The cold arithmetic of blood
Exactly 100 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the two sides in the Russian-Japanese war to the negotiating table. Besides the fact that the teddy bear is named after him, Roosevelt is also remembered as being an outstanding American president. A century ago, he coined one of his many famous sayings: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Roosevelt's approach is not alien to Israel. The historical Mapai party adopted it, and it also inspired David Ben-Gurion when he shaped Israel's security outlook during the War of Independence, as well as during the retaliatory operations taken by the elite Unit 101 and in the Sinai campaign (in the last case, unsuccessfully). In fact, Israelis express this sentiment intuitively when declaring, quite frequently, that they won't be anyone's sucker.
Roosevelt's approach has been put to the test now, too, in the battles Israel is waging in Lebanon, which are apparently about to end. Let there be no mistake: The war in Lebanon has not been about the return of two abducted soldiers. It is a war for Israel's deterrent power. This is a war that is being waged over the question of whether Israel will be able to retain the message that having to defend its home front is taboo, and that anyone that dares to violate that taboo will pay an unbearable price.
Hezbollah is not the strategic threat posed to Israel at present. The real threat lies in Syria, which is arming itself with thousands of missiles with various and sundry warheads, and in Iran, which is only a heartbeat away from attaining nuclear weapons. The war in Lebanon, therefore, is not only a war against Hezbollah and its ability to continue to attack Israel. It is a war against Iran and Syria, which clearly have the ability to attack Israel. The only question is whether they will dare.
The achievements in Lebanon will have crucial implications vis-a-vis this question. From this point of view, the extended fighting there is not a campaign. Nor is it a war of "no alternative." It is an existential war, one of the most important ever fought by Israel. It is a war intended to ensure that the real strategic threat to Israel, the one from Iran and Syria, will be cut down to a minimum, thanks to Israel's ability to maintain its deterrence. And it is also a war that can affect the peace process with the Palestinians: Israel's ability to maintain its deterrence is the best way to convince them to come to the negotiating table, just as Israel's ability to maintain its deterrence during the Yom Kippur War prompted Egypt to sign a peace agreement with Israel.
This is an existential war and Israel should be fighting it as one. It is a war in which every possible military effort should be invested, exposing the country to the dangers of an all-out war - of soldiers being captured, of becoming embroiled in difficult battles, and of facing such perils as opening of a second front and incurring very large numbers of losses. Coping with these dangers is essential despite the fact that doing so does not guarantee achievements.
A war is not an insurance policy. Taking risks is not a sufficient condition for victory in such circumstances, but it is certainly a necessary condition - because only those who dare will succeed. Only those who are willing to dare can truly threaten the other side.
Israel cannot promise that the Hezbollah will pay an intolerable price for breaking the taboo by attacking the country's home front. It can promise to be willing to pay a very high price in order to make Hezbollah pay a far higher one. This promise could have been the basis for its deterrence.
Israel's willingness to fight to the death to protect its home front is the only way to make those considering attacking that front in the future think twice. To put it bluntly: Israel's willingness to absorb hundreds of losses can prevent the deaths of thousands, and perhaps even more, in the future. This is a cold and cruel arithmetic of blood, but it is the one that will be determined in this war. And it is doubtful whether Israel has fulfilled its part in it.
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