Photo: Eli Algarat
Prof. Uzi Arad
Photo: Eli Algarat

Overwhelming force and proportionality

For limited objectives, proportionality may suffice. But when the strategic objectives are far-reaching proportionality will defeat its purpose

From Canning and Disraeli in 19th century Britain to Weinberger and Powell in the United States in the 20th century, an established principle has been that the use of force, once its necessity was determined, should be implemented through a concentration of overwhelming force.


Yet, it is an open question as to why Israel, after deciding to use force against the Hizbullah threat, has as of yet refrained from exercising it to the fullest extent.


For limited objectives, proportionality may suffice. But when the strategic objectives are far-reaching, as those of the current campaign are, proportionality will defeat its purpose.


The removal of Hizbullah's rocket threat is not achievable through proportionality or in installments. It is achievable only through a combination of all military actions necessary to destroy the capabilities and infrastructures, including the command system, of the enemy.


Rationale of deterrence


In the event that restoring Israel's deterrence image was also an objective of the campaign, then of course they can not be achieved through proportionality. The entire rationale of deterrence rests on a disproportionate response.


The Powell Doctrine, adopted by him while serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, established the principle of overwhelming force as a necessary condition for waging war.


Powell described this strategy as used against the Iraqi army in 1991: "First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it." It is evident that this, in its simplest form, should have been Israel's strategy against Hizbullah: overwhelming force and not proportionality.


Convenient opening conditions


Israel has never known such convenient opening conditions for a military campaign: the world views it as the just side; it possessed the initiative, including the element of surprise; the enemy and all its capabilities, is concentrated on one front and in a defined area; and the United States has lent its support.


Israel should have maximized these conditions and executed them in its campaign, once all the necessary preparations had been made, in the most optimal timing while adhering to its objectives and implementing the principle of overwhelming force.


There are those in Washington who criticize the Israeli government for failing to achieve its stated objectives. The United States, it is said, has given widespread support for the Israeli action, perhaps in the context of a preliminary understanding. All this, so that Israel will subdue the Hizbullah: the United States views it as an enemy and has a long and outstanding debt to settle with it, as well as its frictional - if not outright collision course - with Iran.


The United States views Hizbullah as an extension of Iran, and one which must be severed. While it is evident that Israel has not, of yet, achieved its objectives, some in the United States have suggested that Israel has squandered a window of opportunity not only to rid itself of the immediate threat, but also to contribute to the American effort in the struggle against Iran and terrorism.


The American columnist Charles Krauthammer has written that Israel has squandered an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility and even damaged its status as a net-asset to the United States, a branch it sits on.


What's next?


Even without delving into such considerations and as long as the United States will allow it, Israel must create a situation whereby no residual rocket threat capability by Hizbullah remains and it must not restrict the fullest extent of its own use of force. Any delegation of the task not completed by Israel to a multi-national force as stipulated by the proposed framework may yet prove to be but a pipe dream.


All the more so, Israel must not grant a political achievement to Hizbullah by transferring the Shebaa Farms to Lebanon in any framework save for a peace accord. No gesture will better demonstrate the lack of a decisive subjugation of Hizbullah than the granting of such a political achievement to it.


However, this is not applicable only to Hizbullah in Lebanon but also to Gaza, where Israel has contributed to a process of creeping Hizbullization following its unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The fate of the Hamas in Gaza must be the fate of Hizbullah in Lebanon. If Israel will not eliminate the threats facing it in its own backyard in Gaza and Lebanon, created in part by its own policies, the importance of what will be said in the United States may be eclipsed even more so by the severity of Iran's actions.


It is no wonder that Tehran in these very days, as Israel has restricted itself and while attributing a similar amount of hesitation to the US, has rejected the ultimatum it received demanding the halt of development of its nuclear program. In order to overcome the Iranian threat, it is vital that the current campaign against its extended arm in Lebanon be decisive as well.


Prof. Uzi Arad is the Founding Head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya


פרסום ראשון: 08.09.06, 08:12
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