Monday, January 19, 2009

Israel vs. Hamas: Who Won?

Much has been said and written about Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). This refers to asymmetric armed conflict between state and non state actors.

In earlier "conventional" wars between armies, the outcome of combat was determined by surrender, occupation of enemy territory, cease-fires and end of conflict treaties. There were also clear distinctions between civilians and combatants. The Geneva Conventions, which defined international laws of war, were written in the context of this form of warfare. The major Western powers and Russia are the undisputed rulers in the world of conventional wars.

From the Vietnam War and onwards, this type of warfare has evolved into something new, 4GW. This term was coined by William Lind in 1989. Battles and victory are no longer defined by casualties, territory, or sovereignty. There are no clear lines between war and peace, or between civilians and combatants. Rather, we have an ongoing "struggle" or "resistance", whose mere existence is seen by its supporters as victory. Winning is defined in terms of perception, psychology, and on "moral" or ideological grounds. Civilians on both sides are considered by the non-state actor to be "soldiers": On their own side, to be sacrificed for political gains, and on their enemy's side, as legitimate targets whose strategic value is to demoralize the enemy.

In 4GW, the non state actor's strategy and goal is to demoralize and sap the resolve of the state, so that it gives up on the struggle as being "unwinable" or too costly. It does not aim to actually defeat the army of the state in the conventional sense.

In the case of Israel, the Hamas-Iran-Hizbullah axis seeks to continually erode Israel's self confidence, support abroad, and unity of its own people. This presumably would lead to further weakening of Israel's resolve to pursue its national interests. In the end game, Hamas sees that Israel will dissolve from within, through emigration, and social and economic collapse, thus forcing it to evolve into a bi-national Palestinian State, with the Palestinians rapidly overwhelming the Jews. Their model for this "internal rot" is the USSR and Apartheid South Africa (although they did not disappear because of guerilla warfare).

It is clear that in 4GW, from the terrorist non-state actors point of view, short of total annihilation, they can never "lose". If they exist, they win. They live on to hope and continue to struggle.

Their problem is that not all Palestinians share Hamas' point of view in this regard. Hamas' political leaders can continue to celebrate "victory" from within their holes in the ground, but what is the average Israeli or Palestinian to think?

I think that a very simple test is to ask the following question: Of you were an alien landing on earth and had to choose whether to be a Palestinian or an Israeli, what would you choose? A Palestinian, whose land was just ravaged by a foreign army killing thousands of people, while the "fighters" hid underground, to occasionally surface to fire off an ineffective rocket and then go into hiding again? Whose economy is essentially non-existent while the rulers of the land are considers pariahs by most of the world? Whose "fighters" failed to defend its civilians? Or an Israeli, whose economy is modern and thriving, who suffers occasional light civilian casualties from terrorism, and whose army is among the best in the world?

To me the answer is pretty clear. I know that many Palestinians and Hamas supporters do not think like that, but there is nothing we can do about that. Furthermore I think that the difference in perception about this war, incomparison to the Lebanon War, is gaping.

Therefore, any claims of "victory" by Hamas leaders in hiding will sound hollow to most Palestinians. Israelis, on the other hand, love to debate and argue, and particularly like to blame themselves for things not being perfect. Nonetheless, Israel has gained the upper hand for the time being. What the future will bring, only God knows.

1 comment:

Shalmo said...

Hamas Victory, The loss of demilitarization By Yuval Steinitz:

Once the smoke subsides in the south, we will have to come to our senses and ask: What happened to us? How did Hamas acquire the capability to disrupt daily life in one-third of the country by forcing a million Israelis into bomb shelters, and what is the significance of that? The "territories for peace" school of thinking, which evolved in Israel after the Six-Day War, emphasized the principle of demilitarizing the areas that would be handed over, rendering them devoid of an army and weapons. The insistence on demilitarization stemmed from Israel's small size and from the fact that its defense is based on calling up the reserves in times of emergency.

The demilitarization of Gaza and the West Bank is particularly essential due to their proximity to our population centers, air force bases and strategic installations. The concept of maintaining the demilitarization of the Palestinian Authority has long been based on a number of safeguards: agreements between us and the Palestinians; the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which include an obligation to foil attempts to smuggle weapons from their territories; and a deterrent capability - that is, the Israel Defense Forces' ability to take control of territories in a military campaign.

And yet, these safeguards collapsed like a house of cards. The agreements with the Palestinians fell apart when Hamas, which does not recognize the accords, forcibly took control of Gaza. Egypt's obligation to prevent smuggling has been revealed to be meaningless since even before the disengagement, and even more so since Israel and Egypt signed the wretched agreement known as "The Philadelphi Corridor Agreement" in 2005. Since then, the smuggling has grown exponentially. The Katyushas now being lobbed at the south came through this smuggling conduit, as did the mortar shells, antitank missiles and rifles used by Hamas. Israeli deterrence has also collapsed. As long as quiet was maintained, Israel refrained from responding militarily to the buildup of the arsenal of rockets in the Gaza Strip.
The entire essence of the "tahadiyeh [cease-fire] agreement" which Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are so proud of, is "quiet in exchange for rockets." This was how Hamas interpreted the agreement from its inception. And this was how Olmert interpreted it upon its expiration, when the lull was exploited and Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be'er Sheva were brought within rocket range.

Israel ultimately embarked on an offensive in Gaza, not because of the accumulation of rockets, but because they were fired. Thus, the message being conveyed to the other side is that as long as quiet is maintained, the concept of demilitarization can be violated and a stockpile of artillery can be accumulated. The collapse of demilitarization is liable to be repeated much more acutely in the coming years in both Gaza and the West Bank if Israel withdraws from the latter. In such an instance, Israel will turn into a state that ceases to defend itself because artillery and anti-aircraft threats near its major population centers and key military infrastructure will harm its ability to function in the event of a full-fledged war.

Even the ability of forces in adjacent territories to disrupt daily life in the center of the country, as is currently being seen in the south, is enough to constitute a prolonged threat to the economy and the country's very survival. Claiming that Syria and Iran can launch a missile to anywhere in Israel, and that this negates the need for demilitarization in the West Bank and Gaza, is an insult to the intelligence. It is as if there is no difference between the shooting of a few missiles from afar and continuous artillery fire from close range.

The unpleasant conclusion with respect to Gaza is that Israel must reassume control over the Philadelphi route since it has been made clear that only the IDF's physical presence can halt weapons smuggling. The conclusion regarding the West Bank is that continuing the diplomatic process in its present form is liable to lead to the establishment of an armed Palestinian state within a few years. Whoever ignores the breakdown of the demilitarization of Gaza and continues to adhere to the "territories in exchange for peace" formula is likely to find himself gambling on the state's very existence.

The writer is a Likud Knesset member and former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.