How Not to Deter Hamas (and Iran)
According to Israel's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, the first purpose of in launching Pillar of Defense, the country's most recent Gaza campaign, was "to strengthen our deterrence."
Now that the operation has concluded, there appears to be little confidence in Israel, at least outside of the Netanyahu government troika that negotiated a cease-fire agreement with Hamas, that Pillar of Defense will deter Hamas from much of anything. And looking on is Iran. If Israel can't deter a thuggish terror outfit like Hamas, how is it going deter its larger and infinitely more dangerous sponsor, Iran?
One thing is certain, Israel will never, and has never deterred its enemies by launching operations in which the stated goal is deterrence.
It is not that Israel's enemies cannot be deterred. Despite the unending enmity and hatred of the three major Muslim Arab states that directly border it (Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) Israel has, since 1948, emerged as a relatively secure and powerful regional state, increased its population ten-fold, and given its population a standard of living that rivals the most prosperous Western states, and absolutely shames those Arab states in practically every meaningful category of economic success, military power, freedom, and just, effective governance. Egypt, its most powerful enemy, concluded a formal peace agreement three decades ago. Jordan followed suit twenty years ago. Syria, which remains implacable, has nonetheless maintained a truce for nearly 40 years.
But these successes were not won by Israel's pursuit of deterrence. Rather they were the result of four bloody full-scale wars waged between 1948 and 1973. In those conflicts, Israel did not fight to deter its enemies but to defend its borders, seize territory from which the Arabs launched attacks, and destroy Arab armies.
Arab nations were not deterred from war by any deliberate Israeli policy of deterrence but by traditional wars, waged with traditional objectives. Deterrence was just a salutary side effect of actual repeated military success.
Beginning in the late 1970s, facing nontraditional, nonstate enemies, Israel began waging wars of deterrence with much less success. In 1978 and again in 1982 Israel went into Lebanon with the stated purposes of driving back PLO terrorists (and Syrian anti-aircraft batteries), deterring further attacks, and securing Israel's northern border, rather than defeating or annihilating its enemies. The result was that even when the Israelis secured military successes (as at the outset of the 1982 campaign) they were unable to translate them into tangible long-term deterrence. Because neither the IDF nor the Israeli public had been prepared for a war of annihilation against the PLO, the Israeli leadership hesitated at critical junctures, allowing the PLO to escape, and turning early military successes into perceived failures. (continue reading...)