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January 14, 2009

Israel Doesn't Get 4GW


by William S. Lind

So far, Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip has produced no surprises. On the physical level of war, the IDF is triumphing. The Palestinians are suffering about one hundred people dead for every dead Israeli. To a 2GW military, which is what Israel's formerly Third Generation army has become, that is the main measure of victory.

On the moral level, the picture is reversed. Hamas is almost assured of victory. As Martin van Creveld has observed, all it has to do to claim victory is survive, which it will. That claim will not just be propaganda: for Hamas to survive everything a modern state military can throw at it is a legitimate victory. In fact, it will not only survive but be strengthened by a worldwide flood of sympathy, which will translate in part into new recruits and more money.

In the end, if Israel wants to stop Hamas' rockets, it will only be able to do so by making a deal with Hamas. Since that was equally true before the war, the question of why it was fought will soon present itself. The real reason is a tad sordid: the current Israeli government is trying to split the "get tough" vote to prevent Likud from winning the next election. The same motivation lay behind last weekend's "discovery" that Olmert asked the U.S. for permission to attack Iran. The parties in the current Israeli coalition government are in effect saying to Israeli voters, "Why vote for an oaf like Bibi Netanyahu when you can get the same thing from us without the endless embarrassments?"

What all Israeli parties and the IDF seem to share is that they don't get 4GW. They have repeatedly been defeated by Fourth Generation forces, but they do not learn.

The problem goes beyond John Boyd's framework of moral-mental-physical, with the moral the most powerful level of war and the physical the weakest. What Israel cannot grasp is that in the face of 4GW, all states should be seen as allies.

The most dangerous opponent of any Fourth Generation entity is a local state. The state must be local: interventions against 4GW forces by outside states are doomed to failure. But local states can sometimes win. It does not matter whether the state in question is a democracy or not. It does not matter whether it is a friend or enemy of Israel. By its inherent nature as a state, it will view Fourth Generation forces as threats.

A state may or may not be strong enough to suppress 4GW entities on its soil. It is in Israel's most vital interest that neighboring states be strong enough – morally as well as physically – to do so.

In concrete terms, what does that suggest? First, it means Israel should be very concerned about the strength and solidity of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq (Lebanon is a state in name only). The Israeli assault on Gaza has seriously undermined the legitimacy of three of those four, with Syria the only exception. Egypt and Jordan have diplomatic relations with Israel, and Egypt has been an all-too-obvious partner of Israel in besieging Gaza. Iraq's government (still a government without a state) is an American creation, and the U.S. is seen as Israel's main enabler. On the moral level, every Israeli bomb dropped on Gaza has also landed on Cairo, Amman, and Baghdad.

One Israeli party, Likud, is so oblivious to 4GW that its proposed grand strategy for Israel, largely written by American neocons, calls for the destruction of every Arab state. Iraq was the first victim of that strategy, thanks to the neocons' influence on the Bush administration. If Likud wins the coming Israeli elections, there is every reason to think it will put its strategy into practice, pushing Israel into the maelstrom.

Israel's dependence on strong neighboring states is equally true with regard to the Palestinians. That means Israel needs a strong Palestinian state in the West Bank. But the effect of the war in Gaza is to undermine Fatah in favor of Hamas on the West Bank, which also has elections coming up. So Israel has in effect shot itself in both feet.

What of Gaza itself? Here, Israel should have taken advantage of a blunder by Hamas. By winning an election in Gaza and then defeating Fatah in a short civil war, Hamas became a state. On balance, that was not to its benefit. Israel could and should have dealt with Hamas in Gaza as a state. It should have opened the border crossings, avoided raids (an Israeli raid into Gaza first broke what had been a fairly effective cease-fire), and let Hamas become immersed in all the problems of governance. It should have sought a Hamas state in Gaza that was strong enough to prevent rocket-firings and other acts of "terrorism" by other 4GW groups. As a state, Hamas would have gradually "normalized," even if it did not want to and even though in theory it would have remained devoted to Israel's destruction.

Now, by its invasion, Israel may have reduced Gaza to ungovernable chaos. It may think it can reinstall Fatah as the government there. But if Fatah were so foolish as to try to ride into power on the backs of Israeli tanks, it would destroy its legitimacy both in Gaza and on the West Bank, with no hope of recovery.

Ironically, the best hope Israel now has in Gaza is that when the dust settles, Hamas is still in charge. At that point, if Israel wants to stop the rocket fire, it will have to make a deal with Hamas. That deal should include what Israel ought have done in the first place, namely help Hamas make Gaza a functioning, gradually normalizing state. Again, Israel's most vital interest is that it be bordered by strong states, not the stateless chaos that is 4GW's natural breeding ground.

I visited Israel a few years ago. I liked the country and its people. I wish Israel well. But wishing it well does not mean supporting it in actions that undermine its own security. Until Israel comes to think in 4GW terms, everything it does is likely to undermine its own security, as the assault on Gaza has undermined it.

Can Israel learn? If not, apartment buildings in Miami will prove a great investment.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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