There are two reasons why Israel must avoid a decisive operation that would entail a deep incursion into Gaza to clear it of terrorists, rockets and other weapons, and create a military reality that would keep the enclave from rearming.
The first is the inhuman monster that has been built in the Gaza Strip, which, like its twin in Lebanon, combines rocket fire against the Israeli homefront, endless obstacles designed to ensure that Israeli ground maneuvers rack up heavy casualties and “human shields.” All these are meant to keep the Israel Defense Forces from employing massive pre-emptive counterfire to “soften” enemy targets and minimize casualties among its forces, as well as keep the fighting short.
These monsters should have been wiped out in their inception through pre-emptive strikes, like Israel’s airstrikes to take out the nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria before they became operational. But the IDF preferred to let the rockets “rust in warehouses” because at the same time the enemy’s capabilities were changes, so was the IDF itself.
Starting at the end of the 1990s, the IDF cast aside its doctrine of swift victories, which was based on a philosophy taken from nature, and donned a new set of emperor’s clothes in the form of a doctrine sewn from existentialism, in which there is no one objective truth that must meet the burden of scientific proof. In this thinking, people “make the truth” and can base that truth on stories and legends, and change is as they see fit.
Since, according to this philosophy, there is no one truth, there can be no distinction between good and bad, between just and evil people, or between friends and enemies. There is also no justification to go to war since in the absence of truth and justice, killing the enemy and even casualties on our side—without which we cannot win—are immoral. The IDF espoused a new doctrine that was supposed to deter the enemy and cause it to give up, even without its physical abilities to wage war being eradicated. The enemy was supposed to give up simply because of shock and awe caused by fireworks displays of advanced technology and intelligence, amazing in their precision and power. The result: an exhausting war of attrition that has gone on since 2002, which Israel can’t stop like it stopped wars of attrition in the past.
Given the failure of this doctrine in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, one might have expected the IDF to take off its new clothes and readopt its traditional approach of quick victories. “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014 exposed the fact that the IDF had not followed the government’s instructions, which were, in a nutshell: Get back to basics.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is the kid who after two decades of unwillingness to say that the emperor is naked, has stepped in to save Israel from its current impasse. At his swearing-in ceremony, he announced his intention to restore the IDF to an “effective, lethal, and innovative army.” Later, he issued instructions to put together a strategy for an unequivocal win. However, this obviously can’t happen as long as the IDF is clinging to a philosophy that rejects anything unequivocal.
Kochavi’s mission is as hard as that of the first IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Yaakov Dori, who in the midst of the War of Independence was forced to turn an army that had been prepared to battle gangs of marauders into an army that could fight other armies. As a lesson from the high price paid in 1948, we must give the IDF the time it needs to implement the “Kochavi revolution.” Otherwise, Israel could find itself drawn into a long period of killing and destruction. That is the second reason why Israel should hold off, at least for now.
Dr. Hanan Shai is a lecturer in the political-science department at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.