In Quiet, They’re Shooting, Haaretz’s Reuven Pedatzur discusses why Israel relies so heavily on the IDF, rather than diplomacy, to resolve political conflicts it has with its neighbors. It provides a sweeping primer on the history and philosophy of military force within the Zionist movement:
The military option became the ideology of the younger generation in the 1940s, though this was not the case for society as a whole. It gained legitimacy and began to exert an influence on political decision-making only during the War of Independence. In [sociologist Uri] Ben Eliezer’s view, militarism became a central ideology of Israeli society and part of the political worldview of its movers and shakers: Organized violence was seen as a suitable and desirable solution to national problems, while moderation, striving to negotiate and compromise were perceived as weakness. Like many others, Ben Eliezer ties the aspiration for strength (and its veneration) to the trauma of the Holocaust.
Pedatzur analyzes the predicament that this overreliance on military force has created for Israel both within the region and on the world stage. The article is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the role that the IDF plays within Israeli society; and for anyone who wishes to understand how Israel seems to embroil itself repetitively over the past few decades in costly military conflicts that it cannot win.
He concludes his argument by asking whether Israel will learn any constructive lesson from the current failed war:
It’s too early to determine whether the current war in Lebanon will widen the cracks in the consensus on the use of force. The military has been criticized but there doesn’t seem to be any real change. Unfortunately, under the umbrella of this consensus, sweeping support is given to whatever the IDF does, without distinguishing between the reasonable and necessary use of force and using it against targets that have nothing to do with the war with the enemy fighters.
Political scientist Avner Yaniv, one of the wisest observers of Israel’s policy making, wrote: “In a country in which questions of national security absolutely overshadow any other subject, no real debate has yet been held over the very morality of the use of military force.”
The war with Hezbollah sharply exposed the implications of venerating military might. Israel has invested billions upon billions in equipping the army with state-of-the-art weapons systems. And instead of a “small, smart army,” the IDF has become a “huge, sophisticated army.” Electronic systems, satellites and pilotless drones make it possible for commanders to see what is going on deep inside enemy territory.
But all this, it turns out, does not make the IDF’s fight against guerrillas more effective or successful. The IDF indeed can see what is going on “over the hill,” but not always what is right under its own nose.
In the war now, military force is the be all and end all. Perhaps, its failure to attain its goals will lead to rethinking the use of the army as the solution to every problem and in time will lead to less veneration of power and greater understanding of its limitations.