Notes on Post-October Israel

Just a few passing thoughts:

Victory is an empty word

There is not, and never was, a concept of “victory” to guide Israeli leadership. It is quite clear what a victory in war is, and how a war ends (consider WWI or WWII). But what could the picture of victory for this state-against-militia situation possibly be?

All the Israeli talk of victory is no more than empty rhetoric to distract from the missing-in-action strategic thinking. Whatever happens, Israel will deem “victory.” Whatever happens, it will not be an Israeli victory. 

Not really a war

In October, Israel issued an official declaration stating it is in “a state of war,” which is not, technically speaking, an official declaration of war (on another country).  

Consider Basic Law: The Government Article 40:

The State shall not declare war nor undertake a significant military action…. unless by virtue of a government decision.

Note:

  1. War declaration is wrapped together with “significant action” as it carries no distinct meaning.
  2. According to article 35, concerning secrecy, Israel is not under obligation to make public government decisions concerning “state security” or “foreign relations.”
  3. This is but an example of the poor copy characterizing Israeli law: a result of confusion and thoughtlessness rather than malice.
  4. Russia avoided launched a war on Ukraine without declaring one on Ukraine (“a special operation” in Kremlin argot).  This linguistic choice carries nuanced implications, improving the West’s hand with sanctions and other indirect steps.

Israel not learning

Israel refuses to learn the main lesson from October. That the enemy behaved like an enemy is unpleasant but not a surprise; that Israel failed spectacularly before, during and after the enemy’s attack should lead to an unprecedented crisis of trust in public authorities. Such a crisis of trust is not here, and it is enough to look at the currency exchange rate that has barely budged. Israel’s total failure is the real lesson, and it has largely been ignored, perhaps understandably, because it is too costly.

Netanyahu is the symptom, not the problem

Netanyahu should go — clearly no other leader is more to blame than Israel’s longest serving prime minister — but it is a mistake to direct public attention toward Netanyahu: first, strategically, the manifested incompetence of the state on October 7th was bigger than Netanyahu. It is naive to think the crisis could not have happened under different leadership. Second, tactically, the attention on Netanyahu cements his position as the political leader, even if a controversial one. The more Netanyahu is dismissed, the easier it would be to change leadership.

Netanyahu is no more than a Yitzhak Shamir with a better English. 

A repeat of 1973

As was the case after the 1973 war, the media and public pay attention to questions of personal responsibility of political leadership, while the deeper issues are not attended.

Chief-of-staff Halevi should be fired

Instead we have an example of the Israeli absurd— responsibility without accountability:  the army chief speaks publicly of “taking responsibility” while remaining on payroll. It is a mistake to let Halevi keep his job. His direct interest is not quite aligned with that of the army’s or state’s. His judgement may be clouded by being associated with the greatest failure in Israeli history. He is not to be fully trusted to make significant decisions and he cannot reasonably expect those under his command to trust his leadership.  

It is impossible to change all the senior army leadership at this point, but the top soldier has to go.

The political leadership is not in a position to force Halevi to resign — it would raise uncomfortable questions about its own responsibility.  This is a good example of the dynamics that perpetuate a culture of a lack of accountability down to the professional ranks. We end up with the stupidity of the chief of staff talking about taking responsibility rather than actually taking responsibility.

Israel is likely heading toward a repeat of 1980s-1990s: not an active military campaign but every now and then Israeli soldiers die in combat.