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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Casualty intolerance

http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2006/11/casualty-intolerance.html

Casualty intolerance

EFRAIM INBAR, THE JERUSALEM POST Nov. 19, 2006

One of the strategic misconceptions demonstrated by Israel's military and
political leadership during the war against Hizbullah in the summer of 2006
was the exaggerated fear of casualties. Indeed, OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar
Stern, complained after the war that the IDF had displayed "over-sensitivity"
to loss of lives and disclosed the fact that one of the battles during the
2006 Lebanese war was called off because of a few casualties.

Yet, given the clear threat posed by Hizbullah, there was enthusiastic public
backing for offensive operations, even when military casualties were
inevitable. A huge majority of Israelis lent full support to the war. They
wanted an unequivocal victory and were ready to pay a high price for achieving
it. Many who were living in bomb shelters during the war expressed such a
view. Even parents who had lost a child in the war backed the operation's
expansion.

While the need to avoid reckless loss of human life is self-evident, Israeli
society has in fact shown great resilience in war, as documented by several
studies. It stood strong in the face of the terror campaign launched by the
Palestinians in September 2000, designed to break the spirit of Israeli
society. Similar determination and willingness to carry the brunt of the
battle was exhibited by the Israeli home front during the recent war in
Lebanon.

The reluctance to commit ground troops to battle betrays a terrible gap
between Israel's leadership and its people. Israel's political and military
leaders mistakenly believe that Israeli society is tired of the protracted
conflict and is unwilling to pay the price of continuous war.

Ehud Olmert said as much in the past, reflecting a sense of weariness at the
leadership level. Decision makers in the Oslo process, particularly Yitzhak
Rabin, were also motivated by such sentiments and by a similar misperception
of Israeli society. The Four Mothers movement that advocated unilateral
withdrawal from Southern Lebanon (probably one of the factors that led to the
government's May 2000 decision to pull out) was an additional manifestation of
the same syndrome.

THIS MOOD, which has prevailed among Israel's political leadership since the
1990s, affected the military command during the recent war against Hizbullah,
and casualty aversion became a main feature of Israel's military modus
operandi.

Academics argued that Israel, like other Western democracies, has difficulty
waging war because of casualty aversion. However, such an assumption about the
Western style of war, at times described as "post-heroic" warfare, is not
grounded in fact. Actually, many studies show that casualty phobia is not a
dominant characteristic of the US general public. On the contrary, the
American political leadership can tap into a large reservoir of support for
military campaigns that entail a high human price, provided that those
operations have a chance to succeed. The public is defeat-phobic, not
casualty-phobic. Moreover, mounting casualties are bearable if the goals of
the military missions are seen as politically important. This is patently true
of Israel as well.

Strategically, Israel's reluctance to commit troops in battle is
counterproductive because it signals weakness. The widespread perception
within the Arab world that Israeli society is extremely sensitive to the loss
of human life, invites aggression. It was largely this perception that
motivated the Palestinians to start a terror campaign against Israel in
September 2000. This view is also the basis of the "spider web" theory
concerning Israel, propagated by Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah - namely
that Israel's emphasis on the value of human life as well as its
self-indulgent Western values render it weak and vulnerable.

The fear of military casualties and the subsequent hesitation on part of
Israel's leadership to conduct military operations also constitute a violation
of the basic social contract around which a state is built. In accordance with
the social contract, citizens give up some of their liberties and are prepared
to be taxed in exchange for the state's commitment to provide them with
security. The state is a social institution whose raison d'etre is to provide
its members with security by using its coercive organs, such as the police and
the military.

The Zionist rationale was founded on the desire to end the helplessness of the
Jew in the Diaspora by building a Jewish state whose main function was to
defend its Jewish citizens - by force if necessary. Recently, we have seen an
incredible inversion of the Zionist and the statist rationale. There is
greater tolerance of civilian casualties than of military losses. While
foolproof defense is not always a realistic goal, the Jewish state seems to
have difficulty in fulfilling its most basic function - providing security to
its citizens.

Four thousand Katyushas during the last summer as well as the continuous
downpour of Kassams on Israeli settlements in the Northern Negev raise the
question: Why should Israelis pay taxes to build and strengthen an army, if
the state is reluctant to use the military force at its disposal for the
protection of its citizens?

The author is professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and
director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
(gm)
 


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