Sunday, 5 May 2013

General Ashkenzi was an excellent if unoriginal general, but strategic thinker he isn't

 Gabi Ashkenazi is the latest man from the military to wish Israel to jump into the syrian morass with both flat feet. This is surprising because although he's not the most intelligent warrrior Israel has ever had, he does understand the limits of Israel's power. Indeed, Ashkenazi was set against reoccupying Gaza and  in attacking Iran. Thanks to his opposition, Iran is becoming a harder nut to crack by the day, possibly having moved beyond Israel's capacity to deal with it with conventional weapons (yes, with Iran Israel must think the unthinkable, at least as far as an EMP weapon is concerned, and sooner rather than later when Iran has hardened the targets against such an attack).

Generals who are humanitarians are a suspect species, either because they are hypocrites, or because what they inculcated to those they commanded was dangerous to their survivability on the battlefield. Israeli troops have lawyers attached to each company nowadays thanks to the efforts of people like Ashkenazi, something that shackles Israel's soldiers hands and feet, just as British and American soldiers have found in Afghanistan. When you fight a war, you need to allow your troops flexibility without having to look over their shoulders every second. The USA and Britain have lost the war in Afghanistan and whilst teharat haneshek is indeed important, it must sometimes be recognised as being impossible to achieve. In 1967 israeli tank commanders were ordered not to fire at houses, from which fire was being directed at them. The tanks treated their orders with the contempt deserved, demolished the buildings from where fire came, and managed to survive, against all odds.
Ashkenazi should forget playing the humanitarian when considering that both sides in Syria have declared Israel to be next on the list once they have won. He should instead read this imagined conversation between the wily Cardinal Richelieu and David Goldman aka 'spengler':
“We are a bit confused about Syria,” I began. “Its leader, Bashar al-Assad, is slaughtering his own people to suppress an uprising. And he is allied to Iran, which wants to acquire nuclear weapons and dominate the region. If we overthrow Assad, Sunni radicals will replace him, and take revenge on the Syrian minorities. And a radical Sunni government in Syria would ally itself with the Sunni minority next door in Iraq and make civil war more likely.”
“I don’t understand the question,” Richelieu replied.
“Everyone is killing each other in Syria and some other places in the region, and the conflict might spread. What should we do about it?”
“How much does this cost you?”
“Nothing at all,” I answered.
“Then let them kill each other as long as possible, which is to say for 30 years or so. Do you know,” the ghastly Cardinal continued, “why really interesting wars last for 30 years? That has been true from the Peloponnesian War to my own century. First you kill the fathers, then you kill their sons. There aren’t usually enough men left for a third iteration.”
 It is sad to see human life wasted, but as with the germans after World War I, who needed great destruction, of 4 million dead, of a whole generation without fathers, to have imperialism and murder driven out of them. Germans are now the world's greatest pacifists. 

Arabs have never learned the lesson of war. They glorify it, especially when it comes to the destruction of Israel and its people. 

The best Israel can do is to keep its snout out of Syria, to let the cards fall where they will as neither side will thank it for intervention. Let's hope Netanyahu doesn't get side-tracked by well meaning old generals like Ashkenazi.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi said the world must not remain passive over the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, and that President Bashar Assad himself must be held responsible.

Doing nothing is not an option,” Ashkenazi said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that was broadcast on Tuesday.

Ashkenazi added that before any action is taken, the prime culprit must be identified as the Syrian leader.

“We have to be clear that it was his decision,” he said.

The former IDF general suggested a range of action, from upping support for rebel groups to imposing a no-fly zone on parts of Syria. Ashkenazi made it clear that the time has come to arm the rebels, a course of action the US is considering and several European countries already support.

“That means providing them with lethal and not just nonlethal assistance — that means weapons — to help them to topple Assad,” he said.

Ashkenazi lamented that more action was not taken in the past as it would, perhaps, have saved lives in the long run of a civil war that has so far cost over 70,000 lives and generated over a million refugees.

“We should have helped them a year ago when there were [only] 10,000 deaths and before the more extremists groups arrived,” he said.

Ashkenazi, who was the IDF’s top officer from 2007 to 2011, said the inevitable downfall of Assad would be a mixed blessing for Israel.

“I think generally speaking from a strategic point of view it is good news,” he said. “It will break the radical axis that runs through Iran and Damascus to Hezbollah and Hamas. It will be a major blow to Iran and Hezbollah.”

“Syria was and still is the logistics hub of Hezbollah,” he added and noted that while funding for the terror group may come from Iran, “the weapons come out of Syrian depots.”

As for growing concerns that the rebel cause in Syria has become a rallying point for a wide range of extremists groups, including those affiliated with al-Qaeda, that are drawing ever closer to the border with Israel, Ashkenazi expressed confidence in Israel’s security capabilities to deal with cross-border threats.

“From an Israeli perspective I think we can deal with it,” he said.

Ashkenazi also gave a guarded response to questions about media reports that in 2010 he refused a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to raise the IDF’s war readiness in preparation for an attack on Iran. The incident was seen as an indication that the security establishment does not back Netanyahu’s bold threats that Israel is prepared to go it alone in a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“That is factually wrong,” Asheknazi said but would not expand on exactly what transpired at the time, saying only that it was a matter of timing and that, in his opinion, the military option is the last option.

“Unless the sword is against your throat you don’t use it,” he said.

Ashkenazi commented on recent efforts to improve ties with Turkey that became frigid, if not hostile, after IDF commandos stormed the Gaza-bound Mava Marmara ferry and shot dead nine Turkish citizens when they came under violent attack from those on board. Turkey made normalization with Israel dependent on an apology and compensation for the deaths, but the families of those who died have also begun legal proceedings against the soldiers involved. As the then commander of the IDF, Ashkenazi is also on trial in absentia.

“It is important to fix the relationship with Turkey,” he said, adding in reference to the indictments that “it comes with the job of being a general in the IDF.”

Yet, despite the regional threats, Ashkenazi said that Israel’s most pressing problem is that of its own internal divisions.

“I would like the internal dialogue to be back the way it was 30 years ago,” he said.

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