The Thing about Gaza

There’s a reason why this conflict in/around Israel keeps dragging on and on and never gets decided by military force anymore.

You would think that an excellent fighting force like the IDF, one that has had unparalleled continuous experience fighting against terrorists, would have been able to produce outstanding results against terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah. Yet the more we fight, the more they fight back, and we are now faced with a threat (homemade missiles and other light artillery) that can only be stopped by invasion and occupation – walls can no longer reduce the threat – and yet our invasion has only made the threat worse.

It’s an extremely frustrating situation, but actually, it should come as no surprise. In the words of Martin van Creveld (a professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem), referring, a couple of years back, to the USA’s difficulties in Iraq:

“In other words, he who fights against the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force, however rich, however powerful, however advanced, however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat…That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one (Vietnam) did. Namely, with the last U.S. troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids.”1

(emphasis mine)

This is the thing about Gaza. This is why when I see those QassamCount status messages on Facebook, I think they’re kind of ridiculous… It’s not that there’s anything okay or excusable about firing missiles into a sovereign state’s civilian population – what Hamas is doing is abominable and a war crime – but when you compare it to the enormous level of destruction the IDF is causing in its retaliation in the Strip it seems rather pointless to point out Hamas’s offenses. Let me repeat this: what Hamas are doing is awful and demands a response from Israel. But when Israel’s response kills in days far more people than the Hamas could kill in years, it’s rather insignificant that Israel has a justified reason to be fighting, or that Israel doesn’t intentionally kill innocent people. By fighting with full force against an immeasurably weaker enemy, the IDF loses. It becomes a bully. No number of pictures showing Israeli soldiers’ kindness can reverse the effect of the sheer numbers. In weeks, we have killed hundreds and wounded thousands, in retaliation for attacks that over eight years have killed precisely 14 civilians.2

No matter what way you look at it, this is a strategic mistake. You do not engage in a conflict where it is impossible to emerge victorious. If Hamas thought we would not retaliate, it would indeed not engage us in conflict, because the only way we can possibly lose is to engage in combat with a force so weak that any victory against it would be a defeat. It is a paradox, but one we simply have to deal with if we ever want to see an end to the bloodshed.

More: Yossi Gurvitz has an interesting post related to this issue (albeit on a somewhat different note) [Hebrew].

UPDATE January 11

I originally posted this two days ago on Facebook. I’ve since made a couple of small corrections and improvements. The note on Facebook sparked an interesting discussion, and I’d like to add a bit about the importance of international support. Neither Israel nor Gaza can survive without international support. Israel has historically enjoyed such support from very strong allies, support which slips away the more we say “**** you” to the world and follow our own moral standards to the exclusion of all else. And the more Hamas is seen as the victim, the more other states and NGOs will help them – and the more Hamas is helped by others, the harder it will be to defeat them.

International support is so important to both Israel and Gaza because they are otherwise isolated. Israel has the Mediterranean on one side, and Arab countries on all other sides – countries which have all, at times, been at war with Israel. And Gaza has Israel on two sides, and Egypt on the other – and as this war has made evident, Egypt is no friend of Hamas. That Gaza is not self-sufficient is, I hope, sufficiently obvious. But that Israel needs the international community seems to escape the grasp of many Israelis. Israel may be a major arms manufacturer, but it still buys some military equipment from other countries, often at a special price reserved for close allies (as has often been with the United States.) And Israel needs countries to export to (arms as well as many other things) – a commodity that can become scarce if opinions turn radically against it. And Israel also needs tourists, once a major source of income, made less and less frequent by the escalation of conflict since the dawn of the second Intifada. But perhaps more than all these, Israel needs someone watching its back on the international level. The United States’ staunch support of Israel has surely prevented many plots against Israel from seeing the light of day, for fear of retaliation from Uncle Sam.

Is this conflict truly harming Israel’s international support? Well, it could. In Germany, it has always been taboo to speak out critically of Israel, because of the difficult past and the nature of Israeli-Germany diplomatic relations. And yet last night a friend of mine here said that for the first time, he’s seen the German media portray Israel as the bad guy in this conflict. Germany has still sided with Israel, officially, but a shift against Israel in public opinion is not a good thing, and those who say “who cares what the world thinks” might want to reconsider just how much they don’t care.


  1. van Creveld quote taken from John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog. []
  2. Figure taken from ITIC report, via The figure refers to civilian casualties preceding Operation Cast Lead. []