A possibly systematic flaw in Israeli defense strategy

One of the constants in Israeli history is that Israel wins wars but loses in the post-war diplomatic front, so Israel doesn’t succeed in converting its war victories into everlasting peace with its neighbors.

Why is this so? Is it because the Israeli leaders are so preoccupied with the daily tasks of managing Israel, that they have no time to plan ahead? Is it because no one thought about the future?

About the value of planning ahead, Eliot A. Cohen wrote that two great war statesmen planned ahead and defined what are their war goals. They knew what kind of peace they want to have. One of them (Abraham Lincoln) achieved it, and the other’s (Winston Churchill) opinions stood the test of time.

Two other war statesmen won wars but did not win everlasting peace. One of them was David Ben-Gurion, who failed to define what he wants to accomplish in the 1948 War of Independence, and toward what kind of peace to strive. One of the consequences is that Israel did not have peace with any of its neighbors until the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

This pattern, of fighting and winning but without planning ahead the kind of desirable victory, continued in the Arab-Israeli wars since 1948, in spite of journalists having spent lots of ink writing about it and heavily criticizing the leaders for this shortcoming. The only exception, of which I am aware, is the 1982 Lebanon War (now known as the First Lebanon War), whose goals were defined. However, this exception proves the rule, because those goals were not consistently pursued due to political pressure from various leaders and other reasons.

Now I suspect that the consistent failure to define war goals was not an oversight by overwhelmed Israeli leaders, but part of a systematic problem. To define war goals and to get most of the Israelis to agree with them, one needs first to define what kind of Israel one wants and get this vision accepted by the overwhelming majority of the Israelis. If we want to emphasize territory annexion, we need one set of war goals. If we want to emphasize human rights, we need another set of war goals.

The systematic problem is that Israelis cannot agree what kind of Israel they want. There is a conflict between the secular (who want a state of the Jews) and the religious (who want a Jewish state). There is also a conflict between the Settlers (who want to annex as much land as the world will let them) and the Leftists, who care about the human rights of Palestinians living in land currently controlled by Israel.

A consequence of the internal conflicts is that it is impossible for any Israeli leader to define, articulate and consistently pursue any coherent set of war goals. At least if he does not want to commit political suicide (Ariel Sharon at 1982, anyone?) or reap lots of poisonous criticism from people who don’t agree with his vision of Israel and the war goals to be pursued.

Author: Omer Zak

I am deaf since birth. I played with big computers which eat punched cards and spew out printouts since age 12. Ever since they became available, I work and play with desktop size computers which eat keyboard keypresses and spew out display pixels. Among other things, I developed software which helped the deaf in Israel use the telephone network, by means of home computers equipped with modems. Several years later, I developed Hebrew localizations for some cellular phones, which helped the deaf in Israel utilize the cellular phone networks. I am interested in entrepreneurship, Science Fiction and making the world more accessible to people with disabilities.

3 thoughts on “A possibly systematic flaw in Israeli defense strategy”

  1. Backnitpicking: thanks for the spellchecking. I have fixed the Web page in question.

    Leadership issues:

    First of all, leaders are not the first to articulate what needs to be done. The people themselves talk about their problems and discuss what needs to be done. After those discussions, some people take upon themselves to get the needed changes implemented – and they are the leaders.

    If people do not know what needs to be improved, from where do prospective leaders get the goals to whose attainment, they’ll lead the people?

    Second, don’t confuse between politicians and leaders. Ben Gurion was a true leader. Ariel Sharon, too – for example, in the saga of pullout from Gaza Strip.

    Controversy always follows true leaders – because they change the world and some people are inevitably hurt from those changes. Ben Gurion was sharply criticized due to the Altalena affair and due to dismembering of the PALMACH – but today we see the wisdom of his judgment in the country bordering us from the north (not to mention the falling of the Second Temple, which followed a civil war in Jerusalem).

    Where are the sharp controversies following Ehud Barak and the other politicians?

  2. Omer,

    First of all there is a typo in your spammer warning page – receipient – should be recipient.

    Now that we have the nit-picking done with we can move on to more substantive issues.

    Do I agree?

    Not necessarily.

    Ben Gurion, I believe had goals for Israel and the War of Independence was a necessary step to achieve the goal of “Medinat Hayehudim”. To this extent, I am certain that the the 48 war, even though forced on Israel was a success by all measures.

    I know it is fashionable the past 2-3 years to talk about not starting a war or a police action without knowing how you are going to get out or what you will do the next day “after”.

    I agree with you that we have a systemic problem. but I disagree that it is a problem of Israelis agreeing on what kind of country they want.

    Before we can attain national consensus – we need to have leaders who can define what they want for the country.

    Israel putting it simply, needs leaders with values. Sharon was a leader but his values were arguable. Olmert is not a leader and his values are corrupt and corrupting. Livni has neither leadership nor values at all. Her only qualifications for the job are that she has kept her nose clean in 7 offices, but being a woman and PC cannot cut it when the world economy is on fire.

    We need better and the only way we will get better leadership is by demanding it.

    Best regards,

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