Israel’s army has a remarkable record of winning. It won conventional wars in 1948, 1967, and 1973; it forced the Palestine Liberation Organization to give up armed struggle in 1996; and it has deterred Hezbollah since a 2006 campaign laid waste to the group. The military is strong not merely because of U.S. support, but also because everything about Israeli military—from its doctrine, organization, and training to its leadership and personnel—makes it by far the most formidable fighting force in the Middle East.
Most discussions about the war in Gaza assume that, in the end, Israel will win. The stakes are so high for Israel, and Israel’s edge over Hamas is so large, that any outcome other than victory is unthinkable. The only questions are in what timeframe and at what cost.
And yet it is quite possible that the war in Gaza will be the first war in Israel’s history that the army has fought and lost. That loss would be catastrophic for Israel and deeply damaging to the United States. Precisely because of that, it must be considered.
Israel’s military has largely avoided the checkered history that has afflicted the United States since the Vietnam War began, after which a record of muddled outcomes began. The U.S. military ended engagements in Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti without clear victories, but they were of a small scale. The post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Syrian-Iraqi border area were serious efforts with serious resources behind them, but years of fighting, billions of dollars, and thousands of U.S. deaths failed to secure victory.
Israelis sometimes argue that there is no comparison between their wars of survival, literally fought on their borders, with far-flung U.S. actions. They argue, too, that the public in Israel is united on matters of survival, while Western populations are fickle in comparison. Israel will win because it must, they say. But what if the lesson that the United States offers is that even weak parties can repel strong ones with the right strategy? [Continue reading…]