Why Israel Can’t Win the War
News" -- -- The world is witnessing what could be a
critical turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel is now
engaged in a war that could permanently undermine the efficacy of
its much-vaunted military apparatus.
Ironically, there are several reasons for believing that Israel’s
destruction of southern Lebanon and southern Beirut will weaken its
bargaining position relative to its adversaries, and will strengthen
its adversaries’ hands.
First, Israel has no clearly defined tactical or strategic
objective, and so the Israeli offensive fails the first test of
military logic: There is no way that Israel’s actions can improve
its position relative to Hamas or Hezbollah, much less Syria or
The logic of power politics also implies that a no-win situation for
Israel is a definite loss, because Israel is the stronger party and
thus has the most to lose. In an asymmetric war, the stronger party
always has the most to lose, in terms of reputation and in terms of
its ability to project its will through the instruments of force.
The lack of any clearly defined objective is a major miscalculation
by Israel and its American patron.
Second, Israel cannot eliminate Hezbollah, since Hezbollah is a
grassroots organization that represents a plurality of Lebanese
society. Neither can Hamas be eliminated for the same reason. By
targeting Hezbollah however, Israel is strengthening Hezbollah’s
hand against its domestic rivals, such as the Maronite Christians,
because any open Christian opposition makes them look like traitors
and Israeli collaborators.
Consequently, while Hezbollah will obviously pay a short-term
tactical cost that is very high, in the long run, this conflict
demonstrates that it is Hezbollah, and not the Lebanese government,
that has the most power in Lebanon.
The Shiites represent an estimated 35-40 percent of Lebanese
society, while Christians are thought to constitute no more than
25-30 percent of the entire population. Furthermore, the Shiite
community’s fertility rate is thought to be far higher than that of
the other religious components within Lebanon.
Thus, the current confessional division of power in Lebanon, which
grants Christians a political position that goes far beyond their
minority status, is ultimately unsustainable, which means that the
Maronite Christians will lose even more power, and the Shiites and
Hezbollah will inevitably gain more.
Third, Israel’s failure to achieve anything at all greatly enhances
Syria’s influence over Lebanon and its bargaining position relative
to the US and Israel itself. No solution in Lebanon can exclude
Syria, and so now the US and Israelis need Syria’s approval, which
certainly weakens both the US and Israel.
And even Israel’s accusations against Iran, although largely
baseless, greatly enhance Iran’s prestige in the region, and may
bring about exactly what the Israelis are trying to prevent.
Fourth, Bush’s impotence is a clear demonstration that America has
lost a great deal of global power over the last three years. If Bush
cannot control Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, or Israel, then what
real power does the world’s “hyperpower” possess?
Fifth, the age of great power warfare has been replaced by a world
in which great powers must live and compete with nonstate actors who
possess considerable military capabilities.
William Lind calls this transformation “4th generation warfare” as
against Bismarckian warfare, that describes large-scale wars fought
by large-scale armies, which require national systems of military
conscription, a significant population base, and enormous military
Sixth, we must more carefully study the reasons why Bismarckian
warfare is no longer effective. The global diffusion of the news
outlets is obviously important for understanding why Bismarckian
warfare has become so ineffective. For instance, Hezbollah has its
own media network, and can draw upon the global satellite network to
get its message out, and can also use the global media to take
advantage of Israel’s targeting of civilians and civilian
And although the American media largely supports Israel, the
information about the Americans stranded in Lebanon limits Israel’s
freedom of action, and makes Israel look like it cares nothing for
the lives of American citizens.
At an even deeper level, the rate and density of global information
transfer, and lack of any centralized control over the global
distribution of information, is causing the fabric of space and time
to contract, and so Israel’s crimes can much more quickly create a
Time and space, as we experience them, are contracting because the
global diffusion of technical and scientific knowledge is permitting
events in one part of the world to increasingly influence those in
other parts, and events that once took years or even decades to
unfold can now occur within mere months or weeks.
As a consequence, the disenfranchised peoples of the world are
developing the ability to affect the lives of the more privileged
members of humanity, which means that anything that Israel does to
the Palestinians or Lebanese will have effects upon Israel that are
more direct and more negative than ever before, and that further,
these effects will occur in an accelerated time scale.
Thus, as it becomes self-evident that Israeli military power is no
longer as effective as it once was.
The global micro-diffusion of military technology is also critical,
and so military innovation and its global diffusion will only
strengthen grassroots rebellions and allow them to more effectively
resist the instruments of Bismarckian control, as well as the
depredations of the military hippopotami that are the ultimate
guarantors of statism and statist regimes.
For all of these reasons, Israeli attempts to impose terms on
Lebanon, or to redraw the political map of Lebanon, or even to
impose a NATO force upon southern Lebanon, are not militarily
feasible nor politically achievable, and if attempted, will prove
As will soon be demonstrated by events on the ground, Israel will
not be able to destroy or even disarm Hezbollah. Neither will Hamas,
Hezbollah, Lebanon, or Syria permit Israel or America to dictate
terms to them. Consequently, if Israel lingers too long in southern
Lebanon, its presence will be paid for at such a high cost, that it
will be forced to withdraw in ignominy, as it has so many times in
In the end however, Israel’s loss of power will make it even more
dangerous, because the more threatened the Israelis feel, the more
likely they will launch destructive wars against the Palestinians
and Israel’s other adversaries.
Finally, the same can be said of the US, with respect to its loss of
global power. Instead of becoming more careful with its use of
force, the erosion of America’s global dominance will likely make
the US government more aggressive, as it attempts to reassert its
former position relative to its adversaries and competitors.
And it is precisely because America and Israel are losing influence
over global events, that an American attack upon Iran in 2007
becomes more likely. God help us all.
— Ashraf Ismail is an academic whose interests range from
international relations, international economics and international
finance, to global history and mathematical models of geostrategy.