Since the dawn of time, the primary, and frequently only, goal in any war of conflict has been victory. The means to that end on the part of the ultimate victors has been almost entirely disproportionate.
Those with the latest expertise and technology—from the Roman ballista to the canons during the Battle of Crecy and the nuclear weapons that ended World War II in the Pacific—have invariably won the war they fought.
In the past, investing in the art of warfare was never thought to put an opponent at an unfair disadvantage. The rules of war are not akin to boxing’s Queensberry’s Rules, according to which “you must not fight simply to win.”
During Israel’s early wars, the nascent Jewish state was considered at a disproportionate disadvantage, due to the vast numbers and support systems of its enemies. After surviving its first few decades, however, Israel quickly overcame any early disadvantages, out of necessity for a strong, robust and innovative military program. Soon enough, its military became the strongest in the region.
This was not because of any militant lust or love for war, but a requirement born of having bellicose neighbors. These adversaries understood that they could try and turn its strength into its weakness, by engaging only in asymmetrical warfare with the Israel Defense Forces, originally created to combat armies.
The IDF’s disproportionate strength against these new foes, whether the PLO, Hamas or Hezbollah, all with the backing of various regional powers at different times, was used against it. International organizations like the United Nations, with automatic anti-Israel majorities, or NGOs with a clear anti-Western bias, tried to cripple Israel’s strength politically, diplomatically and through propagandizing global public opinion.
Today, every time Israel tries to protect its citizens from attacks on almost all of its borders, talking-heads race to TV studios and theorize about its unequal strength compared to that of its adversaries and the disproportionate number of fatalities on either side, as though the situation is comparable to some type of soccer match.
None of this is relevant or important. The new Israeli government is being tested on multiple fronts and has to move away from the risk-aversion approach of previous leaderships.
“Our enemies will learn the rules. We won’t tolerate violence; we won’t tolerate trickles of rockets,” announced Prime Minister Naftali Bennett early on in his tenure, after Hamas tested the new regime, and the response was positive.
Nevertheless, Hamas, Iran and now Hezbollah have all had turns testing this resolve, and the jury is still out as to whether the new coalition will indeed teach the nation’s enemies new lessons.
Whatever approach it adopts, Israel must dispel the notion that it must act proportionately. It is under no obligation to tie one hand behind its back while fighting. It can and should use all of the tools available to it within the boundaries of international law.
Regardless of the foe, Israel has a better and stronger army and capabilities, much of which has rarely, if ever, been used.
There is no point for these to be held in reserve for a future overt war against another nation—something that’s unlikely to take place anytime soon. Even Iran is too clever for that, knowing that Israel could crush it in a full-scale war.
Israel thus must look at every enemy as if it is a state actor because more frequently than not, each is just that, all but in name.
Hamas rules Gaza; Hezbollah controls Lebanon, or at least the southern part; and Fatah runs the Palestinian Authority areas of Judea and Samaria. If there are attacks on Israel from any of these groups, the IDF should be deployed disproportionately, in order for Israel to achieve victory against them.
For too long, Israel has used its military power merely to achieve some new “understanding” or short-term peace. That has to end.
This is not to say that Israel should charge into any war, but rather that when it does, its aims are not to achieve peace, which can and should ensue afterwards. The IDF’s one goal in conflict should be victory, and to use its full potential to achieve it.
Peace can come after victory, through the surrender of a conquered and vanquished enemy that has given up on its belligerent aims. Furthermore, Israel will likely find that if it achieves victory over one enemy, this will have a significant effect on deterring the others.
Its enemies need to feel that the rules of engagement and warfare have truly changed.
The writer is the director of the Middle East Forum.