No Matter How Powerful Israel’s Military Becomes, It Still Can’t Win

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Yves here. This is a short but informative and sobering assessment of the balance of forces between Israel and Palestine.

By Paul Rogers, professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy’s international security adviser, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His latest book is ‘Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins‘ (IB Tauris, 2016), which follows ‘Why We’re Losing the War on Terror‘ (Polity, 2007), and ‘Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century‘ (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers Originally published at openDemocracy

Israel is the most powerful state in the Middle East. Its military forces may not match the likes of Egypt or Turkey in numbers, but the might of its training, equipment, technologies and nuclear weapons make it unassailable. Given its long-developed capabilities in public order control, such a position should also apply to its control of radical dissent within its own borders, as well as in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Gaza may not be occupied in the conventional sense but it is a small territory with two million people living behind borders controlled by Israel. It lacks a port, its sole airport was destroyed many years ago and its Mediterranean coastline is patrolled by Israelis at all times. It is essentially an open prison.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has persistently claimed that his country is indeed safe, that it has nothing to fear from the Palestinians and that the settlements can and should expand as Israel has established good relations with key Gulf states.

More importantly, President Joe Biden’s administration has done little to repeal Donald Trump’s pro-Israel changes. There is no sign of moving the US embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, the US consulate in East Jerusalem that gave Palestinians a direct link to Washington has remained closed since 2019, as has the Palestinian office in Washington since 2018. There has been little pressure over the settlement expansion, and even the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) has only had $230m of its previous $380m US financial support restored.

Taking all these elements into account, Israel should feel safe and secure – but in practice it doesn’t. Instead, an apt summary is of a state that is impregnable in its insecurity. It is impregnable in the sense that it cannot be defeated but insecure in that the underlying threats will not go away, as evident in the current violent confrontations.

Underlying Anger

The threats stem from the underlying anger in Palestinian circles, especially in the occupied territories, as Netanyahu’s government moves ahead to get more settlers into East Jerusalem. This is seen in Palestine as straightforward ethnic cleansing, further encouraged by the far-Right Jewish parties that Netanyahu depends on for power.

The extremist Jewish ideology behind the Kahanist movement in Israel that seeks something approaching full ethnic cleansing of the land west of the Jordan, is still very much in the minority. Nevertheless, it is there in the background, aided by the growth in numbers of some of the more rigorous religious elements.

As the social unrest came to a head this week, many hundreds of young Palestinians were injured but their demonstrations continued and the Israeli police took the extraordinary step of entering al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holy place. This provoked outrage in the territories, in Gaza, and among Israeli Arabs who make up a fifth of the population of Israel, as well as across the wider Islamic world.

Widespread violence has broken out, leaving many people injured. Much of it has been instigated by Jewish youth, while Islamic paramilitaries in Gaza have fired numerous unguided rockets towards towns in southern and central Israel, including the port of Ashdod and the city of Tel Aviv.

The Israelis, in turn, have carried out hundreds of airstrikes and drone attacks on Gaza, already killing well over a hundred people, many of them children. Israeli casualties are tiny in comparison but the psychological threat of missile attacks is affecting millions of Israelis as they head for shelters, night and day. That should not be underestimated and Netanyahu’s claim of victory seems increasingly hollow.

Unless the violence dies down very soon, Netanyahu will look to take firm action to regain control of Israeli towns, including multiple arrests to deter rioters. Such domestic action will do little to reassure people that all is well, and the situation in Gaza and East Jerusalem only adds to the instability that such action induces.

Israel’s problem in Gaza is that it cannot prevent the rockets being fired without a military ground force intervention. However, the last time it sent in troops, during ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in July 2014, they came up against determined paramilitaries who knew the urban areas intimately and had long trained in urban guerrilla warfare.

As my column explained at the time, 12 days into the seven-week war, Israeli troops moved into Gaza to destroy cross-border tunnels and rocket launch sites. On the first day of that operation, 20 July, “…the elite Golani brigade lost 13 men killed and well over 50 injured. The dead included a battalion deputy commander and the wounded the brigade’s commanding officer, Colonel Ghassan Alian. The overall level of resistance, and especially the abilities of the Hamas paramilitaries, came as a shock to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), even as it was coming to realise that the tunnels constituted a far more serious problem than expected.”

Eight days later, when hundreds of Israeli troops were operating within Gaza, a Hamas paramilitary unit used an undetected tunnel to cross the border and kill five young IDF sergeants on a leadership training course, losing one of their own men in the operation. Rockets continued to be fired from Gaza throughout the war, killing six people, including a child.

In Gaza, the Palestinian losses were vastly greater. Amnesty International later reported that more than 2,000 Palestinians had been killed during the seven weeks, including more than 500 children, and more than 10,000 people had been injured.

Shift to the Right

Over the course of that 2014 conflict, the Israelis lost 68 troops, while several hundreds were left wounded, some maimed for life. Yet, when a ceasefire was eventually agreed, IDF sources accepted that Hamas still had 3,000 rockets available, an arsenal that will have increased massively in the past seven years.

IDF leaders may believe that they have since prepared their forces much more effectively for ground operations. However, that same belief after the 2008 ‘Operation Cast Lead’ conflict didn’t stop them failing six years later. Netanyahu, though, has little option but to take action now, not least because of the changes in Israeli politics over the last ten years.

Prior to the events of the past month, Netanyahu had worked hard to convince Israelis that the Palestinians had been defeated and Israeli Jews could feel secure. This narrative was supported by a 40-year shift to the Right in Israel, propped up by the influx of close to a million migrants from Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s, who were understandably determined to be secure in their new country. It was also aided by the near-wholesale privatisation of the Kibbutz and Moshav cooperatives across Israel that had often provided a more liberal outlook.

Furthermore, the idea that the Palestinians had lost and had to get used to it was promoted vigorously by sectors of the Israeli lobby in the United States, most notably the Middle East Forum. And the many millions of Christian Zionists in the US are an ever-present influence on aspiring politicians, both Republican and Democrat.

On the surface, Israel still appears secure but for all its military power, this is far from true. It may seem impregnable but remains fundamentally insecure. Perhaps the current conflict will ease, possibly due to late pressure from Biden, but whether or not it does, the one key event of recent weeks is the incursion of the Israeli forces into al-Aqsa Mosque. That will have a far deeper and more longer-lasting effect than associates of Netanyahu realise.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    The worrying thing is that Israel is seen by some authoritarian countries around the world as a model for how to keep a tight cap on a troublesome minority. It hasn’t been unnoticed in many countries that in general, the quality of life for the average Israeli is very high so long as you don’t live in one of the trouble zones. So while I abhor any missile attacks on civilians, its unsurprising that Hamas finds it a useful strategy to fling unguided missiles into populated areas.

    But it does seem like things are changing. From what I understand, this is the first time there has been serious problems in Israeli arab neighbourhoods outside the occupied territories. A few years ago I was talking to an Israeli friend of a friend who lived in a majority arab neighbourhood and she openly said that she feared the new wave of extremist immigrants far more than her arabic neighbours (and she was certainly not a lefty or pro-Palestinian). Israeli society itself is under strain and one can only wonder how it can contain all the stresses without combusting. And it is, of course a nuclear power.

    1. vlade

      What you say in the last para (“she feared the new wave of extremist immigrants far more than her arabic neighbours”) is what I heard from other Israelis too.

      Up till end of April, there was a perceivable shift where fundamentalists Jews were publicly starting to be seen as more dangerous than non-fundamentalists Arabs, and based on what I hear the Israeli society had enough of the ultra-orthodox stuff. One wonders how much of the current situation is an intentional push/provocation by Nenatyahu to try to get a chance (maybe one of the last) to turn it around, one that Hamas happily obliged him with (I have some doubts that Hamas would be too happy with peaceful coexistence. Militant arms have too often a problem switching out of their modus operandi)?

      1. John Wright

        I had two business trips to Israel in 2013 and remember hearing complaints about the ultra-orthodox from a taxi cab driver and some of the Israelis I visited.

        As I remember, the ultra-orthodox do not serve in the IDF and are supported in their religious lifestyle by the state, causing considerable resentment.

        The taxi-cab driver mentioned having a “black woman” (the ultra-orthodox dress in black) in his cab who had suggested that “we pray to god for you” and he said he responded with “If I want to talk to god, I’ll do it myself”.

    2. Petter

      Yasha Levine has covered and continues to cover the connections between the USA, Israel and Jewish immigration on his Substack site “Immigrants as a Weapon.” The underlying dynamic from what I can understand is that the Israelis and the Palestinians are engaged in a demographic war, a war the Palestinians have been winning. The response of Israel has been immigration and almost a mandate that Israelis have children. In a recent podcast with Sam Harris, the cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand (of tight and loose cultures fame) stated that Israel is a loose culture, except where it comes to couples having children. There it is very tight.
      This link is few years old but is still germane: With more Palestinians than Jews, Israel is waging a numerical war of attrition

    3. DJG, Reality Czar

      PlutoniumKun: Interesting idea that Israel is a model of authoritarian control of pesky minorities. (It makes me wonder if its actions are the model for the coup in Myanmar. Or the failed model for some governments in Sri Lanka.)

      Yet: It occurs to me that imperial Israel may be suffering from decay. How else does one explain raiding the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the end of Ramadan, the month commemorating when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed and began imparting the Koran?

      It’s the equivalent of attacking the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.

      Is it that the Israel Defense Forces are no longer accountable? Are the right-wingers in government that unaware of their situation–in a country now half Arab, half Jewish?

      In a sense, this is the first time that Israel has demonstrated just how insecure it is.

      1. Harry

        “Yet: It occurs to me that imperial Israel may be suffering from decay. How else does one explain raiding the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the end of Ramadan, the month commemorating when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed and began imparting the Koran?”

        There was some risk that the next government would have been the first that excluded Bibi since he became PM. That would itself have risks for Bibi given ongoing corruption investigations. So perhaps Im drawing the wrong dots, but I can think of at least one prominent Israeli politician who might have seen an advantage in the Jerusalem police entering the Al Aqsa and cutting off the speakers when they should have been issuing the call to prayer. Apparently Rivlin was giving a speech at the WW.

    4. if needed email me for more

      fact 90%of all current isreal citizens or their fathers came to the middle east from europe or rusia who emptied out their entire far east “jew provence” in the past 30 years to fill the houses in the west bank & ?
      Where as the palistinians are the decendants of the pallistine jews who after the fall of rome took up other religions and or are the 10% indigineous jews of today!
      study history and learn about the lies told by many countries today about their supposed origins which are not factual. Isreal was invented by an American bastard president named harry Truman at the request of his business partner in KC habadashery before he got political.
      Just like the truth about the 911 disaster it is all a mater of what the ruling class want’s you to know! HISTORY is HIS Story not factual reporting of events! Try to get history of kung he 12th century Chinese explorer who circumnavigated tthe worlds oceans including to pudget sound on USA West coast of Wash. State there is a book if you want one.

      1. Keith McClary

        Then there is the claim that the Jews were expelled from Palestine. Funny, even the ultraZionist Wikipedia does not have an article about that.
        So why should they have a right of “return”.

  2. David

    Rogers isn’t an expert on these things, and he gets several different ideas mixed up here. He comes to the right conclusion, more or less, but like many others with such arguments, he doesn’t ask what “win” means. It might be worth separating the various different strands of the argument.
    No nation is “secure” from military attack in the absolute sense, or even has been. Short of building an impenetrable physical barrier around a country, this will always be so. In theory, Mexico could attack the US, Finland could try to send its forces into Russia. This would be for the traditional military reason of capturing territory or even taking over a country, and it’s not likely that either attack would be successful.. Israel is effectively in this position with respect to its neighbours and even to Hamas, ie they could theoretically launch a conventional attack, but would be repulsed. That is a kind of “security.”

    There are also types of military attack against which defence is difficult, if not impossible. No nation in the world can really defend against attack by an ICBM carrying nuclear warheads. The Russians have a limited ability to defend Moscow, the US has an extremely limited capability against very small numbers of missiles. In this case “security” comes from an invulnerable second strike capability. That’s not the issue here.

    But all this is standard intra-state warfare stuff. Where it breaks down is in cases where “win” means different things to different sides. Since the beginning, the Israeli objective has been to construct an ethno-nationalist state which was defended by forces powerful enough to defeat any conventional attack by its neighbours. This in turn reflects the European intellectual heritage of its first leaders, who had WW2 as their model. In that sense they have “won” and are “secure.” But what happens if “winning” means something else to the other side? With no hope of conventional military victory, Hamas have been playing a different game – that of insurgency warfare – where no amount of conventional superiority really makes a difference. And here, “winning” for the Israelis means completely destroying Hamas’s capability to launch attacks against Israel. All Hamas has to do to “win” is to preserve some of that capability. Here, Hamas has the traditional advantage of insurgents: they can move quickly, strike at will and disappear, using fairly basic weaponry. They don’t even really have to “win”: they just have to avoid losing. And their technical capacity is improving, not only with large numbers of missiles to saturate enemy defences, but also with cheap and simple suicide drones. As elsewhere, it looks as though Iranian technology is at the origin of this capability. (Here’s a useful article on the subject).

    It is possible to defeat asymmetric insurgency warfare. The Portuguese were winning in Angola before 1975 (largely because of disunity among the independence groups). The French basically defeated the FLN in Algeria. But in both cases, the financial, political and resource costs were unsustainable. (The French had half a million troops in Algeria, the Portuguese proportionally the same in Angola). The only way for the Israelis to “win” in this case would be a permanent military occupation of Gaza, treating it like a conquered province. The resources do not exist for that, no matter how many tanks, guns and aeroplanes the Israelis have. It’s like trying to play football where your opponent is playing rugby.

    I don’t know what Hamas’s real long-term objective is (I’m not sure who does exactly), but in the short term they have a lot to gain from puncturing the Israeli sense of superiority, and perhaps forcing big political concessions from them in exchange for stopping the attacks. That itself would be a kind of “win”, and one which, whatever their conventional military superiority, the Israelis will have a tough time preventing.

    1. topcat

      you wrote a lot there but said nothing new. Rogers said exactly the same thing so I don’t know exactly where your criticism of the piece comes from. The only occupying forces that really succeeded over the long term were the Romans and the British as they at least tried to integrate at some level into the local surroundings. The French in Angola were just brutal and resorted to mass murder and repression, not a low-maintenance way to go. Israel will at some point either have to funadmentaly change like post apartheid SA or they will have to go in and kill the Palestinians.
      Hamas is a political entity, its long term aim is survival like all other political entities, how this pans out depends upon events dear boy, events.

      1. David

        As I said, Rogers came to what (I think anyway) was the right conclusion, but misunderstood the issues. In fact, almost all of the article is a rehash of recent media stories with a bit of (justified) moral indignation. The analysis accounts for, oh let’s be charitable, one paragraph.

      2. Edward

        I don’t think Israel can survive without U.S. support; it is an artificial state, with similarities to the crusader states of the Middle Ages. I think the Israelis want to expel/kill the Palestinians, but they don’t have a concrete plan for this yet and are responding to events. Meanwhile, the situation will continue to boil over, creating international angst. The Biden administration will slavishly support Israel, but have nothing to offer to resolve the conflict. They are essentially stalling for time, supporting the apartheid status quo, and how long can that continue, against both domestic and international criticism? The White House is essentially making false claims about the situation. How long can they maintain the pretenses? The Russians have made some noises about mediating the conflict. Will they become involved at some point? Hezbullah and perhaps others seem to be considering how they might become involved in the conflict, perhaps not now but in the future.

        The dynamic in Israel seems to be toward more and more thuggery, as a substitute for diluting Zionism and the “Jewish State”. The Israelis may feel, after everything they have done to the Palestinians, that coexistence is not realistic, and they might not want the indignity of dealing with Palestinians as equals, which also might mean returning some of the stolen property. The alternative is to leave for Europe or some other nation, which about a million Israelis have done.

          1. Edward

            I read that figure in an article about a week ago. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the source.

            1. Harry

              Still, even 600k is a serious problem when the only section of your population which is keeping up with the OT are the Haredi, who are hardly top notch military material.

        1. CostcoPizza

          Israelis = the military officials or the citizens?

          Cause I’ve talked with residents and soldiers, and if there’s some unifying bloodlust for Palestinians, I could not detect it. Violence is exhausting and the vast majorities of Israelis don’t want it.

          1. Edward

            I am a bit puzzled that you don’t see “bloodlust” from the Israelis. I have not spoken to Israelis recently, and there are different political tendencies in Israel, but the actions of their government certainly says “bloodlust” to me. The obvious event to point to is the current bombing of Gaza, but Israel’s history is steeped in violence against Palestinians. For example, how familiar are you with the Likud party? It was founded by people like Begin and Shamir who led terrorist gangs in the 1930’s. There was a letter that ran in the NYT in 1948 by prominent Jewish Americans like Albert Einstein denouncing the Deir Yassin massacre and also condemning Shamir and his ilk as fascists.

            Israeli courts have fined settlers 80 cents for murdering Palestinians. As I recall, the first Intifada was started after some Israeli soldiers ran over a Palestinian with their jeep. They tied the body to the front of their jeep and paraded it around the West Bank like some hunting trophy. The Israeli response to the Gaza protests a few years ago was bloodthirsty. The occupation, with its bantustans and imprisonment and torture is bloodthirsty.

    2. A Malaysian Reader

      Well, there is another model for handling insurgencies, and you’ve pointed out part of that solution: the Briggs’ Plan, done against the Communists during the Malayan Emergency. I mean, it’s so successful that subsequent generations of Malaysian Chinese folk consider themselves proud members of generations raised in “New Villages”, and that when I finally was told that they were examples of forced resettlement and concentration camps, I was surprised.

      I mean, we were thought at school that yes, food was prepared centrally and rationed (so that they couldn’t provide material support to insurgents), the people who lived in black and grey zones weren’t allowed to leave (to prevent collaboration with insurgents), but not a lot of folks who were raised in that education system thought to link that with, you know, concentration camps. But it was a literal prison for people who had the misfortune to be born the wrong ethnicity.

      But apart from human decency, there are only, you know, several problems with pulling off this or similar plans:

      1. It’s basically against the Geneva Conventions and customary international law– pfft, who am I kidding? This is a minor issue, considering how, let’s be real, the Israeli state has no problem with this. They’ll do it and dare anyone to call them out on it.

      2. It’s going to take way more resources than Israel can muster. It’s one thing to try and forcefully integrate 10% of your population. Most modern-day genociders at least outnumber their genocidees 10 to 1 at least. Israelis only outnumber Palestinians, what, less than 4 to 1? Even the gold standard of contemporary cultural genocide “integration”, the Chinese efforts with the Uighurs, had some serious “teething problems”, and they outnumbered the Uighurs 100 to 1.

      3. You’re going to need to give the Palestinians land, to give them a stake at integrating with your society. I mean, that’s how it worked in the end with the Malaysian Chinese — suddenly they were land-owners, suddenly they had way less incentive to support the Communists, suddenly they had a stake in Malayan society and weren’t so eager to overthrow the British.

      So #1’s going to be a non-issue, #2 you could probably “solve” with enough collateral damage and automation, but #3? I thought the point was that Israel was only for Jewish people and no one else, which was the point of the Kahanists, right? Giving land to non-Jewish folk wouldn’t do at all.

      I mean, you could just go outright extermination ethnic cleansing, after all, but I get this feeling that even if you “win” that one, you really honestly lose. Again, it’s really hard to sweep 2 million people under the rug of history with a population of only roughly 8 million. I mean, the Israeli state wants to make them second-class citizens? Works real “great” (sarcasm) when you’re, like, 60% versus 10% of the population. But that’s not what you’re seeing with Jewish Israelis (who aren’t necessarily all united in the first place against minorities), and, well, everyone else in Israel.

      I mean I’ll be real when I say I’m biased towards the Palestinians, despite the tone in my comment here. But even thinking like an absolute monster the way I have above, the numbers don’t make sense. I mean you’d have to go really out of the box, I guess, to figure out a solution that’d work…

      1. Keith McClary

        “… the area encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel. In this combined area, as of 2005, Palestinians constituted 49% of all inhabitants,” -wiki
        I think they are a majority by now.
        They are 21% of the “Israel” population.

    3. call me if you write enviornment stuff ... or energy stuff or are looking to a future world in which only effeciently produced resources can survive or!

      So why does ISRAEL want gaza a woryhless strip of land on the barren coast of the med?
      OIL GAS & ? more in the waters just off the coast of gaza!
      There is alwayse a reason for greedy actions! Just like America’s 18 years in aAfganistan…EARE EARTH! got that? now willing to partially let it go. Rare earth in WV ? more places in USA !
      All Government statements are bullshit covers for facts or provocations to scare nations from competing with USA for profitmaking raw materials or to assure a competetor dosen’t get them!
      While destroying most resource rich countries America cannot control …it sanctions it’s way into trade deals like it is doing …russia europe/germany gas pipeline NS2 ! to force europe to buy USA gas from fracking in Penn/WV & more!
      While America’ spurns development of cheap thorium LFTR & Geothermal electrical energy all for profit utilities hate as they can’t make big profits selling cheaper electricity! As simple as that!

  3. The Rev Kev

    A few random thoughts here. As David says above, there is no classic victory to be had with Hamas. Israel occupied Gaza for decades but finally had to give it up as it could not be held. They made sure to destroy everything that they built first leaving the Palestinians only rubble. Israel may have the military firepower but on a fundamental level, the Israelis are fighting human “will” which refuses to give up no matter how bleak everything seems. The Gazans are fighting for their homes and cannot leave in any case. And does anybody think that the world will take in a coupla million Palestinian refugees so that Israel can finally colonize Gaza? But things will grow worse over time as Israel moves more to the extreme right. I happened to stumble across a video today and I suspect that it is real and not a fake as it lines up with statements by high-ranking Haredi in Israel- (1:09 mins)

    I’ll nail my colours to the flag here and say that I am equally indifferent to all religions but I do have a profound mistrust with a fundamental version of any religion whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or whatever. As it stands in Israel right now, the Ultra-Orthodox have way more children than secular Israelis and as a consequence are taking over that country. Secular Israelis themselves say that in Israel that one third of Israelis pay taxes, one third serve in the military and one third do all the admin of the country but that unfortunately it is all the same third. Demographics will make this situation worse over time as Israel gets more Old Testament in behaviour.

    During the Regan era we had the legend of the ‘Mad Mullahs’ but in future we may have arise the legend of the “Mad Rabbis’ – but with nukes. I’ll leave another link here that might give an insight into the missile war over Israel/Gaza for those interested-

    1. Sal Pellettieri

      Actually you’re wrong here bud. Israel pulled down it’s gaza settlements as a gesture to make peace with the Palestinians. There were a number of homes, businesses, water sewage processing etc left behind so the Palestinians could use to build communities. This was a mistake on Israel’s part because Hamas took it as an act of weakness. The day after they left, Hamas started firing rockets into Israel! There is no peace with a terrorist group that wants your destruction and their charter dictates it!

      1. Late Introvert

        There is no peace with a terrorist group religious fanatics that want your destruction and their charter bible dictates it!

      2. Harry

        My uncle claimed responsibility for bombing a British barracks in Austria for the Stern gang, killing over 30 soldiers.

        So apparently there is peace with a terrorist group provided they achieve their aims and becomes the new state.

    2. Tekyo Pantzov

      Your claim that in 2005 the Israelis destroyed everything that they had built in Gaza is false. I know that they left fully functional greenhouses behind, which were looted by Gazans seeking building materials.

  4. voteforno6

    The wildcard here is Netanyahu. Once he’s out of office, he’ll be facing prosecution for corruption. What will he do to prevent that from happening? I think that we’re already getting a sense of that.

  5. lyman alpha blob

    The author misses a key adjective that goes a long way to explaining Israel’s insecurity.

    The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has persistently claimed that his country is indeed safe, that it has nothing to fear from the Palestinians and that the settlements can and should expand…

    Add in the word “illegal” before “settlements” and the reason for the conflict becomes much more clear. Funny how so many stories about this issue fail to mention Israel’s, and by extension the US’, blatant disregard for international law.

  6. Eustachedesaintpierre

    I imagine that it will only get worse for the Israeli’s in regards to Gaza, in relation to the expertise of defenders & perhaps also for military hardware. As for an attempt to occupy the city it might become a bit like Stalingrad in 1942 which had less than half the population of Gaza before the start of 6th Armies attempt to take the city & as the IDF & Hamas are probably aware, the Germans & the Allies discovered the more you bomb the crap out of a place the harder it makes things for ground forces if you come up against determined, well prepared & skillful defenders just waiting to fill body bags.

    A big thorn in their side.

    1. Edward

      What is Israel supposed to do once it occupies Gaza? Ehud Barak once said that if they could solve the Gaza problem by killing 10,000 Palestinians they would do it, but it is not enough. Israel used to occupy Gaza, but they unilaterally withdrew, because it was more trouble then it was worth. They have tried to control Gaza from the outside, using a “diet”.

    2. vlade

      The Stalingrad comparison is wrong.

      RA wasn’t under a total siege, it was getting supplies and men into the city all the time, although admittedly it had a few lucky breaks when Germans almost got the landing places (or even got them, but a counter-attack took it back).

      In fact, RA shown with the 6th Army that once totally surrounded, a modern army can’t last (even if it took months to get Paulus to surrender). They will just starve, eventually.

      The difference is that while Gaza can be surrounded in theory, in practice Israel lacks the capability to really isolate it, for many reasons (some mentioned by David). And that’s just the city, never mind the whole strip.

    3. Bill Smith

      If want a comparison for overrunning cities, I suggest Mosul, Iraq, late 2016, January 2017 would be a better comparison (than Stalingrad). And before that Fallujah, Iraq.

      Things have changed a lot since 1943.

  7. elissa3

    Not exactly on-topic, but I would suggest that it is Hezbollah in Lebanon that has achieved a “balance of terror” with Israel on its northern border because of 1) its very large sophisticated arsenal of rockets and drones; 2) the excellent and flexible tactical training of its troops; and 3) a high level of competence in cyber counter warfare. An all-out war between Hezbollah and Israel would result in massive, unprecedented destruction to both sides. Lebanon would cease to exist as a functioning nation state, even more so than it exists today; and the destruction in Israel would transform its society in unknowable ways. Israel has nukes, but so what? Warfare has evolved very rapidly in the past two decades, and traditionally powerful militaries have so many more vulnerabilities than they did in the past. Medium to long term, Israel is dealing with a losing hand in Palestine, but I wonder if those who recognize this will be heard.

    1. Tekyo Pantzov

      What right does a Lebanese organization like Hezbollah to meddle in the affairs of a neighboring country? They had a justification to fight Israel when Israel invaded Lebanon. But Israel currently has no troops in Lebanon.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Seriously? You want to go there? How many attacks has Israel made against Syria for example? Did they not say that it was over 1,000. How about all those attacks against Iranian ships? I would call that “meddling.” For Lebanon, how about we start with this-

        And ‘Israel currently has no troops in Lebanon’? That is only because the last time they went in, they had their a**** handed to them. But you do know that before the present massacre in Gaza, that Israel were just starting their biggest exercises in 30 years called “Chariots of Fire” which could easily transfer into an actual attack.

  8. Jason

    the Kibbutz and Moshav cooperatives across Israel that had often provided a more liberal outlook.

    Oh? Noam Chomsky claims he couldn’t stand the racism against the indigenous population inherent on the allegedly more “liberal” kibbutzes.

    The allegedly more “liberal” labor parties of Israel are essential elements of its founding and continuing pathology. David Ben Gurion was a labor Zionist. The Vladimir Jabotinsky wing of the project has to compete with them to win the most brutal award, just as here in the U.S. the Republicans have to work hard to keep up with the “liberal” Democratic “humanitarian interventionists.”

    It’s all one and the same in the end.

    1. Jason

      Adding: They’re simply more “liberal” in their outlook for their “own,” just as most “liberal” Americans don’t care about what the United States does around the world. Nor do they – when you really get down to it – care all that much about the oppressed in their own midst.

    2. Harry

      To be fair, that kind of racism was everywhere in Chomsky’s youth. It wasn’t a particular feature of Kibbutzim.

    3. Tekyo Pantzov

      Jabotinsky has a bad rap. He was very ambivalent. He expressed respect for Arab demands because of his background demanding autonomy for the Ukraine. At the same time he acknowledged that Jewish interests flatly contradicted those demands. Jabotisky is routinely dragooned into the role of a fascist, but that is inaccurate. I haven’t read a biography of Jabotinsky, but I know enough about him to state that the usual depiction of him is a malicious caricature.

  9. Bill Smith

    The Israelis may not see “winning” as the goal. In their mind they may well see surviving at some reasonable level, the goal. The cost of this, along with annual military budgets, is a war or a semi war every decade or so.

    The British Raj ran for just shy of 100 years, but include the East India Company and you add 300 years to it?

    My guess would be that the Israelis would be willing to pay a far higher price than the British did before they got out of India.

    1. noonespecial

      The more things change the more they stay the same. NC readers who have not seen the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind” ought to give it a chance, in part due to the fact that the phrase “defend itself” is a lietmotif. It is narrated by Roger Waters. (


      A third United Nations Security Council emergency meeting in a week…has again ended with no concrete outcome after the United States blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas…The latest round of inaction also comes as US President Joe Biden has given no signs of plans to step up public pressure on Israel, instead repeatedly stressing Israel’s right to defend itself…Bernie Sanders [quoted], ‘The devastation in Gaza is unconscionable. We must urge an immediate ceasefire. The killing of Palestinians and Israelis must end. We must also take a hard look at nearly $4 billion a year in military aid to Israel.'”

      Correct me if I err, but in the list of US Senators calling for Israel to step back I do not think there is one Repub among the signatories to the idea. So if Congress appropriates, then $$ for the mid-east’s champion of democracy ain’t going away any time soon.

  10. jpr

    Inhabitants of US will also have to wake up to realities on the ground of a “really existing colonial project”, just as 40-50 years ago they woke up to what white South Africans were up to and what keeping a boot on neck of others does to you:

  11. jpr

    Incidentally, veterans of the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, like Ronnie Kasrils–who like so many fought for freedom in white supremacist South Africa is Jewish–are under no doubt about what’s happening in Palestine. Here’s an excerpt from ‘How to stop Apartheid Israel’:

    It is imperative that we of the international community redouble our efforts to aid the Palestinian people in solidarity actions. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign remains the most formidable weapon in our arsenal. It worked to bring about the demise of South African Apartheid behind the internal people’s resistance struggle, and is growing in scope and efficacy, to the extent that Israel has identified the non-violent global movement as a strategic threat. Israel, like apartheid South Africa must pay for its crimes—above all by sanctions. We South Africans must continue to urge our Government and the African states, to break off all relations with Apartheid Israel. We must appeal to Africa to reject Israel’s sugar-coated bribes to ensnare them. We must apply full sanctions against the Apartheid state and become an international standard bearer for the Palestinian cause.

    1. David

      I’m glad that Kasrils spoke out like that. Kasrils has a lot of credibility as the former head of ANC military intelligence and minister in several governments. He’s one of a surprisingly large number of whites (and other coloureds/Indians but that’s another story) who were in the top echelons of the (literal) fight against apartheid. A very large proportion were Lithuanian Jews, who knew all about racial oppression and many, like Kasrils, were stalwarts of the Communist Party – the only South African political party to reject apartheid from the word go.

      Life is full of ironies. Israel was, with France, the main supplier of weapons in the last days of apartheid. In 1994, the SA navy’s combat element consisted entirely of Israeli-built patrol boats: not much, but “all we could get” as a SA naval officer said to me at the time. Relations have been, let’s say, chilly, since. And where did Mandela and co get their original military training? Why, from white volunteers who had fought with the British Army in the Western Desert and Italy in WW2. Again, many of them Jewish and most of them Communists. Life goes round and round.

      1. Tekyo Pantzov

        Israel is internationally isolated and must grudgingly cooperate with scoundrels. When an Israeli diplomat attended the inauguration of far-right Brazilian president Bolsonaro, the Israeli foreign ministry actually issued an apology. By contrast, when the international Criminal Court indicted Sudanese president Bashir for crimes against humanity after he killed about 300,000 people in Darfur, top representatives of Iran, Syria and Hamas flew to Khartoum to express their solidarity. “Iran’s parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, arrived in Khartoum along with Moussa Abu Marzouk, the No. 2 figure in Hamas’ Damascus-based leadership. Larijani told reporters at the airport that the ICC’s arrest warrant is an “insult.”
        So Iran and Hamas went out of their way to practically congratulate Bashir for committing genocide.
        Source: Iran, Hamas send envoys to back Sudan leader, NBCNews, 3/6/2009

  12. Charles

    The underlying question is why did Hamas act right now? – True, 5 provocations-but Netanyahu was on his way out. Possibly Hamas calculated that the predictable Israeli overwhelming response of force martyring more Gazans was a good idea to trigger a wider regional conflict. So far Hezbollah and Iran are not engaged as combatants. Turkey would love to be seen as the “Protector” of Palestinians but it is doubtful the UN would authorize a military detachment.

    1. Bill Smith

      On May 10th, Hamas said they would fire rockets into Israel if Israel didn’t remove the troops, police and settlers from the Temple Mount. Once they stated that claim they had to make good on it. They did make good on it. One thing led to another.

  13. SES

    The following was quoted by Ian Welsh in his blog post of 12 May:

    “Van Creveld, an Israeli military historian and hardly a bleeding heart:

    They [Israeli soldiers] are very brave people… they are idealists… they want to serve their country and they want to prove themselves. The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose-lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel… if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape. Now the Israeli army has not by any means been the worst of the lot. It has not done what for instance the Americans did in Vietnam… it did not use napalm, it did not kill millions of people. So everything is relative, but by definition, to return to what I said earlier if you are strong and you are fighting the weak, then anything you do is criminal.”

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      Israel has long since cashed in their “idealism” and “moral authority” chips.

      The Israel project is a land theft and a genocide wrapped in myth garb.

      They bombed the international media building in Palestine so fewer people could see what they were doing.

  14. dummy dude

    Israel must find a modus vivendi with the Palestinians for its own sake and survival.
    The longer this wound festers the higher the chance of a catastrophic outcome.
    Eventually some fraction of those extremist groups with lots of Saudi money will put their hands on a nuclear device made in Pakistan or North Korea and they will have no qualms flattening Tel Aviv or Jerusalem for that matter, we already know their disregard for innocent life loss. This will end in tears if some sense of justice is not restored on both sides and the international community must impose a solution.

  15. Ilaria Soyanka

    Netanyahu is a pain in the neck. On the other hand, it was the Palestinians who put Netanyahu in power. The evidence is overwhelming that at least since 1987 both the PLO and Hamas have deliberately used terrorism and other violence like intifadas in order to encourage the victory of the right in Israeli elections, thus preventing any peace deal.
    A scholarly article appeared in 2006 that used statistical methods to prove that:
    1. Relative support for right-wing Israeli parties grows as a result of terrorism and shrinks after periods of relative calm.
    2. Palestinian terrorism is greater when the left-wing party (Labor) was in office than when right-wing parties were in office.
    Therefore Palestinians use terrorism to strengthen the Israeli right and prevent a peace deal.
    Source: On Terrorism and Electoral Outcomes: Theory and Evidence from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, by Claude Berrebi and Esteban F. Klor, Journal of Conflict Resolution, December 1, 2006
    Again in 2000 Yassir Arafat rejected out of hand the peace offer of Israel’s Labor government and gave the command to begin the 2nd intifada. In a matter of weeks the Labor government’s coalition disintegrated, new elections were called, and the rightist parties won. They have held power ever since, with brief interruptions.
    Source: Camp David and After: An Exchange (1. An Interview with Ehud Barak), by Benny Morris, New York Review of Books, June 13, 2002
    The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society discusses which factors drive Palestinian terrorism. Its paper concludes that Palestinian terrorist attacks are not driven solely by the desire to kill as many Israelis as possible. Sometimes the intent is to provoke a harsh Israeli response. Other times, the aim is to shore up public support or outbid rival Palestinian factions. The distinction often is driven by ideological and political calculations. For example, Islamist groups often try to disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, whereas organizations affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are reticent when it comes to taking responsibility for some attacks to maintain international legitimacy.
    Source: Drivers of factional Palestinian terrorism (1987-2004) by Michael Shkolnik, of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, TSAS [Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society] research report RR 2020-02
    Secondly, the writer claims that Palestinians resent Israelis settling in the West Bank. That seems to imply that the boundary between the West Bank and Israel proper is sacrosanct, mush like an international border. That can be a reasonable view, but it conflicts with article eleven of the Hamas Covenant of 1988, which states “Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day.” Source:
    The PLO started saying the same thing in 2000.
    So how can they be indignant at Israel crossing a line whose existence they do not acknowledge?
    Furthermore Hamas makes no mention of Palestine being for Palestinians. Instead it says Palestine is for Muslims. So it’s not a national struggle but a religious struggle. Unlike states, religions are not subjects of international law, so religions cannot claim territory.
    In 1977 Zuheir Mohsen, a member of the PLO executive committee, said in an interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw: “The Palestinian people do not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.”
    There are many contradictions in the Palestine narrative.

  16. Tekyo Pantzov

    The author stresses the importance of Jerusalem in Islam. This is principally due to the Al Aqsa mosque.
    Wikipedia states that the grounds for the great esteem the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem enjoys is that certain prophets worshipped at this mosque. The prophets who supposedly worshipped at this mosque are Abraham, David, Solomon, Elias and Jesus (Ibrahim, Dawud, Sulaimon, Ilyas and Īsā in Arabic),
    All these Jewish notables died long before the Al Aqsa mosque was built around 640 AD, after the Arabs captured Jerusalem. Therefore they cannot have worshipped at this mosque.
    Furthermore Qur’an 1:7 states:
    “Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant [meaning Mohammed] for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).”
    “The farthest Mosque” in Arabic is Masjid Al-Aqsa, but since there is no reference to Jerusalem anywhere in the Qur’an, there can be no certainty that any mosque in Jerusalem is meant. “The farthest Mosque” could be anywhere. Furthermore the Al Aqsa mosque was originally a small prayer house built by caliph Umar after the Arab armies conquered Jerusalem in 640 CE, seventeen years after Mohammed’s death. Later it was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son al-Walid in 705 CE. Source:
    Consequently Mohammed cannot have traveled to the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
    In his November 13, 2020 column in the Saudi state daily ‘Okaz, Osama Yamani made striking comments under the headline “Where Is Al-Aqsa Located?”. In the article he questioned the consensus regarding the centrality and sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam, which is based on the belief that it is the “first qibla,” i.e., the direction in which Muslims initially prayed, and the location of the Al-Aqsa mentioned in the Quran. The source of the latter belief, he said, is many history and exegesis books that name Jerusalem as the location of Al-Aqsa. However, others believe that the Al-Aqsa mentioned in the Quran was actually located in the vicinity of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. He cites the opinion of Islamic historian Al-Waqidi who contends that the Al-Aqsa visited by the Prophet Muhammad was in the village of Al-Ju’arnah near Mecca. In an attempt to downplay the importance of Jerusalem in Islam, Yamani also argued that there is no consensus regarding the identity of Jerusalem as the first qibla, and cited historians and Quranic commentators who stated that the Kaaba in Mecca, rather than Jerusalem, was the Muslims’ first direction of prayer.”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      FWIW, the various Biblical claims that Israel used to say it once occupied certain particularly places were all investigated, with the embarrassing result that there was zero archeological of earlier Jewish residence.

      1. Tekyo Pantzov

        That’s not what the Encylopedia Britannica says:
        Before the Israelite conquest of Palestine, the Canaanites dominated the region, and the town of Hebron was an important centre. When the tribes of Israel invaded the country, the tribe of Judah claimed the entire area from just south of the site of Jerusalem into the Negev region (the area south of Beersheba). The tribes of Simeon, Benjamin, and Dan also at one time or another settled some small areas of the region. When David became king of Judah (10th century BC), he captured the old Canaanite (Jebusite) stronghold, Jerusalem, and made it the capital of the united kingdom of the tribes of Israel.

        1. hunkerdown

          Encyclopedias are not primary sources. Post academic citations, not children’s stories. As an obvious conservative, you appear to understand Kristol’s concept of the noble lie and mass propaganda well enough. So do I, and I reject it.

  17. everydayjoe

    There are 7 million Jews and 2 million arabs in a land that is 110 miles up and down and 40 miles side ways…
    It takes two to tango and the MC with a stick needs to be US. At least leading up to 9.11( when anti muslim sentiment was not so rampant) US president’s tried some what to be honest brokers. After 9/11 GWB kicked this our once and for all and brought in aggressive evangelical world view to US foreign policy.
    Like the article says, Israel can never have a good night’s sleep with 2million hostiles in their back yard, no matter the imbalance in military strength.
    US and UN and the impotent Arab states have to step up and facilitate in creating a Palestinian state with strict caveats that say no new attacks on Israel or no new settlements…
    Palestinians also should accept reality and need to change their world view of death to Israel!
    A good parent in US will do lot of good to Israel too as it’s lurch to the far right is not helping it….Netanyahu has not been good to the interests of Israel in the long run as he is losing the war of minds ….

  18. Alice X

    After WWI Palestine was a colony of the UK. The still colonial UN Partition Plan for Palestine of November 1947 proposed to give 55% of the land to 33% of the population, though that group (the Zionists) held legal title to only 7% of the land. There was no plebiscite, for obvious reasons. There were terror attacks on Arab communities which sought to defend themselves. Until the Zionists launched coordinated military actions.

    Samith K. Farsoun / Naseer H. Aruri – Palestine and the Palestinians pages 97-100

    …The Zionists had planned and organized a Jewish army, not just defensive guards, since 1942-one of the two key decisions of the Biltmore Zionist program-while the Arab Palestinians were being disarmed by the British authorities. Jewish forces numbered roughly fifteen thousand in early 1948 but had swelled to over sixty thousand by May 1948. The majority of them were part of Haganah (with World War II experience), and the rest belonged to the terrorist groups, the Irgun and the Stern Gang. For the 1947-1948 hostilities, they recruited a large number of professional military volunteers from all over the world.

    The Palestinian leader, al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini, waited to form a volunteer force, al-Jihad al-Muqaddas (the Holy Struggle), until December 1947, after the United Nations partition decision and after hostilities began. By March the irregular force, under two commanders, numbered around sixteen hundred. The Arab League organized and financially supported a volunteer Arab force, Jaysh al-Inqath (Army of Salvation), under the command of Fawzi al-Qawuqji. With a promised 10,000 rifles, 3,830 Arab men, including 500-1,000 Palestinians, were organized into eight battalions that operated in north-central Palestine. Palestinian and Arab fighters were out numbered and outarmed by the Jewish regulars and their allied international volunteers. The Palestinians were unprepared politically or militarily to defend the integrity and unity of their country. The Zionist Conquest of Palestine and al-Nakbah. The intercommunal Jewish-Palestinian fighting unleashed after the United Nations partition decision was terroristic and defensive. By March 1948 it appeared as if the Palestinians and their volunteer Arab supporters had the upper hand. This was a false impression, as the Zionists had yet to implement their offensive plan.

    In April 1948 the Haganah and its international volunteers launched major operations throughout Palestine. Beginning in the second half of April, Jewish military assaults led to the fall of Tabariyya (April 18), Haifa (April 23), Jaffa (April 25), West Jerusalem (April 26), eastern Galilee (April 28), the central plain between Latrun and Ramleh (May 8-9), Safad (May 11-12), Beisan (May 12), and the Naqab villages (May 12 ). The attacks were brutal. Through terror, psychological warfare, and direct conquests, Palestine was dismembered, many of its villages were purposely destroyed, and many of its people were expelled as refugees.

    As hundreds of thousands of refugees poured into safer areas of Palestine and into neighboring Arab countries, the members of the Arab League could not ignore the tragedy. They ordered their regular armies into battle for Palestine. The numbers, equipment, and firepower of those regular armies were less than half of what the Arab League’s own Military Technical Committee had recommended. As important was the collusion of Abdullah (now king) with the Zionists: He ordered his British-commanded Arab Legion to secure only the part of Palestine allotted to the Arab state, which he had planned, with the agreement of the Zionists, to annex to Transjordan. The armies of the Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan) arrived too late, and their intervention was not enough to save Palestine. Map 3.5 shows the areas of Palestine conquered by the Zionist-Israeli forces in 1948-1949, areas allocated to the Jewish state by the United Nations partition plan, and territories allocated to the Arab state. These areas form the state of Israel according to the armistice lines of 1949.

    On May 14, 1948, the Zionists declared the State of Israel. Eleven minutes later, the United States recognized Israel. While an expanded Jewish state was forcibly created beyond the area allotted to the Jewish community in the United Nations partition plan, a Palestinian Arab state was not created within the UN-defined boundaries of the Palestinian Arab state. East-central Palestine came under Transjordanian control and was later annexed as the West Bank of the expanded kingdom of Jordan. The Gaza Strip came under Egyptian military control. Hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians became refugees in the parts of Palestine under Arab control and in neighboring Arab countries. Palestine thus ceased to exist.

  19. Fern

    I see a lot of think tank-style armchair analysis here, but the bottom line at the moment is that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza, and that topic should be on the front burner. It’s a war crime to bomb civilian neighborhoods in response to violence by resistance forces. It’s called “collective punishment”. It’s what the Nazis did.

    I say: Not in my name.

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