Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz famously determined that “war is merely the continuation of policy by other means.”
On Day 44 of Operation Protective Edge — with Israel striking targets in Gaza, rockets landing in Israel, and the cabinet, yet again, pondering the call-up of reserves and the possibility of a ground invasion — it must be asked: What, then, is Israel’s policy for Gaza and how much war will suffice to advance that policy?
Here are some thoughts on that question, and other aspects of a conflict in which both sides are weary and neither is willing to compromise.
The cabinet seems fundamentally divided between those who wish to crush Hamas militarily; those who wish to create an international mechanism, whether by UN Security Council decree or by regional peace summit, that delivers, after the application of force, the reins to Mahmoud Abbas; and those, particularly at the apex of the political pyramid, who seek the perpetuation of the status quo, strengthening no one, siding with no one, and living, in periodic peace, under the roof of our deterrence.
These acute differences have likely played a role in the uncertain use of force in the Gaza Strip to date.
Ground invasion take 2
If Israel chooses to re-invade Gaza, it will have to act decisively and deceptively. The organization will have to be rocked back on its heels and not struck precisely at the time and in the location it suspects. This, as The Times of Israel mentioned earlier in this campaign, aligns with the [Ariel] Sharon doctrine, which held that the post-1967 stories about Arab armies fleeing in the face of Israel, leaving their boots in the sand, were folly. “If you attack them the way they were trained,” the general and prime minister told his son Gilad on countless occasions, “they will fight to the death.”
Maj. Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan, a former national security adviser, has advocated for a ground invasion from the get-go. On Wednesday he said that Israel has been battling with the “arms of the octopus” – the tunnels, rockets, and anti-tank missiles. “I’d go for the head,” he said in a phone interview. “From the moment we decide on a ground invasion, I’d go for the head.”
The Kryptonite of Hamas
It bears consideration, though, that the Kryptonite of Hamas and other jihadist organizations is not death but peace and prosperity.
Anyone living in Israel during the months after prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s November 1995 assassination remembers the repulsive zeal of Hamas’s suicide attacks – a feverish assault meant to bury the peace process that it and Yigal Amir, among others, helped kill.
Respect for Hezbollah, not for Hamas
The Israeli military has great respect for Hezbollah. While once the organization’s gunmen were known to walk in clumps, avoid helmets, and smoke cigarettes in the dark, today military intelligence officers, briefing reservists before heading up to the Lebanon border, say of Hezbollah camouflage positions that, “I hope you all can make ones like they do.”
It is understood that Hezbollah’s gunmen will fight to the death; that they will try not to leave their own wounded in the field; and that they will launch bold and complex attacks. The same, though, is not true of Hamas.
Israel still considers the Gaza Islamist organization’s gunmen cowardly terrorists. “Hamas had planned to stand and fight, but the Qassam Brigades proved unequal to the task,” Shin Bet commander Yoram Cohen wrote in a Washington Institute for Near East Policy article after 2008-2009’s Operation Cast Lead. “None of the [Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’] ground measures worked, and consequently they failed to match the public image Hamas had tried so hard to present of stalwart, proficient Islamic warriors.”
Cohen and co-author Jeffrey White contrasted Hamas warriors to Hezbollah and the Taliban, and said that, “not all Islamic warriors are larger than life, and in fact the Qassam Brigades in Cast Lead showed themselves to be quite the opposite.” This attitude, it would seem, is becoming increasingly less relevant.
Masks and morality
Philip Zimbardo is a psychologist. He has devoted much of his life to the study of how and why good people commit evil deeds. In 2004, he testified as a witness for the defense in one of the Iraq Abu Ghraib prison trials, arguing that, based on the harrowing Stanford prison study he conducted in 1971, anyone is capable of committing atrocities without proper training. [The prison study had to be called off after six days on account of guard brutality and prisoner trauma.]
Appearance, too, plays an outsized role in one’s willingness to cross moral lines, he said during a 2008 TED talk. “Does it make a difference if warriors go to battle changing their appearance or not?” he asked. “Does it make a difference if they’re anonymous, in how they treat their victims? We know in some cultures, they go to war, they don’t change their appearance. In other cultures, they paint themselves like ‘Lord of the Flies.’ In some, they wear masks.”
An anthropologist, John Watson, studied 23 different cultures, he said, collecting two bits of data: do they change their appearance for battle and do they kill, torture or mutilate their victims. “If they don’t change their appearance,” he said, “only one of eight kills, tortures or mutilates…If they change their appearance, 12 of 13 — that’s 90 percent — kill, torture, mutilate. And that’s the power of anonymity.”
This lecture came to mind while watching the spokesmen of Hamas in their full facial coverage and the similarly outfitted executioners of the Islamic State.
Israel, though, has also begun outfitting Special Forces soldiers with black balaclavas. An army spokesperson could not say whether it was in order to preserve the anonymity of the soldiers or a safety measure or some other rationale. Nor is there a comparison to be made. But the IDF might want to take Zimbardo’s findings into consideration when outfitting its soldiers.