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A Former Military Planner's View: Why Israel Lost

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Just like most of you, I've been spending the last day just watching videos and reading spin from all sides.

Here's my 50 cents on the whole mess. And it is a mess, a mess of Israel's making. Recently, I read Ben MacIntyre's new book Operation Mincemeat, the story of how the British used a dead body to fool the Germans as part of a great deception plan -- to convince Hitler that the Allies would land in Greece and Sardinia, not Sicily, in 1943. What has this to do with what happened this weekend?

Easy. We live in an information-centric world, and just as Hitler fell for the trick of Operation Mincemeat, the Israeli government fell for the bait provided -- instead of allowing in needed humanitarian supplies into Gaza, they boarded a flotilla of Turkish-flagged vessels in international waters, killing at least nine and leaving dozens wounded. And gave a real victory to those who -- for whatever reason (humanitarian, political, religious, whatever) -- want the suffering in Gaza to end, and dealt Israel a informational defeat as great as that of the Germans in 1943.

As a retired US Army officer and former strategic war planner, I sat down with my military planner's hat on and made a bulleted list about this act of war. Enjoy. Comments are appreciated. Keep in mind that this isn't War and Peace. It is just one guy making a bulleted list of things to think about...

Israel

--Perfect example of how NOT to do a raid. This was done to 'prove a point' and break the Free Gaza folks. There is a certain amount of arrogance required to believe your own hype...

--The Israeli (and I am hesitant to say "IDF" here -- it lets too many politicians off the hook) media spin machine was ready to go. When you see a detailed multi-page report ready to go within an hour or two of an insanely chaotic military action (of any kind), it is bullshit, plain and clear. Just try reading reports about the Normandy invasion in history books in 2010. Now imagine trying to read the same level of detail, etc. a few hours after the first wave hit the beaches. You get my point. The 'tragic tale' was ready to go well before the first commando slid down the rope...

--It demonstrated -- to Israel's surprise -- a fairly high level of tactical incompetence. The IDF, somewhat like the French Army of 1940, has been living off of its past victories for too long. The IDF today isn't the Haganah of the 1930s, the Stern Gang of the 1940s or the IDF of 1948, 1956 or 1967. Remember "the Albatross of Decisive Victory." It applies in things like this as well as the 1973 war.

--What they could have done -- let the ships in. Show the world how caring, etc. Israel is. Don't give the Free Gaza movement the PR victory; take it from them by escorting the ships in, providing Israeli "volunteers" to help unload. Have plenty of international media there for the show.

--Long term impact: This is going to damage Israel badly. I recently had a discussion in the basement of an embassy in DC with a spokesman for a pro-Israeli lobby here in DC. I looked at him and said "look dude, this isn't 1975. The US doesn't NEED Israel to the level it did then. In fact, Israel needs the US a hell of a lot more." Why? Because the US -- for good or ill -- has a nice puppet state called Iraq right next door. That has oil and is occupied by the US. The closest analogy I can think of is how the US for decades focused on China in the 1800s... until we got the Philippines. Suddenly, port facilities in Shanghai were not so important anymore...

USA

--Lets be honest. The target audience here is the US more than Europe or the Middle East, from both sides in the incident. The Israelis could really care less about the Islamic world, although Turkey is going to hurt them. Had this happened in 2004, the Bush Administration would have praised the brave IDF action, and so forth. Problem for Israel is that this ain't 2004. The current administration has a choice -- either deal with this directly or follow the very powerful Israeli lobby in DC. That is pretty much the only choice.

--If the US sits on the fence -- big damage to US credibility from all sides -- from Israeli belief that they can do anything and the US will forgive (USS LIberty anyone?), to the Islamic world (who will see no US response meaning just US tacit approval... which will feed right into the PR machines of al-Qaeda and other radical groups) and most importantly, Europe.

--Why Europe? Because if Turkey invokes the NATO charter and the US doesn't react, then NATO is GONE. GONE and DEAD. Why? Because when the US was attacked on 9/11, the NATO charter was invoked -- and that is why NATO troops are in Afghanistan today. 9/11 was proof that NATO was not just an 'anti-Russian' pact -- that it applied anywhere. If the US doesn't go along with a Turkish response... it will reveal NATO as being a "US pact" -- that the entire alliance exists only to help the US. Oh, there will still be mutual defense treaties with the UK and maybe Germany. But that is just about it. And the US will have to go on its own in Afghanistan. That is unless they want to invite the IDF to help....

The Free Gaza Movement

-Again, some honesty is needed here. There were, I believe, 6 ships. Five were halted and inspected without incident. The largest continued on. This wasn't an accident. It was a demonstration -- the movement had already decided to have the confrontation and was prepared for the consequences. Consequences they knew would end in violence if they were boarded... violence they welcomed, at least from an international media perspective. Pretty savvy of them; sadly even the deaths add to the moral high-ground.

--They were very, very lucky that the IDF decided to stop them in international waters. If they were smart, they would have stopped them inside the 3 mile limit, where they actually have jurisdiction. Legally, they can be stopped -- the US Coast Guard stops ships all of the time inside the US territorial waters limit. All nation-states have that right under maritime law. The movement would have been powerless to stop them, and any resistance could have been prosecuted under both international law and Israeli law.

--The result? What would have been a 'routine' matter for the Israelis became not 'piracy' as some blogs have claimed, but an honest-to-God ACT OF WAR. The Israeli military stopped, boarded and attacked a Turkish-flagged ship in international waters. What would have happened had the manifest said the ship was headed not to Gaza, but to Cairo? Imagine a foreign naval vessel stopping, boarding and attacking American ships at sea. What would be our response? Well... I think the last time that happened it was called "the War of 1812."

What might happen next?
--Potential for military conflict between Turkey and Israel. Very low, but not impossible.
--Potential for increased rocket attacks out of Gaza. Very high.
--Potential for increased global anti-Israel/Jewish terrorism. Very high.
--Potential for economic or other sanctions. High but who knows.
--Potential for a change in the Gaza blockade. Depends entirely on the US.

Crossposted from Obsidianwings.com