousand settlers, compared with a few hundred thousand in the West Bank.

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