A Stronger Israel?
Elite opinion believes Israel will lose “long-term” whatever happens in the next weeks. Not necessarily.


Victor Davis Hanson

In postmodern wars, we are told, there is no victory, no defeat, no aggressors, no defenders, just a tragedy of conflicting agendas. But in such a mindless and amoral landscape, Israel in fact is on its way to emerging in a far better position after the Gaza war than before.

Analysts of the current fighting in Gaza have assured us that even if Israel weakens Hamas, such a short-term victory will hardly lead to long-term strategic success — but they don’t define “long-term.” In this line of thinking, supposedly in a few weeks Israel will only find itself more isolated than ever. It will grow even more unpopular in Europe and will perhaps, for the first time, lose its patron, America — while gaining an enraged host of Arab and Islamic enemies. Meanwhile, Hamas will gain stature, rebuild, and slowly wear Israel down.

But if we compare the Gaza war with Israel’s past wars, that pessimistic scenario hardly rings true. Unlike in the existential wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, Israel faces no coalition of powerful conventional enemies. Syria’s military is wrecked. Iraq is devouring itself. Egypt is bankrupt and in no mood for war. Its military government is more worried about Hamas than about Israel. Jordan has no wish to attack Israel. The Gulf States are likewise more afraid of the axis of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood than of Israel — a change of mentality that has no historical precedent. In short, never since the birth of the Jewish state have the traditional enemies surrounding Israel been in such military and political disarray. Never have powerful Arab states quietly hoped that Israel would destroy an Islamist terrorist organization that they fear more than they fear the Jewish state.

But is not asymmetrical warfare the true threat to Israel? The West, after all, has had little success in achieving long-term victories over terrorist groups and insurgents — remember Afghanistan and Iraq. How can tiny Israel find security against enemies who seem to gain political clout and legitimacy as they incur ever greater losses, especially when there is only a set number of casualties that an affluent, Western Israel can afford, before public support for the war collapses? How can the Israelis fight a war that the world media portray as genocide against the innocents?

In fact, most of these suppositions are simplistic. The U.S., for example, defeated assorted Islamic insurgents in what was largely an optional war in Iraq; a small token peacekeeping force might have kept Nouri al-Maliki from hounding Sunni politicians, and otherwise kept the peace. Israel’s recent counterinsurgency wars have rendered both the Palestinians on the West Bank and pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants in Lebanon less, not more, dangerous. Hamas, not Israel, would not wish to repeat the last three weeks.

Oddly, Hezbollah, an erstwhile ally of Hamas, has been largely quiet during the Gaza war. Why, when the use of its vast missile arsenal, in conjunction with Hamas’s rocketry, might in theory have overwhelmed Israel’s missile defenses? The answer is probably the huge amount of damage suffered by Hezbollah in the 2006 war in Lebanon, and its inability to protect its remaining assets from yet another overwhelming Israeli air response. Had Hamas’s rockets hit their targets, perhaps Hezbollah would have joined in. But for now, 2014 looks to them a lot like 2006.

In the current asymmetrical war, Israel has found a method of inflicting as much damage on Hamas as it finds politically and strategically useful without suffering intolerable losses. And because the war is seen as existential — aiming rockets at a civilian population will do that — Israeli public opinion will largely support the effort to retaliate.

As long as Israel does not seek to reoccupy Gaza, it can inflict enough damage on the Hamas leadership, and on both the tunnels and the missile stockpiles, to win four or five years of quiet. In the Middle East, that sort of calm qualifies as victory. And the more the world sees of the elaborate tunnels and vast missile arsenals that an impoverished Hamas had built with other people’s money, and the more these military assets proved entirely futile in actual war, the more Hamas appears not just foolish but incompetent, if not ridiculous, as well.  

After all the acrimony dies down, Gazans will understand that there was a correlation between blown-up houses, on the one hand, and, on the other, tunnel entrances, weapon depots, and the habitat of the Hamas leadership. Even the Hamas totalitarians will not be able to keep that fact hidden. As the rubble is cleared away, too many Gazans will ask of their Hamas leaders whether the supposedly brilliant strategy of asymmetrical warfare was worth it. Hamas’s intended war — blanketing Israel with thousands of rockets that would send video clips around the world of hundreds of thousands of Jews trembling in fear in shelters — failed in its first hours. The air campaign was about as successful as the tunnel war, which was supposed to allow hit teams to enter Israel to kidnap and kill, with gruesome videos posted all over the Internet. Both strategies largely failed almost upon implementation.

Israel's Arsenal
As the Israel Defense Forces continue to pound Hamas militants in Gaza, prime minister Benjamin has warned his nation to prepare for a protracted campaign. Here’s a look at some of the IDF equipment seen in news reports covering the ongoing conflict. Pictured, the IDF's F-16I Sufa fighter.
Operation Protective Edge was launched on July 8 to quell renewed rocket attacks on Israeli cities and to uncover and destroy a growing network of tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate fighters into Israeli territory.
IRON DOME: On the front lines of Operation Protective Edge is Iron Dome, Israel’s game-changing missile defense system that has proven highly effective against rockets launched from Gaza and other nearby territories.
As of July 30, more than 2,600 rockets have been fired by Hamas from positions in Gaza such as this one, which are often hidden in civilian areas including schools.
Iron Dome consists of a radar station, weapons control unit, and the missile launcher. When a rocket launched is detected, the system’s radar determines its trajectory and target, and quickly plots an intercept course, detonating the incoming missile high in the air.
Not every incoming rocket is targeted; those that are determined to be headed towards unpopulated areas are let through, leaving the Iron Dome system to concentrate on those that pose the most danger to civilian or military areas. Pictured, two Iron Dome missiles find their targets.
MERKAVA MARK IV: The Merkava is the main battle tank of the Israeli Defense Forces. First deployed in 1979, the Merkava — Hebrew for “chariot” — has gone through several main versions, with the latest, the Mark IV, entering service in 2003.
The Merkava is a robust and battle-tested weapon system, featuring heavy crew protection, superior speed and maneuverability, and the latest digital battle management systems.
The Merkava’s highly sloped main turret is designed to deflect incoming rounds that manage to strike the tank.
The Merkava’s main punch is provided by its 120mm cannon, which an fire a variety of high-explosive and anti-personnel rounds. Merkavas also carry a 60mm mortar system that can fire explosive and illumination rounds. Pictured, Merkavas with the 401st Armored Brigade on the move near the Gaza border.
Merkava tanks deploy to the border of Gaza in the early days of Operation Protective Edge.
A tank crew loads a round inside a Merkava.
Older versions of the Merkava tank have also been deployed in the ground element of Operation Protective Edge. Pictured, a Merkava Mark III model on the move.
A closer look at the turret of the Merkava Mark III.
TROPHY: The fighting in Gaza has also seen the operational debut of the Trophy Active Tank Defense System on Israeli armor. Trophy automatically detects and intercepts incoming RPGs and anti-armor rockets from any direction, detonating them with a barrage of ball bearings before they reach the tank. (Illustration: IDF)
Trophy also relays the attacker’s launch location to the crew, allowing a quick response. According to the Foxtrot Alpha blog, Trophy is capable of intercepting enemy threats at a great enough distance to keep nearby IDF troops out of harm's way.
F-16I SUFA: The Israeli Air Force has flown a wide range of aircraft throughput its history, including American-designed jets such as the F-15 and F-16, and has often upgraded and enhanced these aircraft to meet its own operational needs. One example is the F-16I Sufa, the Israeli version of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
First introduced in 1994, the Sufa — the Hebrew word for “storm” — builds on the proven Falcon platform with new Israeli-designed weapons system hardware, radar, and helmet-mounted cueing system that allows the pilot to launch weapons by sight commands.
Like its American forebearer, the Sufa is a fast and deadly strike aircraft, capable of top speeds above Mach 2.0 and low-altitude runs at nearly 900 miles per hour.
The straight ridge on the spine of the aircraft is is a compartment housing specialized avionics systems.
Some Sufa aircraft are also equipped with “shoulder”-mounted conformal fuel tanks, resting just above the wings on each side of the aircraft, which give the fighter increased combat radius.
A Sufa fighter fully loaded with fuel and weapons and ready to fight.
APACHE GUNSHIP: The Israeli Air Force flies a number of helicopter aircraft, including the UH-60 Black Hawk, the Eurocopter AS-656 Panther (Hewbrew nickname Atalef, meaning “bat”), and the Boeing AH-64 Apache gunship (Hebrew nickname Peten, meaning “adder”) pictured here.
The IDF has flown the Apache since 1990, and it has proven its mettle in combat just as it has for American forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pictured, an AH-64 Longbow — with the distinctive mast-mounted radar dome above the rotors — readies for takeoff.
The Apache’s four-blade rotor and twin turbo-shaft engines are capable of speeds of up to 182 mph and to a combat ceiling of 21,000 feet. Pictured, an IDF Apache looses a missile at a ground target.
An AH-1 Cobra gunship, another American-built import flown by the IDF, joins an Apache AH-64 Longbow on the tarmac. The Longbow model is known in the IDF as the Saraf (Hebrew for “serpent”).
SKYLARK: The drone revolution that has swept the American military is also in evidence in the IDF, where the lightweight Skylark drone has seen use in Gaza. Small enough to be launched by hand, the Skylark can stay aloft for three hours providing live-video feeds.
A member of the IDF’s “Sky Riders” Skylark squadron prepares to launch the Skylark.
SUBMARINES: The Israeli Navy operates four Dolphin-class submarines to provide defense and surveillance operations in Israel’s coastal waters. Like the U.S. Navy’s fleet, the operations of Israel’s submarines are highly secretive.
The latest submarine, the Tanin (Hebrew for “crocodile”) was delivered in 2012. According to the IDF’s blog, another advanced submarine, the INS Rahav, is expected to delivered some time this year. Pictured, inside one of the Dolphin boats.
Updated: Jul. 30, 2014