Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
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Israel must determine war strategy and adhere to it

Military strategy cannot countenance vacillation. Hesitation nearly caused Israeli defeat in 1967, and led to the high casualties of 1973 when Israel did not preempt because Israeli government was uncertain of Egyptian intentions. Even if Israelis believed the Egyptian army was only conducting its usual provocative maneuvers and not preparing for war, Israel should not have allowed any maneuvers but rather considered them a casus belli, as in 1967. In the like situation of the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy properly regarded the military build-up near his borders as a casus belli—regardless of immediate intentions—and issued a credible ultimatum. Border maneuvers are a standard device of disguising preparations for war, as the Soviets learned in 1941 when even after the Germans bombardment began they believed they were staging an exercise. Preemption could not be effective with SAM-5 anti-air batteries deployed along Israeli borders, but Israelis did not know it. Israel had every reason for a pre-emptive strike even earlier, when the Soviets brought the batteries to Egypt whose only enemy was Israel, just like the great powers opposed anti-ballistic missiles and the Strategic Defense Initiative. The biggest Israeli error—or crime—was allowing thousands Israeli soldiers to die instead of employing or emphatically testing nuclear weapons immediately. Using tactical weapons in Sinai was relatively safe for Israeli civilian centers and would not have set a precedent of attacking cities with CBN. Israeli indecisiveness means casualties. Two causes prevent Israeli automatic reaction to Arab aggression. Politicians want hands-on control but do not know what to do when they get it. Military professionals get hung up on the kind of rigid agreements and diplomatic triggers that drug Europe into World War I.[13] Syrian reliance on a mutual defense agreement involved Egypt in the 1967. The Arabs, however, have learned that lesson well, and no reasonable enemy follows that path. The Syrian example may be an argument to the contrary. Had Israel not only shot down a few Syrian planes but also destroyed their army, Egypt would not have stepped in.

Israel must define the limits of her tolerance to the world. Mobilization, border exercises and repeated skirmishes, militarizing 30-to-100-mile-wide buffer zones, and acquiring weapons of mass destruction on a par with Israel’s, including long-range ballistic missiles, must be regarded as acts of war against Israel. Sinai’s and Golan’s depth of defense saved Israel in the 1973, giving Israel time to mobilize. Military build-up allows Arabs to stage concentrated attacks at any Israeli border point, and penetrate Israel deep before the Israel Defense Forces bring reserves for counter-attack. Preemption is Israel’s only choice.

Why may Israel accumulate weapons of mass destruction when Israel's neighbors may not? The answer is unrelated to morality or even to Israel’s ostensibly peaceful intentions: the Arabs must never know when a new Israeli government will choose expansion, and Israel must be able to impose her will on her Arab neighbors to her advantage and prevent them from acquiring the means of harming Israel. Similarly, a small number of countries prevents others from joining the nuclear club, a policy more strictly enforced against countries with proven malicious intent and a history of aggression. A nuclear Iraq could have prevented the American attack; North Korea’s claim of nuclear weapons gives her great leverage. The United States forced Iraq to destroy its missiles only weeks before the invasion. In some places, citizens may not acquire weaponry sufficient to resist the government forces if it violates people’s liberties. As dhimmi in the Muslim world, Jews could not own arms even when violence erupted.[14] Keeping efficient warfare equipment away from Arabs is a practical Israeli stratagem unrelated to morality. This Israeli policy is incidentally fair: democracies constrained by liberal public opinion use weapons of mass destruction more judiciously than authoritarian states. Even if she expands, Israel will not likely use chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against Arab population centers. The Israeli Defense Force suffered heavy casualties in Beirut street fighting instead of burning the Palestinian terrorists, the city, and the remaining citizenry down from the air. Arabs have committed many atrocities against their own people, and although the fear of reprisal would deter most Arab governments from using weapons of mass destruction against Israeli civilians, some care little enough for their people to disregard Israeli retaliation. The transfer of CBN to Islamic terrorists by Arab agencies is also a possibility and another justification for Israeli enforced demobilization of hostile Muslim regimes bent on acquiring CBN and potentially using it against Israel.

Arabs should not be kept from killing one another, but they should be restricted to conventional weapons and low-intensity conflicts in the Middle East by not being allowed by Israel and America to acquire technology, skills, or war supplies dangerous to Israel. Such a policy and the will to deploy overwhelming power of Israel Defense Forces in case of violation would let Israel, as arbiter of the balance of power, create a precarious stability in the Middle East.

Israel is not too small for that role. Rome managed an empire of from nine to fifty million people, two orders of magnitude above the city’s population. The ratio is still more favorable for Israel whose advantage against the Arabs depends not only on skill but also on superior weaponry. Alexander conquered lands entirely disproportionate to the size and population of Macedon, but overextended relative to communication and transportation capabilities, not a problem now. Minuscule Sweden conquered lands as far away as Eastern Europe. France and later Germany lost wars when they overextended themselves trying to administer newly acquired lands directly. The problem is especially relevant now, when the occupying administration is expected to act not only humanely but also actually beneficently to the locals. Thus in Yugoslavia and Iraq locals staged demonstrations against the coalition army which was slow to provide municipal services. Something similar regularly takes place in Palestine. Imagine Jews protesting in 70 C.E. that the Romans delayed rebuilding Jerusalem and supplying the inhabitants with clean water! Israel Defense Forces must be good at killing people, not policing or servicing them. Armies are not nation-builders; people are. Armies are not peace-keepers, either.

The Soviet Union, relying on local regimes for expansion, was closer to the mark, but reliance on weak governments meant the burden of military and economic aid. The United States, occasionally financing its vassals, has not yet overextended its economic capacity. Americans combine the promise of protection with a credible threat of punishment for disobedience, a policy that does not require the presence of large military units everywhere. The American strategy of maintaining mobile forces in geopolitical centers, ready to reach hot spots if they appear, closely resembles the Roman strategy of settling colonies of soldiers or veterans in newly acquired lands, backed up by mobile legions in important provinces. Rome also relied on client governments that paid for protection. America often extorts economic concessions by demanding their clients open their markets to American business interests.

Great Britain’s policy of supporting the weaker party in power struggles is the most feasible for Israel, requiring the least resources to create a dynamic equality where small Israeli efforts tip the scales to either side. For centuries that policy gave Britain considerable control of Europe and to some extent worked in the colonies, which played the rulers against one another.

The biggest trap in modern colonial policy is world public opinion. Instead of conquering, Israel might create a situation in which some governments ask her for protection from their own people or their neighbors—and pay for it. Israel would let client governments deal directly with their own people, obviating the need for Israeli involvement in anti-civilian police actions, but keep them too weak to dominate their neighbors. Muslim public opinion attributed something like that to the United States after Desert Storm: lure Iraq into Kuwait by seeming to acquiesce, then push Iraq out without destroying it and swap protection for influence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Bureaucratic U.S. government could not devise such devilish plan, but the Muslims who believe it know such strategies work in their milieu.

How long would such belligerency continue? That depends on the Israeli effort involved. Reagan brought the Soviet Union to its knees in less than a decade by applying tremendous pressure on all fronts: war (peripheral conflicts), economic (arms race), internal affairs (dissidents), diplomatic (Poland), ideological (radio broadcasts), and human rights (emigration). The key is Israeli persistence: any country, totalitarian even more than democratic, can sustain occasional extraordinary pressure. Continuous—even moderate—pressure is unbearable. Popular will breaks when people see no light at the end of the tunnel. The Soviet Union was in a death agony from birth, with rare hopeful respites. Reagan succeeded along several major lines: American propaganda made the United States attractive to the Soviet people who lost the urge to fight it; demonstrated Soviet war inferiority in Afghanistan and in space; counteracted communist expansion abroad; bankrupted the U.S.S.R. by reducing economic cooperation; and lured the Soviets to overextend themselves in arms procurement and costly help to communist clients abroad.

Israel could finish off the Muslim states in no more time, provided Jews exhibit the same kind of unrelenting determination, exploiting every possibility, giving no respite. No need for competition in GDP, who can spend more. Israel should make expenses asymmetric: incite demagogues in Muslim countries to demand redistribution of oil wealth, including aid to poor Muslim countries; sell Muslims expensive and useless weapons; reduce the demand for oil by using nuclear energy; and sabotage infrastructure, seizing oil wells and staging revolts, not even pro-Israeli, in oil producing regions. An Israeli hard line will impair the credibility of Arab governments in their subject’s eyes. Ridiculing the clergy and promoting secular values would disillusion Muslims ideologically.

[13] Namely, protection treaties of Russia and Germany with Serbia and Austria, respectively. Certain of backing by major powers, these minor countries readily escalated the conflict, triggering the mutual defense treaties, a result which neither the Russian nor the German government, though hostile, wanted. The Russian and German war establishments were only too happy to act upon them.

[14] While Christians treated Jews incomparably worse than Muslims, Arabs also have murdered many Jews: 5,000 in Granada in 1066, thousands in Morocco in 1465 and three hundred in late 1800s, not to say about the wholesale destruction of Jewish communities there in the eighth century, and hundreds in Libya in 1785. Arabs committed atrocities against Jews in almost every country of Middle East, and in those Muslim-controlled African countries where they could find Jews to massacre, as in Algiers. On numerous occasions, synagogues were razed, Jewish property confiscated, and they were forced to convert to Islam. In the nineteenth century, Jews in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were only permitted to live in ghettos.