Netanyahu’s Failed Military Strategy Questioned By Some

netanyahu war strategy

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ANALYSIS- WORLD NEWS- William Raymond Collier JR-  Many IDF officers are privately questioning the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his conduct of the war in Gaza. The criticisms are aimed at what is seen as indecisiveness.  The PM’s office often gives no greater guidance than to attack in response to rocket launches or, as some IDF officers complain, “none at all.”

The IDF leadership are firmly convinced they have the means and skill to finish Hamas off. But the moral high ground once attained by Israel to do this, with the blessing even of major Arab powers who loathe Hamas, is slipping away.  It is feared that if things do not change, this war will end as the last one did, a PR victory for Hamas as it prepares for the next round. Indeed, gains won towards actually forging some common ground with Arab powers against the “Jihadist” (Salafist) threat could be ceded if this operation ends indecisively.

When the Prime Minister added as a military goal the limited destruction of the tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel, broad-based penetration of Gaza’s 25 mile western border with Israel had to be scrapped.  This sudden departure from the original plan made hash of the IDF logistics and planning efforts.  It also resulted in a makeshift and reactionary deployment that still lacks a real strategic focus. Simply going after rocket stockpiles and tunnels does not constitute a strategic aim.  In fact, some argue it is not even a tactical aim.

The original plan was aimed at toppling Hamas. The IDF would make 3-4 rapier thrusts across the strip’s 4-7 mile width through areas in between built up areas. Tanks would lead the way and a minimum force would be needed to cordon off the built up areas, thus preventing Hamas from holding a unified command.  Then the infantry, with armor support, would focus on one pocket at a time  Here the objective would be to further sub-divide the populated area, using main roads for armored thrusts, going neighborhood by neighborhood to take out Hamas. Appeals would be made to civilians- give up Hamas and peace would be possible.   The current plan is akin to the Germans invading France and stopping to destroy the Maginot line while the French Army retreated and regrouped.  The Germans bypassed the Maginot line altogether and later had ample time to destroy the defenses without meeting resistance from a now-defeated French army.

The IDF have crossed into Gaza on a broad front, with some 22,000 troops and 300 tanks on a 25 mile front, going into built up areas, but staying within a 1/2 mile to a mile of the border.  The operation is now focused on the environs around the border to find and destroy tunnels. Again, if we return to our comparison of the German invasion of France in World War Two, had the Germans stopped at the Maginot line and concentrated on destroying those fortifications, the French would have been able to recover and consolidate their force, blunting the Blitzkrieg action that ultimately led to the fall of Paris and the surrender of the French Army.

If Hamas, its leaders, its command and control locations, and its soldiers, were targeted, they would no longer be able to use the tunnels.  Israel would be free to destroy the tunnels at their leisure.  Netanyahu is focusing instead on those tunnels and assigning artillery and air power to issue salvos in response to either rocket firings or intelligence about rocket storage.

This is leading to civilian casualties.  It is not depleting Hamas’s supple of rockets as much as is claimed, and it is putting the IDF at a disadvantage. Meanwhile, Hamas remains in tight control and has unitary command because, beyond Israel’s incursion zone, the Gaza Strip remains cohesive and all the separate population centers are connected by wire and road.

Had the original plan been utilized, and had 40,000 men been deployed, it is likely, many believe, that the casualties on both sides would be lower and Hamas would be defeated, giving the IDF all the time it needed to locate and destroy tunnels in an essentially “cleared” environment.  The action would be more like civilian demolition that a battle. But Netanyahu inexplicably abandoned this plan and opted for a very limited and, for both sides, costly operation.

On the ground, his orders have removed Israel’s best asset, the tanks, as practical weapons and placed his soldiers in the places where his enemy wants to fight. In the air and from a distance, without people on the ground, he has been forced to rely on stand-off weapons which, by their nature, have less accuracy than people on the ground.

One thing, however, has not materialized.  Hamas had claimed to have some new way to defeat Israeli armor and inflict serious casualties on the IDF. In reality, whle there have been IDF casualties, they have not been near as high as Hamas planned or hoped for and in close order battle Hamas fighters have been more prone to flee. That has not meant that the fight is all one-sided, but it is still tilted heavily in favor of the better armed and better trained Israelis.  Hamas, for its part, is switching to a PR offensive now, realizing that the IDF has no intention, at least for now, of actually destroying them “city by city” as was planned by the IDF, and as was feared by Hamas.

Even as open press reports now reveal that many Arab powers are backing any plan that results in the toppling of Hamas, Netanyahu seems determined to keep them in power. And that has many in the Middle East scratching their heads. But look for a possible change of direction as Netanyahu faces growing pressures both from Israelis and from Arabs to “get the job done” once and for all.  Such sentiments are not shared by Washington, but the events of the past few weeks have significantly reduced America’s credibility, standing and relevance to the players in the region.

Update: with the latest truce offer having been accepted for 72 hours, and twith the rhetoric out of Israel still focused on tunnels, it appears that Prime Minister Netenyahu has thrown away any grand strategic plan. Destroying the tunnels is not a strategic aim, it is, at best, a tactical gain won at the cost of a major diplomatic setback and undermining of Israel’s standing with Arab powers who might have considered Israel an unlikely (secret) ally against groups like Hamas. Israel is not serious about replacing Hamas.

Update 2: August 1, 2014
The 72 hour truce has not held. The Israelis say that Hamas sent fighters through tunnels who killed two Israeli soldiers and possibly abducted a third. Hamas says Israel broke the truce by sending artillery fire into Rafah, a city in the Gaza strip.

This broken truce, if indeed an Israeli soldier has been adbucted and two killed, could potentially give Netenhayu an opportunity to switch from a short game to a more strategic approach. But it is unlikely as the Prime Minister, who enjoys a 65% popularity rating, has doubled down on his limited plan by scolding cabinet ministers who have questioned his leadership. This has had a chilling effect on others, including IDF officers, who fear the Prime Minister’s wrath.

Most Israelis are not aware of the difference between the strategic plan described here, which military strategists might argue would have caused fewer casualties on both sides and end Hamas as an entity, and the limited tactical plan that targets only tunnels, rocket supplies, and firing sites.

It would seem that the Prime Minister is a wholly political animal who sees this war in purely political, and not military, terms and it may even be that the Prime Minister wishes to keep Hamas around because their actions delegitimize the Palestinians in general. Hamas does tend to delegitimize the Palestinians and as long as they are lobbing rockets Israel does not feel they have to resume real peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, although the cost is that Israelis will continue to live with rocket attacks and daily disruptions of their lives.