From a practical political point of view, Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, and their idea to take a tougher stand toward Hamas just went down to defeat, if not humiliation. That’s because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again showed his political skills; the first is now ex-defense minister, the second failed to become defense minister.
From a longer-term point of view, however, the duo raised an issue that for decades had not been part of the Israeli political discourse but, due to their efforts, promises to be an important factor in the future: that would be the concept of victory, of an Israeli victory over Hamas and, by extension, over the Palestinian Authority and Palestinians in general.
Victory – defined as imposing one’s will on the enemy so he gives up his war goals – has been the objective of philosophers, strategists, and generals through human history. Aristotle wrote that “Victory is the end of generalship.” Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian theorist, concurred: “The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy.” Gen. James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defense, finds that “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over.”
Palestinians routinely speak of achieving victory over Israel, even when this is fantastical: to cite one example, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas called his Hamas counterpart, Ismail Haniyeh, after eight days of violence with Israel that left Gaza badly battered in November 2012 to “congratulate him on the victory and extend condolences to the families of martyrs.”
Contrarily, in Israel, the notion of victory has been sidelined since at least the Oslo Accords of 1993, after which its leaders instead focused on such concepts as compromise, conciliation, confidence-building, flexibility, goodwill, mediation, and restraint. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert immemorially articulated this attitude in 2007 when he stated that “Peace is achieved through concessions.”
This perverse understanding of how wars end led Israel to make extraordinary blunders in the fifteen years after Oslo, for which it was punished by unremitting campaigns of delegitimization and violence, symbolized, respectively, by the Durban conference of 2001 and the Passover Massacre of 2002.
Such nonsense ended during Netanyahu’s near-decade-long term as prime minister, but it has not yet been replaced by a sturdy vision of victory. Rather, Netanyahu has put out brush fires as they arose in Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Syria, and Lebanon. While agreeing with the concept of an Israeli victory when personally briefed, he has not spoken publicly about it.
Meanwhile, other leading figures in Israel have adopted this outlook. Former deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan called on the army “to return to the path of victory.” Former education and interior minister Gideon Sa’ar has stated that “The ‘victory paradigm,’ like Jabotinsky’s ‘Iron Wall’ concept, assumes that an agreement may be possible in the future, but only after a clear and decisive Israeli victory … The transition to the ‘victory paradigm’ is contingent upon abandoning the Oslo concept.”
In this context, the statements by Lieberman and Bennett point to a change in thinking. Lieberman quit his position as defense minister out of frustration that a barrage by Hamas of 460 rockets and missiles against Israel was met with a ceasefire; he called instead for “a state of despair” to be imposed on the enemies of Israel. Complaining that “Israel stopped winning,” Bennett demanded that the IDF “start winning again,” and added that “When Israel wants to win, we can win.” On rescinding his demand for the defense portfolio, Bennett emphasized that he stands by Netanyahu “in the monumental task of ensuring that Israel is victorious again.”
Opponents of this paradigm then amusingly testified to the power of this idea of victory. Ma’ariv columnist Revital Amiran wrote that the victory the Israeli public most wants lies in such arenas as larger allocations for the elderly and unbearable traffic jams. Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg, replied to Bennett that for her, a victorious Israel means winning Emmy and Oscar nominations, guaranteeing equal health services, and spending more on education.
That victory and defeat have newly become a topic for debate in Israel constitutes a major step forward. As media figure Ayalet Mitsch correctly notes, “even left-leaning Israelis think it’s time to win again.” Thus does the push for an Israeli victory move forward.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum think tank, which promotes Israel Victory, a project to steer U.S. policy toward backing an Israeli victory to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. Follow him on Twitter @DanielPipes.
© 2018 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.