How Israel could prevail in today’s asymmetric conflict

Much is made of the idea of asymmetric warfare, in which the side that is weaker in a traditional military sense manages to inflict harm on its enemy by the use of simple weapons and tactics involving small units, hit and run attacks, human waves, and often complete disregard for the traditional law of armed combat – human shields, attacks on civilians, and child soldiers may be employed. In addition, it may be accompanied by advanced cognitive and psychological warfare, including subversion of media, faking enemy atrocities, and propaganda techniques far more sophisticated than the methods of kinetic warfare at their disposal.

Although asymmetric warfare can be a way for culture with a low level of technology to defeat (or at least seriously wound) an enemy with better technology or a stronger army, sometimes even a relatively advanced country can use it to their advantage. So Iran, a country on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of military technology, nuclear weapons, effectively deploys its asymmetric proxy, Hezbollah, around the world, in order to support Iranian political goals by means of terrorism. And of course Hezbollah directly confronts Israel on behalf of Iran.

I divide Israel’s enemies into hard and soft enemies. The hard ones, like Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PLO, employ all forms of asymmetric warfare, especially including terrorism, but also such low-tech weapons as large numbers of inaccurate rockets, incendiary balloons and kites, attack tunnels, and so on. At the same time, they use friendly and/or easily duped media as part of a continuing cognitive, diplomatic, and legal battle against the Jewish state.

The soft enemies, primarily the European Union countries, support the hard ones while maintaining enough distance to deny responsibility for wars or terrorism; but they take part enthusiastically in the cognitive, diplomatic, and legal battles against Israel.

What is often ignored by those discussing the asymmetric warfare that characterizes the multi-front, alternately hot and cold, never-ending war against the Jewish state, is that not only are the means of fighting asymmetric, so are the goals of the combatants.

Historically, the aims of warring combatants are diverse. They include such motivations as obtaining booty and slaves, conquering territory, getting access to natural resources or trade routes, building an empire and collecting tribute, religious or ideological conflict, and simple self-defense.

I don’t think that any reasonable person can deny that Israel’s motives are 100 percent self-defense. There is no enemy territory that Israel wants to conquer, no resources or booty she wants, and certainly no desire to create an empire. Her opponents are another story.

The motive of her Muslim enemies can be expressed in one word: jihad. In general all of them believe that they are obliged to fight to regain land lost by Islam, and in particular to one of the historic enemies of Mohammad, the Jews. In the case of Iran, there is also the long-term goal of creating an empire, a Shiite caliphate, and Israel – in addition to being that abomination, a sovereign Jewish state in the Muslim Middle East – is seen as an outpost of the West, an agent of the US, and an obstacle to the establishment of the caliphate.

Jihad has historically been very destructive to the conquered non-Muslim populations. For one thing, there is the so-called win-win proposition that motivates Muslims to engage in jihad. They are told that if they defeat their enemies, they can take whatever they want from the civilian population, including valuables and women, who are raped and enslaved (most of the male population is killed). The behavior of Islamic State fighters has followed this pattern in the present day. Judging by the behavior of PLO, Hezbollah, and Hamas terrorists so far, there is no reason to believe they would not act similarly if they had the opportunity.

The asymmetry of goals in turn produces an asymmetry of means, with Israel tending to defensive strategies (e.g., Iron Dome and other antimissile systems, barriers, non-lethal crowd control means, bombing empty installations, and so on), while her Muslim enemies emphasize offensive operations – terrorism, invasion, rocket barrages, and so on.

Israel also employs defensive strategies because she is deterred from more aggressive ones by the coordinated international diplomatic and legal campaign waged by both her hard and soft enemies. As a result of the reliance on (imperfect) defensive measures, Israeli morale is damaged by the appearance that she is content to partly ward off the blows of the enemy without striking back. Her enemies, on the other hand, are encouraged by her apparent weakness.

My contention is that a primarily defensive posture – even if Israel’s objective is self-defense – is inadequate to deter asymmetric attacks. Her enemies respond by escalating the attacks of proxy forces, while keeping them below the level that will force Israel to change to an offensive posture. The result is an escalating war of attrition, of which the attacking forces have complete control. In the meantime, the morale of Israelis is damaged, that of the attackers boosted, and the attacking proxy forces, supplied by Iran, have time to stockpile weapons and improve fortifications, develop tactics, and generally prepare for the final war on multiple fronts.

At that stage, Israel’s enemies hope that her lack of strategic depth, combined with a large number of simultaneous attacks, will allow for a successful invasion of Israeli territory by numerous militia forces from the north, south and east. In such a case, Israel will have difficulty in deploying its powerful air force and artillery, leading to (they hope) a complete collapse or at least a cease-fire that will leave Israel critically wounded.

The way to overcome this threat is to force the confrontation to take a different form. One way to do this would be to take control of the developing war of attrition ourselves by taking the offensive, escalating disproportionate responses to asymmetric proxy provocations, with an objective of ending  the fighting ability of the proxies. At the same time, visible preparations should be made to use our most powerful weapons directly against the source of the aggression, Iran. Then Iran could be put on notice not to interfere.

There is no doubt that stepped-up attacks on Hamas and Hezbollah, which will necessarily cause civilian casualties in Gaza and Lebanon, will be met with a massive propaganda, diplomatic, and legal attack orchestrated by our European soft enemies. This is where our American ally, which still has great leverage in Europe, could step in.

But we’d better act fast, before Iran goes nuclear – and while we still have a friend in the White House.

Posted in Iran, Islam, US-Israel Relations, War | 2 Comments

Thoughts after a mass murder of Jews

I lived in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood for a few months when I was in grad school. It was a nice, safe, relatively friendly neighborhood.

Now it will be known as the site of the worst mass murder of Jews in US history.

Eleven are dead and numerous others wounded, including four responding police officers. The terrorist, Robert Bowers, as shown by this archive of social media posts, is apparently an obsessed Jew-hater, a Holocaust denier and a Nazi admirer. He appears to have become inflamed by the idea that liberal Jews were supporting uncontrolled immigration into the US (he mentions both Hispanics and Muslims), in particular the “migrant caravan” that is presently making its way through Mexico. Interestingly, Bowers criticized Donald Trump for being “a globalist, not a nationalist,” said that Trump was surrounded by Jews, and that he did not vote for him.

His decision to act seems to have been triggered by an event held in Pittsburgh by the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), an organization that once brought Jewish refugees out of Europe, but now works to resettle refugees from Syria, Central America, and even Africans in Tel Aviv.

There have been various, mostly predictable, popular responses to this atrocious act. Many, if not most, miss the point. So here is what I think:

This is nothing new. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions around the world and in the US are attacked all the time. Attacks in the US have been carried out by both neo-Nazi and Islamic extremists, and their number has been increasing along with polarization and anger in the country.

Bowers was “ideologically insane.” One common theme among extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists is that Jews, especially George Soros, are trying to destroy the “white race” in America by introducing non-white immigrants. They will then take over (although they are already in charge by means of controlling politicians, even Trump), or they will somehow make a lot of money out of the collapse of the nation. Bowers seems to have believed some version of this. Social media seems to feed this kind of insanity, which often erupts into violence.

It’s not Trump’s fault. Yes, the extreme right is more likely to support Trump than his opponents, and there were anti-Jewish elements involved in Trump’s campaign. That doesn’t mean that Trump encourages or approves of anti-Jewish violence. And there are Jew-haters galore on the other side.

It’s not the liberal Jews’ fault. Yes, liberal and progressive Jews often take positions that infuriate the Right, like favoring increased immigration, especially from Muslim countries. But it’s their prerogative to take whatever positions they like without being murdered.

It is not a problem of generalized “hatred.” It is a very specific kind of hatred; it is the particular hatred of Jews that has existed for thousands of years, that constantly reprises old themes and creates new ones, but which never goes away. Increasing expressions of Jew-hatred in the US are a result of constant anti-Jewish incitement in social media. Rick Jacobs wants to universalize the disaster. He stands in a pool of Jewish blood and talks about anti-black racism and “Islamophobia.” This is pathological. Jews were murdered because they were Jews and he virtue-signals about how he cares for all humanity!

Love is not the answer. Jew-haters are not going to be impressed by posturing that “we don’t need armed guards to pray.” The more that liberal Jews resist security measures on the grounds that they would be “giving the [terrorists, neo-Nazis] what they want,” the softer and more attractive targets they become. Ignoring the threat is not courageous; it is burying your head in the sand, a form of cowardice.

An armed presence is a deterrent. Perhaps one guy sitting in the back of the synagogue with a pistol would not always prevent such a tragedy, but it would greatly increase the odds of doing so. Serious security measures are not, as is sometimes suggested, a sign of fear – rather, as in Israel, a sign that an institution will not accept the “right” of the terrorist to shut it down.

Israel’s experience as the Jew Among Nations shows that a strong, disproportionate response to violent anti-Jewish attacks tends to deter future attacks. When the response is weak – as in today’s response to the provocations from Gaza – the attacks become more frequent and more ambitious.

My recommendations to American Jews and Jewish institutions are these:

Face reality. We live in an increasingly anti-Jewish world. They hate us on the macro and micro levels, from the Right and from the Left. The Golden Age of American Jewry is coming to an end. History teaches us that the condition of Jews in non-Jewish societies is usually precarious. America since 1945 has been an exception.

Take steps to protect yourselves. You can’t walk into a synagogue in Europe without meeting an armed guard and open doors are not left unattended. Unobtrusive security measures are possible, but the visible ones also serve as a deterrent. Don’t expect the authorities to protect you. Yes, you pay taxes and it is their job. No, they are not capable of providing day-in day-out protection. You will have to work with them and supplement what they can provide. This is a lesson the state of Israel learned early: it’s your life – nobody cares as much about it as you do.

Remember who you are. You are members of the Jewish people, not citizens of the world. You have a homeland, the State of Israel. Israel doesn’t need your money, but she needs you to ensure that your nation supports her in international forums and helps maintain military superiority against her enemies. Contrary to what her enemies say, Israel is the temporal center of power of the Jewish people, and her existence deters rather than encourages worldwide acts of Jew-hatred. If Israel should be lost, the Jewish people everywhere will be lost.

The expression “wake-up call” is overused but I think it is appropriate here. This horrific murder should stand as a warning to American Jews, many of whom have felt insulated, safe in a way that Jews have never been safe anywhere prior to the post-WWII period in America. One useful thing that Robert Bowers may have done is send a message to these comfortable Jews: welcome to Jewish history.

Posted in American Jews, Jew Hatred, Terrorism | 5 Comments

Jews, come home

Author Naomi Ragen urges Diaspora Jews to “come home” to Israel, and describes her own feelings of the almost miraculous condition of being a Jew in the Jewish homeland:

I was walking down Prophets Street (Rehov Hanevi’im) in Jerusalem, thinking how lucky I was to be living my life in a place that has such a street. I was thinking how short life is, and how we live in such an incredibly special era, a time when miracles and prophecies are unfolding before our astonished eyes. You have only to read the Torah to see all that God predicted would happen to the Jewish people has happened and to realize that the time we are living in is when the good things that were promised are now coming true.

I too understand the feeling of experiencing the miraculous, even when I’m only in the somewhat decrepit shuk in Rehovot.

It’s not connected to religion, although it’s easier to observe the commandments in Israel where you are not always wondering where to find kosher food, and where people understand what Shabbat means, whether or not they keep it themselves.

From a religious point of view, the connection between the Jewish people and their land is obvious. The Torah is in large part a story about the relationship between, Hashem, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel. For secular people, especially those living in those parts of the diaspora where Jew-hatred is currently held at bay, it may not be evident. Some feel the connection and some don’t.

I have a good friend, who came to Israel from America close to 40 years ago. He is not observant. He will tell you that he is an atheist. We don’t talk about politics much, but I suspect he is significantly to the left of me. But he has a connection to the Jewish people, and for better or worse this is his home. He could have earned a good living in America or Europe, but he chose to be here. He feels the magic of living in a Jewish state, even if he wouldn’t express it like Ragen does. And he isn’t the only one that feels this way. The socialist kibbutzniks that played such a great role in the early days of the state also claimed to be atheists, but they loved the land of Israel and made great sacrifices for it.

But for some diaspora Jews, the Jewish homeland is not their homeland. There is something missing. It’s easy to find examples. Simone Zimmerman, the Jewish woman who leads the organization called “If Not Now,” accepts the Palestinian narrative of the conflict, calls Israel immoral and corrupt, and seemingly fails to notice the murderous behavior of Israel’s enemies. Jewish historian Hasia Diner feels “a sense of repulsion when [she enters] a synagogue in front of which the congregation has planted a sign reading, “We Stand With Israel.”

Zimmerman and Diner are strongly influenced by their progressive political perspective, but why did they choose it? And why did they choose to emphasize its anti-Israel aspects? I believe that it is impossible to adopt an ideology that is so one-sided, that so strongly condemns both the actions and the motives of a people, when you see yourself as a member of it. And they don’t, despite their public identification as Jews.

I greatly prefer someone like Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, the pro-Palestinian group that sent Rachel Corrie to her death under an IDF bulldozer. Shapiro believes that being Jewish is simply a matter of religion, and since he has no connection to Judaism, he is not a Jew. Hitler would have disagreed, but at least Shapiro is honest.

Zimmerman and Diner claim that they are acting in accordance with Jewish ethical principles. They are referring to the system of universalist ethics that underlies the social activism that has replaced ritual as Jewish observance for many liberal Jews. While it is certainly legitimate to practice a Judaism that emphasizes the prophetic tradition and deemphasizes ritual, it seems to me that when your ethical system elevates other groups over the Jewish people, then it can no longer be called a Jewish ethics.

And some diaspora Jews really do place the Jewish people at the bottom of their ladder of ethical priorities. Zimmerman says that “Jewish liberation is inextricably tied to the liberation of all people,” a statement which is clearly false. Is there a connection between the Jewish people and the persecuted Rohingya people of Myanmar, a country that has about 20 Jewish residents?

What she means is that in her eyes, the Jewish people are no more important than the Rohingya. Of course I agree with her that a Jewish life and a Rohingya life are equally valuable. But I care less about what happens to the Rohingya than the Jewish people, and I would expect them to feel the same about us. In any event, Zimmerman is a hypocrite: her activism is aimed primarily at opposing the state of the Jewish people, and she devotes little if any energy to helping the Rohingya.

For every Jew that supports the cause of the enemies of the Jewish people there are probably ten that are indifferent. Some just don’t think about it, some deny their Jewishness to escape antisemitism, and for some, the idea of being a part of a people that transcends politics doesn’t resonate, or is even abhorrent.

I think there is something – a spark or a gene, depending on the kind of language you prefer – that no matter where a Jew may be on the spectrum of observance, can act as a channel to the Jewish people and their homeland. You have it or you don’t. You are connected or you aren’t. And in the diaspora many people with Jewish parents, even synagogue members, simply aren’t. They are the ones who see Israel as “just another country.”

Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt thinks that there are six inherent moral foundations that serve as the basis for our decisions about right and wrong, and good and evil: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, and liberty. Cultures and individuals differ in their relative responses to these six triggers. For example, in affluent, educated Western circles, care is very important: morality is primarily about not hurting anybody. In more traditional groups issues of loyalty, authority, and sanctity take precedence.

Haidt thinks that part of the difference in attitudes of liberals and conservatives can be explained by the idea that liberals greatly emphasize the first two, care and fairness, while conservatives place more equal weight on all six. The feeling that one belongs to a people fits in the category of loyalty, which possibly explains why liberals find the universalist ethics of Reform Judaism attractive.

Naomi Ragen speaks in religious language, and she is politically conservative. But there are countless diaspora Jews who don’t fit into those categories but who still feel their connection with their people, their land, and their state.

If you feel that connection, then you should come home too.

Posted in Israeli Society, Zionism | Leave a comment

Trading sovereignty for PR

I live in a country in which everything is negotiable, everything is negotiated, nothing is final, and nothing is really forbidden, at least for our enemies.

Graduate student Lara Alqasem, the former president of a BDS-supporting, Israel-hating, university “Students for Justice in Palestine” chapter, was turned back at the border because there is a law that entry is forbidden to a non-citizen “if he, the organization or the body he acts on behalf of knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”  If leading a chapter of SJP doesn’t fit this criterion, nothing does.

The decision of the security service to bar her was initially supported by an administrative court, and then upheld on appeal by the Tel Aviv District Court. But Israel’s Supreme Court threw out the earlier decisions and ruled that she could be admitted. The Court accepted her contention (possibly untrue) that she hadn’t engaged in boycott activity since April 2017, said that the SJP chapter she belonged to was small and unimportant, and argued that since she wanted to study in Israel, she couldn’t have really believed in boycotting Israel. And the justices wanted to avoid giving the impression that, God forbid, she was being excluded for her political opinions.

I could criticize the court opinion in detail, but I’m not going to do that. Just two points: first, even if her SJP chapter (at the University of Florida) was small, the national organization is one of the prime movers of the BDS movement in the US, having introduced countless boycott resolutions at American universities, organizing “Israel apartheid week,” and engaging in intimidation of pro-Israel students.

And second, one of the leaders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, is a Ph.D candidate at Tel Aviv University. So the fact that Alqasem also wants to study here proves nothing.

I assume that since two lower courts supported the decision of the security service to prevent her admission, it was reasonable from a legal standpoint. The Supreme court rarely interferes in such cases. But this time it chose to find reasons to do so. In other words, it thought the political consequences of keeping her out were worse than allowing her in. And this is what I dispute.

The Court acted (quite predictably) according to the principle – also adhered to by the government in its dealings with the terrorists of Gaza, and illegal Bedouin encampments – that nothing is worse than looking illiberal. Its decision, which was probably intended to improve Israel’s image in the world, in practice eviscerated the law that was passed to prevent subversive activity inside our borders, and will encourage more activists to try to enter the country so they can participate in demonstrations and get street cred to help promote anti-Israel activity back home.

It will not improve Israel’s image. Instead, it will be taken as proof that our attempts to protect ourselves against subversion by foreign agents are unfair. Didn’t our own Supreme Court decide that? Those who think Israel is illiberal will continue to think that; indeed their convictions will be strengthened by the publicity this incident created. The security services, second-guessed, have been made to look stupid, and will think twice before detaining anyone again, no matter how egregious their support for BDS has been.

All three of these situations are examples of Israel trading sovereignty for appearances. In a futile attempt to look good in the eyes of hostile international organizations, governments and media, Israel is diminishing its right to control its borders, its right of self-defense, and its right to enforce the law on its own land.

The UK bans people too, including some with terrorist connections, but also others like Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, blogger Pamela Geller, Canadian right-wing activist Lauren Southern, Christian musician Don Francisco, rapper and actor Chris Brown, Martha Stuart, Snoop Dogg, and our own Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin. Not too much is made of this, because the UK is a country whose sovereignty is not questioned.

One usually sensible journalist praised the decision to allow Alqasem to enter, because “it proves that the system works” and “showed just how democratic Israel really is.” But in fact it proved the opposite: that the system of laws does not work, because it is often overridden by considerations of public relations. And it has absolutely nothing to do with democracy, unless the next step is to give Lara Alqasem citizenship because her grandparents were “Palestinian.”

Posted in Israeli Politics | 2 Comments

The One Speech Jacobs will Never Make to Israeli Jews

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the US recently published an op-ed in Ha’aretz entitled “The One Speech Netanyahu Will Never Make to Diaspora Jews,” a not-too-clever attempt to imagine what it would be like for our PM to agree with him. He is quite right that Netanyahu would never say the things he has put in his mouth.

Jacobs seems to believe that he knows what’s best for Israel better than those who live here, send their children to the army, and duck when rockets are launched at them. His movement has taken up the cause of transforming Israeli society into a replica of liberal America, whether Israelis like it or not.

In the spirit of providing free speechwriting services to important people, I have generously written a similar speech for Rabbi Jacobs to deliver to Israeli Jews. I hope he will use it someday, although the likelihood of that approaches zero. Much of what he wrote for our PM to say can be reused with minor changes, so that’s what I did. The portions in italics are direct quotations from Rabbi Jacobs’ proposed speech for PM Netanyahu. My additions and changes are in boldface.


Dear Israeli Jews,

It’s truly a gift to see so many of you here for this dialogue between our two Jewish communities, North American and Israeli Jewry. I realize that things have been tense recently between our communities. In the spirit of Yom Kippur, lingering after the gates have closed, I want to acknowledge my responsibility here.

Let’s start with the Kotel, a place that should unite – not divide – all Jews. American Reform and Conservative Jews practice mixed-gender prayer, and we would like to be able to pray our way when we visit the Kotel in Israel. We would like the members of our Israeli movements to be able to do so as well. But the 40% of Israelis that see themselves as religious or traditional – ranging from the 12% who are Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) to those for whom “the synagogue they don’t go to is Orthodox” – do not pray that way. Indeed, Haredim and some others on the observant side of the spectrum find mixed-gender prayer highly offensive, especially at the Kotel, which they treat as an Orthodox synagogue. And fewer than one-half of one percent of Israeli Jews are affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements (no, the figure is not as high as 12%. Read the linked article).

Now, I strongly disagree with those who find offensive what I find beautiful. But because I care about Jewish unity and shalom bayit, I believe it would be wrong to impose my American-oriented views and those of a handful of Israelis on a much larger number of more traditional ones. And so I am withdrawing my demand to allow mixed-gender prayer at the Kotel.

I have accused you of “disenfranchising the largest segment of practicing Jewry in the world.” But perhaps I engaged in a bit of hyperbole. What you do in Israel doesn’t “disenfranchise” anyone in the Diaspora, where Jews are free to practice Judaism however they want. And while I strongly disapprove of the way conversion and marriage are handled in Israel (and on this, many Israelis agree with me!), I realize that this is up to Israelis to decide. After all, Israel is a sovereign state!

I believe [the recently-passed Nation-State Law] is an important one that expresses the recognition by all of us that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. I also know, however, that there are many concerns among Israelis, North American Jews, and other friends and allies. Let me set everyone’s minds at rest. The Nation-State Law does not damage the rights of minorities of any kind. And those rights are enshrined in other Basic Laws, so there is no need to repeat them here. In particular, there is no need for a “principle of equality,” which could be interpreted to grant national rights in addition to the civil and political rights that your minorities enjoy. And while my country, the US, is a “state of all of its citizens,” I understand that Israel is not. Didn’t I just say that at the beginning of this paragraph?

And, let me say something about BDS. You are a strong enough people to handle criticism from those who object to your self-defense. In this spirit, you ought to prevent entrance to Israel of those who would exploit open borders for the purpose of delegitimizing and demonizing your state. Entry to Israel for non-Israelis is a privilege, not a right.

Meanwhile, I am awaiting the Trump peace plan. I have no confidence in President Trump, perhaps, even less than many of you. What can I say? I hate the guy. I see myself as part of the “resistance.” [Scattered nervous laughter.]

But, I am not myopic. I know that you cannot have a secure Israel with a terrorist Palestinian state by your side. There, I said it. [Some light applause.]

My friends, your country’s security is intimately tied to the friendship of the United States of America. I pledge that I will do everything possible to rebuild bipartisan consensus  in Washington, so vital to Israel that I, following the lead of President Obama, tried so hard to wreck.

I will never sacrifice the deep bonds that exist between Israel and North American Jewry, including among progressive Jews who love Israel as dearly as I do. Yes, you [pointing to someone on stage who looks confused] heard me correctly.

In closing, I want to say you are welcome … as our dear partners and that I will try to work on my boundary issues and act as though Israel is a sovereign state, hard as that may be for me.

Thank you.

Posted in American Jews, Israeli Society | 1 Comment