Thursday, January 22, 2009

Defeat In Gaza

    Do they look deterred?

There was an interesting story that showed up on the Interwebs yesterday from an apparently reliable Israeli news site.  Unfortunately, I can't find the link to include for reference.  The story said that at least some Israeli commanders were forbidden to leave the country for Europe without permission from the IDF legal office.  The military is afraid that bench warrants are forthcoming in several EU states for war crimes.  The story suggested that Israel can easily outmaneuver any UN indictments and that it was unlikely charges would be brought via the International Court in The Hague.  However, authorities were worried that it would be relatively easy for their opponents to convince courts in countries like Spain, Germany and the UK to open investigations and issue arrest warrants for specific individuals.  There was evident frustration that European countries regard war crimes committed anywhere as within their jurisdiction.  I was amazed at both the substance of the story and the candor of the IDF.

This, to me, is a major development and makes it clear that the IDF at least is acknowledging they crossed a line in the Gaza operation that had not been crossed before.  Even if they regard the consequences as enemy action rather than deserved, the recognition of a changed situation is there.  Israel did cross a line in Gaza.  The obvious, blatant and apparently careless commission of war crimes is a new thing.  Past crimes, like the aggressive invasion of Lebanon in 2006 were more theoretical, or at least arguable.   Besides, the IDF lost decisively.  They were humiliated by Hezbollah.  That seemed punishment enough to many.

Its worth recalling the Israeli objectives in 2006.  They aimed to turn the populace against Hezbollah by destroying the country's infrastructure.   But the populace did not blame Hezbollah for the damage, they blamed Israel.  The "bomb them into opponents" strategy was a total failure.  The next objective was to break Hezbollah militarily by clearing them entirely from the area south of the Litani river.  This was also a total failure.  The IDF only made it to the Litani on the last day of the war, and that was essentially a helicopter raid to say they'd been there.  Otherwise, Hezbollah wiped the floor with the IDF.  Their tactics, weapons, training and preparation were off the scale of Israeli expectations.  In particular, they built a vast, hidden network of bunkers and tunnels that were unknown to Israeli intelligence.  The result was a total defeat for Israel and humiliation for the Army.

Two and a half years later, Israel tried exactly the same strategy against Hamas in Gaza.  While Hamas is no Hezbollah and proved completely hapless, the strategy that failed in Lebanon failed again in Gaza.  The populace does not blame Hamas for all the misery, but Israel.  Hamas is not only still in existence, they have actually strengthened their hold on Gaza.  All they needed to do was survive, and that they did.  As a result of these two wars, Israel is much worse off strategically, diplomatically and politically.  Not only are they weaker, but their allies like Egypt and Fatah are weakened as well.  The tunnels Israel boasted they would destroy are still in business.  The pathetic rockets are still being fired.  The Israeli generals toasting a great military success and the restoration of the military's power of deterrence look like morons.  But that's not the worst part.  The worst part is that Israel crossed a line and world public opinion has turned massively against them for the first time.  War crimes prosecutions now look inevitable.  Again, the Army are fingered as the weak link.  Virtually all the accusations are based on actions by the Army, not the Air Force.  It appears, for example, that all of the white phosphorus was fired by artillery units, and a majority by one (reserve) unit.  I suspect it may emerge that many, if not most, of the documented attacks on civilians were committed by a few units.  There were clearly some in the Army that wanted revenge against someone for the Lebanon debacle.  They entered the operation with a vindictive and undisciplined attitude.  The IDF used to be the best army in the world.  Not anymore.  They have changed from a tremendous national asset to a tremendous national liability.  That's what defeat looks like.

For the sake of balance, its important to note that Hamas has been thuggish and brutal.  Their propaganda is nasty, self-serving and effective.  It may be true to a greater or lesser degree, but it is propaganda and the intention is not to reveal truth, but to exploit it.  The widely circulated comparisons between the IDF and the SS are particularly offensive.