Text size

Beyond the two piles of bodies and the mourning and bereavement of both peoples, through the fragmented voices of Israel's leadership, it's already possible to feel the sour taste of the next combat loss. We haven't won anything since the Six-Day War. We managed to be saved from disaster in 1973, we got ensnared but survived in 1982, and there is no lack of other examples. Why is this happening? Why do our wars end in a permanent accord of ambiguity?

I think it's no longer possible to win wars. We're not the only ones who can't; the West as a whole is incapable of doing so. It's hard for me to remember a single war in the past 60 years that the United States clearly and decisively won. Dresden and Berlin were pounded to the ground, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, and from there the West embarked on a new path.

Western Europe almost totally abandoned the war option. It doesn't fight, and in any case isn't assessed on the basis of its ability to win wars. The United States, by contrast, went from isolationism to being the country chiefly responsible for Western state-sponsored violence. It has a mighty army, and it knows better than anyone how to deploy its forces to the starting line, but from there onward something always gets messed up. Korea wasn't a wonderful victory, Vietnam ended in disgrace, and the Gulf wars are not considered great military achievements.

It looks like something in the DNA of the West no longer allows it to declare war like it used to do. Western civilization is no longer capable of fighting a war that aims to destroy - neither in principle nor on the level of the soldiers' willingness to act in ways that are a kind of crime in their civilian world, the world of their values.

The wars of the previous century, along with the Holocaust of European Jewry, taught the West several lessons, central among which is the abolition of the doctrine of war; the West went from destroying and humiliating the enemy to maintaining its ability to rehabilitate itself, preserve its dignity, change and become a partner instead of a rival.

The mistake made with Germany after World War I was taken to heart, and Germany has become an important focus of the new Western alignment. Japan's dignity was not violated, and it has become a loyal ally of democratic Westernism. That's where the new type of victory began - the kind that doesn't wipe out the possibility of dialogue with yesterday's rival. In addition, there appears to be a deep-seated connection between the intensity of a society's commitment to human rights - the dignity and freedom accorded within the country - and the willingness of that country's soldiers to obliterate the other. The greater the intensity of the awareness of freedom, the less are people willing to decimate the enemy. The question remains as to how a just society fights enemies who do not share the same value system, and how to redefine what victory is.

It seems to me that if the goal of a war is the destruction of the enemy, it is a war that is doomed to fail. For reasons that are well-known to us, it is no longer possible to annihilate nations or at least suppress their aspirations of independence. And for no less important reasons, one must hope that we do not have soldiers who are willing to destroy solely for destruction's sake. The objective of modern war must be war for the purpose of forging dialogue. And if no dialogue with the enemy develops, then the war must be deemed a failure.

It therefore appears that Israel's leadership in the Gaza war is due to fail in our names - just like the Palestinian religious leaders ushering their people to another failure rooted in ignoring the metamorphosis of the concept of victory, from subduing to talking, from slaughtering to bridge-building. Just as bridges were ultimately built above the tempestuous waters between Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, between Dresden and London, and between Catholic and Protestant Dublin, there is a bridge between Sderot and Gaza. Those who do not tread on it will lead their nations to failure in all their wars.

The writer is a former Labor MK and chairman of the Jewish Agency.