War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.
William Tecumseh Sherman
The recent tension between the US and Iran is being watched very closely here in Israel, because it could well be the trigger for our next war.
I am convinced, to my very great sorrow, that this war is unavoidable. The 130,000 rockets and longer-range missiles under Iranian control in Lebanon will not be left to rust away, nor will those in Gaza. Our enemies – Iran and its proxies, as well as Hamas and the PLO – are not interested in peace.
Iran has spent billions and struggled for decades in its attempt to become a nuclear power, and to establish regional hegemony. We are not only a bone in the throat of their Islamic sensibility, we are physically in their way. They won’t give up without a fight, and they believe they can win.
US President Trump thinks he can break them with sanctions. But the Iranian regime doesn’t care what happens to its civilian population. If they are willing to shoot their people down in the streets (and they have demonstrated this), they will let them suffer. At some point they will be on the verge of going nuclear, and when that happens, someone will have to stop them. It is not a question of if there will be war. It is a question of when – and of precisely what will set it off. And once it starts, no matter who starts it, Israel will be in the thick of it.
It will almost certainly be a multi-front war. Iran has its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. The Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and Judea/Samaria have demonstrated, over and over, that they do not want a state of their own. They want our state, without us. No amount of money will persuade them to become other than who they are. By themselves they do not have the strength to challenge us, but in the context of a general conflagration, they will take the opportunity to cause as much damage as possible.
Numerous experts have predicted that this will be a terrible war, for our soldiers, for our home front, and for our enemies. Indeed, the home front has been mostly spared since our War of Independence in 1948. This time, our enemies – understanding our lack of strategic depth and believing that they can break both our spirit and the support system of the IDF – will concentrate on bringing the war to us, with rockets and ground invasions.
Hezbollah has the ability to launch thousands of rockets per day, far more than can be intercepted by Iron Dome or our other antimissile systems. In 2006, when they had far fewer and less sophisticated rockets, they threw the northern part of the country into a panic. Degrading their launch capability will take time, and in the meantime rockets will be exploding into our homes. Those who have safe rooms or access to nearby shelters are lucky, but many Israelis – like my daughter – live in older buildings which do not have such facilities. Large-payload missiles may bring down whole buildings, in which case safe rooms will be little help. Missiles that can hit densely populated urban areas will create mass casualties.
We know that both Hamas and Hezbollah plan cross-border incursions to kill and kidnap Israelis, maybe even to capture smaller communities. IDF ground forces will be spread thin, and they will have to worry about terrorist “operations” by Arabs from Judea and Samaria as well.
The sheer inevitability of this war weighs on us. We know it will happen; we are expecting it from week to week. Although people here don’t talk about it often, it’s never far from their consciousness. We know that some of our friends and neighbors, maybe even ourselves, will not survive. Others will lose their homes and all their possessions. We know too that numerous young soldiers and some older reservists will not come home alive to their families.
There will be funerals, and horrendous wounds. As is often said, in Israel all the soldiers are everyone’s children. It will tear us apart. It will make us angry. It won’t however, cause us to flee the country, as our enemies hope.
Will we prevail? We’d better. Otherwise Israel, and ultimately the Jewish people, will disappear. Losing the war would be a disaster on the scale of the one in the year 70 CE, and I doubt that the conditions exist for our people to survive another two-millennium diaspora.
I think the outcome will depend primarily on one thing: leadership. In 2006, we could not defeat Hezbollah, because the team of Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni, and Dan Halutz was incompetent from top to bottom. Do we have the leaders that we need today? Do we have a Churchill to stiffen the home front against a blitz, or officers who will take the initiative like Arik Sharon did when he crossed the Suez Canal in 1973? We’ll find out.
We have the desperation – and advantage – of having no place else to go. Our enemies cannot imagine how much firepower is available to the IDF, and if it is unleashed they will not be able to stand against us. In its recent operations, the IDF has gone out of its way to minimize enemy civilian casualties. This next war might begin that way, but at some point Hamas and Hezbollah’s use of civilian infrastructure as a shield will leave us no other option but to put that concern aside.
When relatively accurate rockets with large payloads start striking industrial targets and big cities, for example, the launchers in Lebanon will have to go – regardless of what they are built next to or inside of. It’s pretty certain that most of southern Lebanon will end up a slag heap, and parts of the Gaza strip will meet the same fate.
If thousands die in Israel, tens of thousands will lose their lives in Lebanon and Gaza, or anywhere else from which our enemies fight. If the Arabs of Judea and Samaria rise up, their communities, too, will be razed, and they’ll find themselves homeless, another nakba.
War, it’s well-known, is hell. This one will be, too. But we must ensure that it will be a bigger hell for our enemies than for us.
Sometimes it takes a war to change things that otherwise would be frozen forever. WWI changed the face of Europe and the Middle East, brought down the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Czarist empires, gave freedom to some peoples and a new kind of slavery to some others. WWII facilitated the destruction of Europe’s Jews, the creation and use of atomic weapons, and the establishment of a Soviet empire in Eastern Europe – but also ushered in the United Nations (not an unmixed blessing), the American civil rights movement, the end of the British Empire, and the creation of the State of Israel.
Maybe, in addition to a new regime in Iran, the next war will bring about the end of Hamas and the PLO, and even the creation of the long awaited Palestinian state – in Jordan, where it belongs.