Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why does Israel pull punches?
25 January '11

I received an email today from a correspondent in Israel regarding my posting of the testimony of the naval commandos who landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara. The writer had been a combat soldier, a veteran of a special forces unit, someone who knows what it’s like to rappel from a helicopter into trouble. He wrote,

I haven’t felt so mad, disappointed, and dishonored in a very, very long time. Mad at the world who will not let us fight to win, and our leaders who feel they aren’t able to. Disappointed at my commanders who would put my courageous brothers in such a helpless situation, then shed the responsibility from themselves. And dishonored that with all our supposed military strength, moral standards, and economic successes, we continually fail to [defeat] the barbarians.

There are a number of issues here. First, whoever was responsible for the intelligence failure that resulted in the soldiers being instructed to expect to be met by ‘peace activists’ who might spit at them or call them names rather than a lynch mob — fire them.

But that’s only the smallest part of the problem. There is something wrong on a deeper level. Israel is viciously attacked but pulls its punches, almost as if the leaders are afraid that the world will get angry — as if there isn’t already an almost endless supply of Israel-hatred out there already.

So for example we have the Goldstone report, and in connection with the Mavi Marmara affair, a Turkish account that says that

All of the evidence, including bullet traces on the Mavi Marmara and several eyewitness statements, reveal that Israeli forces started the attack and that even before boarding the ship the forces had already killed and wounded people when targeting objects and people onboard.

Of course if this were true, one wonders why the soldiers jumped into the middle of the lynch mob with paintball guns? Would the Turks say something different if they had landed with real weapons drawn? I suspect that if that had been the case, both passengers and soldiers would have suffered fewer casualties.

So why does Israel always pull her punches? Why does she always stop fighting while the enemy is still standing, as in Gaza?

In some cases there are psychological reasons. Some Israelis have internalized the enemy ‘s narrative. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that Israel has developed an unhealthy dependence on the US. Israel’s greatest fear is that the US will cut off the supply of spare parts for expensive, complicated weapons systems. And the US is ambivalent toward Israel. Most US officials (but not all) want Israel to survive, but within 1949 lines. And they seem to want to maintain a balance of power between Israel and its neighbors, which means that Israel can’t be allowed to get too strong (see an example of this thinking here).

So while UN and EU resolutions are usually harmless, US actions can be very painful. And I think fear of US actions — or actual US interference, as happened in the Gaza war — are a major constraint on Israel’s ability to fight.

It is imperative that Israel begin to wean itself away from the US. It must develop other sources of weapons and other alliances. I understand that integration of weapons systems from multiple suppliers is a complicated technical problem, but it simply is unacceptable that the Jewish state has to behave like a banana republic. This will be a long, difficult process, but it has to start.

There is another reason why Israel ought to reassess its behavior. It’s an unfortunate fact about humans that most of them do not respect restraint — they respect the exercise of power. It’s a truism that the Arab world always interprets a desire to compromise as a sign of weakness, but it’s not just the Arab world.

Greater force is not always the solution to a difficult problem — consider the Russians in Afghanistan — but restraint when force is called for only invites the other side to push harder.

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