Tactics and Strategy in Gaza

Very nearly since the beginning of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas that flared up two weeks ago and are ongoing critics have been saying that, not unlike the Israel-Hezbollah War in 2006, Israel was fighting towards a tactical victory and a strategic loss in Gaza. In a short piece for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the knowledgeable Anthony Cordesman made precisely that point a couple of days ago:

It is also far from clear that the tactical gains are worth the political and strategic cost to Israel. At least to date, the reporting from within Gaza indicates that each new Israeli air strike or advance on the ground has increased popular support for Hamas and anger against Israel in Gaza. The same is true in the West Bank and the Islamic world. Iran and Hezbollah are capitalizing on the conflict. Anti-American demonstrations over the fighting have taken place in areas as “remote” as Kabul. Even friends of Israel like Turkey see the war as unjust. The Egyptian government comes under greater pressure with every casualty. The US is seen as having done virtually nothing, focusing only on the threat from Hamas, and the President elect is getting as much blame as the President who still serves.

As I said above, the piece is short and worthwhile. I recommend you read it in full.

A few days ago James touched on much the same point and was answered by a hail of insults which, intellectually, amounted to “Oh, yeah?”

If you believe strongly that Israel is achieving a strategic victory in Gaza, I’d ask two things of you. First, remember that both the Israelis and the Palestinians plan to be in that neighborhood for a long time. Second, produce evidence for your claims. For example, if you think the solution is for Egypt to re-assert control over Gaza, please present evidence that Egypt is willing to do so. So far I’ve seen nothing to suggest that Egypt is willing to do that.

It may well be that Israel has no choice either politically or tactically but to respond as they have and I completely agree that it was Israel’s right to respond in self-defense to the rocket and mortar attacks that have bedevilled them increasingly since Hamas took control of Gaza. That they had no choice is not synonymous with the hostilities advancing Israel’s strategic objectives.

The picture above is of a statue of Pyrrhus of Epirus.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. caj says:

    Israel’s actions will only encourage more and more Palestinian people and other’s to take more aggressive action toward them, Israel does not take criticism well from any quarter.
    No one flounts the international law better than Israel, it’s like they think the law does not apply to them!!! We cannot have laws put in place for whoever it may be and then just tossed side like it does not matter or apply to them.

  2. Dennnis Neylon says:

    Oh my, the Palestinians, who hate Israel and seek it’s destruction are mad at Israel. Does any one think the Israelis give a rat’s patootie what people who seek their destruction think of them? So, since the Israelis are concerned about protecting their own citizens from terrorist attacks from a group that thinks another Holocaust would be a good idea, all the liberals and do-gooders have their shorts in a knot over a country that actually stands up for itself and defends itself. Gee, I wonder why the French don’t like that, what with their proud military heritage of the last under years or so (0-4). And of course, since Israel actually demands people to take a stand that might hurt someone’s feelings, this bothers the hell out of those who stand for nothing. If the Arab world cares so much about the Palestinians, why have they let them spend the last 60 years in refugee camps, rather than welcoming them with open arms into their own countries? Could it be that their using the Palestinians as proxies to fight a battle they’ve perpetually lost? Let’s call it what it is — Israel is attacking a terrorist kleptocracy hell bent on Israel’s destruction — and the rest of the world says “Oh stop it! Can’t we all just get along?” Ain’t you glad these people weren’t charge 70 years ago when Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito and Stalin were planning to divvy up the world amongst themselves?

  3. As I assume that I am one of the people you were referring to, let me just say that I don’t accept your or Anthony Cordesman’s assumptions. It is too early to know whether or not Israel will acheive a tactical or a strategic victory. What is clear IMHO is that pulling back to appease the international community will do nothing but acheive a strategic, if not also a tactical, defeat.

    The Palestinians in Gaza are no more innocent victims now than the population of Germany or Japan at the end of WW II. As I recall, Hamas was freely elected — not in spite of, but because of the hate and genocide they espoused towards Israel. Israel has tried over and over again to live with its neighbors, but its neighbors refuse to do so. The international community is worse than worthless in trying to mediate any ahem, final solution. What is going on now is the equivalent of a 2×4 across the head to try and knock some sense into the population. Too many Palestinians still seem to want a battle to the death. They should be careful that they don’t get what they wish for. I cannot recall who said it, but there was an Israeli who said something to the effect that the wars would go on until the Palestinians loved their children as much as the Israelis.

    We’re still waiting.

  4. Also, I am still waiting for an answer on exactly what James expects Israel to do besides continue to accept a war of attrition that they can only lose.

    I’m not saying I agree or support everything Israel does, but I sure as heck understand they’re unwillingness to do nothing or to depend on the international community for anything.

  5. mike says:

    Charles – quit being a little bitch – in the new world of modern societies, if your neighbor hates you and wants nothing more than to see that you no longer exist and that your children and grandchildren all die in the most awful way, then you just have to accept this so that liberal bloggers understand that lobbing rockets is the way to peace – my god, the alternative is to piss off the UN and western society.

  6. caj says:

    I cannot recall who said it, but there was an Israeli who said something to the effect that the wars would go on until the Palestinians loved their children as much as the Israelis.

    We’re still waiting.

    Posted by charles austin

    He must have been some kind of jerk as well, what an absolutely ridiculous statement to make as if Israel have the only authority on parental love!!
    If you believe that then I feel sorry for you, no one nation and that includes Israel love their children anymore than any other nation….such a stupid, stupid statement!!!!

  7. John Burgess says:

    Charles booted the quote. It appears in two forms:

    ‘… until Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israel’

    or

    ‘… until Palestinians love their children more than they love death’

    Both of those make sense.

  8. caj says:

    Both of those make sense.

    Posted by John Burgess

    How do you work that out…still making it sound like only Israel love their children no matter which dumb way you put it.
    How about reversing it to sound like Israel need’s to love their children more than death and more than they hate Palestine.
    Doesn’t sound so nice put in those terms though does it because it puts Israel in a bad light?

  9. MichaelB says:

    During operation Defensive Shield, similar things were said. It was said that there was little chance of either a tactical victory or strategic victory. Nonetheless, the result of that operation and other measures was an almost complete end to the capacity of Palestinian terrorists to use suicide bombings as a weapon against Israel.

    To the extent that they have been replaced with rocket attacks, this is a massive strategic improvement from Israel’s perspective. Suicide bombings were far more effective.

    The analysis that says there is no possibility of a strategic or tactical victory is in every substantial way the same analysis as was used to describe events during Defensive Shield. It was massively incorrect at that time.

    Thus, to “show my work” similar operations have yielded substantial strategic gains in the past. They have forced the terrorists to resort to less effective means. The mere fact that they have also been unsuccessful (the more recent attack on Lebanon)shows merely that it only sometimes effective, instead of invariably. Whether this operation will be successful depends on the details, on which I don’t have a strong opinion.

    It is however difficult to square the “doomed to failure” view that many seem to have with actual observed events of the last few years.

    Finally, based on the volume of rocket fire from Lebanon at Israel over the past two years, it is not entirely convincing to say that Israel did not substantially reduce the threat from that direction as well.

  10. My apologies. Thank you for the correction Mr Burgess. The rest still stands with the amended quote.

    caj, your passion is evident from your four exclamation marks. Devastating punctuation, just devastating.

  11. caj says:

    caj, your passion is evident from your four exclamation marks. Devastating punctuation, just devastating.

    Posted by charles austin

    My passion for this subject overides any punctaction marks that seem devastating to you.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    I notice relative silence from the West Bank. Surely that’s evidence of strategic significance.

    Surely destroying weapons caches, rocket designers, smuggling tunnels and elements of the leadership is of strategic significance as well.

    Long term? I don’t know about the love part, but does Hamas want to spend all of its energies over the next several years to regain its homemade rocket program?

  13. Michael says:

    How do you work that out…still making it sound like only Israel love their children no matter which dumb way you put it.

    The parents of Israeli soldiers aren’t sending their children to war with the hope that they die. The parents of Palestinian suicide bombers do. That is the context of the quote, that those parents would rather their children die in order to prevent an Israeli from living.

    Now lately there has been significantly less suicide bombings in Israel, so the quote is less apt. But even still, Palestinians are the only ones that want to continue violence because they hope to gain something from it. Israel, on the other hand, has little left to gain (hence the reason this won’t be a strategic victory).

    I notice relative silence from the West Bank. Surely that’s evidence of strategic significance.

    Fatah is not likely to come to Hamas’ rescue.

    Surely destroying weapons caches, rocket designers, smuggling tunnels and elements of the leadership is of strategic significance as well.

    No, that’s tactical.

  14. davod says:

    “To the extent that they have been replaced with rocket attacks, this is a massive strategic improvement from Israel’s perspective. Suicide bombings were far more effective.”

    This is not from lack of trying. It is my understanding that the Israelis catch them before the can do any damage. The wall is credited with stopping a large proportion of the suicide bombing attempts.

    “The parents of Israeli soldiers aren’t sending their children to war with the hope that they die. The parents of Palestinian suicide bombers do.”

    Do not forget the economic incentive in sending a son or daughter to be a suicide bomber. Just because Saddam is no longer paying $25,000 per bomber does not mean someone else has not taken up the task.

    WRT to rocket fire from Lebanon. An indication of the true impact on Hezbolah of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon might be the speed with which Hezbolah denied it was the group who recently fired rockets into Israel from Lebanon.

  15. Michael says:

    WRT to rocket fire from Lebanon. An indication of the true impact on Hezbolah of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon might be the speed with which Hezbolah denied it was the group who recently fired rockets into Israel from Lebanon.

    That could be explain equally well by suggesting that Hezbollah is unwilling to risk it’s newfound position for the sake of Hamas.

  16. tom p says:

    But even still, Palestinians are the only ones that want to continue violence because they hope to gain something from it. Israel, on the other hand, has little left to gain (hence the reason this won’t be a strategic victory).

    Let me get this straight: Palestinians want to continue the violence because they “hope” to gain something from it… (maybe “hope” is all they have left?) but Israel has very little to gain from violence… So they engage in it for it’s own sake?

    Michael, I know you, you can do better than that.

  17. tom p says:

    This is not from lack of trying. It is my understanding that the Israelis catch them before the can do any damage. The wall is credited with stopping a large proportion of the suicide bombing attempts.

    Kinda like the wall thrown up around the Warsaw ghetto?
    “Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”

  18. Michael says:

    Let me get this straight: Palestinians want to continue the violence because they “hope” to gain something from it… (maybe “hope” is all they have left?) but Israel has very little to gain from violence… So they engage in it for it’s own sake?

    Essentially yes, except that I don’t believe that Israel wants the violence to continue.

    The issue is that Israel currently has enough of what it wants to make it not worth fighting for more, so they prefer peace. The Palestinians do not have enough of what they want to make peace worthwhile to them, so they prefer violence. And so the situation will remain until either what they have, or what they hope to have, changes.

  19. davod says:

    “Kinda like the wall thrown up around the Warsaw ghetto?”

    Ceuta border fence, Berm of Western Sahara, United Arab Emirates-Oman barrier, United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus, Uzbek-Afghanistan barrier, Uzbek-Tajikistan border minefields, Indo-Burma barrier, Iran-Pakistan barrier, Kazakh-Uzbekistan barrier, Korean Demilitarized Zone, Kuwait-Iraq barrier, Malaysia-Thailand border, Turkmen-Uzbekistan barrier, Line of Control, US —Mexico border, EU Endorses New Border Security Rules, Russian-Estonia border, China-North Korea border, etc.

  20. Norman Rogers says:

    Dave wrote:

    if you think the solution is for Egypt to re-assert control over Gaza, please present evidence that Egypt is willing to do so.

    Well, let’s turn this right-side-out:

    1) Is the best possible solution, the no-state solution — with Egypt and Jordan re-assuming sovereignty over some parts of the territories they lost to Israel?

    2) Can it be achieved?

    It is manifest that there cannot be a stable “Palestine” — as currently envisioned by the “quartet” and others. If any peoples have shown themselves incapable of self-government, these guys belong on posters. And, since Israel won’t volunarily commit suicide, we need to find some adults to put in charge.

    Dave wants some evidence of Egypt’s “willingness” to take on these murderers. That’s easy. If Egypt is “willing” to continue accepting some $3 BILLION in annual aid, it is self evident that this amounts to considerable suasion. The US of A can simply make continued aid contingent on Egypt assuming sovereignty over Gaza (and keeping the peace!).

    Evidence enough for you Dave?