Monday, July 21, 2014

What is strategy?

Sar Shalom

chess1This is not specific to Israel's struggles, but it is something affects Israel's decision-making. During military, and other, campaigns, courses of action of invariably described as either "strategic" or "tactical." However, there is not much agreement on what is meant by "strategy." I would like to suggest a brief description of strategy and then a few words about how to evaluate Israeli strategy within that framework.

Tactics are the actions and procedures undertaken in order to achieve an immediate objective. Strategy is a chain of objectives where fulfillment of one objective on the chain facilitates the fulfillment of subsequent objectives. Tom Ricks described the division between strategy and tactics as incorrect tactics for the correct strategy will eventually correct themselves whereas an incorrect strategy directing correct tactics will never correct itself. The framework I propose would explain why this is so. If you have an intermediate objective that if fulfilled will create the conditions to fulfill your ultimate objective but your tactics are failing to fulfill your intermediate condition, once you adopt tactics that fulfill your intermediate objective, doing so will deliver your ultimate objective. However, if your reasoning behind what intermediate objective will help you fulfill your ultimate objective is faulty, no matter how effective your tactics are in fulfilling your intermediate objective, they will never help you fulfill your ultimate objective. Another way to view it is that you need sound tactics to win your battles, but you need a sound strategy for winning your battles to help you win your war.

To put this understanding into practice, consider the objective of convincing non-activists that Fatah is not a suitable partner for a peace agreement. A tactical approach would start with looking for examples of actions and words from Fatah-officials contrary to readiness for peace and try to present as many of them to the audience. A strategic approach would start by trying to identify what it is that leads people to view Fatah as a partner. An example was shown in a debate between Daniel Gordis and Jeremy Ben-Ami in which Ben-Ami responded to Gordis' argument that even if Abbas were to agree to something tolerable for Israel that he would be unable to bring his people along with, “I just find that so depressing.” In other words, the obstacle to considering that Fatah may not be partner for peace is that if Fatah is not a partner, then there is no partner, and it is too depressing to think that there is no partner at all.

This obstacle to accurately viewing Fatah can be attacked by attacking the notion that if Fatah is not a partner then there is no partner at all. It is true that if Fatah is not a partner then there is no partner at all who can put an end to the war now, now, now. However, if ability to bring the Palestinian population immediately is not required, there are Palestinian Arabs such as Sheikh Jabari of Hebron and Mohammed Daoudi Dajani of Wasatiya who are suitable. If Fatah's current boosters could be convinced to redirect their efforts to building Palestinian public esteem for the suitable peace partners in their society, and to be patient for the time it would take to build their public esteem, the chief obstacle to a level-headed assessment of Fatah would disappear. Further strategy might be needed in order to achieve those two conditions, but the point is to start from the objective, think of what conditions would make that objective feasible, how can those conditions be created, and then repeat until you have immediately actionable items.


  1. I really don't know why disqus is hosing me today. Keeps deleting everything. Anyway 3rd time or we're done. Abbas doesn't have a 'people' to bring along with him. He has factions he needs to slaughter. They might drag the dirty mob along with THEM to cause problems for Abbas but they're just monkey's who riot when they're told to riot. Doesn't matter about what. No one cares.

    The only real strategy was getting this fake merger with Hamas organized so that they would of course pick another fight with Israel and so get their heads handed to them. This puts Israel in a dicey position - either obliterate Hamas to free up the PLO to be the Soviet style corrupt failure they want to be, or, not obliterate Hamas so they can fight another day.

  2. The issue is not whether Abbas has anything to offer. Anyone willing to look at things objectively will conclude he does not. The problem is that too many people are not and view everything through the lens of Abbas, unlike the baddie Haniyeh, being the guy who will make peace if only the oppressive Israel would give him what is his people's due. As wrong as they are, they go on to conclude that all that's needed to get Abbas to yield is to get Israel to give up the territories, which only requires the civilized world to pressure Israel, escalating to BDS if Israel doesn't get the message.

    The issue for strategy is: why is it that so many people are unwilling to consider that Abbas is not a partner for anything? As I wrote in the post, the reason consists of two parts: it is too "depressing" to think that there is no partner at all for Israel and they are unaware of anyone else who could be a partner. While the first part is an emotion that has not been penetrated and probably cannot be penetrated, the second can addressed by talking about the likes of Jabari and of Wasatiya. On this issue, the matter is not how much can they deliver, whether under current circumstances or under circumstances we hope to create, but whether a focus on them undermine the obstacle people have to accurately perceiving Abbas for what he is and thereby come to accept that he offers nothing.

  3. Sar Shalom,

    I remain puzzled at your insistence that Israel needs a local Arab "peace partner."

    Why should Israel be dependent upon Arab good-will in order to bring about the safety and prosperity of its citizenry?

    You know better than I that Arab good-will shall not be forthcoming anytime soon and western-leftists will continue to blame the Jews for hatred toward us.

    This being the case, why not take unilateral measures? I understand about Sharon and Gaza, of course, but self-reliance is very much a classic American value and fully consistent with the values of Zionism.

    If Zionism means anything - and I do not even count myself as a "Zionist," actually - it means that no longer shall Jewish people live or die according to the political whims of non-Jews.

    It seems to me that to depend upon some local Arab warlord as a partner for peace is so unlikely as to be beyond the realm of political reality.

    The truth of the matter, unfortunately, is that the Jews of the Middle East have no means to end he hatred and violence toward them from various Arab and Muslim quarters. There are no concessions that Israel can make that will bring peace. If Netanyahu, like Sharon before him, rounded up Jews and forced them off of Jewish land this would not end Arab-Muslim hostility toward us.

    In fact, all indications are that weakness breeds contempt and thus hostility and thus violence.

    1. I'll limit my discussion here to the issue of strategy and the objective of convincing people that Fatah is not a partner and therefore Israel should not be pressured into kowtowing to Fatah.

      With that established, what is more likely to be successful, getting them to accept that there is no partner at all or getting them to accept that other groups act like true partners in ways that Fatah does not and that building political capital for those groups would be the way to peace? Some anecdotal evidence, I've had a conversation with someone of the persuasion that some settlement has to happen somehow, and he was more open to the latter approach. If whatever evidence we present of Abbas' words or deeds fails to convince people that Fatah is not a partner, why continue to bang our heads against the wall that maybe some new piece of evidence will pierce the wall keeps them from realistically evaluated Fatah?

      "There are no concessions that Israel can make that will bring peace."

      Taking the approach of developing groups like Wasatia so that they might some day have influence does not necessarily require concessions during the phase of building their influence. You're reading too much into it.

  4. Is that comment intended for a different post?

  5. Yes. My apologies. I did use this space as open thread to reference Jay's ongoing battles with anti-Semitic ant-Zionists on another blog.

  6. Because like the alligator, it's what I do. Occasionally. ;)

    Yeah, I realize it's a waste of time, though...