Dr. Samy Cohen and Asymmetric Warfare

The real flaw in Israeli military-political thinking with regard to Operation Cast Lead was the failure to occupy the ground. Too often the regime that sponsors the attacks remains in place.

Dr Samy Cohen is very wrong here. He’s taken the COIN doctrine but he’s not fully applied it. In order for COIN strategies to work, an alternate polity has to be developed and supported in order to wean the people from the terrorists.

Here Israel has not, even in its years of military administration of Judea, Samaria and Gaza until 1993. Instead it has not faced the problem of Arab irredentism, choosing to ignore or turn away from the problem of “how does Israel choose to defuse the hatred facing it”.

In a way, this flawed response can be seen in the depths of the Oslo process, poisoning the water. We rightly point out that the PLO/PA had, and has, refused to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, refused to renounced the “right of return” and remained fully committed to terrorism and its aim of genocide.

But Israel has too often pushed the problem of Arab anti-Semitism and political terrorism onto others. It did so with the PLO, making Arafat responsible for dismantling the terrorists and making peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs and was dumbfounded when Arafat proved false.

Perhaps the poison in the well is the intellectual and cultural ideology of anti-imperialism. If Israel had any sense in 1967 after the Arabs refused to make peace, it would have annexed Gaza, Judea and Samaria (as well as the Sinai) and slowly absorbed the Arabs there into the Israeli polity. Strip away the hatred that was taught to two generations of the Arab inhabitants, promote economic growth and good governance from the village upwards and the new Israeli Arabs would have forgotten their hatred and become something different today.

Israel has relied on deterrence but not in COIN warfare. That disappeared in the 1960s with the last of the reprisal raids. Deterrence is still works and is required against states like Syria and against the budding Hezbollah state in Lebanon.

The conventional wisdom tells us that the 2006 war was a failure. Yes and no. It did not destroy Hezbollah – I have covered this in a different piece – the strategy was not matched to the (declared) political aim. But from the view of deterrence, it worked. There has been no more than a handful of attacks from Hezbollah or other Islamist groups since, though war is brewing once more.

Dr Cohen is right in one respect. When a true COIN war is fought, the policy of minimum force may well prove fruitful. But Israel’s only COIN war to date (the Second Intifada) was not marked by deterrence but by a combination of counter-insurgent battles and a minimum military presence sufficient only to control the ground. The PA remained in place, teaching the same hatreds and organising the attacks against Israel, the IDF and the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as against those who might advocate a different course for the Palestinians.

The flaw is political, not military. Clauswitz remains the supreme guide to war.

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