It appears that the U.S. is not the only country with a failed defense secretary/minister. Sol Salbe turned me on to Akiva Eldar’s latest Haaretz column: Hammer Blows. In it, Eldar appraises Shaul Mofaz’s abysmal tenure as defense minister (Olmert has just bestowed the ministry on Amir Peretz and Mofaz will be leaving soon). Along the way, the Israeli journalist makes some telling observations about the lack of intelligence of Israeli military intelligence:
Mofaz sowed evil and is bequeathing ruins to the next government, and not only to the new defense minister. He is leaving behind him the serious damage caused by two mistaken strategic theories – theories that were wrong for Israel and for the entire Middle East. Both attributed to Arab leaders with very limited military strength the actual intention of destroying the State of Israel.
Th[e first] theory was that Saddam Hussein would turn his weapons of mass destruction against Israel when he had “his back against the wall.” Gilad and Mofaz assessed that the American invasion of Iraq would improve Israel’s strategic situation – but instead it led to an increasingly close relationship between the Shi’ite regime in Iraq and its Iranian neighbor.
The second theory was that Yasser Arafat entered the Oslo process and began the intifada in order to bring about the establishment of “Greater Palestine,” which would include Israel and Jordan. This conspiracy theory regarding the Palestinians led the security services to adopt a one-dimensional, shortsighted, aggressive approach.
In this [their mistakes], there is no consolation for the tens of thousands of innocent victims of the military conflict, including the 1,200 Israeli dead. The children of the upcoming third intifada will not come into a better world.
Poor Mofaz, after such a scathing attack it’s a wonder he’ll be asked to be dogcatcher by Olmert in the next government.
In the following section, Eldar takes Mofaz and the defense establishment to task for violating two fundamental tenets of Clausewitz’s rules of war:
Carl Maria von Clausewitz…claimed that war is “nothing but the continuation of policy by other means.” The success of a war is measured by the maneuverability that it grants the political echelon no less than by the degree of security it brings to its citizens. This maneuverability allows the military victory to be translated into a political arrangement. The chaos in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the terror attacks in Iraq and Israel, prove that military superiority is neither a guarantee of political achievement nor a recipe for security. The unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the unilateral “convergence plan” in the West Bank, the separation fence, Hamas’ victory and the ensuing severance of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – individually and cumulatively – are testimony to the fact that five and a half years of military conflict have reduced the political echelon’s room for maneuver to a nadir not seen since the Yom Kippur War.
The Prussian military man also stated that no sensible person goes to war before clarifying his goals. The great success of chief of staff Mofaz…conducting an all-out war against the Palestinian rival [during the first Intifada]. And what was the goal? To make the “price of losing” clear to the Palestinians. To etch in their awareness that the price of violence is far greater than the benefits. And what would happen after the “victory”? Who would fill the vacuum left by Arafat and his senior Palestinian Authority colleagues after they were eliminated? What political arrangement would replace the disorder in the territories resulting from the destruction of infrastructure? Who would replace a relatively moderate Hamas political leader [Rantisi] who was sent to the heavens in a whirlwind by the air force?
There you have the fatal flaw of Israeli military strategy in a nutshell. They use their military might not to advance a political agenda. Rather, force itself IS the agenda. There is hardly a political agenda behind the use of force.
Eldar notes that Israeli intelligence handed Mofaz an issue of the Hamas magazine, Falastin al-Muslama, which detailed the organization’s strategy of attrition against Israeli forces in the Territories during the Intifada:
Magazine contributors define the next political goal based on the model of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. They point out that as in the case of Lebanon, their goal is to convince the Israeli public, by means of the intifada, that “Zionist security” comes with such a unilateral withdrawal…Escalation on Israel’s side could be expected to lead to escalation on the Palestinian side, and thus making it clear to everyone that only Hamas “can deliver a blow to the enemy, establish a balance of terror, exhaust its strength and sow confusion in its political considerations and influence its internal situation.”
Chief of staff and defense minister Mofaz regularly supplied Meshal with proof that Hamas can in fact achieve by military means what the PA did not succeed in getting from Israel by political means. “The high point was the decision to harm [Fatah security chief] Jibril Rajoub,” says Dr. Mati Steinberg, who was at the time a special adviser to the Shin Bet head of Palestinian affairs. “His security establishment did not fire at us [and] did not operate against us…,” says Steinberg…
Steinberg blames Mofaz for the grave outcome of the policy that did not differentiate between the Palestinian forces [Hamas and Fatah] and punished the population indiscriminately. “The policy of ‘the price of losing’ was what gave legitimacy to the suicide attacks…This is the unavoidable price of the only choice the aggressive [Israeli] policy left them [Palestinians] – the choice between unconditional surrender and an uprising until death.”
The Haaretz columnist notes that former foreign minister (under Barak), Shlomo ben-Ami describes in his new book how the military echelon did all in its power to undermine the stated policy of the civilian government:
Shlomo Ben-Ami was…a member of the security cabinet at the start of the intifada. In his book Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, Ben-Ami wrote that minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who coordinated the efforts to achieve calm, expressed to him his anger and frustration at the behavior of Mofaz and at the spirit with which he inspired the forces in the field. “Goods that were supposed to reach the population were stuck at checkpoints – bulldozers uprooted hothouses, nurseries and other crops, ostensibly for security reasons, in a manner that raised the level of Palestinian fury to unprecedented heights. The policy of collective punishment and inflicting economic hardship, which clearly did not serve the intentions of the political leadership to try to achieve calm, was an agenda led by the military leadership, which turned its back on the instructions and intentions of the political leadership and ignored them.”
The vision of Mofaz…never exceeded that expected of a mediocre brigade commander (Mofaz failed the officers’ tests three times). In the IDF, they customarily call that the “shoemaker’s syndrome” – every problem can be solved with a hammer. If a half-ton hammer does not solve it, use a one-ton hammer. At the end of 2000, when the Barak government wanted to adopt Clinton’s proposals in the hope of returning to a channel of rapprochement, chief of staff Mofaz claimed that the political leadership was endangering the country’s security.
Ben-Ami writes that Mofaz ignored the fact that the alternative to an agreement, even an agreement that did not fulfill all of Israel’s security wishes, was a rebellious Palestinian nation, raging terror, a return to occupation, international ostracism and a conflagration in the Arab and Muslim world. He did not know how right he was. Hamas control of the territories has acted as a bridge between the Iranian Shi’ites and the Sunnis of the Muslim Brotherhood, bringing the conflict to a more fundamentalist and global level.
The suit and tie [of the defense minister] did not change Mofaz’s way of thinking…This time as well, the only alternative he has proposed is more assassinations, closures and checkpoints. Since the withdrawal, he has done everything in his power to prevent the PA under the leadership of chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) from presenting the disengagement as part of a bilateral political step.
Incoming defense minister Amir Peretz is being warned by dissident intelligence analysts that the IDF and Shin Bet make the same mistake as the CIA during the Cold War: they deliberately overestimate the power and strength of the enemy. The effect of such a mistake is to raise the level of fear among the general populace and thereby causing it to resort to ever greater escalations of the conflict in order to vanquish the allegedly powerful enemy:
A former senior member of MI suggests to Peretz that he beware of the habit that has become common at MI in recent years – overestimating the rival’s strength. He says that in light of the general staff’s damaging dominance in national-level decision making, this tendency has become one of the great obstacles to that process. It is also liable to lead to another escalation in the Palestinian arena, and perhaps even to wars in other sectors, he says. Among the intelligence community there are those who warn of a conceptual freeze and are recommending that the new defense minister conduct a thorough investigation of the mistaken theory that dictated policy toward the Palestinians under Mofaz…
“Since we enjoy absolute military superiority,” says Steinberg, illustrating the general’s words, “the new minister must be careful not to be tempted into thinking that we also have the power to conquer the minds of the Palestinians in expecting them to accept our interpretation of the road map or the Clinton proposals.
Steinberg says the Iranian threat, the increased power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the global jihad movement provide convenient circumstances for consolidating a pragmatic axis in the region. “Our conflict has become a black hole in the core of the Islamic world. Only a political agreement, even a partial one, and a proper balance between security considerations and broader needs, can rescue the Palestinians from Hamas and us from a war of religions.”
Shaul Mofaz has taken Israeli policy into a dead end of escalating violence and bloodshed. Amir Peretz has an opportunity (to the extent that Olmert allows him to do so) to break out of this cycle and breathe some fresh air into Israeli relations with the Palestinians. Let us see if he can succeed.