Home War on Terror What It Will Take to Win the War
Home War on Terror What It Will Take to Win the War

What It Will Take to Win the War

WWII was the high point of the long Western history of war. In it the best armed forces of industrial civilization collided and fought for years, deploying the latest technologies and throwing unprecedented numbers of of men, tanks and planes into the battle. It was the kind of war never to be repeated again.

For the following decades the US and the USSR, the victors of the war, would develop increasingly better military technologies and stare across the globe at each other armed with large quantities of weapons that could never be used. Instead both sides armed smaller countries and in that way fought restrained proxy wars with each other across the world.

The UN armies in Korea and the American army in Vietnam fought as if they were refighting WW2 against another large well armed Western state, much as British armies invaded Afghanistan and fought using the same neat squares of men and cavalry charges that had served them so well in the Napoleonic wars. Great generals adapt to a battlefield, ordinary generals fight by the book resulting in terrible losses until they finally learn to adapt. This is how it was for the Americans in Korea and Vietnam and for the Russians in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Israeli and American soldiers emerge from a complex lineage. The American army was born from militias and Indian fighters who copied the tactics of their Indian allies and enemies, firing at the British from behind trees, moving quickly and attacking unexpectedly. Tactics the British, who relied on using large forces to seize and hold territory, could not usefully respond to. While the British took entire cities, including New York, they found that they could not control the land without hunting down and defeating the Colonial armies. Relying on their usual tactics, they paid a high price for simply trying to move armies across upstate New York. The Americans had learned to adapt and make do with limited resources and spur of the moment decisions. Their boldness and adaptability paved the way for transforming the ragged bands the British regulars had sneered at, into the army the mightiest empire in the world couldn't defeat.

The Israeli army emerged out of the original Shomrim, civilian patrols who watched farms and orange groves, carrying crude rifles, riding horses and even disguising themselves as Arabs to protect villages and homesteads from Arab raids. Refined by Orde Wingate, an eccentric officer despised by the British high command, he initiated many of the tactics the Israeli army still uses today including officers leading from the front, small units that operate off the land and use simple misdirection to strike at the enemy. These are still main features of Israel military tactics today.

From the war of 1948, the IDF increasingly adapted itself to fighting not bands of Arab fighters, but large well-armed Arab armies. The Yom Kippur War was to Israel and the Arabs what WW2 was to Europe, a massive devastating conflict that brought home the message to the Arabs that the war could not be won by large scale military assaults. Instead the fighting would be left to terrorist groups, a return to the same kind of armed bands the predecessors of the IDF had fought during the days of the Mandate. The kind of armed Indian bands that the Colonial Settlers had cut their teeth fighting.

The last two wars in Lebanon were so costly precisely because the IDF was fighting Arab bands again, though they may have been disguised with Marxist and Islamist tags, and its generals had forgotten that the key to defeating them lay in the tactics of those young men who dressed like Arabs and rode on horseback to intercept murderous groups of Arab bandits. Increasingly the last decade with the creation of a Palestinian state demanded a reeducation in the way of such a war.

When American soldiers wanted to find out how to engage in urban warfare in an Arab city, they watched Israeli soldiers operating in Jenin and put those same tactics to use in Fallujah cutting open holes in houses, blasting their way in and taking the enemy by surprise. Israel's war with Palestinian terrorists has provided much of the tactical and occasionally even technological methodology for US forces in Iraq. It's why Israeli and American casualties fighting armed Muslim bands are far smaller than that of Russian soldiers in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Israel and America have adapted, but the essential way of war they are fighting is misguided. They may only be suffering 10 percent of the casualties relative to the enemy forces, but those are still unacceptable losses when fighting an enemy force that does not care about its losses.

Islamic terrorists in Iraq and now Lebanon have taken a severe beating but they can always replace the lower ranked canon fodder while the higher ranked terrorists are spirited from hideout to hideout and emerge afterward crowing triumphantly, much as the Viet Cong did. Israeli and American tactics allow for greater flexibility, penetration and adaptation, but they still come down to fighting modified guerrilla warfare against guerrillas and terrorists operating on their own terrain. The enemy can always just retreat and wait, carry out a handful of attacks, appeal to the world and wait till you leave.

An AP headline read, "Victory for Hizbullah May Be Survival." By contrast victory for Israel requires either eliminating Hizbullah or damaging it so badly it won't pose a threat for some time. The latter might be more possible if Hizbullah wasn't just a tool of Iran which can count on Iran to aid and resupply it the moment Israel leaves. The former would require conquering Lebanon. Similarly victory for America requires building a stable Iraqi government that can hold its own, while victory for Iraqi terrorists is as simple as preventing America from doing it.

Imagine one person trying to build a house of cards while all the other person has to do is knock it down. That is essentially America and Israel's military dilemma. The way out of that dilemma was essentially closed to them in the latter half of the 20th century and that is a massive saturation bombing campaign combined with an invasion that treats everything on the ground as an enemy. It would have been the default tactic of any military, but a domestic fifth column operating out of the press and political institutions now make that impossible. While Islamic terrorists are free to torture, mutilate and behead and still count on the world's support, every American policing action and Israeli bombardment results in shrill hysterical condemnation and media coverage.

By the Vietnam era the tactics regularly used by the UN forces in Korea were the object of horror and condemnation (not however tactics used by the Viet Cong.) Civilization had turned on itself and the intellectual elites of the Western world were occupied in enthusiastically cheering on and empathizing with its destroyers. But letting those very same people place chains on your military doctrine to ensure the approval of public opinion is utterly futile since these people will never approve and the crippling result leaves your military trapped in a bloody and futile struggle with armed bands that fade in and out of the conflict, always garnering sympathy and never providing you with an actual victory.

And the very people who chained down the military, treat your defeats as proof of the futility of solving things on the battlefield, when it is only proof of the futility of fighting wars with your hands tied behind your back.

If the West is to reverse its own decline it must abandon half-measures and when confronted with an enemy fully fight back. When the enemy hides among a civilian population there will be significant collateral damage but the reality is that the enemy could not hide successfully among the civilian population if they did not have the support of a major segment of that civilian population. German troops could not hide in French villages. Israeli soldiers could not hide in Palestinian villages firing shells. Enemy troops can hide in a location because there is sufficient sympathy and allegiance on the ground for them to operate there. That makes them part of the war and the enemy's operations and makes them valid targets. You can't win a war against guerrillas except by destroying all possible bases of support for them and their infrastructure.

It is least often that soldiers lose wars and most often generals lose wars by the extent that they tie the hands of the men in the field. It would be good to remember that the extent to which we are merciful to the enemy population is the extent to which we are cruel to our own soldiers. In war against an enemy force that hides among enemy civilians, we have a choice between their lives and ours. For a long while now we've been choosing their lives over the lives of our soldiers and our casualty rolls reflect that tragic betrayal.


  1. Shavua tov :)

    Great analysis.

    Americans and Israelis are both having to contend with enemies supported by co-conspirators, civilians that aid and abet the terrorists in their countries. That makes them equally culpable and fair targets.

    A lot of intellectuals deny this. As for the media, they constantly refer to the war IN Iraq rarely if ever do they or anyone else call it the War Against Iraq or the War Against Lebanon. Or they use dilluted terminology--"conflict" not "war" at all other. If the US and Israel is battling against terrorists organizations with military and political power and civilian support aren't we at war against the countries? I have a tough time separating things.
    The US is at war with Iraq and Israel is at war with Lebanon.

    But Bush has continually emphasized that the United States is not fighting the people of Iraq, when clearly we are--the terrorists within the country and the considerable civilian populations that support them.

    My brother's in the National Guard. Years ago we discussed his basic training and war. Arrogantly, I told him that he was a trained killer. Well, that is what the military is for, he countered.

    I asked if he was willing to die for his country. He said no. But he is willing to make his enemy die for his.

    (For the truly innocent victims caught in the crossfires of these wars? That's hard. It's gut-wrenching to see small children suffering, screaming and crying on television. But in the end I believe G-d knows who is ultimately responsible for their suffering and will assign blame and punishment appropriately.

    In the case of the two little boys from Nazareth I would hope He would judge Hezbollah and the people of Nazareth who are embracing and forgiving Hezbollah--including the boys own parents! According to an AP report, even the parents forgive Nasrallah for "martyring" the children) and blame Israel.

    Twisted logic if you can even call it logic.

  2. that's a patton quote too, on making the enemy die for his and it's quite correct... suicide is the easy way out, it's not the tactic of a soldier but a psychopath

    ultimately for all the noise and din, the arab world's major problems are a denial of reality combined with a blood lust

    I had a chat recently with a muslim hezbollah supporter who kept insisting that israel was killing little children, each time I pointed out to him how many children muslim terrorists had killed, including arab children, he would simply ignore it just as he undoubtedly mentally tunes it out

    there's no moral code or examination of one's conduct in the muslim world, you just scream and leap knowing the enemy is in the wrong

    arab soldiers never get tried for committing atrocities, the idea itself is incomprehensible because arab soldiers can't committ atrocities by definition, in their minds only israel and america can

  3. I think that's the problem. In trying to understand the enemy a lot of people are using the "reasonable" man theory. It's dangerous, we can't understand them in terms of what a reasonable person would think, feel or act.

  4. Since I'm still on my Golda Meir Kick, LOL, I'll share one of her responses: "When the arabs love their children as much as they hate us - there will be peace."

    Not a Lubie, but I do love Rabbi Schneerson's comment on arabs. He said because they have embraced a sick religion, they have sick minds and are therefore incapable of rational thought and cannot be reasoned with. :]

    Combine the two comments. Arabs think they are loving their children by using them as body shields and live ammo, because with their sick minds they are incapable of realising that in truth they hate their children more than they hate us.

    It goes with hashemsforever "reasonable man" theory. You also have to ask, what kind of sick demented mind could possibly think you can reason with someone who will blow themselves up and use children for shields? We live in a very sick world.

  5. Anonymous24/7/06

    great analysis.

    I'd like to add three aspects:

    -hashemsforever mentioned 'reasonable man'. Our very big problem is that most people in the west are ignorant and because of this, it is only natural for them to assume that the other side is like them (especially since the west is now politically correct) and unfortunately we usually project our own value system onto our enemies. It is impossible to relate to Arabs the same way we relate to each other (consumeristic hedonists).

    (ok, now I see that you said this in "Why Arab Ideas of Shame and Honor Make Peace Impossible ")

    -leadership and media. When Ariel Sharon (and the media who backed him up) told us that we can't keep Gush Katif, and that the 'occupation must end, 'we' internalized it, and subconciosly lost self-esteem. In this new war, Olmert as rejected the usual self-defeatism and suddenly turned pro-Israel, surprisingly turning into a leader who is trying to rally the country and keep its spirits up. Companies are funding expensive adveritsing campaigns to add to the motivation, YET, the cracks are showing. The leftist are protesting the war (and many people allow them this 'freedom of speech'), and not being ridiculed and condemned. Arab members of the Knesset speak openly about condoning Hezbollah, but instead the courts are worried more about prosecuting theifs taking advantage of the empty cities.

    For the past two years, we've been told that there is no solution to the kassam, but now for some reason their is a solution to the katyusha.

    - God and tshuva. Israel's victories are never dependant on quality or quantity. The only thing really going for us is our worship of God. If we return to God, we will be victorious, if we continue to think/depend on the IDF to win on its own, then we are doomed to defeat.

  6. Anonymous5/7/09

    From Korea onward the world was never comfortable with victory.

    WWII was successful because victory over Japan and Germany allowed those countries to rebuild within the framework of sane society.

    Even our loss in Vietnam (a victory for the other side)allowed that region to purge itself and move on.

    Until total war is acceptable there can never be victory. Yes there will be civilian losses and horrible pictures. However, there is death and destruction now in slow motion -- I believe to a comparable extent.

    At the end of days, it is either us or them. I vote us. Victory at any cost is their way. It must be ours as well.

    Peace will only come with victory. Let there be peace.

  7. Anonymous5/7/09

    You need mention the recent fighting in Sri Lanka in which the Tamil Tiger terrorists were severely beaten but with very high civilian deaths & displacement of thousands. There was an initial reaction in the Western media, generally very negative, but it went ''off the news'' in a few days. Contrast this with Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.


  8. But isn't a more cruel, blow-everything-up style of warfare exactly what the Russians did in Afghanistan and Chechnya? Short of nuking a place, hiding bombs in children's toys (as did the Russians) is the ultimate in ruthlessness. And doing so jives with your call to attack civilian settlements--hiding bombs in toys was a strategem meant to trick children into bringing bombs into their homes!

  9. If the Russians used "Blow up everything warfare" how are Grozny and Kandahar still standing?

    The Russians used/use puppet governments and attempted to suppress the opposition in Afghanistan and Chechnya. It's not too different from what we've done in Afghanistan from a military standpoint.

  10. Are u going to write a piece on Cynthia Mckinney and her tresspassing to Gaza?

  11. I don't think she's worth the time, considering she's not currently in congress, the media bias on the reporting and cole's suggestion of invading israel might be more worth writing about

  12. Anonymous5/7/09

    Lemon Lime you are right in your analysis!
    Josh, we lost our self esteem in 1991 when we were sitting ducks to Saddam's scuds and our hands tied behind our backs. There was no country in history who wasn't "allowed" to defend itself. Without G-d's miracles there would have been thousands dead.

  13. A very astute piece; I especially love the closing paragraph. As usual you are spot on.

    We all saw what happened with Op Cast Lead. Israel did the best it could to behave morally up to and including jeopardising Israeli solders' lives by phoning every home in Gaza to warn of the impending strikes. How Hamas leaders must have laughed.

    And the result was still worldwide, histrionic condemnation of Israel.

    Israel's hands are always tied and with Obama in power, the bindings are getting tighter.

    Re Orde Wingate: if ever there was a Righteous Gentile, it was this man.

  14. yes indeed he was, and neither Israel nor the US nor anyone fighting terrorists can afford to play by one set of rules while their enemies play by another

    to accommodate a double standard is to accept your own persecution and subjugation

  15. Anonymous8/11/11

    After Vietnam we promised to never fight another war without letting our military fight for victory unrestrained.

    Here we go again.

  16. This is what can be expected when voters vote on personality and celebrity, With Obama we voted for an unaccomplished ideologue who could read well from Teleprompters and, frankly, his color, as a novelty rather than ability and leadership. With the support of a like minded corrupt and radical media, he was elevated to the status of a messiah rather than th America hating radicalized, inexperienced community organizer that defined him. We got what he said he would do, fundamentally change America. No one asked him to explain into what?


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