Many conservatives also admire Robert E. Lee’s aggressive,
offense-oriented tactical victories in the U.S. Civil War. But like Lee,
who ultimately lost the war, the Israelis are exhibiting enormous
Lee, using the Napoleonic tactics of the offense, won many brilliant
victories by attacking the superior forces of the Union Army. But Lee
lost sight of the most basic strategic factor. Although he inflicted
many Union losses, such aggressive tactics also caused his own casualty
rates to be very high.Lee simply ran out of men before the larger Union
When the Union eventually installed a general opposite Lee who was
competent in both strategy and tactics—Ulysses S. Grant—the North took
advantage of superior troop numbers to grind down Lee’s rebel forces.
Grant often lost tactically on the battlefield, but relentlessly
advanced toward Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, using
attrition to destroy Lee’s army.
Like Lee, the Israelis are winning the battle tactically—destroying
fighters and projectiles of Hezbollah and Hamas. In Lebanon, they may
even succeed in backing Hezbollah away from the Israeli-Lebanese border
and establishing a buffer zone patrolled by the weak Lebanese army and
some sort of multinational force.
But the Israeli offensives in Lebanon and Gaza will destroy neither
Hezbollah nor Hamas, nor the motivation for violence that underlies
Because the Israeli public still remembers the 18-year quagmire that
resulted from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel probably will
not again launch the full ground invasion of Lebanon needed to finally
crush Hezbollah. Israeli air strikes alone cannot kill all Hezbollah
fighters and destroy all of their weapons and infrastructure.
Similarly, since the Israelis just withdrew their forces from Gaza,
it is unlikely that they would permanently reoccupy it in order to fully
eradicate Hamas. In fact, Israel’s grossly disproportionate collective
punishment of Lebanon and Gaza for the killing and capturing of a few
Israeli soldiers will only fuel the anti-Israel fire in both places and
the larger Arab world. When hatred has been stoked, lost fighters and
weapons can be replaced—and rather easily.
The aggressive Israeli policy of an offensive “defense” created the
threat from these groups in the first place. When Israel invaded Lebanon
in 1982 to get rid of the Palestinian group Fatah, its invasion and
occupation of southern Lebanon ultimately led to the radicalization of
parts of Lebanon’s Shi’ite community and the creation of Hezbollah.
In Palestine, Israel originally supported Hamas as a counterweight to
Fatah. As Israel’s continued occupation began to radicalize the
Palestinians and Fatah’s corruption became exposed, Hamas gained
support. Today, it runs the Palestinian Authority.
Strategically, Israel’s disproportionate use of military force will
not wipe out these groups or the support that they receive from their
respective populations. Only a comprehensive negotiated, not unilateral,
Middle East settlement—in which Israel gives back all of the occupied
territories in exchange for peace and normal relations with its Arab
neighbors—will choke off popular support for these radical groups.
Instead of futilely trying to drain the swamp of terrorists
militarily, Israel should concentrate on draining their motivation for
violence using political means.
Although the Americans have run into a quagmire in Iraq, they finally
realize, at least theoretically, that they can’t defeat the Iraqi
insurgency through military means. They are attempting to negotiate
their way out, but it may be too late. (The Sunni insurgents
deliberately attacked the Shi’a in order to start a sectarian civil war,
which is now raging.)
Unfortunately, the Israelis are even further behind the slow
Americans in coming to terms with reality. They still fail to realize
that military solutions, as well as unilateral political actions, are
not the answer to guerrilla war and terrorism.
A comprehensive negotiated “land for peace” settlement is the only
way to make support for Hezbollah and Hamas evaporate. The more Israel
pounds Lebanon and Gaza with its own acts of terrorism, the less likely
a negotiated settlement—and an end to terrorism by Hezbollah and Hamas—becomes.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.