Nemesis

The name Enoch Powell is unlikely to strike a chord with most of those who are under sixty years old. Yet at the time I took my PhD in London (1969-71) he was all over, frequently appearing on TV (“the telly,” as people used to call it), radio, and the papers. Today it pleases me to write a few lines about him. My reasons for doing so will become clear by and by.

Enoch Powell was born at Stechford, a borough of the city of Birmingham, in 1912. The family was lower middle class; his father, Albert, was an elementary schoolteacher, his mother Ellen, a housewife. Their somewhat constrained economic circumstances did not prevent Enoch from receiving a first class education, first at home—it is said that by the age of three, he could already read fairly well—and later at various grammar schools. Typical of the age, the most important part of the curriculum was formed by the classics, especially ancient Greek (a thorough mastery of Latin was considered self-evident) in which Powell soon revealed himself as a real prodigy. Later, at Cambridge, he not only received the highest possible, and extremely rare, grades but added German, modern Greek, Portuguese, Welsh, Urdu, and Russian.

In 1937 Powell, having completed his studies, went to Australia where, employed at the University of Sydney, he became the youngest professor in the entire Commonwealth. From there he sent letters to his parents expressing his disgust at Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “terrible exhibition of dishonor, weakness and gullibility” in his attempts to appease Hitler. “The depths of infamy,” he added, “to which our accurst ‘love of peace’ can lower us are unfathomable.”

Returning to England as soon as World War II broke out, Powell joined the army which appreciated his linguistic skills and put him into its intelligence service. By the time he got out in 1945 he was a brigadier general, the youngest in the entire service. Entering politics, he was elected to Parliament as a conservative member, making several speeches against Constitutional changes which, the way he saw it, were slowly but surely leading to the breakup of the British Commonwealth and of Britain itself. He wore his immense learning lightly; his measured, eloquent and, above all, extremely clear delivery—I remember watching him on TV—soon turned him into a star performer. Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s he occupied a variety of senior positions, reaching the peak of his career in 1962 when he was appointed Secretary of Health under Harold Macmillan. This post he occupied until 1964 when Labor under Harold Wilson won the elections, pushing the Conservatives into the opposition. In 1965 the Conservative leader Edward Heath appointed him shadow Secretary of State for Defense.

It was during his time in the opposition that Powell first started drawing national attention by pointing out the danger of unrestricted immigration from Commonwealth countries. Especially Kenya which, over the previous few decades, had become home to many Indians and Pakistanis. Discriminated against and oppressed by the country’s new African rules, the people in question sought refuge in Britain. At the time I was living in Kilburn, a relatively poor neighborhood in northwestern London where I often encountered them. On one hand there were the Indians who set up small neighborhood shops and, by working themselves and their families very hard indeed, started their way up the social ladder. Contrasting with them were bands of young Moslems who, the papers said, were sometimes subject to what was popularly known as Paki-bashing.

It was a year or so before my arrival, on 20 April 1968, that Powell gave the speech for which he will forever be remembered:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’ [referring to the Sybil in Virgil’s Aeneid]. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the 20th century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now.

The reaction, both in Parliament and in the media, can be imagined. The day after he held the speech Heath, as leader of the opposition, took Powell’s post as shadow minister of defense away from him. The same Heath, however, later admitted, in private, that Powell might have been “prescient.” He remained a member of Parliament until 1987, but was never again offered a cabinet post. From then to the present, in spite of warnings more numerous than the stars in the sky, no British government has dared taking the “resolute and urgent action” required. Instead, it contented itself by inventing reasons why such action was not required.

And now, feeling abandoned to their fate, some of Britain’s people are beginning to take matters into their own hands.

White Elephants

At least since 9/11, and possibly since the First Gulf War back in 1991, it has been clear that the most immediate threat facing developed countries is not other developed countries. It is terrorism, guerrilla, insurgencies, asymmetric war, fourth generation war, war among the people, nontrinitarian war (my own favorite term), whatever. Follows a list-–a very partial one, to be sure—of expensive new American weapons and weapon systems, now in various stages of development, all of which have this in common that they are not relevant to the threat in question.

  1. The USAF’s new bomber. America’s last bomber, the B-2, was an absolute disaster. Originally the program, which went back to the late 1980s, was supposed to result in a fleet of 132 aircraft. That figure was later reduced to just 20, plus one used for all kinds of experimental purposes. The machines cost $ 500,000,000 each, which is far more than almost any conceivable target. Some sources, taking development costs into consideration, provide a much higher figure still. Yet so vulnerable are the machines that, when they are not in the air, they need to stay in air-conditioned hangars. That in turn means that they can only be operated from the Continental US and take hours and hours to reach their targets. Nevertheless, fixated on bombers as the USAF has been for so many years, none of these problems have prevented it from going for an even more ambitious program. This is the so-called Next Generation Bomber of which 175 are planned. Suppose, which in view of past experience seems rather unlikely, that anything like this number is in fact produced at a cost of God knows how many dozens and dozens of billions. The contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. The USAF’s new ICBM. America’s last ICBM, known as the Peacemaker, was deployed from 1986 on (as so often, cost overruns reduced their number from the original 100 to just 50). In 2005 the last of them was decommissioned. Why? The answer is by no means clear. The START II Treaty, which prohibited putting multiple warheads on a single launcher, was already dead. Killed by President G. W. Bush’s decision to go ahead with missile defense, another unbelievably expensive system which to-date has only yielded a handful of launchers totally unable to stop either a Russian or a Chinese attack. Or perhaps it died because running too different ICBM systems, one made up of Peacemakers and the other of the older Minutemans, was too expensive? In any case, the warheads were put on the old Minuteman missiles and the launching crews retrained for operating them; a rare case of fortunes being spent so the old can take the place of the new. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. The USAF’s new F-35 fighter. Originally it was supposed to be a cheap alternative to the F-22, itself an expensive failure (which is why, out of 750 originally envisaged, only 187 were built). By now, however, each F-35 is expected to cost as much as an F-22. The program has been marked by numerous delays and developmental uncertainties. Only to result in an aircraft that can carry less ordnance than some older ones could. In terms of the critically important thrust to weight ratio it is actually inferior to no fewer than ten different American, Russian, and European fighters. One sometimes feels that the Air Force has forgotten all about the late John Boyd, his concept of energy maneuverability, and the F-16 whose mastermind he was. Instead it has returned to the days when Soviet-built Mig-17s, flown by North Vietnamese pilots, had little difficulty shooting heavier, less maneuverable, American F-105s out of the sky. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. Ford class carriers. Compared to its predecessors, the Nimitz class carriers, these huge warships (100,000 ton capacity when fully loaded) are said to have an improved nuclear power plant, electromagnetic catapults, and superior stealth characteristics. Originally they were also supposed to be able to generate a larger number of sorties per day, but there now seems to exist some doubt whether that objective will, in fact, be achieved. Early estimates put the cost of each carrier at $ 10.5 billion; now the estimate stands at $ 12.9 billion. And even this “outrageous” (John McCain) increase is most unlikely to be the last word. The carriers’ contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.
  1. The army’s new ground combat vehicle. Originally there was a call for a relatively light vehicle. One capable of being rapidly airlifted to wherever it may be needed so that any trouble might be dealt with before it could spread. What emerged, instead, was an 84-ton monster heavier and more unwieldy than any tank now in existence. One reminiscent of Germany’s projected 100, 188, and 1,000 ton tanks during World War II (see image). Thank God this one was cancelled in mid stride—as, incidentally, Hitler’s tanks also were. Or else the black hole that is the national debt would have been blessed with another white elephant.

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Will they ever learn?

 

*Thanks to my friend Bill Lind, whose work always inspires my own.

Whom the Gods Want to Destroy…

IDF-Soldier-who-shot-neutralized-terrorist-is-suspected-of-murder-Israel-PalestineThe killing last week by an Israeli soldier of a wounded Palestinian terrorist who was lying helplessly on his back has sent the country into a turmoil. No sooner was the picture published on the Net then the Israeli media mounted a wave of protest. Taking up from there, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Yeelon, and chief of staff Eisenkot quickly denounced the deed and promised that the soldier in question would be put on trial and punished. This was followed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attorney general’s announcement that the charge would be murder.

Israelis like to think that theirs is “the most moral army in the world.” Consequently there was much palaver about the IDF’s “ethos,” its “values,” and so on. But not everyone agreed that the killer was in fact being treated as he deserved to be. Not only did his family and friends stand by him, but images of him, in handcuffs, led to an equally strong wave of protest in his support accompanied by rioting. That caused Netanyahu, a weathervane if ever one there was, to soften his original stance on the case pending a court investigation. Not content with that, right-wing politicians, smelling blood, entered the fray. They lionized the soldier and accused the chief of staff of failing to back his troops. One notorious extreme right-wing activist, Itamar Ben Gvir, demanded that the police investigate Be-Tzelem, the humanitarian organization responsible for taking the image and spreading it. One rabbi has even suggested that, for having the soldier tried, the chief of staff himself should be put on trial.

In his defense, the soldier claimed that the terrorist was moving and that he was afraid that he, the terrorist, might be carrying an explosive belt on his body. This was denied by the man’s commanders and made doubtful by the fact that the terrorist, who had been lying there for no fewer than six minutes before he was killed, had been examined and found unarmed. As always happens in such situations, charges and countercharges quickly multiplied until they congealed into a single opaque, stinking, tissue of truths and falsehoods. I do not know what the outcome is going to be. But I am prepared to bet that the soldier will not be punished as murderers in Israel usually are, i.e. with life in prison. Assuming he is punished at all, almost certainly he will get a pardon of some kind.

All this is still in the future. Meanwhile the fallout from the case is splitting Israeli society from top to bottom. Not to mention other soldiers’ justified fear that, should they be caught in a similar situation or commit a similar deed, their superiors, instead of backing them up, will wash their hands of them. To be sure, the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are not the world’s worst human rights offenders. Unfortunately, though, they are bad enough.

Sun Tzu, in the first chapter of his celebrated On War, says that victory will go to the side who keeps the favor of heaven—meaning, the moral advantage—by formulating rules of behavior and sticking to them. I agree. For those of you who have never read my best-known book, The Transformation of War, or who have forgotten its contents, here is what I wrote about this topic a quarter century ago:

“[Suppose a war] where one belligerent is much stronger than the other. Under such circumstances, the conduct of war can become problematic even as a matter of definition… Over the long run… fighting the weak demeans those who engage in it, and therefore undermines its own purpose. He who loses out to the weak loses; he who triumphs over the weak also loses. In such an enterprise there can be neither profit nor honor. Provided only the exercise is repeated often enough, as surely as night follows day the point will come when enterprise collapses… Since the very act of fighting the weak invites excess, in fact is excess, it obliges the strong to impose controls in the forms of laws, regulations, and rules of engagement… The net effect of such regulations is to demoralize the troops who are prevented from operating freely and using their initiative. They are contrary to sound command practice if they are observed and subversive of fighting discipline of they are not. Hence Clausewitz’s dictum, plainly observable in every low-intensity conflict fought since World War I, that regular troops combating a Volkskrieg are like robots to men.

A sword, plunged into salt water, will rust…A strong force made to confront the weak for any length of time will violate its own regulations and commit crimes, some inadvertent and others not. Forced to lie in order to conceal its crimes, it will find the system of military justice undermined, the process of command distorted, and a credibility gap opening up at its feet. In such a process there are neither heroes nor villains, but only victims: whom the gods want to destroy, they first strike blind.”

Mr. Netanyahu, are you listening? For God’s sake, GET OUT OF THE TERRITORIES!!!

The Idiots

islamic-terrorist-e1424196060104For the purpose at hand, it all started in Israel. Back in the early 1980s General (ret.) Ariel Sharon was minister of defense under Prime Minister Menahem Begin. Assisted by a Hebrew University Professor whose field was Islamic studies, he came up with the bright idea of forming a religious-conservative opposition to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The center of the movement was to be in Hebron, the principal city of the southern, and socio-economically less developed, part of the West Bank. In return for the right to rule over their people’s day-to-day affairs, the so-called “Rural Societies” were to oppose the PLO and tacitly accept Israeli rule. The outcome? Hamas, meaning Islamic Resistance Movement. In 2006 it took over control of the Gaza Strip. Having done so, for years on end it waged a terrorist campaign against Israel. Though apparently cowed by Operation Protective Edge in 2014, it is even now threatening to renew the rocket attacks at any time it feels like doing so.

Others, the Americans in particular, have committed similar errors. First, during the early 1980s, came their attempts to resist the Soviets in Afghanistan. This meant supporting the Mujahedeen, a movement that combined nationalism and religion in fighting the Red Army which had invaded the country. And, yes, it worked. After almost ten years of warfare the Soviets were forced to retreat. And what happened? Some Afghan “freedom fighters” spread all over the world, promoting terrorism wherever they went. Others joined the Taliban and, later, Al Qaeda. Enough said.

Next, in 2003, came the invasion of Iraq. In the name of democracy, women’s rights, and, some dared suggest, oil. To be sure, Saddam Hussein was not exactly a nice man. In 1990 he invaded and occupied Kuwait; defeated, he continued to tyrannize his own people. Earlier he had even used gas to asphyxiate his enemies. Yet he was neither a religious fanatic nor, it seems, more involved in terrorism than many other states are. Sitting in his “box,” constantly attacked from the air, and laboring under sanctions that severely hurt his economy he had long ceased to present a danger to any of his neighbors. The invasion of Iraq, followed by his own execution, destabilized the country. It also stoked the religious antagonisms that had been waiting just under the surface of his secular rule. The outcome: massive terrorism committed by Shi’ites against Sunnis and by Sunnis against Shi’ites. Not to mention the birth of Daesh which started in Iraq and has since spread to Syria as well.

One might think that the West, with the US at its head, should have learnt something from its disastrous attempts to support religious Islamic movements. But no, no way. The next war in which the West intervened was the one in Libya. Again it was done in the name of democracy, humanity, and women’s rights—the dictator and his collaborators, it was later claimed, had been raping their own female soldiers left and right. Again the opponent was a secular dictator. Muamar Gadhafi was as cruel as many and more quirky than most. But at any rate he was able to maintain order in his own country. During his last decade or so in power he even opposed terrorism. Following a civil war that lasted some six months, he was defeated and killed. With the result that his country fell apart and is now one of the happiest stamping grounds where Daesh is having a field day recruiting supporters and threatening Europe with terrorism.

Next, Syria. Like Iraq, Syria was ruled by a military dictator, Bashir Assad. As a ruler he was neither better nor worse than Hussein and Gadhafi had been. He supported Hezbollah against Israel and allied himself with Iran, in many ways acting as the latter’s long arm on the shore of the Mediterranean. However, like the other two, he ruled his country with an iron fist and does not seem to have engaged in international terrorism. Not perfect, one would have thought, but as good a regime as a country like Syria can have. In May 2011 civil war broke out. In this war the West, and less actively Israel, found themselves siding with Assad’s opponents. They even invented a “liberal” opposition which, as it turned out, hardly existed. Three years passed before Washington suddenly woke up to the existence of Daesh, a Sunni-led terrorist organization that had spread from Iraq. Again, enough said.

Yet another country, one in which a similar error was narrowly avoided, is Egypt. Coming to power, President Obama promised to reach out to the peoples of Islamic countries even if—partly because—it meant going over the heads of their loathsome despots. Feeble as it was, the attempt does seem to have played some role in the so-called Arab Spring. One country in which it did so was Egypt whose population rose against President Mubarak and toppled his regime. And what happened? In the only more or less free elections ever held in Egypt’s 5,000 years’ history, the Moslem Brotherhood won. The outcome for Israel, and therefore for the Middle East, in particular could have been catastrophic. Mounting a coup, General Assisi prevented the worst. But no thanks either to Obama or to the West as a whole.

Let’s finally cease kidding ourselves. Arab countries, all of them without exception, are backward. Most are still tribal. That means that they are organized on lines other, more developed countries, have left behind centuries ago. Very few have what one would call a civil society consisting of a solid middle class. None has ever known the meaning either of democracy, or of the rule of law, or of human rights, or of freedom as Westerners understand it. During the middle ages they set up a brilliant civilization, or so historians say. Next, however, they missed the Renaissance. And the Reformation; and the Scientific Revolution; and the Enlightenment; and democracy in the form of the American and French Revolutions; and finally the Industrial Revolution as well. Not to mention the great and glorious Feminist Revolution, of course. Apart from that, they are the most progressive people in the world. Especially when yelling Allahu Akbar before sticking a knife into someone, or shooting him, or blowing themselves up.

Such is the situation. That is why, when it comes to an Arab country, the choice is always between a dictator—either hereditary or other, either with a moustache or not—and anarchy. A dictator may mean war. But that is something which, as the Israeli-Arab wars and the two successful campaigns (1991 and the first few weeks of 2003) against Saddam Hussein have shown, can be handled if necessary. What the West, and indeed the world as a whole, cannot handle is anarchy and the terrorism it spouts indiscriminately in all directions.

Will the idiots, and I don’t mean the Arabs of whom nothing can be expected, ever, ever learn?

How to Fight Daesh

paris-military-exercise-634x350Ever since Daesh first burst on the international scene back in the spring of 2014, a vast amount of ink has been spilt over its relationship with its parent organization, Al Qaeda; its objectives; its peculiar ability to attract Muslim volunteers from all over the world; as well as its methods—the latter, it turns out, taken straight from the days Mohammed and his followers first started their campaign of terror and conquest. Including beheadings, crucifixion, and the enslavement of both men and women. Let those who are interested consult the literature in question; here I want to focus on the most important problem of all, i.e. how to fight and win.

Four separate theaters of war must be distinguished, viz:

  1. Syria and Iraq. Daesh is essentially the product of the foolish American invasion of Iraq. As former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, drawing on a traditional Islamic image, predicted, it “opened the gates of hell.” It is in these countries that Daesh was formed and where most its fighters are concentrated. The essence of the problem is political. Let Presidents Obama, Putin and Arduan finally decide on who the main enemy is and start cooperating against him. Even if it means leaving President Assad in place, at least for the time being. Let the US, Russia, and Turkey mount a combined air offensive against Daesh, targeting its forces in Syria as well as the oilfields from which it draws its revenue in Iraq. However, as over a year of strikes by aircraft and drones has shown all too clearly, air operations on their own will not do the trick. For that the assistance of Syria’s ground forces is needed. To be sure, all this means teaming up with some pretty unsavory people and countries. But what other choice is there? As long as Daesh’s main forces and leadership are not smashed, terrorism will continue. If not here then there, and if not there then here.
  2. France and Europe. Stop shilly-shallying and start controlling immigration by every available means with the objective of bringing it to a halt. Also at sea to take care of Libya. Net install passive defenses. That means guards, metal detectors and surveillance cameras at every parking house, shopping center, theater, university, school, etc. If considered appropriate, arm them and train them in self-defense. Such measures need not be as expensive as they sound. Europe has plenty of unemployed. They should be happy to work, and their wages can be offset against the benefits they currently receive. At the most sensitive installations, such as airports, use profiling, i.e. separate people into various classes so as to identify those considered particularly dangerous and subject them to extra scrutiny. Profiling may not be very democratic. However, experience shows that it works. Set up volunteer neighborhood watches—no one knows neighborhoods better than the people who live in them. Provide them with good communications to call in reinforcements if necessary and have them cooperate closely with the local police. This method has the additional advantage of engaging people and make them feel they can do something to help. Repair any damage terrorists cause as quickly as possible so as to restore normal life and enable it to continue.
  3. The intelligence services. Passive measures on their own are insufficient. What is needed is a high-quality organization capable of identifying terrorists, tracking them, and foiling their plots ahead of time by arresting or killing them if necessary. Also, of tracing the financial flows on which they depend and making them dry up. So beef up your intelligence services. Provide them with the most modern surveillance equipment and pass the laws that will allow them to use it. Focus on communications; by making it hard for terrorists and their supporters to talk and work together, you will draw much of their sting. Inside the national borders, make sure the various departments work in tandem. Across such borders, make sure that the borders do not stand in the way of the information flow. In other words, that the services cooperate closely both with their counterparts in other countries and with the police. A Pan-European Intelligence Czar, responsible for overall coordination, would surely be useful. Do the political problems facing the establishment of such an office turn it into an impossible dream? If so, tant pis.
  4. The courts. An essential part of any anti-terrorist campaign is deterrence. So make sure judges have the necessary authority to do what has to be done. The establishment of special courts with augmented authority for the purpose should be considered. Punishments of the guilty should be appropriate and follow swiftly after terrorists are apprehended. They should also be well publicized.

The above are the main elements of any successful anti-terrorist campaign. Let me conclude by listing, in addition to the does, some of the don’ts:

  1. At all cost, don’t allow mobs to attack real and suspected terrorists and lynch them without due process of law. Uninformed and undirected, such attacks can mean gross injustices in the form of mistaken identities etc. Worse still, they will encourage the populations from which terrorists come to unite and fight back. You may end up with just what you want to prevent, i.e. civil war.
  2. For the same reason, do refrain from using collective punishments. There is a good chance that they will turn out to be counter-productive.
  3. Finally, the war on terror will not be won quickly. So do not expect quick results and do not allow yourself to be discouraged by possible setbacks. To be sure people are not, mount a sustained public relations campaign to explain why all those measures, as well as the inconveniences they inevitably cause, are needed.

Good luck.

When Will They Ever Learn?

For over a year now, the US armed forces have been fighting The Monster. AKA ISIS, AKA DAESH, AKA one of the most ferocious band of cut-throats the world has ever seen. Joining President Assad’s Army, who is the only one with the necessary guts, as of this writing Turkish, Russian, and French forces have all entered the fray. So, in less direct ways, have some 60 other countries. As the growing list of belligerents indicates, without too much success. Fearing casualties, officially at any rate none of the abovementioned interventionist forces have deployed boots on the ground. They prefer to rely on air strikes instead.

article-1292462-0A4255CC000005DC-773_634x483So just to remind those of you who may have forgotten, here is a short list of some of the things airborne devices, regardless of whether they are or are not manned, fly high or low or circle the earth in the manner of satellites, can not do:

Manned or unmanned, such is the cost-benefit relationship that airborne devices have difficulty coping with a widely dispersed enemy. In plain words: one cannot send an F-16 or a Predator after every terrorist, real or, much less, suspected.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices cannot take prisoners and interrogate people. In other words obtain HUMINT from both enemy combatants and the civilian population.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices cannot look inside houses and other buildings which terrorists/guerrillas/insurgents use to hide, plan their operations, store weapons, recuperate, and so on.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices, owing to their inability to look inside, cannot normally block transportation arteries except by shooting up everything that moves on them. In other words, they cannot do so in a discriminating manner; it is either/or.

Manned or unmanned, airborne devices cannot occupy territory and hold it. To quote a World War I saying which still holds true in many cases: They come from the devil knows where; drop bombs on the devil knows what; and disappear to the devil knows where.

The really interesting point, which ought to make us all think, is that none of this is at all new. In fact it dates back to the earliest days of airpower. The first to use aircraft in war were the Italians in Libya from 1911 on. Initially, when the opponent still consisted of the Ottoman Army and most of the fighting took place along the coast, the few primitive airship and aircraft deployed to the theater of war were quite useful in obtaining intelligence and artillery-spotting in particular. Later things changed. Airships and aircraft remained absolutely essential for reconnaissance and surveillance. They were the eyes of the army, as the saying went. Too often, though, the opponents, now consisting mainly of native nomadic Bedouin, adapted and started devising countermeasures. As by taking pot shots at their enemies, forcing them to fly higher and use their ordnance less effectively; as by switching to night operations; and as by using terrain features, dispersion and camouflage in order to avoid discovery. In case they were discovered the small bombs dropped on them often killed combatants and noncombatants alike. Instead of extinguishing the flames of war they stirred them up. So great were the difficulties that, at one point, the Italians decided to forget about bombs altogether but resorted to leaflets instead.

All these problems explain why the campaign, which the High Command in Rome had expected would take up just a few weeks or months, lasted intermittently until 1928. And why, ultimately, it was decided not by aircraft and their pilots, important as they were, but by a quarter million of ground troops sent by Mussolini with license to commit every kind of atrocity (including the use of poison gas) under the sun until “order” was restored.

Do these problems sound familiar? If so, that is because, since then, they have resurfaced so many times as to make me, at any rate, lose count. The British lost first Ireland and then, after World War II, the rest of their colonial empire. Starting in 1946-47, the same fate overtook the French. The Americans, stepping in where their former allies had failed, lost first Vietnam and then the rest of Indochina. The Soviets lost Afghanistan. The Americans were thrown out of Lebanon. The South Africans were thrown out of Namibia. The Americans were thrown out of Somalia. The Israelis were thrown out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Americans were thrown out of Iraq. The Americans were thrown out of Afghanistan. Etcetera, etcetera.

The above is just a small sample of a list that could be continued indefinitely. It covers a very wide variety of countries, circumstances, and armed struggles no two of which were exactly alike. What makes it remarkable is the fact that, whatever else, in every single case, the one thing the “forces of order,” “counterinsurgents,” or whatever they called themselves, enjoyed was absolute control of the air. And in every single one, that control availed them little if at all.

When will they ever learn?

The Facts of the Case

Perhaps I should start this article with a little cautionary tale. Years ago I was teaching a course about the history of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I had just said that the kingdom of Jordan already had a Palestinian majority when a young student raised her hand and asked me, very politely, how I knew. To my shame, I must confess that the question took me by surprise—here in Israel everybody and his neighbor had been saying this for years, as they still do.

When I recovered I told her she was right and offered her a deal. She would look into the matter and do a research paper about it. In return, I would release her from the final exam. She agreed, and a few months later I received the paper which neither confirmed not contradicted my original claim. It did, however, draw my attention to some facts that I, and presumably many others as well, had never thought about. First, there was and is no accepted definition of a Palestinian. One reason for this is that there are several different kinds of Palestinians—old ones, medium ones and new ones, all depending on the date at which they had arrived in the Kingdom. Second, Jordan being the only Arab country that has granted the Palestinians in its territory citizenship, there were many mixed marriages with offspring, making the question as to “who is a Palestinian?” even harder to answer. Third, the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior for its own reasons is keeping a very tight hand both on definitions and on figures, with the result that nobody knew

Another personal story. Back in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada, my son had an American girlfriend who lived in Utah. One evening we were sitting in front of the TV when the phone rang. It was Christine. “Jonathan, there has been shooting in your town. Are you alright?” It turned out there had indeed been a few shots; but even though our town is rather small she, living on the other side of the world, knew it before we did.

These incidents made me reflect, as never before, on information, numbers, and our frequent tendency to accept them without further thought. For example, the accepted number of those who died in the American Civil War is 600,000. That, however, conceals the fact that 400,000—fully two-thirds of the total—were not killed in action but succumbed to disease. When a violent coup overthrew the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauceşcu back in 1989 some otherwise reputable Western news organizations initially spoke of over 60,000 dead. How they ever arrived at that number remains a mystery to the present day. In the end, based on hospital reports, it turned out that the real figure was probably in the low hundreds.

In 1943 Colonels Klaus von Stauffenberg and Hennig von Tresckow estimated that “tens of thousands” of Jews had been killed. Both men had served on the Eastern Front. Both were leaders of the German resistance to Hitler and later paid with their lives for trying to blow him up. They certainly cannot be accused of trying to minimize what was not yet known as “the Holocaust;” yet by that time the true number of victims was already running into the millions.

Some of the discrepancies are the result of different definitions used by different people and organizations for different purposes. Others grow out of insufficient information amidst the usual confusion—the fog of war, as it is known. Others still represent deliberate fabrications. A very good example of the last-mentioned problem emerged in the spring of 2003 when the Israelis entered and partly demolished the West-Bank city of Jenin. A video camera, mounted on a one of those ubiquitous little machines that were then known as RPVs (remotely-piloted vehicles) and now as drones, caught a Palestinian “dead” man accidentally falling off the stretcher on which he was being carried, getting up, and walking away. Enough said.

And now, to Gaza. As the two sides seem to be moving towards some kind of agreements, things start to happen. Videos of IDF units being fired at from schools, mosques and hospitals are now available for anyone to watch. Foreign journalists who spent the last few weeks in Gaza are explaining how Hamas operators prevented them from doing their job, confiscated or broke their equipment, blacklisted them, and occasionally threatened them. Such tactics have always been common in war; why anybody can think that Hamas, a terrorist organization, should not use them escapes me.

Errors apart, and there undoubtedly have been some, the IDF has no incentive to deliberately target noncombatants. Why should it, given that doing so will not advance its goals and subject it to even more international criticism than that under which it is already laboring? To the contrary very often it uses leaflets, telephone calls, and even small missiles—so-called doorknockers—to warn people that their house or neighborhoods are about to be attacked and order them to leave. Probably no army in history has done more.

The IDF does not publish either the criteria it uses to decide whom to kill or the number of “terrorists” versus “civilians” it has killed. Under the policy known as “targeted killings,” some of the dead are identified by name. Since the main Hamas operatives have long gone to ground, though, their number is much too small to make a statistical difference. The rest are armed men who die either when they are caught in known Hamas facilities, such as command centers and rocket-factories, or else during the act of launching rockets or firing at IDF troops.

On the Palestinian side the best available single source is Hamas’ minister of health, Dr. Ashraf al Kidra. He works in a crowded office where he and his staff receive as many as 700 telephone calls a day, most of which carry information about fresh attacks. Each evening he holds a sort of press conference in which he spells out the figures for the preceding day. His data in turn form part of those collected by the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva which receives the reports of various NGOs in Gaza. As of the morning of 9 August the Office has reported some 1,843 deaths, including “at least” 1,354 noncombatants.

There are, however, problems with these numbers. First, as several international news organizations have noted, the percentage of women and children among the dead is much too small to justify the claim that the IDF is firing “indiscriminately.” The population of Gaza is the youngest in the world. Therefore, had the IDF indeed been firing “indiscriminately,” then women and children should have formed about 70 percent of the dead. In fact even the Palestinian data show that the figure is much lower. Second, Hamas, like so many similar organizations around the world, does not a regular army form. Many of its operatives do not wear uniform except when it suits them. As a result, to turn a dead “combatant” into a “noncombatant,” all one has to do is remove his weapon before filming him and informing Dr. Kidra. That, some foreign journalists have reported, was precisely what Hamas did. Conversely, the group with proportionally the highest number of casualties are young men aged 18 to 29—precisely those most likely to be killed in any war, big or small.

The moral? Beyond re-conforming the urgent need to treat “the fact of the case” with extreme caution, I am afraid there isn’t one.

My Country at War

My country has just gone through a war. This was not the kind of war where (on the Israeli side) there are very many casualties; let alone one in which it is a question of life and death. Nevertheless it was war. So let me try to tell my readers a little about the way an ordinary citizen experienced it.

Israelis have always been a nation of news junkies. As one would expect, during wartime this is even more the case. Many people checked the news several times an hour. Almost everybody did so several times a day. The media dealt with little else. Modern war is enormously wasteful in terms of ammunition and the present one is no exception. But compared to the number of images displayed, words uttered, and ink spilt, that of bullets, shells and missiles fired was as nothing.

Many of the images, words and ink were occasioned by the rockets. There is no defense against the short-range mortar shells and they have caused quite some casualties. That apart, though, the alarm system functioned very well. Depending on how far from the Gaza Strip one lives or works, the time one has to seek shelter varied from about thirty seconds to a couple of minutes. Israeli houses built after 1991 are obliged by law to provide a so-called mamad, a room made of reinforced concrete and provided with a heavy steel window. People, presumably the majority, who inhabit older structures had to be content with strairwells etc. Drivers caught on the road were told to “stop safely” on the shoulders (which quite some roads do not have). Though doing so was against the regulations, many used the opportunity to get out of their cars and watch the show in the sky. How typical.

As I have written before, the combination of effective civil defense and the by now famous Iron Dome system explains the small number of civilian casualties. In fact more people were killed and injured while rushing to shelter than by the rockets themselves. The impact varied with distance. Most heavily hit were the twenty or so kibbutzim along the border. They became ghost villages, deserted by practically all their inhabitants except for a handful of caretakers. Towns within a 25-mile range of the border, such as Ashkelon, were targeted sufficiently heavily to make normal life all but impossible and force the evacuation of children. Elsewhere the impact was sporadic, even negligible. Further to the north there was hardly any impact at all.

Each night the Army spokesperson announced the number of soldiers who had died that day. It has long been the Israeli method not to release names until the families are informed. Informing them is the task of so-called Hiob Patrols. Though their composition varies, normally they consist of an officer, a physician and a rabbi. They receive special training for the job. Seen from the outside the system seems as well-thought out and as humane as it can be made. What it feels like from the inside only those who participate in it or receive the news it brings know.

Each day there were funerals, a few of civilians, the majority of soldiers. Most dead soldiers were young, even very young. War has always been, and still remains, what the Germans call Kindermord. How does one describe the pain? The military funerals followed the normal rules, more or less. However, ceremonial has never been the strength of the Israeli army or, for that matter, the rather undisciplined character of the people in which it is rooted. During previous conflicts TV used to show the dead soldiers’ comrades crying like babies over the graves. This time they did not do so. Good.

In much of the country life was and remains far quieter than usual. There was less traffic. Normally driving from Jerusalem to Mevasseret Zion (the town where I live, some four miles away) can take half an hour and more. During the war one could cover the road in a few minutes. Supermarkets, restaurants, movie houses and hotels were half empty. Nor is it only Jewish facilities that suffered. A town like Abu Gosh, a mile away, which in ordinary days makes it living by catering to Jerusalemites on Saturdays when their own everything is closed, was also hard hit. Safety considerations forced the cancellation of many cultural events. Almost every day one heard of some foreign artist or group that decided to skip.

Crime seemed to go down. The number of patients visiting doctors definitely went down. War has a way of making people forget many minor and some major problems. By way of compensation, quite some cars suddenly sprouted flags. Normally they are limited to the days before Independence Day. One saw signs carrying slogans such as “Mevasseret Zion hugs its solders” and the like.

Intolerance, even fanaticism, was and remains in the air. Some self-appointed vigilantes tried to shut up their less hawkish opponents. More than one person who dared say anything against the Israeli Operation, or in favor of the Palestinians, was disciplined and fired. Considering that it is the first duty of universities to protect freedom of speech, one of the ugliest incidents took place at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. When a faculty member dared say that he was sorry not only for Israeli children but for the Palestinian ones as well, he was formally reprimanded by the dean. To be fair, a kindergarten mistress who wrote “death to the Arabs” on Facebook is also supposed to be tried for incitement.

Here and there words turned into violence as Jews attacked Arabs and Arabs, Jews. Thank goodness, though, the number and scope of such incidents has been limited. Furthermore the situation is better than in Gaza where there has never been any form of democracy and where Hamas simply executes whoever dares protest against it.

What will the outcome be? Here I can only repeat what I have been saying ever since the war broke out. The war will end with a triumph for Hamas. Not in a military sense, but in the sense that they will be able to push through some of their political demands. To this I would add, as I wrote last week, that such an outcome would not necessarily be bad either for Israel or for the Middle East. Eventually it might lead, if not to peace then at any rate to calm.

A final word. Since 1990 or so Israel’s feminist lobby has become one of the most virulent on earth. Probably this is not unconnected with the fact that, while the country still has its problems, the days when it fought for its existence against overwhelming odds are long gone. The Israeli army in peacetime is 25-30 percent female. Since there are few female reservists and few of them are ever called up, in wartime the figure goes down very sharply.

Nobody doubts that female soldiers do their jobs properly. Still the war caused attention to be focused almost entirely on the fighting formations, and rightly so. It is they who suffer casualties and deserve to be celebrated. As the fact that no female Israeli soldier so far has been killed shows, where there were bullets there were no women and where there were women there were no bullets. As a result the feminist “discourse,” consisting of endless complaints about everybody and everything, suddenly became muted.

Unfortunately it won’t last.