See the Fate of Israel

Summary: History shows the difficulty of distinguishing strong from weak players in 4th Generation Warfare (4GW), and that getting this wrong can be fatal for a nation. Israel might be making such a mistake. This is a revision of a 2006 post. This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post by Martin van Creveld: For Israel, today is just like 1948.

“It is not possible to found a lasting power upon injustice, perjury, and treachery. These may, perhaps, succeed for once, and borrow for awhile, from hope, a gay and flourishing appearance. But time betrays their weakness, and they fall into ruin of themselves. For, as in structures of every kind, the lower parts should have the greatest firmness – so the grounds and principles of actions should be just and true.”
—  From the “First Olynthiac” of the Athenian leader Demosthenes (349 BC).



  1. Is Israel is stronger than the Palestine?
  2. Winning requires strategy, not just power.
  3. Israel abandons the high ground.
  4. Compare the strategies of Israel & Palestine.
  5. Strengths of the Palestinian people.
  6. How might the Palestinians defeat Israel?
  7. Both might lose.
  8. Conclusions.
  9. For more information.
  10. Great books about Israel.

(1) Everyone knows Israel is stronger than Palestine

That might be wrong. To plan a successful grand strategy the strategist must know if he has a weak or strong position. Getting this wrong means likely defeat. Unfortunately, history shows the difficulty of correctly determining weak from strong during times of rapid change.

“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 24 October 1415, the night before Agincourt – the last of the 3 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.”
Speech by Tetsunosuke Ariizumi, Commander of His Imperial Majesty’s submarine I-8, addressing captured Americans from the SS Jean Nicolet on 2 July 1944.

“No Viet-Minh cannon will be able to fire three rounds before being destroyed by my artillery.”
— Colonel Charles Piroth, French artillery commander at Dien Bien Phu, quoted in Hell in a Very Small Place, Bernard Fall (1966), p. 102.

Measuring strength between peoples has become even more difficult in our age – when 4GW is the dominant form of war. Hence the endless stream of surprises from the anti-colonial wars after WW2 to our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So which looks stronger: a stateless people with no modern government, economy, or army – or a developed state with its vast superiority in ideas and hardware? An occupied people or the nations that rules them?

(a)  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.

(b)  Israel has wielded these advantages to win many tactical victories over the Palestinians. For example, Thomas X. Hammes (Colonel, USMC, retired) describes how Israel won the second Intifadah in chapter 9 of his excellent book, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century.

(c)  The Palestinian people have none of Israel’s advantages. They are 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.

Who has the best odds of long-term survival, Israel or the Palestinians?

(2)  Winning requires strategy, not just power

As Carthage and Nazi Germany discovered, winning requires more than just battlefield victories — and that tactical excellence cannot overcome strategic weakness. An effective grand strategy is a key element of national strength; it’s 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.” (Grand Strategies in War and Peace, 1992)

Time: Why Israel Does Not Care About Peace

From a Trinitarian perspective (i.e., of Clausewitz), a grand strategy focuses and coordinates the diplomatic and military efforts of a state’s People, Government, and Army.

The late American strategist Col. John Boyd (USAF) said that a grand strategy focused our nation’s actions – political, economic, and military – so as to:

  1. Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
  2. Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
  3. Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
  4. Attract uncommitted states to our cause.
  5. End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.

— From Patterns of Conflict, slide 139.

This gives us another way to compare the strength of Israel and Palestine. Who is better at making and keeping allies?

The Moral High Ground

(3)  Israel abandons the high ground

One of Israel’s greatest advantages was that it held the moral high ground in the eyes of most people in the West. The moral high ground has often provided a decisive advantage, as in the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars (in both wars gaining essential support in the UK and other European nations).

Israel gained materially from its decision to colonize its conquests in 1967 from the Six Day War; the price was burning away their reputation. The polls tell the tale.

  1. The U.S. Is the Only Country Which Supports Israel No Matter What It Does“, Washington’s Blog, July 2014 — BBC polls show the change in views of Israel by nation over time.
  2. Why I Have Become Less Pro-Israel” by Jonathan Chait at New York Mag, July 2014 – A example of long-time supporters drifting away.
  3. VOX: Israel was the fourth-most-disliked nation, behind Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, in a BBC poll, May 2018.
  4. Haaretz: “New Poll Shows Support for Israel Plummeting Among U.S. Liberals, Millennials and Women.“, October 2018.
  5. Haaretz: “‘Endless Trip to Hell’” by Netta Ahitu. “Israel Jails Hundreds of Palestinian Boys a Year. These Are Their Testimonies.” – “They’re seized in the dead of night, blindfolded and cuffed, abused and manipulated to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Every year Israel arrests almost 1,000 Palestinian youngsters, some of them not yet 13.”
  6. Jerusalem Post: “American support for Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict falls to a ten year low“, March 2019 – One fifth of Americans currently support the Palestinians.

(4) Compare the grand strategies of Israel and Palestine

No matter how many or great are its tactical successes, Israel’s strategic picture grows dark. Losing allies. Losing people. Perhaps even losing internal cohesion. Worst of all, strategically Israel is very weak.

Israel’s national survival – perhaps even that of its individual citizens – depends upon a sound grand strategy to turn their remaining strengths into victory, or at least survival. What about the Palestinians?

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 Hamas, the most powerful political party. 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 might bring them victory – as it has for so many other peoples fighting modern western states.

T.X. Hammes (Colonel, USMC, Retired) explained the blindness of western experts to Middle Eastern 4GW, one that applies equally well towards the Palestinians and the Iraqi insurgents. From his “Dealing With Uncertainty” in the Marine Corps Gazette, November 2005 (reposted at the Small Wars Council):

“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.'”

Flag of Palestine

(5) Strengths of the Palestinian people

The Palestinian people have 7 strategic strengths to offset their numerous material weaknesses.

First is their more rapidly growing population – although this is exaggerated. “Palestine” has a population of 4.8 million. Approximately 75% of Israel’s 8.7 million people are of Jewish ethnicity and 21% are of Palestinian ethnicity. The gap in their fertility rates is narrowing, as that of the former rise and the latter falls. No certain or precise forecasts are possible due to lack of reliable data on Palestinian population, emigration rates, and fertility rates. See “‘The Jewish State of Israel’” by Alon Ben-Meir (Senior Fellow, NYU’s Center for Global Affairs) in the Huffington Post, 21 October 2013.

From another perspective, Israel is a dot in a sea of Arabs.

Second, the Palestinians are weaker than Israel. Not only do Americans often admire underdogs, but also weakness is in itself a profound advantage. From Martin van Creveld’s “Why Iraq Will End as Vietnam Did” (2004):

“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.”

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.

Third, 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.”
— Attributed to Frederick The Great (1712-1786).

Fourth, 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. developed nations will tolerate almost anything to ensure reliable access to oil, as they showed during Nigeria’s 1966 blockade and starvation of the Biafran people.

Fifth, 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.

Sixth, 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 has “rotted” away the IDF’s core competencies, explaining its otherwise baffling strategic and tactical failures in recent campaigns.

(6) How might 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. From Mao ‘s “To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing“, 26 May 1939:

“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.”

It seems obvious who will win. Israel might last 100 years if its people are both lucky and skillful – and if the Palestinians continue to have incompetent leaders. 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, “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.

(7) Both might lose

… as seen in the original Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”

(8) Conclusion

Whatever happens, I suspect Israel and Palestine years ago passed the last exit for a pleasant resolution.

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

— Heinrich Heine.

(9)  For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

(a)  Other predictions of doom for Israel.

  1. Israel is Doomed” by Israel Shamir, May 2001
  2. History and demographics are ganging up on Israel” by Thomas L. Friedman in the NY Times, July 2002.
  3. Will Israel live to 100?” by Bernard Schwartz in The Atlantic, May 2005 (gated).
  4. Preparing for the Evacuation of Israel by Franz Gayl (Major, USMC, retired), March 2012.
  5. Israel nears point of no return on two-state solution” by Yuval Diskin (former director of Israel’s internal security service) in the Jerusalem Post, July 2013 – after which Israel will face hard choices.
  6. From peace to Armageddon: The Israel-Palestine nightmare” by Sandy Tolan at Salon, September 2018.

(b)  Posts on the FM site about Israel.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Israel, and especially these…

  1. Israel becomes its enemy.
  2. Israel learned from its patron the art of righteous theft and killing.
  3. Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it).
  4. A senior Israeli leader discusses a final solution for Palestine.
  5. Martin van Creveld warns that “The Fourth Reich is Rising” – in Israel.
  6. Stratfor looks at the strange Saudi – Israel alliance.

(10) Books by Martin van Creveld about Israel

The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel (2010).

The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force (1998).

Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security (2005).

The Land of Blood and Honey
Available at Amazon.
The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force
Available at Amazon.

12 thoughts on “See the Fate of Israel”

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Yes. It’s the wonder of our age. Awesome improvements in the physical world. But some disturbing changes in society.

  1. Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, I have been one of those who are less of a friend of Israel, as I see their expansionist efforts weakening any prospects for peace. I wish Israel, Palestine, and other Arab states would settle for an Israel restricted to the 1948 boundaries and allow peace to prevail.

  2. There’s an obvious parallel drawn here: US ‘walks’ on a similar path, at least in a superficial observation.
    There’s a difference though — the Diaspora around the world is much stronger than whatever loyalty the gentile elites may muster. While they both lose moral grounds, there’s this parable: ‘Fiddler on the Roof:’ the milkman always ponders about issues — ‘on one hand this, on the other hand that…’ until there’s question of his daughter marrying a goy: ‘…there’s no other hand…’

  3. The Man Who Laughs

    It’s a bit like the old joke about how the guy carves the wooden Indian in front of the cigar store. He starts with a piece of wood and cuts away everything that doesn’t look like an Indian.

    So you make up a list of everything that one side or the other absolutely can’t accept, and that’s something you can’t do. The Palestinians will never, ever accept settlements on the West bank, so those have to go. And they never made sense anyway, because they were something the army had to be committed to defend, they put a lot people who didn’t like each other in close proximity, and they were a political problem if you had to evacuate them as part of a peace deal (Which you would),So to get to the Indian, that particular bit of dead wood has to go.

    But then you get to the right of return. Ain’t no such animal. The Israelis will never, ever, accept being drowned in a sea of “returnees”, most of whom were born outside Israeli territory. Cutting an exemption for the Palestinians for the old rule that you can’t inherit refugee status was foolish, but a lot of diplomatic and political malpractice has been committed in that part of the world.

    I don’t claim to know The Fate Of Israel. That part of the world has produced its share of prophets and prophecies, and like the man said, a prophet is a true prophet if the prophecy comes true. Perhaps in the long run Israel, just like the rest of us is dead, but I suspect the long run gets here a lot faster if the West bank becomes Gaza on steroids, with infiltration tunnels and rocket bombardment.

    So in the end, there’s not enough wood left to make an Indian

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      The Man,

      Did you post this at the wrong website? It doesn’t mention anything in this post. The rebuttals are to things not said.

      “I don’t claim to know The Fate Of Israel. That part of the world has produced its share of prophets and prophecies, and like the man said, a prophet is a true prophet if the prophecy comes true.”

      That is an interesting comment, one of a new theme I’ve seen lately: disputing the value of observation and analysis. (FYI: it’s not “prophecy.”) As the saying goes, “the elephant was great and powerful – but preferred to be blind.”

      I could write a documentary about the decline of America by using comments replying to my posts during the past 16 years.

    2. Hey Man (Who may or may not Laugh),

      I love your metaphor!
      One can extend this to the whole world ‘collective’ creation — just cut off, in turns, the parts you don’t like the creation to look like and, in the end, there’s not enough wood to make anything!

      “That part of the world …” is unfortunate, in a sense; had it not been “acquired” by the Roman Empire, we would now enjoy rather preferable ‘prophecies’ from Babylon, Persia and India…

  4. The grand strategy of the Arabs has been in place since the founding of Isreal. They refused to take in Palestinian refugees and left them to fester on West Bank and Gaza.

    When they failed to destroy Israel in 1948, 1968, 1973, they converted to 4GW. They read Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and are implementing it. The birth rate and census show application of Demographic Warfare.

    Boyd’s slide is perfect in my opinion. Item #1, Unity is paramount and we are failing to unify. This reinforces your point about our dark future. It looks like a combination of 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World and Atlas Shrugged. All 5 items on that slide show failure to formulate our 4GW Grand Strategy.

    Thanks for another great post. Now, on to today’s post.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Long trail,

      There is no Arab entity to have a grand strategy. The various Arab nations have adopted different strategies over time.

      Egypt tried armed invasions, then opted to be paid for peace. Syria also tried war, then armed standoff. Lebanon opted to die.

      The Saudi princes choose belligerent rhetoric, then realized they hated Iran more than Israel – and now have a barely-concealed alliance with Israel.

      More interesting is the Arab nations’ relationship with the Palestinians: they don’t give a damn.

      1. Thanks. Good reply. The Saudis don’t care about their fellow Arabs in the refugee camps because it’s strategic. I agree Saudi Arabia fears Iran more than it hates Isreal. Leaving the Palestinians to fester in Gaza and West Bank has always been a consistent Saudi strategy. It keeps them angry.

        Lebanon was so beautiful. What a heartbreaker.

  5. Pingback: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s Political Baptism by Fire in Crazy Town | NFD Dispatch

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