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War aims



Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan knew all about taquiyya. We could use the strategic insight of a man like him.

In view of the threat from Iran and the upsurge of Arab attacks on Jews in Israel, attacks for which the Palestinian Authority is responsible, the question arises as to whether Israel’s government has any “war aims”?  Or does it have only “peace aims”? Let’s consult the masters of war.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, written about 500 B.C.E., is the oldest military treatise in the world.  Even now, after twenty-five centuries, the basic principles of that treatise remain a valuable guide for the conduct of war.

Sun Tzu should be of interest to the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, in view of the Arab War against Israel which erupted in September 2000.  Since then more than 1,600 Jews have been murdered and many thousands more have been wounded and maimed by professional Arab Jew-killers called “terrorists”  – a term which has become almost innocuous.

Referring to the IDF’s limited response to Arab aggression – targeted killings and intermittent incursions into Arab strongholds – former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, “self-restraint is strength”!  At first blush one might suspect that Sharon had been inspired by the Sermon on the Mount.  Or did he derived that dictum from a misreading of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War? Sun Tzu would have a general exhibit, at first, “the coyness of a maiden” – to draw the enemy out – but thereafter he would have him emulate the fierceness of a lion.

Israeli Prime Ministers emulate the coyness of a maiden. Instead of destroying the enemy to the extent of trashing Arab arrogance, they timidly adhere to the policy of self-restraint. This allows  Israel’s enemy to regroup and plan its next attack.  Israel’s war aim should be to demolish the enemy to such an extent it would sear into Arab consciousness a simple and stark lesson: “Don’t mess with Israel!”

Overriding the ruler

Of course, when the forces of the enemy exceed your own or occupy superior ground, then self-restraint is prudence.  But when this situation is reversed, self-restraint is weakness. In fact, Sun Tzu goes so far as to say, “If fighting is reasonably sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbids it.”  This means that the IDF Chief of General Staff should disregard the timidity of the government and destroy the enemy, the Hamas and Fatah-led Palestinian Authority!

Sun Tzu insists on this principle.  In referring to various ways in which “a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army,” hence on his people, Sun Tzu cautions a ruler against “attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers his country.”

Although “In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign,” “he will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”  Sun Tzu emphasizes that there are even occasions when the “commands of the sovereign must not be obeyed.”

Of course, this would violate the principle of military subordination to civilian authority – a principle Israel’s political elites would proclaim to preserve their democratic reputation, especially in the United States.  Never mind Jewish casualties or sacrificing Jewish soldiers on the altar of PR.

Sun Tzu did not have to worry about journalists – to say nothing of peace-intoxicated rabbis who make the rational conduct of war impossible, and who therefore prolong the killing. When U.S. Admiral Bull Halsey said,  “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often,” he was echoing Sun Tzu.

What does the Law (Torah) say?

IAI Lavi B-2 prototype at Muzeyon Heyl ha-Avir, Hatzerim, Israel. 2006. With an aircraft like this, Israel can make war on its own.

IAI Lavi B-2 prototype at Muzeyon Heyl ha-Avir, Hatzerim, Israel. 2006. Photo: User Bukvoed/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License

Commenting on the verse, “When you go forth to battle against your enemies” (Deut. 20:1), the sages of Israel say, confront your enemies as enemies.  “Just as they show you no mercy, so should you not show them any mercy’”  This will not sell in the Vatican.

Sun Tzu would therefore be appalled by the readiness with which Israeli governments engage in cease fires, which allow Arab Jew-killers to accumulate more and deadlier weapons.  Sun Tzu calls for the uninterrupted attack.  He unequivocally opposes a protracted war: “There is no instance,” he says, “of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”  But protracted war is the inevitable result of the supposedly humanitarian policy of self-restraint pursued by Israeli governments.  And notice how Washington is always preaching self-restraint – Hiroshima and Dresden notwithstanding.

Recall the Yom Kippur War, in which 3,000 Jewish soldiers perished.  Certain general officers of the IDF obeyed the commands of the Meir Government  by not launching a preemptive attack.  Later, the Agranat Commission of Inquiry blamed them for the disaster.  Sun Tzu would have agreed with that conclusion, but for different reasons.  He would have faulted the generals for “self-restraint,” that is, for heeding the commands of their Government.

It follows that self-restraint as a principle of war is absurd and self-destructive.  Israel’s war aim should be “the destroy the enemy’s forces” and “eradicate the enemy’s desire to wage war for a hundred years” – as the Allied powers did in Germany, and as the United States did in Japan.

Yes, but Israel must also sever the umbilical cord that ties it to America, and elect a PM whose mentality is closer to that of King David than to that of Mother Theresa.☼

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Tim A Phelan

Tim A Phelan liked this on Facebook.

Pamela Ballinger-Brinkman

Knock yourselves out. Good luck with that.


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