Israel’s Odds and Lessons From Napoleon’s Enemies
It’s likely that many people reading this series are wondering when we’ll start talking about “doing something,” rather than just pondering our situation vis-à-vis how to win the war against BDS and similar anti-Israel propaganda projects.
While questions regarding “getting on with it” are understandable, they miss the point that in the case of warfare, planning is a form of action. The old trope that “no war plan ever survived first contact with the enemy” is not an invitation to eschew planning altogether and just let armies go at each other and hope for the best. Rather, it implies that an appropriate plan takes into account uncertainty, with victory often going to the general with the foresight to build flexibility and branching alternatives into their original plans.
So before moving onto tactics (i.e., specific actions), it’s worth engaging with a little more planning activity, starting with an analysis of the odds we (by which I mean Israel and its supporters) face.
Looking at the broader global war against the Jewish state, Israel is a nation of 8 million with the ability to put 3 million trained military personnel into the field, with time an important variable given that it takes a certain amount of it to get an army made up primarily of reservists ready for battle.
A majority of countries that make up the Arab League are in a formal declared state of war against Israel and, taken together, these states have a combined population of close to 350 million and combined armies of over a hundred million soldiers. This number does not include irregular forces like the terrorist armies of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. If we also want to take economics into consideration, Israel’s economy (with a GDP of approximately $300 billion) is one twentieth the size of the economies of her combined enemies.
At first glance, this would seem like overwhelming odds which would make Israel’s survival the result of miraculous action. Assuming Israel’s military leaders don’t have miracles built into their war plans, however, there must be something else that evens (if not tips to Israel’s advantage) such a lopsided playing field.
The most obvious earthly factor has to do with which side goes into battle under unified command. Despite Israel’s strong relationship with the United States, that alliance is based on the US providing military and political support, not putting American generals and soldiers into the field on the side of their Israeli ally. This means that when Israel has fought wars against other states or irregular armies, the country’s army was operating under a single chain of command going up the ranks from foot soldiers to the military and political leadership.
In contrast, Israel’s enemies have always fought as alliances, whether the formal military alliance of front-line Arab states that took part in wars of ’48, ’67 and ’73, or the informal political-military alliances behind irregular armies like Hezbollah. And, as Napoleon discovered time and time again, the joint decision making inherent in a military alliance frequently robs allied armies of their ability to act flexibly or respond quickly to take the initiative, making them vulnerable to nimbler opponents under more unified leadership.
Keep in mind that Napoleon’s enemies at least had a common goal of stopping his conquest of Europe, which meant the French Emperor had to exploit subtle divisions in each of his “united” enemy’s political and military situations and leadership. In contrast, Israel’s “allied” enemies have been at east other’s throats for the better part of a century, with cultural antagonisms rooted in religious sectarianism and tribal conflict going back far longer. This has only enhanced the ability of Israel’s small but united force to defeat the far larger but disunited forces arrayed against her time and time again.
The fact that Israel (in contrast to her enemies) does not harbor genocidal aims offers another ironic military advantage to the Jewish state. For soldiers who know they have a safe escape route back to home base (whether in Cairo, Damascus or Amman) are much more likely to retreat when confronted with the horrors of the battlefield. In contrast, an army (like Israel’s) that knows defeat is likely to lead to liquidation of themselves, their families and homeland is far more motivated to fight to the end.
Moving onto the propaganda battlefield, the Arab states arrayed against Israel are allied with a further two-dozen non-Arab Islamic states that have inherited the “automatic majority” of Non-Aligned Movement fashioned by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This is what contributes to the enemy’s overwhelming advantage within institutions such as the United Nations were the one Jewish state lacks the numbers needed to take the propaganda fight to the enemy.
Given these odds, Israel and her friends have wisely chosen to avoid direct confrontation and instead turned to their US ally to veto any anti-Israel initiative taken at the UN that might have binding legal authority, thus neutering the enemy’s advantage in this important theater. Such a strategy represents a classic flanking maneuver that resists the temptation to directly attack where the enemy is strongest in favor of clever tactics that make an opponent’s numerical superiority irrelevant.
Our side has yet to gain similar footing in the fight against BDS for reasons having to do with our numerical superiority and lack of unified command, at least in the US. And it is to this subject that we’ll turn to next.