The cost of missing a military opportunity

Anti-Israel protest in Egypt

Anti-Israel protest in Egypt

My friend Elchanan brought to my attention an excellent article by Evelyn Gordon on the cost of missing military opportunities, and the lessons that should be learned by both Israel and the US (and the rest of the Western world).

The ongoing chaos in both Egypt and Syria offers few certainties. But one fact is already clear: The military opportunities Israel wasted in recent years won’t come again, and those missed opportunities will likely cost it dearly.

In December 2008, Israel went to war with Hamas in Gaza. But rather than seeking to topple the Hamas regime, it opted for limited goals: weakening Hamas’s military capabilities and deterring it from future rocket attacks on Israel. Toppling Hamas, the thinking went, would entail a larger, longer and bloodier operation, so if a limited operation could achieve deterrence, that would be preferable. And if the rocket fire resumed, Israel could always reinvade; waiting a few years would not make it any harder.

But thanks to Egypt’s revolution, that comfortable assumption has proven false. If large-scale rocket fire on southern Israel resumes and another war in Gaza becomes necessary, Israel will now pay a far higher price, both militarily and diplomatically, than it would have in 2008.

But the dangers of Hamas’s bolstered military capabilities pale beside the diplomatic ramifications of any future Israel-Hamas war. Whereas Mubarak loathed Hamas, the organization is now so closely allied with Cairo that it is considering relocating its headquarters there from Damascus. Egypt’s new rulers are also significantly more anti-Israel than Mubarak was, in part because they must be more attentive to a citizenry of which 90 percent views Israel as an “enemy” and a “threat.”

Moreover, the same could well prove true in Lebanon, where Israel fought a limited war against Hezbollah in 2006, but refrained from an all-out campaign to destroy the organization for the same reason it refrained in Gaza two years later. Since then, according to Israeli intelligence, Hezbollah has tripled its missile arsenal, making it far more dangerous. Far worse, however, is that with chaos reigning in Syria, Israel now fears Hezbollah could acquire some of Syria’s chemical weapons, plus other arms more advanced than anything it has now. If so, the price of defeating Hezbollah in the future will also be far higher than it would have been in 2006.

This is a lesson Israeli and American officials should ponder carefully in relation to Iran’s nuclear program.

These are only very small excerpts. Read the whole thing. Food for thought for the weekend.

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3 Responses to The cost of missing a military opportunity

  1. Andrea says:

    Most of arguments used to convince readers of this interesting article are tempting. Isreal’s option for limited goals has been always considered a mistake by some opinionists and even out of Israeli few of them claimed about “Israeli’s army underperformance” if not clearly fiasco. There is a stream of opinions supporting the idea that Israel has been weakened by uncertain leadership.
    I am not convinced at all. Israel has made mistakes of course – and possibly some pointed out by this article – but her enemies made worst and in war (and in politics) victory is more the result of your enemies’ mistakes rather than your own merit.
    Hamas survived in 2008 and Hezbollah has tripled its missile arsenal. This will increase their terroristic threats against civilians ( women and children ) on the borders of Israel but will this allow them to win next war against Israel ? How many chanches they have to win a confrontation against your Army ? If they will use the chemical wepons supplied by Syria this will be most probably thier last infamous war.Yet they will keep on with a wearing war made by terrorist attacks and limited targets attacks – but at the end wearing for who ?
    Over the last years Israel achieved her best performances in economy, science and technology. Her military power has not of course decreased and number of Iranian scientist so unfortunate shows that Israelis Army officers are not so naives.
    The more Israel is attacked and criticized by her allies’ (?) dipolmacy the more Israel is getting strong. Israel look like old England – hated but respected like any strong power.
    Arab countries are failing everywhere and belive me I am not an hater or detractor of Arabs people but it is a fact that the only area without any progress during the last thirty years is the Arab nation(s).
    Their health system is inexistent, their buildings are falling apart, their technology rudimental and their school and university simply do not exist.
    Hamas and Hezebollah together would not win even a single confrontation against the female reservist of Israel .
    Does it mean that I underestimate the Iranian or Islamist threat ? Am I perhaps saying this due to the fact I live miles away from Israel comfortably sitting on my chair ? Yes it is possible. I think to be fair enough to admit the weakness of my optimistic view but still after seventy years of crowling war ( declared or not ) it is clear to me who is winning this game.
    The Iranian nuclear weapon if and when completed will be a terrific threat for Iranians since best remedy will be what most of us think and do not say and for the first time Israel will find unexpected help from some old enemies.
    The more is hated, the more is apparently abandoned, the stronger become – and this is Israel or at least Israel during Likud years. Not a bad result for Netanyau ( I hate to admit it but this is another story…..) in spite of Haartetz and New York Times bad predictions.

    • anneinpt says:

      Wow, Andrea, thank you for that great comment! You really are an inspiration to us all. I told you you should be Israel’s Foreign Minister! 😉

      Speaking seriously, of course you are right on most of what you say. Israel is not only surviving but thriving and growing, despite all the threats against it. As you pointed out, our economy, health system, education and industry are in fair shape, although they need to improve and become more efficient, like any First World country.

      What I was trying to show through these articles is not that Israel is losing – of course anyone can see that Israel is as strong as ever – but that Israel could have won, or could have been further ahead on the road to victory, if those military opportunities had not been missed.

      Hezbollah and Hamas may not be able to defeat Israel in a conventional war but they can and do manage to paralyze parts of Israel’s territory through their missile threat. This may not be an existential threat in the short-term but if not faced up to and dealt with completely, they have severe repercussions for the future.

      Similarly, a nuclear-armed Iran may not be able to completely wipe out Israel, but one nuclear strike, G-d forbid, on Israel would wipe out a significant portion of the population and the territory. The fact that Iran would suffer even worse in a second strike by Israel might not matter to the crazed messianic Ayatollahs who would prefer to eliminate Israel even if it costs them their own lives.

      In truth I’m an optimist at heart and tend to agree with your point of view, but we must not let wishful thinking take ahold of us, just in case the pessimists are right.

  2. Andrea says:

    It would not be a big deal for Israel I am afraid 😦
    and you would not vote for the party I would choose to run with in Israel 😦
    yet you can send me to the PA to make them weaker than they are

    Just a piece of food for thought . You say ” Israel could have been further ahead on the road to victory, if those military opportunities had not been missed”. On this “further ahead on the road to victory ” many friends of israel and many Israelis would start to argue each other . What would be the final destination ? a pacefull state governed by Liberals or a military superpower led by Neo Conservatives ? A secular state ? With Judea and Samaria it would be a plurinational and multicultural state ? and most of all an isolated First World country extraneous to his surronding context or a high tech developed area yet integrated in the Middle east market rich of oil?
    Sometimes I wonder if the victory over her enemies would not lead to more struggles between Israelis inside Israel.
    But again final victory implies an ideal vison of future of Israel. What it would be this vision ?
    A lot of thinks to talk about in the future…..
    Thank you for your always friendly hospitality

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