USS Clueless - Another brick in the Wall

Stardate 20040206.1334

(Captain's log): In response to my discussion of the Israeli plan to build a wall around the West Bank, I've gotten quite a few responses. In most cases I think people misunderstood what I was talking about. I was discussing politically-significant changes, not empirical changes.

For example, in my post I said this:

The last attempt [at an Arab invasion] was in 1973, after which two things happened which changed the situation forever: America bought off the Egyptians and Jordanians, and Israel developed a nuclear arsenal. Thereafter there was no chance at all of destroying Israel by direct military operations, and even if there was, Israel would have used its nukes as it died.

Several people commented that Israel is thought to have had a couple of nukes even as early as the 6-Day War in 1967. Gary Farber's comment is representative:

The actual size and composition of Israel's nuclear stockpile is uncertain, and is the subject of various estimates and reports. It is widely reported that Israel had two bombs in 1967, and that Prime Minister Eshkol ordered them armed in Israel's first nuclear alert during the Six-Day War.

It is also reported that, fearing defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis assembled 13 twenty-kiloton atomic bombs.

Israel could potentially have produced a few dozen nuclear warheads in the period 1970-1980....

Perhaps I was not as clear as I should have been in how I phrased that. I try to avoid becoming too pedantic when I write, because it's tedious to read such things. On the other hand, by trying to keep this material more readable, it leaves me open for people to point out things I deliberately skipped.

In this case, I think I might have done better had I stated that after 1973 Israel developed a nuclear deterrent rather than a nuclear arsenal. I don't find it implausible that Israel had a very small number of primitive nukes even in 1967, but if that were the case their existence was highly secret.

Even today, Israel doesn't formally admit to having nuclear weapons, but it's an open secret. And that's the point: for those kinds of weapons to work as a deterrent, the enemy you are trying to deter has to believe you (probably) have them and would be willing to use them in extremis. An enemy cannot be afraid of a weapon if he does not know that it exists, or doesn't think it could or would be used.

What I meant was that some time after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it became widely believed that Israel had built a substantial arsenal of nukes which were small enough and reliable enough to be credible weapons. And Israel is thought to have used indirect, surreptitious and deniable channels to inform the relevant enemy governments that if Israel was ever threatened with invasion again, they'd all go to hell together when Israel destroyed every major Arab and Iranian city it could reach.

After 1973 the Arabs never again tried to wipe Israel off the map through direct conventional military operations, and Israel's nuclear capability is widely believed to be one of the primary reasons. (And I suppose it's worth mentioning that the Egyptians and Syrians didn't plan to wipe Israel out in 1973. Their goal was to retake Sinai and the Golan Heights respectively, which they had lost in 1967.)

There was another category of comments made by many, of which Laurence Simon's was representative:

Nowhere does he predict that the West Bankers will engage in the tactics of the penned-off Gazans, launching Kassams over their barrier. Nor does he foresee a time when the Northern Front opens back up with Iranian-supplies missiles launched by Palestinian Hezbollah. And he certainly hasn't factored in the Arab elements of Israel acting as a sort of Underground Railroad to smuggle in their "Palestinian brothers" for operations.

Time will eventually reveal that you cannot block off the sickening evil of a death cultist Palestinian. They will continue to devote their population into a frightening and revolting symbiosis between terror and willing victim, militant and human shield.

What further descent into Hell these creatures are mapping, I know not, but when it happens I pray that the world sees it for what it is instead of blaming the Jews for the Arabic/Islamic depravity swirling around their borders.

Will the humanitarian aid cease when they have ceased resembling humans in their aspirations and behavior?

I fear not.

I don't claim that the wall will totally end all Israeli deaths at Palestinian hands. The point is that it doesn't have to. Rather, it will change the kind and quantity of Israeli casualties in ways which are politically significant.

In war there are five major elements, which I wrote about here: objectives, strategy, tactics, logistics and morale. (Supporting those five are such things as intelligence and training.)

In its most broad terms, war is the threat or use of force to achieve political goals, either supporting diplomacy or as a substitute when diplomacy fails. That force doesn't actually have to be violent, but violent force is used in what most people think of as "war".

Objectives are the goals you hope to achieve, and it is uncommon in history for a victor in war to fully achieve every objective they've set. Objectives are also entirely a function of the specific political context which frames the war being studied, because they're driven by the cultures of the combatants, the internal political situation of the combatants, and the current and historical interactions between the combatants and with outsiders. The most profound observation made by Clausewitz was that objectives critically affect every other aspect of war, and must be kept in mind at all times. Any analysis of a war which ignores the implications of objectives is liable to be faulty.

Sometimes the goal is to totally eliminate the enemy, though "eliminate" can be interpreted in different ways. It may mean that you're trying to eliminate a leader (e.g. Tanzania's invasion of Uganda to remove Idi Amin from power), or an entire political system (e.g. western victory in the Cold War). It may mean conquest and absorption of the enemy's territory (e.g. Roman conquest of Egypt), and in that case may also include elimination of the enemy's self-image as an independent group (e.g. the English campaign to pacify Wales). In the most extreme case it means elimination of every person who is part of the enemy group, which is to say genocide, as was the ultimate result of the Roman victory over Carthage in the Punic Wars. (After that, there was no Carthage because there were no longer any Carthaginians).

In the war between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Palestinian goal is elimination of Israel in two of these senses. The Palestinians want the territory Israel occupies, and want to eliminate the Israeli government as it now exists as a political institution. Genocide is not an actual objective, though I suspect that for many Palestinians it would be viewed as a desirable side effect.

Israel doesn't want to eliminate the Palestinians. For Israel, the problem is that the Palestinians have always been a strong factor influencing Israeli politics and economics and even everyday life in Israel, and the Israeli goal is to reduce as far as possible the degree to which life in Israel is affected by the Palestinians. Ideally it would be reduced to zero, but as a practical matter that isn't really necessary in the short and medium term.

Strategy is the overall plan for the war which is intended to try to achieve objectives, and commonly also includes plans to obstruct the enemy as he attempts to achieve his objectives. Tactics is the detailed implementation of strategy. Logistics is the process of marshaling the forces required.

Morale is the will to see it all through, to stick with it until you win and to make sacrifices during the struggle. Morale of combat forces and political morale at home are both important, though they are not necessarily the same thing.

All of this can be fluid. As a war proceeds, the objectives can change. Strategy and tactics can adapt and change.

Ideally, one side's strategy will permit it to achieve its objectives despite the best efforts of the other side to prevent it, but that isn't always necessary. A well crafted strategy will often include elements intended to interfere with the enemy's strategy, tactics, logistics, morale and even to try to make the enemy change his objectives.

And in many cases, it isn't necessary for strategy or tactics or logistics or even morale to be perfect. What's usually critical is that they be better than those of the enemy.

To take a simplistic example of that, in terms of logistics I may not ultimately be able to field the army I hoped to create, but if it turns out to be more powerful than the enemy's army, it is probably good enough. And a well-planned war is very pragmatic; war is very much about "good enough".

That's why the wall is an important and valuable strategic move by the Israelis. After the wall is completed, will there still be Israeli deaths caused by the Palestinians? Of course there will be. But the violence being used in this war is not violence for its own sake; it is violence in the service of a political goal. The war is not about body count.

David wrote:

I agree with your analysis and too hope the Israeli security wall seriously impedes Palestinian terrorism. However, what is to preclude the Palestinians from firing mortars or missiles over the wall, perhaps filled with chemical or dirty agents, which could cause panic if not significant casualties? Do you think this could occur and, if so, what would its effect be on the situation? Or would IDF military operations behind the wall prevent such occurrences?

Nothing will prevent the Palestinians from firing mortars or rockets over the wall, though they might not like the Israeli counter-battery response.

As to chemical weapons, the Palestinians don't have them and are unlikely to get them. As to "dirty agents" the effect of those has been massively overblown. As to long-range missiles, they're extremely expensive and the Palestinians don't have them, either.

But the wall will not prevent mortar or rocket attacks. However, there are three critical differences between rocket/mortar attacks and the suicide bombing campaign.

One difference is logistical. The Palestinians are fighting their war on a shoestring, using smuggled weapons. Their logistical situation is dreadful by any rational calculation.

Suicide bombing is logistically efficient, since the only smuggled component required per explosive belt is a couple of kilos of plastic explosive. Mortar and rocket attacks place much more strain on Palestinian logistics. Improvised mortars consume more supplies per round fired, and rockets are worse yet.

A far more important difference is range. The biggest reason why the suicide bombing campaign has been effective for the Palestinians is that no part of Israel is out of range simply for being a long way from the West Bank or Gaza. On the other hand, mortars and rockets have quite limited range.

According to the chart on this page, the longest range of any mortar in US service is only about 7 kilometers. But that's for a 120 mm mortar, which weights 140 kg and fires rounds which weigh 13.65 kg each. The Palestinians aren't going to have anything that good. Their mortar attacks (including the ones made with improvised weapons) will be more similar to the American M224 60-mm mortar, which in different configurations weighs somewhere between 10 kg and 20 kg, and fires a 2 kg round.

Rockets can have a much longer range than that, but long range rockets are big and heavy and pretty much have to be launched from a vehicle. The Palestinians don't have anything like that. Long range rockets are also extremely expensive. The rockets they've been using are small, something along the lines of the RPG-7, which has an effective range direct-sighted of between 500 and 900 meters.

The last difference is effectiveness. In this case that has to be evaluated in terms of a couple of ratios: number of Israeli deaths per ton of smuggled munitions, and number of Israeli casualties per $1000 spent on munitions to smuggle.

The majority of attempts at suicide bombings don't succeed. It doesn't generally hit the news, but most of those trying to get into Israel wearing belts are discovered by border checks. (Sometimes they set their bombs off anyway.) But each explosive belt has a very low logistical cost in weight and money relative to smuggling activities, and when an attack is successful, it usually causes a lot of casualties, because the bomber can target concentrations of people. (In this post, I described the explosive belt as a precision guided munition with a tiny warhead and a very intelligent guidance system and fuse.)

Mortar and rocket attacks are much less effective. When fired at settlement areas, where people are spread out and behind walls, the vast majority of mortars and rockets cause no casualties at all, and any given rocket or mortar round will never cause more than a small number. Suicide bombers can seek out concentrations of Israelis to attack, but the targets of rocket and mortar attacks are dispersed and in cover. Each mortar and rocket consumes much more smuggled material, both in terms of weight and in terms of money.

After the wall is built, there would be a small zone, a stripe maybe a couple of kilometers wide on the Israeli side of the wall, which would be in peril from Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks. But the number of suicide bombing attacks capable of reaching the rest of Israel, where most of its citizens live, would be drastically reduced.

Not to zero. But reduced enough to be a political crossover. From the Palestinian point of view, they would be reduced enough so that as a form of violence they would no longer be seen as having the ability to force Israel to make concessions, so as to allow the Palestinians to make progress towards their objectives in the war.

Israel has faced that threat from rocket and mortar attacks on its border with Lebanon, and it has not been politically significant. There's no particular reason to think it would have much political significance along the wall surrounding the West Bank, either.

In the above discussion, I want to emphasize that I'm talking about these things in terms of political significance, just as I was when I discussed Israel's nuclear arsenal. When I say that the Palestinians "do not have" a given thing, I'm not claiming that there is not now and never will be even one such in their hands. What I mean is that they'll never have enough to make any difference in terms of achieving their objectives in the war.

I think that the mistake Laurence makes is to ignore the critical difference between intentions and capabilities. He says, What further descent into Hell these creatures are mapping, I know not... and doesn't consider the fact that the limiting factor on the Palestinian war has always been capabilities because of their ghastly logistical bottleneck.

It's awful now, and it's getting much worse, as I tried to document in my post. The flow of money is drying up, and so is support. In future they'll have even less to work with in attempting to prosecute their war, so it is not an inviting prospect to be forced to rely on rockets and mortars for their attacks against Israel, which would consume far more from their logistics while inflicting far less damage on Israel.

Laurence also concentrates on the psychological effect this would have on the Israelis, and ignores the effect it would have on the Palestinians. Would support for the Intifada remain as strong when the number of Israeli casualties drops way off? Or will the various Palestinian factions start concentrating on other things, most specifically on intra-Palestinian power struggles?

My opinion is that once the wall is complete, it would set in motion a gradual change among the Palestinians away from trying to fight Israel towards instead fighting each other. That's why I think they would transition, in easy stages over a period of months, into civil war.

Some of Laurence's objections are not realistic. The threat from Israel's population of Arab citizens is not great. For one thing, few of them are sympathetic enough to the struggle to be willing to make great sacrifice for it. (One big reason is that they already have most of what it is that the Palestinians want, and actually stand to lose more than they gain from Palestinian success.)

For another, an "underground railroad" inside of Israel to move attackers around doesn't solve the Palestinian problem of getting attackers and supplies into Israel in the first place.

As to the threat of substantial new support from Iran for Hizbollah, all I can say is that if Iran was willing to do such a thing, I would have expected some indication of that before now, which we have not seen. The Mullahs have their own problems, and they couldn't do much without cooperation from Syria, where the government has recently become less enthusiastic about supporting terrorists.

The argument for or against the wall does not center on whether building it will end the war. It centers on whether Israel will be better or worse off after it's built, and I think there's no question that it would be in a much better position.

On the other hand, the Palestinians will be far worse off. Is that a disadvantage? Does that mean it's a poor strategy?

Depends on who you ask, and what they're after. I have run into several comments from people who seem to assume that Israel has an obligation to try to find an answer which is good both for Israelis and for the Palestinians.

It is not the case that the ultimate outcome of a war is always zero-sum. Sometimes both sides lose, and it may be more a matter of whether one side lost worse than the other side did (as was the case in WWI). Far more rare is that sometimes both sides end up winning, though not necessarily realizing it until later (which was the case in the American Civil War and the American defeat of Japan in WWII). Sometimes one side wins big and the other side loses totally (e.g. the Punic Wars).

But it is sometimes the case that the winning side tries to arrange things afterwards so that the loser doesn't see it as a total loss. If so, it will be due to self-interest for the winner, who might be trying to avoid having to fight that war again.

However, the comments I've been seeing take that assumption far beyond that, and imply that the final outcome of the struggle would have to take a form which would be judged as "fair" and "equitable" by the legendary Man from Mars, an impartial observer looking at it from a great distance in space and time.

If your enemy loses badly, then you actually lose too even if you think you were victorious and even if you permanently achieved all the objectives you hoped for. (Which might lead one to conclude that

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004