War in Israel

War erupted in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. This war is an attempt by the proxy armies of Iran–Hamas (in Gaza) fighting now, and Hezbollah (in Lebanon) promising to enter the fight if Israel attacks Gaza–to destroy Israel and engulf the region, and possibly the world, in conflict. Israel has been fighting Hamas for over a week. Many Israelis experienced disbelief and shock from the brutal, barbaric, and ruthless attacks by Hamas terrorists during the first week of the war. This shock has transformed into a resolute determination for revenge. Israel has suffered the loss of nearly 1,500 souls, with thousands more injured. Innocents–children, women, and grandparents–were butchered by Hamas terrorists without remorse or pity. At least 29 Americans who were in Israel during the attacks are dead, and other American citizens may be hostages in Gaza. The US is moving forces into the region. America is involved, and people wonder how Hamas could do this. The answer to this question is that Hamas and Hezbollah follow Iranian directives. Whether the orders from Iran were explicit or implicit ignores the core issue. As Kim Ghattas reported in an Oct. 8, 2023, article in The Atlantic: “The Hamas attack against Israel is not only a massive Israeli intelligence and military (as well as a U.S. intelligence) failure, but also a dramatic success for Iran’s axis of resistance from Yemen to Gaza.” Iran seems to have no fear of the US and hopes to destroy Israel. Americans need to know what is happening in Gaza because our military may soon be engaged in combat with Iran and its proxies.

In house-to-house combat in the past week inside Israeli kibbutzim and military outposts, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists on Israeli territory, reclaimed Israeli settlements near Gaza, and mobilized 360,000 troops.[1] Attacking into the 25-mile stretch of land known as the Gaza Strip is the IDF’s next move. This city is one of the most densely populated cities on earth and about the size of Philadelphia in the USA. To shape the battlespace, Israel has launched over 6,000 missile and bomb strikes against Hamas positions in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack. The IDF has warned noncombatants to evacuate Gaza and flee to Egypt to avoid being used as human shields by Hamas terrorists. Hamas, however, is blocking their departure, making the situation even more complicated. Israel knows that a block-by-block battle for Gaza will be dangerous, desperate, and deadly. Hamas has bragged that it is prepared for the coming battle and is determined to fight to the end. The terrorists have announced that they have a vast arsenal of small arms, mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), antitank weapons, and drones to inflict tremendous casualties on the IDF. The IDF response to Hamas’ boasts is simply this: every Hamas terrorist is a dead man walking. Hamas is the target, not the Palestinian people. Soon, the IDF will begin the ground assault into Gaza. By the time you read this, it may already have begun.

Simultaneously, on the Lebanese border, Hezbollah is engaging the IDF in minor skirmishes and vows to attack with 130,000 rockets and missiles if the IDF assaults Gaza. Such a missile barrage might overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome defenses and cause untold death and destruction. A US aircraft carrier strike group has moved into range in the Mediterranean to hit Hezbollah in Lebanon if Hezbollah opens a second front against Israel. Other US and UK forces are on the way. On Friday, Oct. 13, Hezbollah’s deputy chief, Naim Qassem, said that Hezbollah was ready to fight and that: “The behind-the-scenes calls with us by great powers, Arab countries, envoys of the United Nations, directly and indirectly telling us not to interfere will have no effect.”[2] On Saturday, Iran sent a message to Israel saying that if Israel invades Gaza, then Iran will intervene.[3] As the war in Gaza progresses into its ninth day, the specter of a more intense conflict, a coming storm of greater devastation, is on the horizon.

American leaders must quickly learn from the fighting in Israel and Gaza and articulate to the American people why we must stand by Israel and prepare for the possibilities that lie ahead. We need leaders with foresight–the ability to solve problems in the short term and create solutions for the long run. Foresight in military affairs is rare, but we must strive for it. Ultimately, those leaders with imagination and foresight are the ones who succeed. To cultivate this foresight, the following insights encourage leaders to think, discuss, and dialogue with the American people and to act before the storm engulfs us.

A Failure of Imagination

Israel, the United States, and Europe were completely surprised by the terrible Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 2023. This is clearly a failure of the intelligence agencies, but it is also a failure of imagination. Over the past quarter-century, the US has exhibited a worrying lack of imagination and little prescience in deterring and winning wars. The attacks on September 11, 2001, against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the subsequent retaliatory, long, and indecisive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were significant failures. In particular, our route from Afghanistan was an ignoble, self-induced disaster, and our enemies took notice. We must learn from the fighting in Israel and garner the courage to see our recent defeats for what they are: a failure of imagination. Continuing to fight endless wars far away from home only led to the loss of skilled warfighters, the depletion of our treasury, the distrust of our allies, and the degradation of our ability to project deterrence. We need to do detailed and holistic after-action reviews to find out why we failed and learn from those lessons. Where is the detailed After Action Review (AAR) on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror (GWOT), and what did we learn from 20 years of this indecisive conflict?

The First Strike

Hamas struck Israel without warning, and Israel is still reeling from this devastating one-two punch, mass rocket and missile barrages coupled with a ground infiltration attack. He who strikes first gains a tremendous advantage, as we witnessed on Oct. 7. According to Chinese, Russian, Iranian, and North Korean military doctrine, a surprise first strike, just as Hamas struck Israel, is the optimal way to start a war. Hamas launched over 3,000 missiles and rockets in their first strike. Most of these were unguided rockets which the Iron Dome took down. Hezbollah, on the other hand, has a large arsenal of precision-guided rockets that will be more difficult to destroy. In such a situation, hardened positions that can withstand a rocket barrage are the difference between life and death. Are our troops stationed overseas, in Syria (about 900 troops), South Korea and the Pacific (roughly 84,000 troops), Europe (about 67,000 mostly in Germany, Poland, Romania, and Estonia), and other places, operating from hardened, protected enclaves or are they in peacetime barracks that offer our enemies easy targets? What are we doing to make our troops hard targets, not easy prey? How will our forces survive an enemy’s first strike?

A Failure of Deterrence

When a bully tells you they are going to “get you,” you can deter them by waving a baseball bat and bravely shouting, “Bring it on.” The attacker may just look at your resolution, see the bat, estimate how many broken bones will ensue, and then call off the attack. Just be sure you do not show up to a gun or knife fight with a baseball bat. Nations act much the same way. They respect force when they recognize they will lose and lose badly if they attack. Deterrence is the ability to make it crystal clear that any attack your enemy attempts will fail, and doing so will bring on his ruin. Deterrence requires three things: 1) having a credible force that instills fear in the enemy; 2) the commitment to rapidly apply violent force if the enemy is not deterred; and 3) clear and consistent messaging that you will do 1 and 2. Your opponent must fear you, know you will fully commit to winning if attacked, and understand this message. Actions count. Words are cheap. Lose credibility to instill fear or the belief that you will rapidly act with violent force and poorly articulate your message, and you lose deterrence. We also need the right weapons to deter the enemy. A baseball bat will not deter an enemy with a shotgun. Military and national security leaders have a duty to understand and study the changing methods of war in order to make deterrence unambiguous. We count on these leaders to deter war and, if deterrence fails, to fight smart and win. Hamas was not deterred on Oct. 7. Israel understands they must reestablish deterrence and that the clock is ticking. The IDF must win a rapid, decisive victory against Hamas. When deterrence fails, winning quickly is vital, as long wars are the ruin of nations.[4] The US did not deter Russia from invading Ukraine or Iran from using its proxy armies to strike Israel. Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East. Will American deterrence stop Iran’s moves against Israel? Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, says that China will take all measures necessary to absorb Taiwan. Is US deterrence strong enough to keep a determined Communist China from invading Taiwan,[5] possibly in 2024 during a turbulent US election year?

Aircraft carrier
The Aircraft Carrier USS Gerald Ford in the Mediterranean Sea, on 11, 2023, sailing in response to the war in Gaza. (Department of Defense image)

The Expanding Tentacles of Iran

Few in the US Government want to blame Iran for this war. The truth is that Hamas is a proxy army supported, supplied, trained, and endorsed by Iran. Israel knows this, and the US Government knows this, but both are being coy right now as they believe that not naming names will keep Iran from expanding the war. The US State Department says there is no direct proof of Iran’s involvement in the war because to announce otherwise would compel the US to take action against Iran. This is a false hope. Iran wants the Middle East on fire to push its own agenda for regional power.[6] The weaker our response, the bolder Iran will become. Since we will not even mention Iran as the primary power behind the attack on Israel, we are avoiding the issue. This does not reinforce deterrence. It nullifies it. Does the US have the courage to stand up to Iran? How will China and Russia view our actions?