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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shackled to the peace process... or free to wage war

Asymmetric warfare is defined as "two or more actors or groups whose relative military power differs significantly".   This definition is often expanded to describe "a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other's characteristic weaknesses". [source]

I think that almost everyone would agree that the current hostilities between Israel and its assorted non-state antagonists (e.g. Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, PFLP, etc.) are textbook cases of asymmetrical warfare.  So why is it that the Israeli government is so shackled to the 'peace process' that they are unable (or unwilling) to make decisions appropriate to a country at war? 

For some reason the Olmert government seems intent on clinging to the irrational self-delusion that ongoing attacks against Israel are not part of a war - asymmetrical or otherwise - but rather isolated anomalies that must viewed simply as stumbling blocks on the way to peace.

Going back to the definition of asymmetrical warfare, it should be noted that it isn't just about size.  It is also very much about "exploiting characteristic weaknesses".  In this respect the asymmetry is most pronounced since these various non-state actors seem to have zeroed in on Israel's most glaring characteristic weakness; that we are so consumed with garnering the approval and sympathy of the U.S. and Europe that we refuse to 'lower ourselves' to the standards and norms of our attackers.

Being at war requires adopting a cold-blooded mindset... a willingness to dehumanize and destroy the enemy... an overriding imperative to defend the home-front at all costs... and most importantly, an unwavering desire to win!

The Israeli government has lowered its expectations to such an extent that the smallest glance or gesture from our enemies is mistaken for a peace overture.  They didn't know we were at war in the summer of 2006 even as they sent our armed forces into an aimless stroll around Southern Lebanon (only officially calling it a war months after the ceasefire)... and they certainly don't know it now.

What we have is a leadership that is in complete denial.  They are so deeply entrenched in a quagmire of imposed negotiation time-tables that they are unable to acknowledge that Israel is in a shooting war with enemies who respect no conventions of organized warfare and issue no restrictive rules of engagement to their combatants.

Not one of the non-state actors I named above is a signatory to any of the Geneva Conventions.  Not one has agreed to the conventions protecting civilian populations in a war zone.  Not one has agreed to any internationally accepted norms of how prisoners must be treated or where and how combatants may conduct operations.

This, in a nutshell, is why asymmetrical warfare is so irresistibly easy for the 'Davids' to wage, and such an impossible thing for the 'Goliaths' to defend against.   When one side in a conflict is held to conventional standards of behavior and the other is allowed to carry out unrestricted warfare, the result is as terrible as it is inevitable.

It may surprise you to know that I have no problem with the world ignoring countless regional conflicts (and even genocide) while continuing to view Israel's actions under a microscope.  I don't mind it because it is time that Israel became the scientific test case for finally cutting the Gordian knot of asymmetrical warfare. 

Here's what I propose:

Rather than negotiating 'final status agreements', borders, or the so-called right of return we should, for the time being, take 'peace negotiations' off the table. 

Once the seductive distraction of peace is out of the way we must begin by sending negotiating teams to meet with each of the groups who are currently in an active state of belligerence against us.  Each Israeli team should bring unsigned copies of the Geneva Convention, all current agreements on prisoner treatment and protection of medical vehicles/facilities and the inviolate nature of civilian populations. 

In addition, the Israeli negotiating teams should bring pictures and diagrams clearly showing all current IDF uniforms and insignias.  They should provide photos of military and civilian ambulances as well as maps showing the location of vital humanitarian infrastructure facilities that provide water and electricity to civilians and hospitals.

Once all of these documents are spread out on the conference table, the Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, PFLP, (et al) representatives will be invited to sign each and every convention, agreeing to treat POWs humanely and to allow Red Cross access to all prisoners... to outfit combatants in recognized uniforms and insignia... to exclude civilians from attacks... to refrain from placing military infrastructure in or near civilian centers... and to insure that humanitarian facilities remain outside the scope of hostilities.

If they balk at agreeing to any of these most basic terms of warfare, our negotiating teams should be instructed to gather up their papers, photos and drawings and to leave behind only Israel's unambiguous declaration of our intent to carry out unrestricted warfare until an unconditional surrender agreement is duly signed.

Let the international community go ahead and wring their hands and gnash their teeth at this rude departure from chivalry.  Sooner or later they will have to come to terms with the fact that Israel's current war is the test run for the wars they will each have to fight in the years to come.  They will need to finally understand that when no quarter is offered by an enemy, none can be given in return. 

Simply put, we must prove beyond even the smallest doubt that it is entirely within our power to deprive these vicious insurgencies the unfair advantage they've enjoyed from the asymmetrical warfare model.  To do this, we must demonstrate in word and deed that the heavy shackles of humane / civilized behavior must either be worn by all parties in a conflict... or by none.         

Posted by David Bogner on February 28, 2008 | Permalink


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The only flaw in your argument is that you assume it would be a big deal for them to sign a copy of the Geneva Convention and then not immediately ignore it.

I’m discussing on my blog today the recent statements by our Peace Partner President Mahmoud Abbas.

Specifically his statement, “At this present juncture, I am opposed to the armed struggle because we can't succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different.”

Posted by: JoeSettler | Feb 28, 2008 1:27:32 PM

Did you see this article Abbas: Armed 'resistance' not ruled out?

This exposes Abu Mazen's true face. I posted about this as well Abbas reveals his true face

Posted by: Marty Bluke | Feb 28, 2008 1:39:52 PM

Hi Trep,

It seems that you hit on the real problem in the first few grafs, but then tried to cure the symptom rather than the disease.

Without actual leadership, the best of plans (and yours isn't bad) have no chance.

Also, it's not just Olmert (though he's certainly the worst at it at the moment). Do you really think Bibi would tell the US to f*** off if it needed to be done? I don't.

We need actual leadership, and I don't see it out there at the moment.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Feb 28, 2008 1:52:37 PM

We get the leaders we deserve - recent experience bears out this statement of our sages.

While I don't think most Israelis are as "weak" and "tired" as Olmert put it in his infamous speech - many of them are:

1) Distracted by the blandishments of material prosperity, and/or:

2) Deeply conflicted about their Jewish/Israeli identity, and less able to justify vigorous self-defense because of it.

It's telling that the political divide parallels the religious one - people with a stronger connection to their Jewishness (to state it in the most "pareve" way) are better able to justify the existence of the state of Israel, and a vigorous self-defense.

Those whose national identity - and link to this land - begin with modern Zionism and UN resolutions are less able to articulate a reason to choose "us" - even now that our Peace/piece partners have made it clear that it's still an "us or them" conflict.

Posted by: Ben-David | Feb 28, 2008 2:40:18 PM

Hey Bogner; we'll have an opening for Sec. of State over here pretty soon -- want me to put your name in the pool?

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Feb 28, 2008 4:28:14 PM

Your solution is elegant. And wrong.
Not because it is cruel or unfair, but because it misses the point of the Geneva Conventions.
The reason why countries adhere to the Geneva Conventions is because it ensures mutual protection of captives. i.e. if an American soldier is held captive in another signator's POW camp, we americans know he will be safe because the other signator is counting on our keeping their soldiers safe.
The terrorist groups, by their ample and frequent use of the Suicide bomber, have already demonstrated that they don't care what happens to their own soldiers, much less ours. So we haave nothing to hold over their heads.
That is why the Peres-Rabin approach of incremental steps has a kind of logic to it. We can't beat them, because they don't care if they all die. Civilian casualties are only important to them insofar as they provide leverage with the Western world against Israel. So the thinking behind Peres and Rabin was based on a hope that since they can't be intimidated, perhaps they could respond to incentives.
It didn't work not because it was fundamentally wrong, but because the PA especially under Arafat acted like a kleptocracy and did not receive the oversight necessary from it's benefactors, who had their own political reasons for perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Feb 28, 2008 7:27:00 PM

Your plan makes more sense to me than anything I've seen or heard so far. Your links to articles about the history of the area in the past week were the most insightful look into the Arab mindset (in their own words) that I have ever read.

Posted by: David Bailey | Feb 28, 2008 7:38:05 PM

Other than the issue noted above by Jordan Hirsch, I can find nothing to quibble with in this post - and wish that it were put into practise.
I'll be posting excerpts on my own blog with a clickable link to this post sometime today.


By the way, that Wall Street Journal article you reffed the other day was sent to me earlier - it is a good article, and I never would've thought to look for it in the Journal. But of course, we read it and sit up; those who should read it, don't.

The article you pointed to on Yaelli's site ('The Arabs of Palestine') was also a winner. I've saved it to file. Thanks.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Feb 28, 2008 11:24:45 PM

Brilliant. And, sadly, necessary.

The point of placing the Geneva Conventions on the table is not so much that we expect our enemies to sign them (they have already shown a certain willingness to sign, and then ignore, pieces of paper); it's that it gives them a chance to either (1) declare openly that they are outside the boundaries of civilized human behavior (something they have already done repeatedly by their targeting civilians and by the use of suicide bombers), or (2) giving Israel another bit of moral ammunition when they (the terrorists) sign the Conventions and then go ahead and violate them anyway.

But moral ammunition alone won't cut it. Israel - and the US - will need to use real bullets and bombs, and stop only when the threat to its existence is neutralized. Each rocket flying over the Gaza border needs to be met by a thousand flying in the other direction...until Hamas no longer exists.

Posted by: Elisson | Feb 28, 2008 11:49:57 PM

I was called a chickenhawk and a warmonger for saying that it has come time to flatten Gaza. As Sherman said

“War is cruelty. There's no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”


“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace.”

Posted by: Jack | Feb 29, 2008 2:50:14 AM

Sounds odd to put rules on a war, as though it were some kind of a game. Three cheers for the home team, is it? The fact is, war serves to cause so much anguish to the enemies, that they are overwhelmed by it and must surrender. That is the only goal of a real war. What do people think, that bullets are flying and bombs are dropping so we can score more points? As hard as it sounds, the purpose of war is suffering, that it may be used to convince the other side to change its mind when nothing else will.

Posted by: Mark Patterson | Feb 29, 2008 7:47:26 AM


I am a sucker for any quoting of Sherman, who was along with Grant, Forrest, Longstreet, and Thomas, probably the first of the modern American Generals.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Feb 29, 2008 5:49:58 PM

How about, for every missile that flies out of Gaza, international aid - including humanitarian - gets reduced by $10 million?

I know, hard to get international agreement to such a thing, but I can dream.

Posted by: Lisa | Feb 29, 2008 5:53:49 PM


The flaw in your logic is here:

"Let the international community go ahead and wring their hands and gnash their
teeth at this rude departure from chivalry. Sooner or later they will have to
come to terms with the fact that Israel's current war is the test run for the
wars they will each have to fight in the years to come."


The international community believes this asymmetric war, and ONLY this
asymmetric war, is just. The international community believes it is just
because it is being fought against the Jews. When the leaders of the
international community in the UK and France and Germany and Russia
etc. claim that the Shoah "will never happen again" what they really
mean, and truly believe, is that next time not a single, solitary
Jew will remain alive.

The international community exemplified by the United Nations believes
with 100% sincerity that Jews are "life unworthy of life". Which is
why the explicity support not only terror against all Jews but a war
of extermination against all Jews.

The international community says that all states have a right to
defend themselves. But Israel is not considered a state by the
international community, it is considered a cancerous growth
which must be destroyed.

Which is why when the the President of Iran makes his statements
the vast majority of world leaders are totally silent. They and
their citizens agree completely.

Sorry Trep but those are the facts, as unpalatable as you may
find them. The other fact is that if it were not for the
Christian Zionists in the United States, and elsewhere in
the world, tiny Israel and all of it's Jews would have been
murdered years ago.

Am Yisroel Chai!

Posted by: anon | Feb 29, 2008 7:06:57 PM

David -- THIS is why I love your rants even more than your slice of life pieces, and wish you would enter politics (though I wouldn't really wish that on you). I find no flaw in your logic -- not like you think they'll actually sign, or if they did, would obey the rules. And not like you don't know the international community and the media would still be down Israel's throat -- but it would make clear to Israelis, at least, and to the few places in the world that do care, that the other side publically rejects (and denounces) the Western conventions of war, and plays by their own primitive rules -- and now so will Israel.

Posted by: Pam | Mar 1, 2008 7:09:29 AM


Sherman has some wonderful commentary.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 3, 2008 5:13:54 AM

JoeSettler... No, but I'd like to have a little ass-cover when I slaughter someone in cold blood. :-)

Marty Bluke... I try not to pay too much attention to what that Holocaust-denying piece of crap says.

dfb1968... actually, I think Bibi's stint as treasury minister gave him a pretty good insight into how important it is to wean ourselves off the US tit.

Ben-David... Just as an aside, don't dismiss the secular right. They are a big block of here-to-for under-represented voters who will decide the next election. Trust me.

Wry Mouth... That job is a purely ceremonial position. There are generations of entrenched Arabists calling the shots at State and that isn't going to change in our lifetime no matter who is at the helm.

jordan Hirsch... Having served in the military I am well aware of the reason behind the Geneva Conventions. What you missed is my rationale for forcing our enemies to either sign or give tacit agreement to set aside all rules of war. We have no current expectation that our enemies will adhere to conventions of humane behavior in war. But up until now we have remained shacked to these conventions. Only by drawing this issue into the public eye (where it can't be ignored) can Israel gain the freedom of action it requires to finally win.

David Bailey... When bloggers begin to make sense it is usually either an accident or a sign that they are cribbing from reliable primary sources. :-)

Back of the Hill ... Don't thank me... I'm a giver. :-)

Elisson... No problem. Bullets and bombs we have (in spades). What we seem to lack is the courage of our convictions.

Jack... actually I think they called you 'chickenhawk' because of your height. :-)

Mark Patterson... From what I've read, much of the force behind putting rules to war is to make it easier to raise an army. Few people would agree to participate in a conflict to the death without any hope of quarter being given to those who are captured or surrender.

Lisa... The western conscience won't allow itself to consider such math.

anon... While I don't agree with you, on principle I don't respond to anonymous commenters.

Pam... Very nice of you to say. But even I can't stand myself after a few days of this crap. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 3, 2008 12:13:16 PM

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