Winning every battle but losing the war

Winning every battle but losing the war

WHEN Israel comes under attack, all its leaders draw together, and their first instinct is to reach for the gun.

So, even a moderate politician like Mrs Tzipi Livni, who as leader of the opposition frequently argued for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, said recently that the "fanatical movements" which Israel is currently battling "need treatment, and not of the psychological variety".

That's precisely what Israel has done in Gaza: it has pummelled the impoverished Palestinian land strip, using all the sophisticated weapons it can muster.

And the result was predictable: As in all of Israel's previous wars, Palestinian casualties were numerous, the international community was shocked but did nothing, ceasefires were negotiated and then promptly broken.

Israel prevailed but, as everyone knew all along, every military victory is only a prelude to another war at a future date.

Israel's long-term interests

YET, the strategic landscape around Israel is changing in subtle but profound ways, and most of these changes work against the long-term interests of the Jewish state.

The first major disruptive development is, surprisingly enough, on the battlefield, the one area where Israeli supremacy is never in doubt.

Since its establishment in the late 1940s, Israel has always fought with superior technology, excellent military training and huge innovative skills.

That's the only way it survived as a tiny state in a hostile environment.

And, contrary to predictions from a previous generation of doomsayers, the technological gap between Israel and its neighbours not only remained big, but widened.

It is partly because Arab governments failed to improve the educational standards of their own citizens, but it is also because today's technologies - electronics and vast digital information-processing capacities, all increasingly miniaturised - inherently favour both Israeli advantages and the military requirements of a small state.

Asymmetric arms race

BUT while the conventional arms race was invariably won by Israel every single time and on every single weapon platform, it is now increasingly clear that the result is an asymmetric arms race in which Israel's enemies cannot win, but nevertheless can wear the Jewish state down.

A decade ago, suicide bombers were the means to hit at an Israel which otherwise was impregnable. When Israel responded by building fortified walls around its borders, effectively stopping the infiltration of these suicide bombers, its enemies switched to missile attacks against population centres.

Israel succeeded in thwarting those as well, only to discover in the current Gaza confrontation a new deadly threat: a maze of tunnels dug deep under its borders, allowing Hamas fighters a chance to hit directly at civilian settlements.

Israel's ingenuity in responding to each challenge should not be doubted.

The Iron Dome missile defence system has astounded military experts with an interception rate of over 90 per cent.

And the Israeli Cabinet has now established a special task force to deal with the tunnels; a few years from now, expect innovations such as deep-earth sensors, porous water beds which flood newly dug tunnels, super-sensitive acoustic systems to detect underground drilling and new remote-controlled robots which can be sent down tunnels to place explosives for their destruction.

But Israel's enemies have moved to the next stage in their own arms race: unmanned aerial vehicles or drones which will be no match for those developed by Israel but will increasingly be produced in industrial quantities and sent over Israeli airspace, as well as cyber warfare operations to disrupt Internet and e-commerce infrastructure.

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