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Netanyahu is ill-equipped for war and peace

January 5, 2024 at 1:43 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a Cabinet meeting at the Kirya, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv on December 17, 2023 [MENAHEM KAHANA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

After World War II, liberation movements often resorted to asymmetric warfare. This approach was chosen for its strategic benefits. It allowed the weaker side to challenge and, sometimes, defeat much stronger foes through customised tactics and psychological warfare.

Lessons from history

Imperialist powers were confronted with asymmetric warfare, with many failing to deal with it effectively. The French engagement in Algeria, notably depicted in Gillo Pontecorvo’s classic, “The Battle of Algiers” (1965), exemplifies the intense urban conflict between French forces and Algerian nationalists. The French military resorted to severe measures, including state-sanctioned terrorism and widespread punitive actions against civilians, to defeat the Algerian Movement. Although the French forces temporarily prevailed in Algiers in 1957, neutralising the nationalist leadership, the rebellion escalated across the country. Eventually, the French withdrew, losing their colonial hold on Algeria.

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The US faced a significant insurgency during the Vietnam War, where they exerted overwhelming military power against the Vietnamese populace. The US military’s advanced conventional arsenal proved insufficient in the face of a non-industrialised nation. The Vietnamese Resistance employed various strategies to effectively weaken American determination. Military analysts, including Colonel Paul E. Vallely and Major Michael A. Aquino, have posited that the US was not defeated militarily but was bested in psychological warfare, as North Vietnam and its allies managed to undermine the American will to achieve victory.

Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza

Fast forward to the present, and Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza, the Israelis are on the path of the French in Algeria and the US in Vietnam. Although the Israeli army has been applying massive and indiscriminate force against civilians, killing more than 20,000 Palestinians, wounding more than 50,000 and smashing much of Gaza to smithereens, it has achieved none of its stated military objectives. Whilst the Israeli military censorship maintains a tight grip on information about losses, Israeli casualties are in the thousands. For example, on 17 December, the Times of Israel assessed the number of injured Israeli armed forces to be 6,125.

After 84 days of applying massive firepower against a small resistance force cornered in a small strip of land, subjected to a suffocating blockade since 2006, and which has no air support nor anti-aerial rockets, the Israeli army could not achieve any meaningful military objectives. While the Israeli army continues to receive overwhelming Western support and shipments of all kinds of ordnance, the Jewish state is contemplating its first military defeat since 1948.

A key explanation for this military blunder is hubris. The Israeli decision-makers made a series of assumptions based on blind rage and arrogance. Instead of bringing some political concessions to the table, they came, all guns blazing, assuming this war to be a cakewalk, as revealed in their maximalist objectives.

However, the Israeli Dahiya doctrine, which consists of applying massive punitive force aimed at disrupting the Palestinian societal fabric to undermine the will of the Resistance to fight, has failed miserably. The Gazan Resistance mounts daring attacks daily, inflicting not only substantial damage on elite Israeli troops, but also materialising Henry Kissinger’s maxim: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if it does not lose.”

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The Gazan Resistance has also proven media savvy, publicising its operations via social media and Arabic broadcasting channels. This strategy has boosted the Movement’s popularity inside and outside the Palestinian Territories. Meanwhile, the international reputation of the Jewish state has reached its nadir, not just because of its genocidal practice but also because of the failure of its Hasbara. The Israeli army produced videos of very bad taste, portraying soldiers creeping inside the homes of displaced Palestinians, or Nazi-like practices of stripping down men, women and children, blinding them and cuffing them to be photographed in razed stadiums. Such a failure at all levels – political, military and media-wise, prompted senior Western figures, like the former UK Defence Minister, Ben Wallace, to warn Israel about a loss of strategic sense that could fuel the next rounds of conflict for 50 years.

In an editorial, the right-wing Wall Street Journal admits that Hamas has more confidence it can win this war. Conversely, doubts are rife within the Israeli society. The families of the captives lost patience with Netanyahu’s government. Several instances of wounded Israeli soldiers refusing to allow Netanyahu to visit them in the hospital. The economy cannot sustain the mobilisation of one million men for months, and the long-term resilience of Israeli society has come under pressure. In an opinion piece for Haaretz,  Hillel Schocken writes: “We won’t win. Not even together. We lost the current war in the Gaza Strip over our right to a national home in the Land of Israel on 7 October. Each additional day of the ground operation only increases the failure.”

Writing for the New York Times 20 years ago, Nicholas Kristof warned larger powers about forgetting the Trojan War’s lesson, namely: “[to avoid] the intoxicating pride and overweening ignorance that sometimes clouds the minds of the strong.” However, instead of taking the lessons of history seriously or listening to voices of reason, Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right minions are determined to stay on the path of hubris for self-serving purposes. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is nose-diving in recent polls and his only hope to stay in power is a protracted war, even if his countrymen suffer dire consequences, prompting some to observe that Israel’s Prime Minister is ill-equipped for war and peace.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.