The Fate of Israel


Part two in a series of articles about grand strategy in a 4GW Era.
Demonstrating the difficultly of distinguishing strong from weak in 4GW,
and that choosing the wrong grand strategy can be terminal for a state.

By Fabius Maximus

February 8, 2006
Revised July 28, 2006

So confident of victory were the French that many sat up late drinking, gambling and boasting about who would kill or capture whom. Some knights even painted a cart in which Henry V would be paraded through the streets of Paris!

Description of the French camp on October 24, 1415, the night before Agincourt –
the last of the three great English victories over the French during the Hundred Years War.

You are now my prisoners. Let this be a lesson to you that Americans are weak. You must realize that Japan will rule the world. You are stupid for letting your leaders take you to war.

Tetsunosuke Ariizumi, Commander of His Imperial Majesty’s submarine I-8, on July 2, 1944,
addressing captured Americans from the SS JEAN NICOLET.

No Viet-Minh cannon will be able to fire three rounds before being destroyed by my artillery.

Col. Charles Piroth, French artillery commander at Dien Bien Phu,
Hell in a Very Small Place
, Bernard Fall (New York: Vintage, 1966), 102.

What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the growing the birth pangs of a new Middle East ...

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Special Press Briefing
Washington, DC, July 21, 2006


Introduction (July 28, 2006)

Current events in Lebanon might be of the highest importance, but not for the reasons usually given. The war shows no sign of spreading to Syria. Iran gives no sign of overt intervention. Middle East oil production appears safe from interruption from this particular conflict.

The real significance could be far greater than any of these things.

Israel appears to be losing. Of course the campaign is not over, although the rising civilian causalities in Lebanon suggest that the US might be forced to broker a cease-fire in the next few weeks. There remains time for – as Stratfor believes – a surprise move by Israel to quickly win.

Still, Israel appears to be losing. Worse, losing not to a 4GW insurgency, but to static defenses more typical of 2nd generation warfare – which the IDF, skilled at 3rd generation war, should be able to easily defeat.

IDF exhibits the classic signs preceding military defeat:

  • Before the start, reconnaissance/intelligence failures plus underestimation of their opponents.

  • Over-emphasis on air power, in contexts under which air power has typically failed.

  • Slow progress, far below that required to meet minimum objects in the available time.

  • Public debate by senior political and military officials on strategy, which suggests that the IDF's elite officers have failed to adapt to the failure of their initial plan.

A tie by Hezbollah would be a major inflection point for the region. When the weak tie the strong it is a big psychological win for the weak. Hezbollah's prestige would be greatly enhanced. The morale of Israel's enemies (i.e., everybody else in the region) would rise. Hamas, taking notes on this campaign, would be emboldened.

A Hezbollah win the IDF retreating while Hezbollah retains ability to fire rockets at Israel would likely reshape geopolitics in the Middle East, intensifying the looming defeats of US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Hezbollah win would also mark another step in the rise of the Shiites, after centuries of defeat and oppression by both their Sunni “cousins” and colonial masters. Iran would rise in influence, nearer its probable goal of becoming the regional hegemon.

The consequences of all this are difficult to foresee, but likely large and long lasting.  

To plan a successful grand strategy the strategist must know if he has a weak or strong position. Failure almost certainly results if he gets this fundamental fact wrong. Realist or idealist, this is the starting point for developing a grand strategy.

Unfortunately, history shows the difficulty of correctly determining weak from strong during times of rapid change.

For example, which looks stronger: a stateless people with no modern government, economy, or armyor a developed state with its vast superiority in ideas and hardware?

Israel, a western industrial nation, has rationally educated elites in a modern bureaucratic government. Israel’s army and intelligence service (the Mossad) are superior to their Palestinian counterparts in every way.

Israel has wielded these advantages to win many tactical victories over the Palestinians. For example, Col Thomas X. Hammes, USMC (Ret) describes how Israel won the second Intifadah in chapter 9 of his book, The Sling And The Stone.

The Palestinian people have none of Israel’s advantages: stateless, politically mobilized in only a primitive manner, with severe internal fractures, and a history of weak and self-interested leadership. Each year their enclaves on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank sink further into poverty and chaos.

So it seems reasonable that most analysts see Israel as strong and the Palestinians as an oppressed or weak underdog.

Here's a different perspective on this war.

No matter how many or great are its tactical successes, Israel’s strategic picture grows dark. Losing allies. Losing land. Losing people. Perhaps even losing internal cohesion.

This should surprise nobody familiar with history. Germany proved that tactical excellence cannot overcome strategic weakness. And strategically Israel is very weak.

Grand Strategy: a state’s collective policy with respect to the external world. Paul Kennedy defined it as "the capacity of the nation's leaders to bring together all of the elements {of power}, both military and nonmilitary, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation's long-term … best interests" (from his “Grand Strategies in War and Peace”). From a Trinitarian perspective, it focuses and coordinates the diplomatic and military efforts of a state’s People, Government, and Army.

Israel’s national survival – perhaps even that of its individual citizens – depends upon a sound grand strategy to turn these strengths into victory, or at least survival. Whatever their Strategy, it’s not working.

 Primal Strategy: often found in the early years of a society when its people have a “single-minded” commitment to a goal, often just a drive to grow. A “primal strategy” is an expression of a people’s core beliefs. It is non-intellectual, with no need for theories and plans.

The Palestinians show us the raw power of a primal strategy, a belief in a shared dream. They dream about the extermination of Israel. That is the official goal of Fatah, the former ruling party. Which is in turn losing strength to Hamas and Hezbollah, who seem even more dedicated to eliminating Israel. Their primal strategy forges the Palestinian people into a powerful weapon, against which Israel has few defenses.

Forging this resolve has taken generations. After Israel’s creation the Palestinians hoped that their fellow Arabs would destroy it. After Israel’s construction of atomic weapons circa 1968 and the failure of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Palestinians abandoned hope of eliminating Israel through conventional war. They chose the path of 4GW, which brings them victory – as it has for so many other peoples fighting modern western states.

Why is this so difficult to see? This quote from Col T.X. Hammes (USMC, Ret.) explains this blindness of western experts to Middle Eastern 4GW, one that applies equally well towards the Palestinians and the Iraqi insurgents.

Today’s insurgents do not plan for the Phase III conventional campaigns that were an integral part of Mao’s three-phased insurgency. They know they cannot militarily defeat the outside power. Instead, they seek to destroy the outside power’s political will so that it gives up and withdraws forces. They seek to do so by causing political, economic, social, and military damage to the target nation.


After being driven out of Fallujah in November 2004, Abu Musad al-Zarqawi wrote, “The war is very long, and always think of this as the beginning. And always make the enemy think that yesterday was better than today.”

“Dealing With Uncertainty”, Marine Corps Gazette, November 2005

The Palestinian people have, in addition to greater and more rapidly growing numbers, seven great strategic advantages over Israel.

 First, the Palestinians are weaker than Israel. Not only do Americans often admire underdogs, but also weakness is in itself a profound advantage.

 In other words, he who fights against the weak — and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed — and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat ..

“Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did” by Martin van Creveld

Much recent 4GW literature attributes an exaggerated significance to this theoretical effect, despite many counter-examples—near-genocidal warfare waged by states against weak groups with little or no global criticism. But given the Palestinian’s support by important elements in the developed nations and most less-developed states, is a powerful advantage for them – giving themselves and their supporters belief that they have the moral high ground.

Second, entropy acts as the Palestinian’s ally. It is easier to destroy than build. Israel must defend everything, while the Palestinians in the refugee camps show their willingness to tolerate a low standard of living while waiting for victory.

 He who defends everything defends nothing. Frederick The Great (1712-1786)

Third, the increasing concentration of global oil production in the Middle East strengthens the Palestinian’s allies, and weakens willingness of developed nations to challenge them. Ever since Nigeria’s 1966 blockade and starvation of the Biafran people, developed nations will tolerate almost anything to ensure reliable access to oil.

Fourth, western nations—on whose support Israel dependents for financial support and trade—hold Israel to higher ethical standards than they hold the Palestinians. Palestinians can kill Jewish children with only mild condemnation. The UN does not stop food and medical supplies to the refugee camps. The EU does not stop financial aid to Palestinian Authority. Their Arab brothers never threaten to disown them unless they follow the Geneva Conventions.

Fifth, demographic trends point to increasing and inevitable weakness of Israel vs. the Palestinians. Demographics often decide ethnic rivalries. The Palestinians’ higher fertility rates inexorability increase their advantage over Israel and might eventually give them a voting majority in Israel. Neither certain nor precise forecasts are possible due to lack of reliable data on Palestinian population, emigration rates, and fertility rates.

The events of July 2006 have revealed two more strategic advantages of Israel’s opponents:

Sixth, the success of Israel’s counter-insurgency strikes against Hamas and Hezbollah have resulted in a “Darwinian ratchet”.

Israel’s security services cull the ranks of the insurgency. This eliminates the slow and stupid, clearing space for the “best” to rise in authority. “Best” in the sense of those most able to survive, recruit, and train new ranks of insurgents. The more severe Israel’s efforts at exterminating the insurrection, the more ruthless the survivors.

Hence the familiar activity pattern of a rising sine wave, seen in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and a dozen other places: successes by the security forces, a pause in activity, followed by another wave of activity – but bigger and more effective. The resurgence of Hamas and Hezbollah fits this pattern, and both have obviously taken Israel by surprise.

Seventh, in 1978 Egypt dealt the IDF a serious blow, which may prove fatal for Israel. The Camp David accords eliminated any serious conventional military threat to Israel. Since then the IDF has acted as police agency, fighting various kinds of insurgents.

It is possible this combination has “rotted” away the IDF’s core competencies, explaining its otherwise baffling strategic and tactical failures in the current campaign.

How can the Palestinian people defeat Israel?

Their actions appear limited to exerting pressure – economic, terror, political – on Israel, pushing individual Israelis onto one of two tracks.

  1. Supporting negotiations with the Palestinians. The Palestinians can sequentially renegotiate these into total victory, as we did with the American Indians, and as Rome did with Carthage. This is incremental surrender.

  2. Emigrating, leaving Israel for safer and more prosperous lands.

Progress has been considerable on both tracks, especially the second. Immigration to Israel peaked in 1990 at over 200 thousand. In 2003 and 2004, for the first time, Israel had almost equal number of immigrants and emigrants. This powerfully magnifies the Palestinians’ higher fertility rate.

Mao would have appreciated the commitment of the Palestinians as they wage a protracted struggle against Israel.

I hold that it is bad as far as we are concerned if a person, a political party, an army or a school is not attacked by the enemy, for in that case it would definitely mean that we have sunk to the level of the enemy. It is good if the enemy attacks us, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but also achieved a great deal in our work. …

We still have to wage a protracted struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology.

Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, also known in the west as The Little Red Book.

It seems obvious who will win. Israel might last 100 years if its people are both lucky and skillful. Nevertheless, in the future only historians will know that the war’s outcome was ever in doubt. Much as today’s students see the Hundred Years War between England and France, Israel’s end will seem inevitable to them.

Whatever grand strategies Israel has used since their conquest of the West Bank and Gaza—and this paper has discussed only the results, not the specifics—have failed. However theoretical the debates over a state’s grand strategy, the stakes are of the highest kind.

Can any grand strategy by Israel overcome such odds at this late date?

As Peter O’Toole said as Lawrence of Arabia in the movie of that title, “Nothing is written.” However, it seems clear how to bet. As so often in history, bet on the horrible outcome. It looks like another tragedy in the making, another destruction of Israel, and Diaspora for the Jewish people.

Israel might provide another example of a failed grand strategy proving terminal.

Could another strategy have succeeded, allowing Israel to survive? That’s a debate for historians, but a powerful warning for America.

And the tears flow on forever
Southward in silent ranks
They flow to the Jordan River
And overrun the banks.

Heinrich Heine

Please send comments and corrections to .

Other predictions of doom for Israel:

"Will Israel live to 100? Bernard Schwartz, The Atlantic Magazine, May 2005. (Subscription required)

"History and demographics are ganging up on Israel”, Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, July 2 2002

“Israel is Doomed”, Israel Shamir, May 19 2001

About this series of articles on grand strategy.

There are few comprehensive proposals for a grand strategy for America in the literature of either the "Revolution in Military Affairs" or of 4th Generation War. This series presents an alternative to Thomas P.M. Barnett's "Pax Americana" vision. It is based on, and in a sense starts from, William Lind’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” originally published in The American Conservative, November 22, 2004.

Link to Lind’s article:

Chapter One: “The Myth of Grand Strategy”

This describes the reasons why a developed State should choose a “humble” Grand Strategy, not an “ambitious” one

Chapter Two: “The Fate of Israel”

This demonstrates the difficulty of distinguishing strong from weak in 4GW, and that choosing a wrong grand strategy can be terminal for a state.

“An Interruption – “Top Secret US Government Documents about Iraq”

Comparisons of Vietnam and Iraq suggest that US Government institutions have become dysfunctional, incapable of faithfully and competently executing any Grand Strategy.

Chapter Three: “America’s Most Dangerous Enemy”

Why we must remain cool and careful when assessing threats to America. Our worst enemy is not whom you think it is.

Watch DNI for the new few chapters proposing A Grand Strategy for America.

The US is weak in several vital dimensions. From this it follows that a strategy focused on defense is best, so we can conserve our strength and rebuild while we adapt to a this new era.


Who was Fabius Maximus?

Fabius Maximus was the Roman leader who saved Rome from Hannibal by recognizing its weakness, the need to conserve and regenerate. He turned from the easy path of macho “boldness” to the long, difficult path to rebuilding Rome’s strength and greatness. His life holds profound lessons for 21st Century America.

Qualifications of the Author? Read the past articles by Fabius Maximus. A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported by the author’s track record.