The modern constant

Is the low-intensity violent squabbling over territory between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Israeli Martin van Creveld provides his usual insightful perspective.

Several factors explain the low number of casualties. First, the rockets coming from Gaza are enormously inaccurate. They hit targets, if they do, almost at random. Second, the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system works better than anyone had expected.  The system has the inestimable advantage in that it can calculate the places where the rockets will land. Consequently it only goes into action against those—approximately one in five or six—that are clearly about to hit an inhabited area. The outcome is vast savings; in some cases, realizing that the incoming rockets are not going to hit anybody or anything, the authorities do not even bother to sound the alarm. Third, civil defense seems to be working well; people obey instructions and are, in any case, getting used to this kind of thing. Fourth, as always in war, one needs luck.

In turn, the small number of Arab casualties and the limited amount of damage inflicted has enabled the government of Israel to keep the lid on its own actions in the face of extremist demands. It suggests a degree of control and precision never before attained or maintained in any war in history. But while the Israelis have been extremely effective in avoiding collateral deaths, the impact of their strikes against Hamas’ short-range rockets in particular is limited.

Israel’s lucky run will not last forever.  Sooner or later, a Hamas rocket that for one reason or another has not been intercepted is bound to hit a real target in Israel and cause real damage. Imagine a school or kindergarten being hit, resulting in numerous deaths. In that case public pressure on the government and the Israel Defense Forces “to do something” will mount until it becomes intolerable.

What can the IDF do? Not much, it would seem. It can give up some restraints and kill more—far more—people in Gaza in the hope of terrorizing Hamas into surrender. However, such a solution, if that is the proper term, will not necessarily yield results while certainly drawing the ire of much of the world. It can send in ground troops to tackle the kind of targets, such as tunnels, that cannot be reached from the air. However, doing so will almost certainly lead to just the kind of friendly casualties that the IDF, by striking from the air, has sought to avoid.

Whether a ground operation can kill or capture sufficient Hamas members to break the backbone of the organization is also doubtful. Even supposing it can do so, the outcome may well be the kind of political vacuum in which other, perhaps more extreme, organizations such as the Islamic Jihad will flourish. Either way, how long will such an operation last? And how are the forces ever going to withdraw, given the likelihood that, by doing so, they will only be preparing for the next round?

And so the most likely outcome is a struggle of attrition. 

Now, consider that he wrote that in July, 2014….