The (enhanced) Grad missiles that hit the southern city of Ashkelon several days ago underscore the bitter strategic defeat Israel incurred in the recent Operation Cast Lead.
With the passage of time, this operation is beginning to take on an ominous resemblance to the one that began in the summer of 2006 in Lebanon. It is of course true that the Gaza operation was conducted with far greater professionalism, resulted in far less causalities on the Israeli side, and inflicted greater causalities on the Arab side. However, in terms of attaining its strategic objectives - if these were ever defined with any clarity - it appears to have fared no better than the debacle in Lebanon - perhaps even quite the reverse.
For if the ultimate objective of military action it to impose one's will on the adversary, then there can be little doubt that in spite of the impressive display of the IDF's prowess, this was something that Israel in no way accomplished in Gaza.
Thus, just as Hizbullah did in Lebanon, Hamas kept firing until the very end of the operation. But unlike Hizbullah, it kept on firing even after it had ended – unequivocally conveying to the world that it remained defiantly undefeated. As in Lebanon, so in Gaza the Israeli government did not succeed in coercing the other side into releasing prisoners or abductees. Moreover, just as in Lebanon, Israel did not manage to halt the continuing flow of increasingly lethal weaponry to enemy forces in Gaza – as the enhanced Grad attack on Ashkelon vividly illustrated.
But perhaps worst of all, both in Lebanon and in Gaza, was the calamitous diplomatic defeat that Israel sustained, and the grave blow - of potentially strategic significance - which its international standing and image suffered.
Indeed, it is difficult to avert an eerie sensation of déjà vu. For after weeks of combat under the confident and accomplished supervision of a highly experienced and highly decorated former general as defense minister, the picture that seems to be emerging is disturbingly similar to the one that emerged after weeks of combat under the bumbling and hesitant supervision of a totally inexperienced and inept civilian as defense minister: A small lightly-armed militia - with no anti-aircraft defenses worthy of mention; with no warplanes it could scramble to engage the attacking IAF jets; without a single tank at its disposal, without any artillery or any naval support of any significance – emerges undefeated after about a month of fighting against the might of the IDF, one of the most formidable military machines in the world.
Moreover, if as a result of the current diplomatic activity the border crossings into Gaza are reopened; if hundreds of murderous terrorists are released in exchange for Gilad Shalit; if Gaza receives a huge influx of international funding for its reconstruction; if in spite of everything, the incumbent Haniyeh-led government remains in power relatively unscathed – then it can be said that despite the heavy loss incurred by the Palestinians, it was in fact Hamas that managed to impose its will on Israel. And hence, it was in fact Hamas that emerged victorious from Operation Cast Lead.
The failures in Lebanon and Gaza have shared roots. But these should not be attributed to deficiencies in the combat proficiency of the IDF or the valor of its combatants. Rather, they are to be found in the deficient and dysfunctional intellectual architecture in which its political masters are imprisoned – whatever their previous bio-details, a feted commander of a legendary special forces unit, or a rabble rousing trade union boss.
Inadmissibility of victory
The depressingly disappointing results of the campaigns in the north and south are the result of a loss of faith in "Victory" – both as valid cognitive concept and as an attainable military objective. The inadmissibility of victory is in fact the cornerstone of the political doctrine of much of Israel's political elites – for to admit it would be to reveal their entire Weltanschauung (worldview) as the fainthearted, feebleminded folly it really is. Indeed, the real victor in both campaigns was in fact the myth of the "The Impossibility of Victory."
Even without becoming embroiled in the complex intricacies of what in fact constitutes "victory" against the irregular forces of a non-state actor, some unequivocal assertions are still possible. Thus, given the balance of forces in the theater of combat in Lebanon, even if IDF forces were poorly briefed, poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly led, no result is conceivable or acceptable other than ending the fighting with Israeli ground troops over-running Hizbullah’s fixed fortified positions, loading them with explosives, and blowing them sky-high, with all Hizbullah combatants manning them on their way to either incarceration or burial. No other scenario is admissible. None should have been countenanced by Israeli decision-makers, even if attaining it may have meant suffering a higher rate of casualties - something which itself is extremely doubtful.
Similarly, given the balance of forces in the theater of combat in Gaza, especially since it is widely accepted that IDF forces were not poorly briefed, poorly equipped, poorly trained or poorly led, no result is conceivable or acceptable other than ending the fighting with an unequivocal and visible surrender by Hamas, together with either the physical elimination of its leaders or their humiliating capture, on the one hand, or their shameful abandonment of their battered people and their ignominious flight to safety outside the Gaza Strip, on the other.
For even those who believe in a policy of "encouraging the moderates" must understand that if this is to be an achievable goal, it will only be attained after the radicals are made to suffer a degrading defeat, proving that their path can – and will – only lead to disgrace and dishonor.
Only actions and outcomes such as these can provide the credible "pictures of victory" for which the Olmert-Barak government - and their "spin masters" – yearned so ardently. But, unsurprisingly, credible "pictures of victory" require a credibly decisive victory. And credibly decisive victory can only be attained if it is believed possible. In this regard, there is a French dictum: La victoire est comme Dieu… si on y croit, elle existe, which translates roughly into English as "Victory is like God, if one believes in it, it exists."
In Hebrew it might well translate into Herzl's famous saying: "Im tirzu – ein zo agada," (If you will it - it is no dream). So perhaps its time to go back to the basic roots of Zionism; perhaps that is where the real solutions are to be found.