At the beginning of the current cycle of violence between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, I took part in an email discussion where one participant expressed abject puzzlement over Israel’s strategy. What could Israel possibly hope to accomplish, given the most likely set of outcomes? I responded, and one other conversation participant encouraged me to publish my response. I did not deem my comment especially noteworthy, but the credibility and knowledge of the one encouraging me to make it public prompts me to quote it, by request:
I have a good friend who is a dual Israeli-American citizen with family in Haifa, or they were, until most got out this past week.He feels vaguely, not quite viscerally that Israel had to defend itself somehow, yet is nagged by the sense that Israel is making matters far worse. The sense I get is that the position you describe is reflexive, not actually reflective or even strategic. When I mentioned to him that the strategy Israel is pursuing has served to eliminate any group that could possibly be a negotiating partner lo these last decades, leaving none but the more extreme, he ruefully agreed.
Based on one anecdotal conversation with one who is a very close friend, my thought is your question looks for strategic logic where there really has been little or none. The trauma of the Holocaust and other long history in the collective Israeli memory made aggressive, violent defense or preemptive defense axiomatic, largely unquestionable. Now we see the fruits of these choices, over and over and over (which is not to say the fruits were not visible far earlier).
The other night, while offering some light hearted Marx Brothers fare, I made some observations about what I’ll now call Post Traumatic Foriegn Policy Syndrome (PTFPS), and we are as afflicted by it as Israel is. Karl Rove has famously accused the American left of wanting to take the country into therapy after 9/11, and in so doing has cowed many from making the argument that a bit of self-reflection and sober strategic assessment are necessary given the changing face of modern war.
The simple fact is, superpowers are in some ways obsolete: using a powerful state military against an entrenched and locally popular guerilla force is the best way to destroy said military. Having a powerful military is, in this context, a liability, because having it tempts you to use it, thereby furthering the ends of your guerilla or terrorist attackers. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah know this. It’s about time we, and Israel, figured this out.
Sun Tzu recognized that when you are fighting on unfavorable ground and outnumbered, the best thing to do is retreat and shore up your alliances. This simply represents strategic good sense. Fighting wars of occupation against poor people whose populations largely support guerillas means fighting on just such unfavorable ground. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, the best strategic choice is not to take the bait, but to stand firm within your borders, look to your defenses and shore up your alliances.
I consider it a mark of loyalty, a mark of patriotism, to point this out to my own country when we are grinding our own military into the dust, or perhaps I should say, into the sand. I consider it the act of a friend to help my friend avoid making the same mistake. I’m an American progressive, and just as I consider it imperative to criticize the acts and choices of my own country at times, so too do I see it as an act of friendship to do the same for a state like Israel.
George Bush and the Republicans lack the sense or the will to do this, and so they are not friends of Israel. Bush and the Republicans lunge from international calamity to military catastrophe, leaving naught but carnage in their wake, destroying our alliances and our fighting forces all at once. We on the left value human life and the survival of free people, and so we are willing to say to Israel, stand down, for your own survival. Shore up your alliances; look to your defenses. Israel cannot win the population war in the region and is only acting so as to solidify the strength of its enemies into the next few generations, risking the viability of the state of Israel through the current century.
Republicans are not friends of Israel. On the contrary, we progressives are friends of Israel.