One of the most important rules for a strategist is not to be put on the defensive. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, developed this concept into a doctrine of forward defense that brilliantly served his state in its early years.
Eventually, however, Israel’s enemies realized that they could not win a conventional war. Instead of launching planes, tanks, and ships at the Jewish state, they turned to other means — weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and (most recently) political delegitimization. Delegitimization turns the rules of war upside down: in particular, strength is weakness and public opinion has supreme importance.
Israel’s command structure, having mastered the old ways of war (the ones that lasted to 1973), has shown utter strategic incompetence at the new ways of war (in place since 1982). The new rules require an agile sense of public relations, which means that a powerful state never physically harms, even inadvertently, its rag-tag political adversaries.
Rachel Corrie has been an albatross around Israel’s neck since 2003; today’s dead on the seas off Gaza will prove an even worse source of anti-Zionism. Thus did the “armada of hate and violence” achieve its purpose. Thus did the Israelis fall into a trap.