Shortly after World War I, a British officer said, “Thank God that’s over. Now we can get back to real soldiering.” That expresses the U.S. armed forces’ attitude towards Fourth Generation war, war waged by entities other than the states, following our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hamas’s deadly raid on Israel, the worst defeat Israel has suffered since the early days of the 1973 war, has put 4GW back front-and-center, whether state armed forces like it or not.
As I write this, Israel has painted itself into a strategic corner. Part of the reason is that Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s premier, set a strategic goal very difficult to attain, namely the complete destruction of Hamas. That would appear to require an Israeli invasion of Gaza, a fight Hamas is prepared for, will welcome, and will result in high Israeli as well as Gaza civilian casualties.
Another cause of Israel’s strategic predicament is inherent in Fourth Generation war: the moral balance is tilting in favor of the people currently under attack, i.e., those who live in Gaza.
Hamas’s initial raid on Israel was a typical action by a 4GW entity. It bore no resemblance to an invasion by a state army. Rather, it looked very much like an Indian raid on an American frontier settlement. The savages massacred a lot of people, took others hostage, set buildings on fire, then either died fighting or ran for home, hostages in tow. One of my ancestors, Hannah Dustin, was taken in just such a raid on the Massachusett’s frontier in the 1690s. Not only did she escape her captors, she killed several Indians in the process. We saw similar heroic actions by civilians in some of the kibbutzim Hamas overran.
That original massacre gave Israel the moral high ground. But as is usual in 4GW, as the fighting drags on and Israel pits its high-tech, well-equipped armed forces against low-tech, comparatively poorly equipped Hamas fighters, and the bombing kills more and mo4re Gaza civilians, the moral balance is shifting against Israel. Soon, the international pressure on Israel to agree to a cease-fire will become overwhelming.
Meanwhile, the Israeli economy has ceased to function because so many reservists have been mobilized. Those mobilized soldiers now sit around as Isael’s government tries to come up with a strategy to use them.
Since Israel wants a strategy, let me propose one, a strategy that allows Israel to avoid defeat on the moral level and does not require an invasion of Gaza:
First, Israel re-imposes a complete blockade on Gaze. Nothing comes in, not food, not water, not medicine, nothing
Second, Israel simultaneously establishes a humanitarian corridor out of Gaza through which anyone can leave. As they do so, fighting-age males, let’s say males between the ages of 14 and 50, are separated from the women, children, old people, etc. The latter go to the West Bank, where Israel allows other Arab and Moslem states to provide the PLO with plenty of money to take care of them. The fighting age males go to POW camps set up in the Negev, where they remain until Israel’s war with Hamas ends.
Third, after all the Gazans who want out have gotten out, Israel wipes out Hamas. It starts by attacking from the sea, establishing beachheads, then pumping sweater into Hamas’s tunnels under Gaza. At the same time, it works from the north to south, destroying every structure standing in Gaza, artillery and bombing, not by sending Israeli soldiers into a fight on the ground. In the end, everything in Gaza is flattened, the same way the Romans flattened Jerusalem, with not a stone left standing on stone. Israel keeps the blockade on for however long it takes to starve out remaining Hamas fighters. The remains of Gaza are then bulldozed into the sea.
Israel then announces it will release the fighting-age males held in Negev to any country that will take them, in whatever number they want, from one to all of them. This puts the moral onus for their continuing captivity on other Arab and Moslem countries rather than on Israel.
What about the hostages of Hamas? As in past hostage situations, Israel, working through third parties such as Qatar, will offer Palestinian prisoners it holds in trade for the hostages’ safe return. If Hamas starts executing hostages, it will defeat itself on the moral level of war – war’s most powerful level.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners will oppose such a strategy because they want to drive all Arabs out of the West Bank, not bring more Arabs into it. But if Netanyahu has a political future after the intelligence failure that left the back door open to Hamas, it will be based on a credible claim might be politically powerful enough that he would no longer require his current coalition partners.
For Israel, the time to adopt and execute a strategy is running out. The continued bombing of Gaza and resulting civilian casualties are turning the moral balance against Israel. As the Italian statesman Cavour said, you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.