Monday, August 21, 2006

Israel and the Culture of War

Haaretz draws from historian Victor Hanson's book, Carnage and Culture on the nature of war:
While Ancient, Eastern monarchs considered war a sport, a game of balance between forces, ancient Greek democracy gave rise to an utterly unsportsmanlike perception of war. It viewed war as a fight for liberty and freedom of community and citizen, an existential fight to the death. Its primary objective was not to defend city and homeland but, to the greatest extent possible, to prevent the enemy from recovering in time for another round. While non-Western forces strive to gain points, their Western adversaries strive for a knockout.
Obviously, Israel embraced the Western view of war--or at least she did. Just as the West seems to have lost its stomach for what war really entails, so to has Israel, as we saw in the Olmertesque war in Lebanon. The whole idea of "proportionate force" seems to be derived from the ancient Eastern view of war.

Remember how Israel used to conduct the wars that were forced upon her:
Ben-Gurion declared: "Even if Israel wins 50 wars, it will not defeat the Arab world, but the Arabs have to win only one war to destroy the State of Israel." Ben-Gurion emphasized this asymmetry to explain the need to deliver the fiercest, most painful, blows to delay the strategic and psychological recovery of the other side.
No more.
In the war just ended, Israel behaved as if it viewed the battle as a wrestling match, scored in points: who suffered the heaviest losses in equipment and infrastructure, who displayed the highest morale under fire? This was expressed not only in the management of the war by its leadership but in IDF power structure.
The change in the culture of war is of course a reflection of the change in attitude within Israel herself. Haaretz believes that Israel can learn from her most recent experience. But in being consistent with Hanson's book and Haaretz's own application of it, that would require a paradigm shift in Israel's thinking in general.

Is Israel really ready for that?

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