Differing timetables in Israel-Hamas war: Israel says months, US says weeks | Opinion

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Following the heinous Hamas attack on Oct. 7, Israel launched the most just war on this Gaza-based terror organization. After more than two months of fighting, however, it is worth looking at Israel’s war aims and assess whether or not it is close to achieving them.

Prussian general and military thinker Karl von Clausewitz, in his seminal book On War (1832), coined the famous dictum that “war is the mere continuation of policy by other means.” In other words, war must serve a political aim. The side which initiates a war, wrote Clausewitz, is doing it in order to establish a better state of peace than the one which had existed prior to the war. In Israel’s case, then, the war’s aim is to create a situation where Hamas won’t be able to harass the Jewish state anymore.

Clausewitz teaches us that in order to defeat an enemy we must not only destroy its forces and occupy its territory, but also break its fighting will. The ceremony on September 2, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur, happened only after Emperor Hirohito, in a radio broadcast earlier, expressed the realization of the Japanese people that the game was over. In contrast, in the Six Day War, Israel defeated the armed forces of the Egyptians, but their fighting spirit didn’t break, and they immediately responded with the War of Attrition, and later with the Yom Kippur War.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant and the Israel Defense Forces generals are aware of this need to destroy both Hamas’ military capability and its fighting will. Realizing the difficulties in accomplishing this, they are talking about a war that will last months, if not years — except the United States, Israel’s greatest ally, has a different timetable. With elections looming, President Joe Biden, arguably the greatest friend of Israel ever sitting in the White House, must balance his staunch support of Israel with the need to placate opposition to the war at home, especially in his own Democratic Party. Therefore, when Jerusalem talks months and years, Washington answers with weeks.

This gap in expectations has already generated impatience in Washington, and it might eventually lead to a head-on conflict. Prime Minister Netanyahu, obviously speaking to his arch-right base, promised not to budge under American pressure. Netanyahu, however, is misleading both himself and his followers: Without American veto at the UN Security Council and, more importantly, without the current American airlift replenishing the IDF with ammunition, Israel won’t be able to proceed as it wishes.

Here we might consult again with good old Clausewitz, because he talked about another useful term: the “culmination point.” This is the point where the attacker has achieved maximum dividends, and from that point on, any military gains become marginal compared to casualties and other prices. “We should realize how far we can go,” warns Clausewitz, “in order not to pass this point, and then instead of winning another advantage, we will reap a disaster.”

A case in point is the Korean War. Following the invasion of South Korea from the north, backed by the Soviets and the Chinese, an expeditionary force led by Gen. MacArthur landed in June 1950 west of Seoul and checked the invasion. The war aim was then achieved. However, emboldened by few casualties and the urging of the South Korean president to conquer the whole country and unite it, MacArthur pushed north. Then the Chinese intervened and when hostilities ended, 1 1/2 years later, MacArthur’s forces were deployed roughly where they were at the start of the war, with one difference: They lost in the battles 33,000 people.

President George H. Bush, whether he had read Clausewitz or not, surely learned the lessons of the Korean War. In 1991, he settled with kicking Saddam Hussein out of Iraq. His son, though, obviously led by post 9/11 rage, crossed the culmination point when, after the conquest of Iraq in 2003, he went a step too far by dismantling the Iraqi Army — the only organization in Iraq in which Sunnis and Shiites could work together. The consequences unsettle the region to this day.

Back to Gaza: Is Israel reaching its culmination point? Clausewitz advises us that in order to identify the point, leaders must have a “fine tact of judgment.” Some of us doubt whether our Israeli leaders are really endowed with that quality, when they stick to the rhetoric of continuing the war regardless of any foreign interests, including American ones.

While I wholeheartedly support the battle against Hamas, I do not want it to jeopardize Israeli-American relations, which are paramount to the security of Israel. When the point is reached where it is better to pause, regroup and reassess together with Washington the best way to proceed, I’d reluctantly accept it. Clausewitz even had a name for such a pause: “Waiting for better times.”

Col. Uri Dromi, IAF (Ret.), was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992-1996.

Dromi
Dromi