Five days ago I mentioned that I did not know enough about Gaza to have a detailed or nuanced judgment about the immediate circumstances of the Israeli effort against Hamas.
But I have seen, read, reported, thought, and written enough over the years about the strategy-tactics tension in many realms, from politics to business to technology to war planning, to recognize a situation in which short-term tactical victories may lead to long-term strategic defeat. This is how the Gaza operation looked early on, and how it looks more starkly with every passing day. Gee, if only there were a popular saying that conveyed the idea that you could win many battles and still lose the war.
Now someone who knows a lot about the details and nuances of Middle East conflict has stated this concern in blunt and authoritative terms. I am referring of course to Anthony Cordesman of CSIS, he of the unending flow of detailed papers on the military balance in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere. Two days ago he issued an analysis called "The War in Gaza: Tactical Gains, Strategic Defeat?" In light of his argument, the question-mark in the title seems superfluous, or merely polite:
The growing human tragedy in Gaza is steadily raising more serious questions as to whether the kind of tactical gains that Israel now reports are worth the suffering involved.... This raises a question that every Israeli and its supporters now needs to ask. What is the strategic purpose behind the present fighting?
I won't quote further from his analysis, which is short enough to be read easily in its entirety and long enough to make a reasonable case. Please go see for yourself. But I will quote the way it ends:
As we have seen all too clearly from US mistakes, any leader can take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains are a meaningful victory. If this is all that Olmert, Livni, and Barak have for an answer, then they have disgraced themselves and damaged their country and their friends. If there is more, it is time to make such goals public and demonstrate how they can be achieved.