TCS Daily

Why Israel Lost

By James H. Joyner - August 14, 2006 12:00 AM

A front page story in Monday's Washington Post declared Hezbollah "The Best Guerrilla Force in the World" and noted that, "As the declared U.N. cease-fire went into effect Monday morning, many Lebanese -- particularly among the Shiites who make up an estimated 40 percent of the population -- had already assessed Hezbollah's endurance as a military success despite the devastation wrought across Lebanon by Israeli bombing."

And they're right. Israel has accepted a truce that falls far short of its original war aims, failing to establish control over their border with Lebanon, let alone deliver a crushing blow to Hezbollah. As many of us have argued from the moment Israel launched this campaign, there was no way a modern state, constrained by a Western moral code and the pressures of a democratic society, would achieve these incredibly ambitious goals. Failure to achieve one's political objectives in a war, by definition, constitutes defeat.

Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer and author, argues that Israel was done in by a hostile media that simply doesn't understand the nature of war and feckless politicians who lacked the will to use adequate force, especially ground troops, from the onset of the campaign.

These constraints, however, are part and parcel of asymmetric, panoptic war. A good number of us understood that from the get-go; surely, the Israeli security apparatus, with far more experience in such matters, knew, too. But politicians faced with the pressure to "do something" did the wrong thing the wrong way.

Peters does not believe we can win "Eastern wars with Western values."

Despite media lies about Israeli "atrocities," the IDF has been doing all it can to spare civilians. For example, the Israelis repeatedly risked commando teams deep in hostile territory to take out Hezbollah command-and-control cells -- instead of just leveling the crowded apartment buildings where the terrorists were hiding. But, ultimately, all of the special operations in the world will fall far short of delivering decisive, crushing victories. We are going to have to learn to fight by the enemy's rules. And we aren't going to like it.

I would argue just the opposite is true. There are few "decisive, crushing victories" for the state actor in an asymmetric conflict. The reason the Israelis lost here was not too many commando ops and not enough awesome bombing attacks but the reverse. When guerrillas are hiding in small cells in large civilian clusters, each leveled apartment building is a "decisive, crushing victory." For the guerrillas.

Williams College Middle East scholar Mark Lynch points out that scores of photographs of maimed children were filling the front pages of the region's newspapers from the beginning of hostilities and "shaping Arab views towards the Lebanon crisis -- particularly in the key anti-Hezbollah Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt)" and that al-Jazeera "is dominating the media landscape right now for better or for worse."

That the terrorists are hiding among civilians is both "unfair" militarily and a violation of the laws of war. It is, however, a reality with which states must cope. Powerful states simply cannot combat terrorists using the same tactics they would apply to a conventional war with a traditional enemy. Massive aerial bombardment and armored invasion are excellent for, say, toppling Saddam Hussein's regime but they're actually counter-productive in counter-terror/counter-insurgency ops.

The editor of the Defense and the National Interest website puts it this way: "As important as finding and destroying the actual combatants, for example, is drying up the bases of popular support that allow them to recruit for, plan, and execute their attacks. Perhaps most odd of all, being seen as too successful militarily may create a backlash, making the opponent's other elements of [4th generation warfare] more effective."

Commando raids, which have the advantage of minimizing non-combatant casualties, and other precisely targeted strikes are simply much more reasonable and effective options in this environment. They of course take away some of the force multipliers enjoyed by modern armies and, ironically, make the fighting far less asymmetrical. Such tactics, too, may well mean more friendly casualties in the short term. They are, however, the only proven way of defeating insurgencies and terrorist groups.

Peters, whose strategic analysis I have respected since I was reading his Parameters contributions as a grad student, thinks we have failed to learn the lessons from Vietnam, Somalia, Beirut, and other cases where the weak beat the strong in an asymmetric fight. He continues with variations on the tired saw that the superior, professional military would win if only its hands were not tied behind its back. This ignores Clausewitz (or, if you prefer, Harry Summers) and presumes that the definition of "victory" in war is military rather than political.

Short of turning their enemies into radioactive parking lots, well within the military capabilities of the United States and Israel, there is no defeating an entrenched, motivated guerrilla force through the application of strategic bombing or massive armored assaults.

James H. Joyner, Jr., Ph.D. writes about public policy issues at Outside the Beltway.


You can't win a war by killing the enemy...
...if you also kill his family and friends in the process. That is basically the point that the author is making.


Whenever we kill the family of a terrorist we also kill the next generation of terrorists. Its a two-fer. No fighting force can sustain the concurrent loss of its members and the loss of its future members. They will be degraded to nothing in short order and will require generations to recover if ever at all. In the meantime, those who have been politically marginalized by the terrorists groups are strengthened by their absence.

In Lebanon, the deaths of 1 million Muslims would shift the balance to the Christians demographically, politically and militarily and remove southern Lebanon as an extraterritorial staging point with which Syria and Iran can attack Israel. The deterrent effect would also be substantial.

Of course, Israel will never know what effect this will have unless it actually tries it.

So we can seize the moral high ground by exterminating whole populations?
Why not sugget they kill all the Lebanese, Christian, Druze, and Sunni as well as Shiite, and take the land? Wouldn't this be even more ethical?

There is no moral high ground in war
There is only moral preening, such as yours. As for the Christians, Sunni and Druze they are not the ones shooting at the Israelis so what would be the point of killing them. The Israelis have never claimed Lebanon as their own, they simply don't want to be shot at from there. If they actually wanted the land, then by all means they should act accordingly.

indeed, true warfare has never been used by the west yet in this war.
every single battle plan hatched by the west is corrupted by the farce and suicidal insanity of "just war doctran".

If Isreal had acted like this was a pre-Vietnam era war, Lebenon would be hezbols free NOW.

The west has to grow up and learn again about REAL war. Unfortunatly it will take something more then 9/11, 7/7 or the madrid bombings to get western politicians to take the chance of letting the military actualy do its job and to let non-PC infected generals lead.

I just hope the "something" isnt a nuked out New York or Washington, I dont think America would ever really recover from that financialy.

Unfortunately aprox 50% of our society is insanely fearfull of our own government, more fearful then of our enemies. This almost gaurantees a nuked American city.

I grew up training my entire life to fight my own government because it was straying from the constitution and becoming socialist and overbearing, then the dems lost power and I didnt need to declair war on my own government. I no longer fear it, I have a hundred million Americans who are on my side and will NOT let the "fellow travelers" back in power.

Its those fellow travelers who will allow the enemy to nuke this country, them I fear. In this scenario its almost certain we will get nuked in the next ten years.

"As important as finding and destroying the
actual combatants, for example, is drying up
the BASES OF POPULAR SUPPORT that allow them
to recruit for, plan, and execute their attacks.
Perhaps most odd of all, being seen as too
successful militarily may create a backlash,
making the opponent's other elements of
[4th generation warfare] more effective."

Yep, that's why it all comes down to the Right of Return and Jerusalem -- the last major stumbling blocks for a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine. Ultimately both must accept that Israel will monetarily compensate Palestinians who lost property, but not return the land -- and a portion of Jerusalem will be an open, international city outside the political control of either nation.

eventualy it will happen
weather we will be alive to see it or not, the west will relearn barbarian methods in war.

You may find this impossible to comprehend, but lets hear YOUR alturnitive tactics?

Besides retreating and quivering in fear.

Moral preening???
regarding this:

'As for the Christians, Sunni and Druze they are not the ones shooting at the Israelis so what would be the point of killing them'

But you just ruled out the shooting criterion as a reason not to kill people. I mean, Shiite women and children aren't shooting at the Israelis either. You just thought they might be at some point, so better to just wipe out the population.

And as for wiping out populations: I know you think that you're sounding very realistic and tough, but there's this word, "genocide," that's gotten a bad name, and that's what you're advocating. Do you think really think objections to genocide are just "moral preening?"

Right of Return
I'm sure noone would have any problem allowing the so-called Palestinians to be buried in Israel.

and where will YOU be when this fails?
Will YOU defend Isreal when giving the palis money doesnt work?
I doubt it.
all the "reasons" given for Muslim violence is chaff, decoy, BS, dis-information. Lies.

Jihad needs no reason beyond non-conformity to islam.

Why is thie more dangerous than communism??
And if it was possible to win the Cold War without exterminationg the Russiand and Chinese, is it really impossible to conceive of waiting out the loons and co-existing?

The russians were not looking forward to death
The MUZI are.

So what is YOUR mechanism for out-waiting suicide troops?

No Subject
Short of turning their enemies into radioactive parking lots, well within the military capabilities of the United States and Israel, there is no defeating an entrenched, motivated guerrilla force through the application of strategic bombing or massive armored assaults.


A massive combined arms assault by Israel would certainly have defeated Hezbollah militarily; had they tried. Israel tried to pull a 'Slick Willy' air campaign and it failed miserably and predictably. If they simply deployed two armored and two infantry divisions the second week, south Lebanon would have been secure in three. Three more divisions up the Bekka and 'Hez would be decapitated. This all at the cost of high Israeli casualties--but far higher enemy casualties and Israel's political objectives would have been met. Olmert and the cabinet made a bad call, pure and simple.

As for the radioactive parking lot scenario, it is naive to think this is not coming sooner rather than later. It is only a matter where the parking lots are and who gets hit first.

No Subject
'Do you think really think objections to genocide are just "moral preening?"'

Yes, I do. As I said, war is inherently an immoral exercise. The only relevant questions to the exercise are: What are you trying to achieve? and What is the level and scope of the violence necessary to achieve it? If genocide is necessary, then genocide it is.

Might does not make right. It does something far more important - it ensures survival. Moral righteousness does not.

I disagree
And I don't think you're going to get many allies shopping this around, though you are setting yourself up for bad consequences if your war goes bad.

But it sounds tough, I know.

And regarding "war is inherently an immoral exercise"
Self-defense is not "inherently an immoral exercise."

Going beyond self defense to extermination of people unable to threaten you is immoral. But shake hands with Slobodan Milosevic and the Janjaweed: they're your brothers.

If they want to kills themselves, help them
But you aren't facing 1.1 billion suicide jihadis, though you can certainly increase the numbers if you kill enough people who aren't against you.

Cold War Strategy and Terrorism
“…is it really impossible to conceive of waiting out the loons and co-existing?”

The primary goal of counter-terrorist policy should be the containment of terrorist capabilities and the prevention of terrorist attacks. However, the past thirty years establish that we do not have the technologies to reliably implement an effective counter terrorist strategy. So, we go to plan-B…as evidenced in Iraq, Lebanon and N. Korea…where the enemy is neither defeated nor contained…and the threat persists or even expands.

Some say that “the best defense is a good offense”. This of course is absolutely true when you have NO DEFENSE. If we can develop effective intelligence and defensive technologies to counter the terrorist tactics, we have a chance to succeed using a “cold war” strategy. On the other hand, every day that our defenses are not up to the task is an opportunity for a successful catastrophic attack. If that day of WMD “infamy” comes, a “good offense” will be all that is left to do.

If you choose to believe that the inevitable killing of women and children in even the most carefully waged war is morally justified self-defense, then I will not attempt to dissuade you. But it seems to me the only thing that would be more objectionable than the amoral judgement of the necessity of killing the wives and children of others to protect one's own would be to claim that such killings were in any way a moral exercise.

You're quibbling
A war waged in self-defense inevitably will) involve deaths of civilians, including women and children. That doesn't make the war or self-defense immoral. Deliberately targeting women and children as a part of war carried on with the purpose of ethnic cleansing is immoral.

What you are saying is that, since any war will involve innocent victims, than the number of such victims is morally irrelevent, as would be a decision deliberately to kill them. No, I don't think so.

Excellent we have to fight this war but have to fight in a new way
I think many people still think the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys wear white ones.

Israle lost a pointless battle, the war isn't over yet???
The MSM and this website have launched into a bad habit that of equating battles with wars. I tire of dumb statements like Vietnam won the war? Comparing their glorious life under Communism to the US's life under mild socialism flavored with some capitalism, I will settle for the US anytime.

The same is true here. The Lebanese have sided with the terrorists. The terrorists scum is now at all levels of the government of Lebanon and I am sure is already preparing for years of Israel blamed destitution and constant war.

Think of it this way. No reporter in Lebanon will risk life to report that the glorious war with Israel has prompted the loss of millions in tourism, but the money is lost anyway no matter how Hezbolla feels about it. Already they are poorer and it is only going to accelerate.

The way out for Israel is to stop the war and get what ever terms Hezbolla will accept. Then be patient and less combatative. Let time eat the Hezbolla. It may take awhile but that is the only route I see to victory.

No Subject
"Will YOU defend Isreal when giving the palis money doesnt work?"

Yes, absolutely.

Get a life
Propaganda works when the media is controlled.

The Soviets controlled their media pretty well.

The middle east now has internet, satellite TV and expats from around the world.

Look at the development in Dubai.

Now the people of Gaza have no one to blame but themselves and maybe they will realize they have the power to prosper, too, if they want to.

This war, like the war against the Soviets, is one of hot battles and economic pressure.

Keeping Israel economically strong and democratic, a developing Jordan and Egypt, and even a prospering Libya will be strong pressure for the people to tell the radicals to 'get a life'.

You're rationalizing...
the necessary killing of non-combatants as morally justified. I'm simply saying that the morality of the act is irrelevent. In your world the morality of killing non-combatants is dependant your ability to kill combatants without harming non-combatants. So it doesn't seem to rule out the killing of extrememly large numbers of women and children if it is otherwise unavoidable. Or would you say that when faced with such a scenario that the only moral action would be to lose?

so you're saying the terms "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" are meaningless
And people who criticize (say) Milosevic's Serbia just don't understand war and politics. Very interesting.

The argument depends on an excluded middle. Either you can wage war with perfect targeting (and it's justified) or you can't (and therefore anything goes.) Nice try but no, that's not the way it works.

losing & another phoney issue
They lost because the west in general, including Israel has lost the stomach to really fight conclusive wars anymore. But it's also a phoney issue that you would have to nuke them, or genocide them, etc. You don't have to kill everybody to make a country, and this is a very old fashioned term, "capitulate". So Alexander the Great didn't kill everybody when he took over Iraq, and everywhere else he went, people remained. Neither did the Romans when they later took over. Neither did the Mongols later. Remember the British also took it over too and didn't have to kill everybody there. Also Hitler did't have to kill everybody off to take over France, holland , and all those places. So you don't need genocide. Anolther phoney point is the worry about the so called civilians in lebanon, kinda like the ones we see dancing in the streets these days. They glorify dying for the cause, and getting those 72 cherry girls in heavan. So they have no basis for complaint if we accomodate them in their own desires. It's only weak kneed western liberals who are worried about it, so the enemy can use the death of theier own supporters as propaganda tools.

Israel didn't lose - but it didn't win
Great article and argument. Of course Israel didn't exactly lose, except in the sense that it did not achieve its objectives. Hezb is weakened militarily, and the IDF has hopefully learnt a valuable lesson or two about its enemy.

But the problem with the war was that Israel didn't really set out either to itself or externally what is wanted to achieve. Nor did it stop to think that in war one should do what your enemy does not want you to do.

Even if the IDF didn't know about the A/T missiles, it should have reasoned that Hezb was expecting a tank-led assault. Therefore do something different. Or best of all, don't react in a massive way to Hezb provocation. The IDF lost over a hundred troops in pursuit of two. Hezb may like to kill Israelis, but mudering two captives in cold blood would bring it few friends except amongst the crazies. Witness the effect that AQ's beheadings had in Iraq - they turned many Muslims against AQ.

Israel played into Hezb and Iran/Syria's hands completely. Instead of being a small band of irritataing terrorists, carryng out sneak raids, Hezb is now seen as a strong and brave army of warriors by Muslims in the region. Syria has been rehabilitated and Iran has diverted attention from its nuclear programme and enhanced the reputation of its proxy.

By contrast, Israel looks tactically weak and unwilling to take casualties.

Your last two paragraphs
indicate a clear victory for Hezbollah.

One of the factors missing in all this is that the Hezbollah leadership and their backers were united whereas the Israeli cabinet appeared divided on this war from the outset. Unity of leadership is always essential to any military outcome.

It should surely come as no surprise that air strikes cannot suppress a guerrilla army entrenched within a civilian population.

Abraham Lincoln saw things...
differently. I am not suggesting that we nuke the Middle-East, it is far from the time for that as they present very little threat to the West. I just want us to be clear. Israel won the war by any meaningful measure. And it is a question of morality. If Israel kills enough Moslems they will win but they have morals which is more than can be said for Hizbollah.

Should Aiding and abetting criminals be a crime?
'But you just ruled out the shooting criterion as a reason not to kill people. I mean, Shiite women and children aren't shooting at the Israelis either. '

Hizbollah is a criminal enterprise. Should Aiding and abetting Hizbollah be considered a crime?

Certainly civilians should be given a chance to surrender. Israel should have allowed and aided civilians to surrender and cross into Israel.

Now let me say that I think that the Israel and the west did overreact and still are overreacting but the above questions should be debated.

Was Lincoln evil?
Was John Brown evil? What are your oppinions?

What "meaningful measure"?
You don't indicate them in your post.

Are you a pacifist?
Are you a pacifists like the Ana Baptists, Quakers and Mennonites if so you can opt out of SS. When is war and tax collecting acceptable.

You should not have said..
..with the purpose of ethnic cleansing. It muddies the water implying that if the purpose was for other that ethnic cleansing it is not covered in your statement. Would you like to amend your statement?

'That doesn't make the war or self-defense immoral. Deliberately targeting women and children as a part of war carried on with the purpose of ethnic cleansing is immoral. '

What are your thoughts about Hirosima and...


My dad said that he was headed for Japan when they Nuked them and he was glad. He had though that the Japanese would fight to the death had they not dropped the bombs.

Personally I do not know what I would do. In the western world at least men are considered expendable.

Before the 20th century they would have destroyed every Mosque and built a Church..
..right on top of it but the protestant Christianity changed all that.

So please explain
the non-destruction of mosques after the British occupied Egypt in the 1860s, the French non-destruction of mosques in Algeria after their occupation in the 1830s and the British non-destruction of mosques in India after their occupation in the 1700s. Oh, also explain the Russian non-destruction of mosques in a host of countries such as Turkmenistan starting with their occupation of these countries starting in the late 1600s.

You are correct my mistake...
...I was off.

More destruction in Hizbollah territory
More destruction in Hezbollah territory, more deaths on in Hezbollah territory, Israel penetrated deeper into Hezbollah territory than Hezbollah into Israel. More destruction of arms, the Israelis hit more targets in Hezbollah territory the Hezbollah rockets were shown to practically useless militarily and even too inaccurate to kill civilians. Look at the ruble in Lebanon and lack of ruble in Israel.

Not true the Islamist sect that runs this is....
...very weak. The Russians, though not as string as we were lead to belive, had lots of weapons including nuclear weapons and rockets that could carry them to the USA. The Islamist cultists are very weak and not a great danger to us. They can kill people from time to time but not that many and they cannot win.

Some have sugested separation...

The metric you indicate
shows nothing about winning and losing a war. Prussia suffered far higher casualties, civilian and military, in the Seven Years War and yet successfully withstood the Austrian, Russian, French alliance against it.

The Soviet Union suffered civilian and military casualties at least 10 times that of Germany and far higher total infrastructure damage yet won its war with Germany in WW2 decisively.

At the Geneva peace talks, an American general commented to his Vietnamese counterpart that the United States won all the battles. To which General Giap replied that that was utterly unimportant to the military outcome of the war.

Counting rubble is utterly meaningless in assessing results. War is not a video game.

One sided
And who will compensate the Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries in 1947, losing everything they owned.

How can you "win" a war against terrorism?
First, who is our enemy?

1) They do not have any moral compunctions about lying to any non-Muslim. In this way, they are a lot like the Communists, who were not bothered at all about lying to Western dupes. Take the faked photos in Qana for proof if you like, or Ahmadinejad's blatant lies to Mike Wallace, or Arafat's speeches in Arabic to Palestineans versus those made to Western audiences.

2) They actually SEEK death for themselves, as opposed to being willing to die for their cause. This makes them different from Communists, ***** and most of the other enemies we have fought. This fact means that deterrence is, in essence, impossible. You can only deter someone who does not want to die. Of course, some Islamofascists need a little help. For example, in Fallujah, the terrorist insurgents needed to be doped up on amphetamines, painkillers and adrenaline to give them the courage and endurance to fight American soldiers. However, the vast number of suicide bombers they have used tends to suggest that many Islamofascists are willing and eager to die for their cause, and get their 72 virgins.

3) Our enemy seeks to maximize civillian casualties on their own side as a PR stunt. We see this taking place in Lebanon and Iraq right now. The use of civillian areas as rocket-firing positions is clearly intended to ensure that the maximum number of civillians are killed by counter-battery fire. They know our chief weakness, and are willing to exploit it. Those who die are written off as "martyrs," and their corpses and ruined homes are displayed for maximum propaganda value.

4) Our enemy mixes with the local population, and uses it for cover. Like any terrorist insurgency, the Islamofascists seek to use local populations sympathetic to their goals as cover. This means that any strike against them when they show themselves must be quick and decisive, or they will disappear again.

5) The Islamofascist movement is totally incompatible with Western Civilization. They demand our complete subjugation.

We face three key limitations:
1) Our side will not stand large-scale casualties.
2) Our media is sympathetic to the destruction of Western Civilization. (Once again, Qana. Furthermore, the NYT has revealed most of our effective programs that target terrorists.)
3) Our populace is sensitive to the death of innocents.

Based on the characteristics and limitations of both sides, a few things become clear:

- Since you cannot deter Islamofascists, you must kill them if you want to live peacefully. Offensive action is the only way to win. Settling for anything less than the destructon of our terrorist enemies' operational capabilities should be considered treason.

- Since these terrorists are determined to use the civillian population of countries like Lebanon as cover, we need to make these populations pay a price for allowing themselves to be used. To quote an exceptionally wise philosopher: "When you have them by the b@lls, their hearts and minds will follow." While Islamofascists may be willing to die, my guess is that many of the civillians in terrorist nations are not. Make it clear that you will bomb civillian areas regardless of who lives there, and civillians will start turning over terrorists left and right.

- We need to enforce our laws against treason. The New York Times should be shut down, as should the Washington Post and USA Today. All of these newspapers have repeatedly revealed classified information, and provided aid and comfort to the enemy by doing so. The reporters and editors responsible should be arrested. Similarly, Congresspersons and leakers who commit treason should suffer the same penalty as everyone else who does so: A wall, a cigarette, a firing squad. (Would the liberals object more to the cigarette, or the execution?)

The Islamic world does not love us, nor will they ever. Now, it is time to make them fear us. Right now, we are a joke because we will not fight in a rational manner. We need to kill a few more people to make our point clear.

Actually, if you count Russia as being part of "the West"...
...then you're mistaken. Russia has used total war against the Chechnyans, and the population of that region has decreased by more than 75 percent due to slaughtered civilians (especially in urban areas) and fleeing refugees. Say what you want about Putin, but the man clearly knows how to put down an insurgency.

Of course, Russia has no pretense of bringing "democracy" to Chechnya like we do in Iraq. This is the crux of the problem with Bush's approach to the Middle East. He has restrained our ability to wage war by making this about freedom. Obviously, you can't liberate corpses, which is what we ought to be making of our enemies.

The US army won the war in...
...Vietnam we just got tired of occupying.

It is silly to say Hezbollah won. They achived nothing. You can say that in war thier are no winners but you cannot say that Hezbollah won. They got thier buts kicked badly. They may be reluctant to go through that again.

In what respect did Hezbollah win?

Hezbollah did not make any progress into Israel.
'The Soviet Union suffered civilian and military casualties at least 10 times that of Germany and far higher total infrastructure damage yet won its war with Germany in WW2 decisively.'

Well in the end the Germans lost when their territory was overrun. Hezbollah did not make any progress into Israel.

Hezbollah's military capabilities are joke...
... and buy the way Israel was not forced to sign an agreement due to military losses.

Hezbollah's military capabilities are a joke...
... and by the way Israel was not forced to sign an agreement due to military losses.

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