Friday, October 13, 2023

War and the reshaping of societies

 Let me emphasize at the outset that my assessment of the looming Israeli invasion of Gaza is intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive. I am not proposing what Israel should do, but what it may do as the coming days and weeks unfold, even if Israel does not actually intend it now. 

Israeli artillery firing

Having formed a "unity government" for the war, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has stated clearly that the permanent end of Hamas as the principal war aim. That this objective requires a land invasion of Gaza is also clear. But what can it take to destroy Hamas? Netanyahu has said that killing its terrorists fighters is a specific goal, but Hamas is not merely an organization. It is also an ideology. How does Israel end with not only the present Hamas organization destroyed, but also the ideology?

America's Civil War and World War 2 may provide a clue. 

But first, what is Hamas' ideology? 

It is very simple: Kill Jews, kill Jews, kill more Jews. Specifically, Hamas (and Lebanon's Hezbollah) has said publicly and often that it has at least the following goals:

1. The elimination of the state of Israel and establishment of a Muslim nation "from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea." Jews must vacate this land entirely or they will be killed. 

2. In the meantime, and as a tactic to attain that goal, Hamas has said before and again very recently that Jews must be killed. Last Saturday, Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif announced,  “Operation Al-Aqsa Deluge.” Al-Aqsa is the name of the mosque atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Deif said that the mass killings of Israelis were a mere “first strike,” with much more yet to come. 

Photos: New York Times

Deif was not ambiguous, emphasizing, 

“I say to our pure mujahedeen: This is the day that you make this criminal enemy understand that its time is up. ‘Kill them wherever you may find them.’” 

The last sub-quote is directly from the Quran, Suras 2:191 and 4:89. Someone might object that Deif is being very selective in his quotes of the Quran (he used other such verses) because there are verses of peace and tolerance in the Quran. For that, please read the explanation of the Muslim principle of Naskh, or abrogation, at the end of this post. 

Hamas is making total war against Israelis. It only goal is to kill Israelis. It does not merely hope, but actually believes that doing so will bring the cessation of Jews living in Hamas' future Palestinian state.

It is also worth noting that mainline Islamic exegesis of the Quran and Hadith is (and has been since Mohammed's day) that any Muslim killed while fighting for Islam is brought immediately into Allah's paradise. This is not a fringe view; it was stated plainly by Mohammed himself. As Muslim scholar Tajuddin B. Shu`aib explained:

[F]or Muslims to wield weapons in a war in which Islam itself is defended is literally an act of worship. The Muslim jihadi has the right to expect reward proportionate to his sacrificial worship. In military jihad, the ultimate sacrifice is to die, which deserves the ultimate reward, immediate entry by the slain jihadi's soul into Paradise. This doctrine springs from the words of Mohammed himself, who during the battle of Badr told his soldiers, "I swear by the One in whose hand Mohammad's soul is, any man who fights them today and is killed while he is patient in the ordeal and seeks the pleasure of Allah, going forward and not backing off, Allah will enter him into Paradise.“

Lessons from the Civil War and World War 2

As I noted in, "Confederate monuments: So what? Now What?," the only meaningful ideological difference between the CSA and the Union states was over slavery. What the CSA's ideology was hardly needs explaining. (I should note again that President Lincoln was adamantly anti-slavery, but ending slavery was not why he went to war with the CSA.) 

After more than two years of indecisive, though bloody fighting, the Union's strategy took a linchpin turn when Gen. U.S. Grant was appointed commander of the US Army and he unleashed Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to invade the South. Sherman stated his goal very plainly:

 "War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want."

"This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war."

Sherman's tactics were ruthless, but they did do what he set out to do. His and Grant's maneuvers and battlefield victories made it very plain not only to the Confederacy's leadership (especially Gen. R.E. Lee) that they could not win the war, it was also crystal clear to ordinary men and women throughout the South, including those never actually touched by the fighting. Slavery was ended by the war and it is worth noting also that no state has attempted to secede since then. 

When the United States entered World War 2, it knew that invading enemy-occupied nations and territories was unavoidable. In 1943, Gen. D.D. Eisenhower was named Supreme Allied Commander of European operations and was given this simple directive: "You will enter the continent of Europe and in conjunction with other Allied nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” 

 Based on what the Israeli government has said about its objectives in its present war, Eisenhower's directive could be lightly modified to state Israel's objectives in invading Gaza. However, as allied forces in WW2 found out, and as Israel undoubtedly realizes, military theorist Carl von Clausewitz nailed it about 200 years ago: "In war everything is simple, but the simplest things can be very difficult."

One of the preludes to the massive landings on Normandy's beaches to "enter the continent or Europe" in 1944 was sustained, large-scale aerial bombing of Germany by American and British aircraft. As the war went on and German (and Japanese) resistance failed to slacken, President Roosevelt decided that the German and Japanese peoples must realize after the war that not only had their armed forces been defeated: the entire nation, as a nation, had been beaten. He and Churchill were well aware that German militarism had survived World War I because its apologists had successfully propagated the myth that the Kaiser's army had not really been defeated, it had been "stabbed in the back" by disloyal factions at home.

Hence, wrote Roosevelt in a letter to Secretary of War Henry Stimson,

It is of utmost importance that every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation. . . . The fact that they are a defeated nation, collectively and individually, must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start any new war.

So, according to historian Richard B. Frank in his award-winning book, Downfall, the End of the Imperial Japanese Empire:

Viewed in this light, massive urban bombing complemented the aim of unconditional surrender. It was not just a handful of vile men who flaunted vile ideologies; whole populations imbibed these beliefs and acted as willing acolytes. Unconditional surrender and vast physical destruction would sear the price of aggression into the minds of the German and Japanese peoples. No soil would be left from which myths might later sprout that Germany and Japan had not really been defeated. These policies would assure that there would be no third world war with Germany, nor would Japan get a second opportunity.

One notes that Japan and Germany have been well behaved since 1945. But we also have to note that massive, destructive bombing was alone not the reason. It was simply impossible for either country's armed forces to claim that they had prevailed, or at least held their own, on the field of battle. German and Japanese orphans, widows and grieving parents were in almost every other household, and a lie that their armed forces had not really lost could not possibly have found legs to stand on.

Dresden, Germany, 1945

Gaza, 2023

Israel's task is to discern what it will take (a) actually to destroy Hamas as a threat to Israeli lives, and (b) how to make sure that Gazans never again consent to another such organization to operate among them. (Remember, the Gazans elected Hamas to power in 2006, but that was the last time the Gazans had any say.) 

That Israel has today issued warnings to northern Gazans to evacuate within 24 hours was done from humanitarian considerations as well as hoping for military simplicity when Israel invades I have no doubt. That Hamas has said that it will not permit anyone to evacuate underscores Hamas' brutality, but it may also serve to underscore to ordinary Gazans that Hamas is not really their benefactor. (However, as I type, TV news is showing video of long lines of cars moving south along the Gazan coast.)

When Israel incurred into Lebanon in 2006, I observed that the fighting there had come to resemble the combat on Okinawa in World War 2, with well-prepared defensive positions and underground lines of communications. Hezbollah emphasized anti-tank capability, just as the Japanese had learned to do on the Pacific war. 

But combat in both Okinawa and Lebanon was mainly on open terrain, while Gaza is heavily built up. Urban combat is the most brutal and difficult of all conventional fighting for it takes place not only in left, right, front, and rear, as in open country, but also up and down. Hamas has spent years not only fortifying potential defense positions, but also constructing tunnels around Gaza that some estimates say are 300 miles in length altogether. As well, they are certainly booby-trapped with remote detonation. 

The End Game

At this point, both Israel and Hamas must realize that, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "In war there is no substitute for victory." Victory for Hamas can be defined very simply: it survives as an ongoing, at least minimally effective, violent anti-Israel entity as before. Hamas' leaders know that to abandon murderous violence to establish a purely Palestinian state by political measures, rather than violence, means two things: (a) Hamas would not even be Hamas any more, so what is the point, and (b) mere politics will never accomplish that goal anyway. Hamas' true believers would literally rather die than take that course.

As for Israel, its leadership at least knows that Hamas must be ended and no Hamas-by-another-name can be allowed. There is no answer to how long it will take to destroy Hamas or how many casualties it will cost. But neither Grant nor Sherman knew those things ahead of time, either. So Israel must proceed, though it is doing so as Otto von Bismarck reportedly said about going to war, "entering a dark room blindfolded to search for a black cat that is not even there." 

Gaza's residents, whether they know it now or not, must decide in whose hands they literally trust their lives and the lives of their children. Hamas is quite willing to sacrifice them. But they may come to realize that while Israel will not target them, neither will Israel refrain from attacking if Hamas militarizes their refuges. An international standard called Common Article 3 governs combat between state and non-state combatants. Its states that civilians' presence at a location does not automatically make that location off limits from attack. As Human Rights Watch explained during 2006's Hezbollah war, 

It, too, can be targeted if it makes an “effective” contribution to the enemy’s military activities and its destruction, capture or neutralization offers a “definite military advantage” to the attacking side in the circumstances ruling at the time. 

Victory for non-combatants on both sides really means that they live through the war. But tragically, so many have died already and so many more will die to come. 

End Note: The Muslim principle of abrogation. 

The Quran is not arranged chronologically. Its chapters (Suras) are presented according to their length. Even within chapters chronology is confusing. For example, Sura 2, v. 190 was revealed to Mohammed six years after v. 193, and there are other such examples.

The principle of abrogation is followed by all Muslims and Muslim clerics. It is simply that the chronologically-later verses supersede, or abrogate, the earlier ones if there is a conflict (and there are many such conflicts). All the verses of peace are earlier than, and therefore abrogated by, the "verses of the sword." 

The principle of abrogation is mainline Muslim exegesis; the Quran has been understood this way since Islam's beginning. (See "Islam: the requirement of jihad.")

See also "Israel's Darkest Day," by David P. Goldman, with whom I have corresponded now and then over the years. Very thought-provoking essay. 

Update: The Wall Street Journal, "Israel Aims to Destroy Hamas. What Comes Next for Gaza Is Unclear" (free link):

“We will destroy the rule of Hamas,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Friday after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Tel Aviv. “We will eliminate the military capabilities of Hamas. We will make sure this threat does not exist on our borders. It will be lengthy. It will be lethal. It will be powerful. And it will be for forever.”

But Israeli leaders have yet to answer another important question: What comes after Hamas? ...

“I don’t give a damn,” said Jacob Nagel, who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser and is in touch with government officials. “It’s much more important to act and finish the problem. And then we can decide what to do.” 

“I used to say: think then act. What happened this weekend changed all the rules of play,” added Nagel. His view is echoed by Israeli military and political leaders across the political spectrum.


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