The next time any of my pro-Israelist readers seek to make the argument that Israel only wants peace and only engages in defensive military operations, they’ll have to deal with this important speech (Hebrew) delivered by Gaby Ashkenazi to a military audience:
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke today (Tuesday) to participants in a series of combat exercises hosted by the Integrated Land Warfare forces. According to Ashkenazi, “the threats and challenges to the IDF on our borders require us to be ready to activate all our power. When we consider the enemy [Syria], you can’t help but be impressed that among our capabilities, we will have to bring to bear heavy firepower and also have to maneuver in enemy territory. He added that the next battle must be decisive “so that no one will ask who won and who lost.” We must win it quickly, bringing to bear decisive superiority of forces and taking the battle to the enemy.”
Units participating in the exercise included infantry, armor, air force, artillery, combat engineering and intelligence. One of the objectives was conquering and occupying a Syrian village using all aspects of intelligence gathering, assault and transfer of forces which this [a Syrian invasion] entails.
There is certainly an element of bluff and bluster in this. Both the exercise and speech are as much Psyops as expression of explicit intent. So we must take it with a certain grain of salt. But as I’ve said many times here, especially in the Mideast, be careful what you prepare for because it has a nasty habit of happening. In other words, if you expect a war and prepare to invade your enemy, your enemy responds in kind and before you know it you are at war–no matter what your original intent may have been.
So no matter what the intent of this exercise and speech, in the powderkeg that is the Israeli-Arab conflict, any party who makes such bellicose statements has as much as done the deed. If the chief of staff says “next time” we must invade Syria, then we must take him at his word that he is fully prepared to do so and might at any moment. The lessons learned in the lead-up to both the 1967 and 1973 Wars tell us that threats have a way of coming true.
This means that Ashkenazi’s speech is the height of irresponsibility. It means that we must see Israel as a direct threat to peace in the region. It means that we must prepare as if Israel intends to invade Syria in order to accomplish whatever vague political goals it might have. Of course, such a war would be not just foolish, but dunderheaded. But that’s never stopped Israel before.
It’s tempting to regard this military exercise in the context of the military-police exercise reported last week which simulated massive civil strife after a so-called “peace agreement” in which Israel would forcibly expel much of its Palestinian citizens to the new Palestinian state. In such an eventuality, it might be expected that Syria might feel it had a dog in the fight as well and might mobilize its own forces. So one wonders whether there is a far more comprehensive strategic plan at work here and what precisely it might be.