The ongoing failure of Israel’s military thinking

Yagil Levy writes: Israel assassinated its subcontractor, the one who took care of its security in the Gaza Strip, Aluf Benn says in a Haaretz article (November 14 ) about the killing of Hamas’ military chief, Ahmed Jabari. Indeed. Israel has done it again. Its history is fraught with the overuse of military force that has weakened the sovereignty of political entities with which it could have crystallized the rules of the game to improve its security. And the more these entities were weakened, the more Israel escalated its hits and weakened them still further.

In the same way, during its first years of statehood Israel weakened the regimes in Egypt and Jordan, which had tried to seal their borders against the penetration of infiltrators. Israel was not satisfied with this and hit them hard with retaliatory raids. The regimes did not collapse: Egypt sought an alliance with the Soviet Union, which merely weakened Israel’s security; Jordan was saved by the pressure the West brought to bear on Israel. Had these regimes been weakened even further, the borders with them would have been even less secure.

In the 1970s, similar reasoning led Israel to strengthen its reactions to hostile acts on the part of Palestinian organizations from Lebanon. Thus it contributed to the weakening of Lebanese sovereignty and later to its disintegration and the formation of a Palestinian ministate in southern Lebanon. And when this ministate grew stronger and was successfully holding back activities against Israel, the latter attacked it without any pretext, during the first Lebanon war in 1982. Once again, a political and military vacuum was created which drew Israel into a bloody war of attrition.

After Israel’s gradual withdrawals, a ministate led by Hezbollah was formed in southern Lebanon, which stuck to the rules of the game and maintained quiet on the northern border between 2000-2006. But Israel also wished to destroy this entity without reason, and without sufficient pretext, in the Second Lebanon War. Fortunately, military weakness prevented a diplomatic failure that would have been created had this entity indeed disintegrated and southern Lebanon turned into a no-man’s-land.

The same process took place in areas overseen by the Palestinian Authority. The gradual escalation in Israel’s reaction to the events of the second intifada led to the collapse of the PA which, between 1996 and 2000, had effectively thwarted terror against Israel – to a large extent thanks to Israel’s contribution toward strengthening it. After its collapse, terror grew stronger and it was only the rebuilding, however limited, of the PA in the West Bank that contributed to restraining it from 2005.

The weakening of the PA contributed to the growth of the Hamas ministate in the Gaza Strip. But just as it created the infrastructure that made it possible to restrain the other armed organizations in Gaza – and to ensure relative quiet in the south – Israel once again took steps to weaken it through actions that eroded Hamas’ sovereignty (for example, the security strip inside Gaza ), to say nothing of the economic blockade. And now the assassination of Jabari, the most effective military leader in Gaza, will merely weaken the sovereignty of Hamas and strengthen its rivals.

When military thinking is paramount, diplomatic possibilities are pushed to the sidelines – such as the assumption that sometimes it is worthwhile working toward bolstering the sovereignty of the rival. Because the stronger its military and political infrastructure becomes, so its responsibility to the population under its control increases its interest in tranquillity. The rival translates this tranquillity into activities for the good of its citizens, which in turn strengthen its legitimacy and thus also its ability to impose authority on the armed organizations.

The bolstering of the sovereignty is achieved in different ways, including military forbearance. Ignoring this logic leads to military action, which does not take into account the fact that the overuse of force will lead to the opposite result from the one hoped for. That is what is happening now.

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