FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lessons on War from Israel

Despite the fact that the war against Iraq is presented also as aimed to protect Israel from Sadam’s aggressive intentions, Israeli public opinion is not convinced that the war is needed. A new poll shows that only 46% support waging the war without international legitimacy, and 43% oppose it. In addition, a new coalition of peace organizations has been formed to join the world protest on February 15. Apparently the Israelis know something about preemptive wars that President Bush ignores. I would suggest learning some lessons from the Israeli experience.

Israel has waged two wars that were defined as preemptive: The 1967 War, named The Six Days War, and the Lebanon War in 1982. In both cases, Israel had serious reasons to assume it was going to be attacked, a hundred times more so than the US’s current concern about its security. In 1967, Gamal Abdel Nasser closed the Tiran Straits, Israel’s only southern outlet to the sea. He also asked the UN to withdraw the forces camped in the Sinai Desert to separate between Israel and Egypt. Nasser kept escalating his verbal attacks against Israel, and threatening military moves were made by both Egypt and Syria. In response, Israel launched a preemptive war.

In 1982, the Lebanese border was quiet, following a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the PLO which held for about a year, but Israel had intelligence that PLO was fortifying its position in Southern Lebanon and preparing for a future military confrontation. Using a dubious pretext the IDF invaded Lebanon, headed by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who lied to the Israeli public and government, claiming that his intentions were purely defensive, i.e., take over Southern Lebanon to prevent Katyusha missile attacks against Israel. Within two days, the IDF was deployed on the outskirts of Beirut, which was kept under siege for two and half months; its entry into the city was blocked by pressure from Israeli and international public opinion concerned about the potential catastrophe that would ensue from a military invasion into a city where tens of thousands of fighters were entrenched. Following the withdrawal of PLO forces from Beirut, the notorious massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps pushed out on the streets almost 10% of Israel’s citizens in an unprecedented mass demonstration against their government. Sharon was fired from his job as the result of the conclusions of an inquiry committee regarding his ministerial responsibility in the affair.

The outcomes of both preemptive wars are well known: Both ended in a military victory and a moral and diplomatic defeat. Israel’s pre-1967 image as a peace-seeking nation has been tainted by the seizure of the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai Desert from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The impressive achievements of the peace treaty with Egypt and the withdrawal from Sinai in 1982 were tainted by the capture of Lebanon a month later. Getting out of both proved difficult: it took the IDF 18 years to extract itself out of Lebanon, and it has yet to extract itself from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Israel’s activities in these occupied territories are perceived as illegal not only by their inhabitants, but also by the majority of international public opinion and a significant share of Israeli citizens, including soldiers. Israel constantly commits illegal acts in order to maintain the occupation, while the local population and the majority of international public opinion perceive acts of resistance to the occupation as legitimate. Moreover, the preemptive war engenders new security problems, due to the illegitimacy of the occupation. The most obvious example is the Yom Kippur War (1973), when Israel was unable to launch a renewed preemptive war in order to defend its presence in the Sinai, and had to sustain the first blow, which caused the highest casualties toll since its establishment.

My suggested conclusion is that there are fundamental reasons for the predictable failure of preemptive wars:

1. Even when the threat is serious and real (unlike the current case of Iraq), the aggressor is invariably the country that initiates the attack, and thus de-legitimized. The US’s current problems with international public opinion and its own citizenry would undoubtedly exacerbate once it launches the attack and is perceived as the aggressor, unlike in the 1991 war, in which Iraq had attacked Kuwait.

2. Preemptive wars are not waged against an aggressive army that can be crushed and forced to stop the aggression, but against a hostile regime that is said to foster aggressive intentions. Hence, preemptive wars are waged against the sovereignty of the attacked state. In order to extricate the hostile regime a full occupation of civilian population is necessary, and withdrawal before a new and stable regime is put in place becomes very difficult, due to the danger that a new hostile regime could rise once again. Preemptive wars therefore necessitate a permanent deployment of foreign military power in occupied areas. Israel remained in Lebanon for 18 years for fear of Hizballa takeover, and has already marked the 35th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as a result of its fated attempt to avert Palestinian independence.

3. Preemptive wars create mounting protests by international public opinion and among the citizens of the aggressive state. The use of violence is perceived as illegitimate, a fact that undermines the fighting capacities of the military and prevents the establishment of a friendly regime once the takeover has been completed. The lack of legitimacy subverts the soldiers’ conviction about the necessity of the war and feeds the resistance in the occupied territories, widely supported by the local population.

All these obstacles are bound to arise in the planned preemptive war that the Bush Administration attempts to launch against Sadam Hussein’s regime. All the US’s military and technological might and its dominant global economic position would make no difference. There are no just wars, unless they are defensive wars perceived as vital for saving life. Soon it would be Bush, rather than Sadam Hussein, who would be putting the world in danger. American aggression would no longer be regarded as an expression of its might, but as a public admission of weakness. Having already exposed the underbelly of the world’s only superpower, Osama Bin Laden would soon become the great winner of the war, and the religious belief that God is on his side will only grow stronger. Again, there is a lesson to be learned from Israel’s experience with the rise of Hizballa in Lebanon after 1982 and of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians in the 1990’s. Military occupation is not the way to fight terrorism; it is the sure way to boost and encourage it. You have been warned.

LEV GRINBERG is a political sociologist and senior lecturer at Ben Gurion University. He can be reached at: lev@bgumail.bgu.ac.il

 

More articles by:

November 15, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts
Anthony DiMaggio
In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics
Christopher Ketcham
Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve
Meena Miriam Yust
Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?
Karl Grossman
Climate of Rage
Walter Clemens
How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers
Brandon Lee
Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition
Kim C. Domenico
An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego
Elliot Sperber
Pythagoras in Queens
November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail