Why Israel Won’t Win Its Next War

recent piece by veteran and award-winning Israeli military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai on the Hebrew language version of Ynet provides us with fascinating insight into the current situation facing Israel's military.  The logic behind Ben Yishai's opinions are rather stunning given Israel's current situation with its neighbours in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon.

Here are some quotes from a translated version of the article entitled "Why do we not win the next war?" which opens with the observation that "Israel will not be defeated in the next war, but it will not win":

"Whether it is a battle in Gaza, the Third Lebanon War or the First Lebanon War (or Lebanon), or a possible combination between them, we are destined to end it without a clear decision, with a sense of sourness, when the enemy emerges from the rubble, shaking the dust.

We will achieve a deterrence that will last a few years, and the end of hostilities agreed upon by international mediators will be reasonable for us, but the absence of a clear military and conscious victory in the battlefield erodes deterrence, and consequently shortens the lull until the next major military confrontation."

The author goes on to discuss the meeting held by Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi in which the concept of a military "victory" was discussed and what the IDF needs to achieve in the next war so that there will be a clear definition of who is the "winner" and who is the "loser".  

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The author then discusses the concept of the military and victory that developed in Israeli society after the Yom Kippur War in October 1973.  In that war, the author observes that Israel was subject to heavy losses because of the arrogance of the IDF's Intelligence Directorate, the lack of preparedness of the IDF forces and poor management of the campaign.  Yet, despite these negative aspects of the Yom Kippur War, in the minds of the Israeli public, the battle became a "crushing physical and mental victory" and the leadership of both Jordan and Egypt concluded that Israel was there to stay and that they could not be defeated using a conventional military campaign.

Ben Yishai observes that the Yom Kippur War has resulted in two phenomena in Israeli society:

1.) A weakening of Israeli's concerns about the continued existence of their state which has resulted in the state's security apparatus being regarded as less of a "holy cow".

2.) An increase in Israeli's concerns about casualties among its soldiers and a hysteria over the issues of the IDF members that are POWs and MIAs.

The author believes that these two phenomena have created processes in Israeli society that harm the nation's national resilience and are sabotaging Israel's ability to "win wars and deter our enemies".  He states that the disproportionate level of sensitivity regarding Israeli POWs and MIAs has ad two negative effects:

1.) It has undermined the willingness of the nation's decision makers to take risks when they have to make decisions regarding the approval of military operations.

2.) It has created a situation where military commanders are forced to protect the lives of the military personnel under their command in preference to carry out a winning mission.

According to the author, in the Second Lebanon War, military operations were carried out with a "lack of professionalism and understanding by the statesmen as well as the military" which resulted in a situation where the evacuation of the IDF's casualties took precedence over carrying out military operations and that the conclusion of the battle was less than conclusive, an issue that was worsened by the fact that the definitions of the war were both vague and unclear.  Here is another quote which explains this conundrum:

"It is possible to explain the inability and desire of the Israeli public to accept the loss and loss of life of the soldiers in the loss of faith in the political leaders and in the criticism that the media constantly and unjustly depicts IDF commanders at all levels, indirectly causing the commanders, To confront bereaved families who accuse them of losing loved ones.

Most of the bereaved families understand that the commander shares the grief and suffering as much as the loss, but recently the phenomenon of families escalating the grief and rage into a stubborn vengeful pursuit aimed at hurting the commander or the commanders who sent him in good faith to a mission from which he has not returned."

Ben Yishai states that this new reality in Israeli civil society has resulted in a situation where Israelis are "slowly but surely destroying the ability, initiative and creativity of field commanders", a reality that will make it increasingly difficult to win the next war(s).  He also notes that the societal need to return all POWs, MIAs and bodies of soldiers at any cost has created a situation that has motivated Israel's enemies to continue to kidnap IDF personnel and Israeli civilians which strengthens their position in the eyes of their own people.

Let's close this posting with a final quote from the article:

"The appearance of weakness undermines Israel's deterrence and gives strategic hope to our enemies that in the long run they will be able to erase Israel from the map of the Middle East as a sovereign entity.

The radical Shiite axis, the Palestinian terrorist organizations, and the Salafi-Jihadist Sunni Islam – all understood that they could not destroy Israel with one or two violent military moves, and therefore they went on to wage a war of strategic attrition against us. Therefore, any violent round or war whose results are inconclusive in favour of Israel is seen as another nail in the closet of the Zionist entity…

To defeat once and for all this strategy of attrition and the motivation that motivates it, Israel must win militarily and cognitively in each of the warring conflicts that will come. Any major violent confrontation in the future must end in an unequivocal Israeli physical and conscious victory, until our enemies despair of the prospect of annihilating us even by attrition."

It is interesting to see that, despite its extremely powerful and well-equipped military, Israel has a significant vulnerability to its enemies.  This viewpoint is particularly pertinent given the status of Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq after the military interventions by the United States and its coalition partners and the fact that the final results of the military actions over more than a decade in two cases have been far from conclusive, largely because conventional and modern military forces like those of Israel and the United States are ill-equipped to fight unconventional wars with enemy forces that can inflict significant casualties, casualties that are poorly received by the civilian populations of most Western nations.  Additionally, as Ron Ben Yishai so profoundly noted, in our new reality, any war that has inconclusive results is viewed as a win by the "other side".

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