On War #288: Israel Doesn’t Get 4GW

William S. Lind

January 13, 2009

So far, Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip has produced no surprises. On the physical level of war, the IDF is triumphing. The Palestinians are suffering about one hundred people dead for every dead Israeli. To a 2GW military, which is what Israel’s formerly Third Generation army has become, that is the main measure of victory.

On the moral level, the picture is reversed. Hamas is almost assured of victory. As Martin van Creveld has observed, all it has to do to claim victory is survive, which it will. That claim will not just be propaganda: for Hamas to survive everything a modern state military can throw at it is a legitimate victory. In fact, it will not only survive but be strengthened by a world-wide flood of sympathy, which will translate in part into new recruits and more money.

In the end, if Israel wants to stop Hamas’s rockets, it will only be able to do so by making a deal with Hamas. Since that was equally true before the war, the question of why it was fought will soon present itself. The real reason is a tad sordid: the current Israeli government is trying to split the “get tough” vote to prevent Likud from winning the next election. The same motivation lay behind last weekend’s “discovery” that Mr. Olmert asked the U.S. for permission to attack Iran. The parties in the current Israeli coalition government are in effect saying to Israeli voters, “Why vote for an oaf like Bibi Netanyahu when you can get the same thing from us without the endless embarrassments?”

What all Israeli parties and the IDF seem to share is that they don’t get 4GW. They have repeatedly been defeated by Fourth Generation forces but they do not learn.

The problem goes beyond John Boyd’s framework of moral-mental-physical, with the moral the most powerful level of war and the physical the weakest. What Israel cannot grasp is that in the face of 4GW, all states should be seen as allies.

The most dangerous opponent of any Fourth Generation entity is a local state. The state must be local: interventions against 4GW forces by outside states are doomed to failure. But local states can sometimes win. It does not matter whether the state in question is a democracy or not. It does not matter whether it is a friend or enemy of Israel. By its inherent nature as a state, it will view Fourth Generation forces as threats.

A state may or may not be strong enough to suppress 4GW entities on its soil. It is in Israel’s most vital interest that neighboring states be strong enough – morally as well as physically – to do so.

In concrete terms, what does that suggest? First, it means Israel should be very concerned about the strength and solidity of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq (Lebanon is a state in name only). The Israeli assault on Gaza has seriously undermined the legitimacy of three of those four, with Syria the only exception. Egypt and Jordan have diplomatic relations with Israel, and Egypt has been an all-too-obvious partner of Israel in besieging Gaza. Iraq’s government (still a government without a state) is an American creation, and the U.S. is seen as Israel’s main enabler. On the moral level, every Israeli bomb dropped on Gaza has also landed on Cairo, Amman and Baghdad.

One Israeli party, Likud, is so oblivious to 4GW that its proposed grand strategy for Israel, largely written by American neo-cons, calls for the destruction of every Arab state. Iraq was the first victim of that strategy, thanks to the neo-cons’ influence on the Bush administration. If Likud wins the coming Israeli elections, there is every reason to think it will put its strategy into practice, pushing Israel into the maelstrom.

Israel’s dependence on strong neighboring states is equally true with regard to the Palestinians. That means Israel needs a strong Palestinian state in the West Bank. But the effect of the war in Gaza is to undermine Fatah in favor of Hamas on the West Bank, which also has elections coming up. So Israel has in effect shot itself in both feet.

What of Gaza itself? Here, Israel should have taken advantage of a blunder by Hamas. By winning an election in Gaza and then defeating Fatah in a short civil war, Hamas became a state. On balance, that was not to its benefit. Israel could and should have dealt with Hamas in Gaza as a state. It should have opened the border crossings, avoided raids (an Israeli raid into Gaza first broke what had been a fairly effective cease-fire) and let Hamas become immersed in all the problems of governance. It should have sought a Hamas state in Gaza that was strong enough to prevent rocket-firings and other acts of “terrorism” by other 4GW groups. As a state, Hamas would have gradually “normalized,” even if it did not want to and even though in theory it would have remained devoted to Israel’s destruction.

Now, by its invasion, Israel may have reduced Gaza to ungovernable chaos. It may think it can reinstall the Fatah as the government there. But if Fatah were so foolish as to try to ride into power on the backs of Israeli tanks, it would destroy its legitimacy both in Gaza and on the West Bank, with no hope of recovery.

Ironically, the best hope Israel now has in Gaza is that when the dust settles, Hamas is still in charge. At that point, if Israel wants to stop the rocket fire, it will have to make a deal with Hamas. That deal should include what Israel ought have done in the first place, namely help Hamas make Gaza a functioning, gradually normalizing state. Again, Israel’s most vital interest is that it be bordered by strong states, not the stateless chaos that is 4GW’s natural breeding ground.

I visited Israel a few years ago. I liked the country and its people. I wish Israel well. But wishing it well does not mean supporting it in actions that undermine its own security. Until Israel comes to think in 4GW terms, everything it does is likely to undermine its own security, as the assault on Gaza has undermined it.

Can Israel learn? If not, apartment buildings in Miami will prove a great investment.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 24 responses so far

24 Responses to “On War #288: Israel Doesn’t Get 4GW”

  1. Duncan C Kinderon 18 Jan 2009 at 9:29 am 1

    The alternative strategy from what Lind proposes would be to delink the state of Israel from the Israeli people in particular and the Jewish people in general – so that they themselves may establish themselves as 4GW entities.

    The idea being that, as such, they might thereby have a fighting chance, survive, even peacefully co-exist, or thrive with their surrounding 4GW Muslim neighbors.

    This is, perhaps, idealistically naive; however Lind’s scenario projects a long day’s journey into night.

  2. Maxon 18 Jan 2009 at 9:57 am 2

    This little “Gem” dovetails and underscores perfectly the distiguished
    Mr. Lind’s point.


    Remember, strength is weakness, and weakness is strength.

    And in so doing, as described above the Isrealis play into
    their opponents hands, (experimentation with new weapons) just as surely as the Isrealis themselves remind us (with sound justification) of the atrocities that their founding interests themselves suffered in the past.

    But to lower themselves to the nearly the same ?

    This is one ugly business.


  3. senor tomason 18 Jan 2009 at 10:06 am 3

    “a world-wide flood of sympathy”

    A lot of which will be lip service. Many Sunni Arabs dislike Hamas because they are stooges of the Iranians – Shia Persians. It would be a safe bet that many Saudis – especially
    Wahabis and Salafists – are privately gleeful about the beating the Israelis gave Hamas – although they can not express that sentiment out in the open.

  4. Sven Ortmannon 18 Jan 2009 at 10:56 am 4

    Create a situation in which Egypt cannot refuse taking over Gaza; offer it publicly and make them responsible for Gaza.
    Egypt could be made responsible for all attacks from Gaza into Israel, so this solution would eliminate the 4GW problem about Gaza for Israel.
    The USA could simply reduce the year’s aid to Egypt by $ 10 million per rocket or mortar attack on Israel from Gaza.

    I don’t understand why this quite simple and enticing solution isn’t being considered publicly.

  5. JCon 18 Jan 2009 at 7:00 pm 5

    Dear Mr. Lind,
    Great writing, as always. When hostilities erupted in Gaza, I couldn’t help but remember a previous piece of yours about the Indian Army not using indirect fires or aerial strikes when fighting 4GW opponents.

  6. dunadan1963on 20 Jan 2009 at 10:02 am 6

    “The Palestinians are suffering about one hundred people dead for every dead Israeli. ”

    Perhaps the Israelis really do understand 4GW all too well? The real long-term problem that Israel faces is not 4GW, but demographics.

    The “Brave New World” ideology they themselves have infected Western Civilisation with has also infected themselves. To put it plainly: Israeli women have few babies while Palestinian women have many. In a few generations, the Arab/Druse population within Israel will outnumber that of the Jews.

    The Israelis know their attacks kill far more Palestinians than the reverse. They also must know that civilian casualties will greatly outnumber that of Hamas fighters. They may see victory in the culling of future generations.

    Each Palestinian boy or girl killed as “collateral damage” may be seen as a victory for Israel.

    Perhaps they really do understand 4GW, but from another perspective?

  7. Maxon 21 Jan 2009 at 6:36 am 7

    “To put it plainly: Israeli women have few babies while Palestinian women have many.”

    Ahh yes, and so the victims of Hitler’s final solution have
    come full circle, to become and emulate what they revile.

    I’d hardly call that an understanding of 4GW.


  8. MIKon 21 Jan 2009 at 8:02 am 8

    What Mr. Lind writes is really interesting and, for what my opinion counts, mostly correct.
    The only thing I not agree with is the cause of Israel’s assault.
    In my opinion the most important objective (if not the only) of the campaign is to eradicate Hamas as an effective political organization. Not as a terroristic one.
    The reason is the absolute certainty that Hamas will never accept the unilateral solution to the otherwise almost insoluble problem of the coexistence of the two peoples: the creation of two separate states.
    To achieve their objects Israelis needs the “forced collaboration” of Gaza population…will they get this paradoxical result? Impossible to say. Anyway a very risky bet.

  9. senor tomason 21 Jan 2009 at 6:35 pm 9

    “To put it plainly: Israeli women have few babies while Palestinian women have many.”

    This demographic situation is not unique to Israel. In general, lesser-educated, poorer populations have higher birthrates than better-educated, more-affluent populations. That is why Lebanon no longer has a Christian majority and why Ulster will no longer have a Protestant majority in a few decades.

  10. Maxon 21 Jan 2009 at 8:20 pm 10

    “Hamas will never accept the unilateral solution to the otherwise almost insoluble problem of the coexistence of the two peoples: the creation of two separate states.”

    One question is, Is Humas representative of the best interests
    and aspirations of Palistinians. or did ‘they’ win election through
    fear and intimidation, and are in fact a thusly illegitmate but on the surface, and depending on who you believe an empowered lunatic fringe ?

    Apparently Isrealis’ are perfectly content to continue to
    live this way, repeting these campains like the one in Lebanon and this one on a two year indefinite cycle, which solves nothing, long term.

    It’s just a thought, but I’ll bet someone, somewhere, makes good money off all this,,.


  11. GoldenHordeon 21 Jan 2009 at 10:32 pm 11

    If Sun Tzu was the Prime Minister of Israel what would he do?

    Would he implement a one state strategy with equal rights for both both Palestinians and Israeli’s?

    Would it counterattack the extremist strategy/center of gravity of gaining new recruits and money everytime Israel wins tactically but loses on the moral level?

    Would it offer a better vision than zionism that possibly attracts allies in the middle east or at least neutralizes enemies like Iran?

    Would the center of gravity of “public opinion” in the middle east be more winnable for Israel?

    Would it make a better grand strategy that helps Israel to survive and thrive in the long run?

    I gotta say developing a successful Grand Strategy for Israel would probably drive Bismarck nuts.

    dunadan 1963
    3GW is about having a military with an organizational culture with decentralized decision making that speeds up adaption to the environment. ie it’s better than 2GW bureaucracy.

    4GW is about the nation state’s unadaptable bureaucracy losing political legitimacy and also losing the ability to monopolize violence.

  12. rmhitchenson 23 Jan 2009 at 12:50 pm 12

    If you’re politically hemmed in and cannot implement a viable 4GW strategy to counter Hamas, might not simple attrition do some good? I thought the IDF missed the boat in 2006 by not bringing large-scale combat engineering resources to bear, focusing their campaign at methodically mapping and destroying Hezbollah’s vast underground infrastructure. In Gaza you have both an underground and urban above-ground infrastructure supporting Hamas that, if it can be explosively dismantled, will take years to rebuild.

  13. buckshoton 23 Jan 2009 at 2:54 pm 13

    Mr. Lind has got it right about Israel and 4GW. Israel has also adversely influenced America with their thinking and practices on how to bring about a just peace with the Palestinians. Now that a Depression looms on the horizon, Americans may have to rethink our National Security apparatus. Our military-industrial culture can only be reformed under the pressure of going broke. If we go broke, we may have to adopt 4GW ourselves, and so will Israel. Yes, that is quite a step in going from today’s Israel and 4GW to the USA reforming its National Defense. And by the way, America can do that if necessary. Too bad we will have to suffer the pain of going broke in order to accomplish what ordinary common sense has written on the wall.

  14. loggie20on 23 Jan 2009 at 7:49 pm 14


    The common defense or national defense went out of fashion in 1947. Now it is national security, whatever profits can be made from perpetual, meaningless mobilization will be extracted from the US.

    However, the debate will rage about the simulating effects of national security spending. The warfare state does provide welfare for certain areas of the country.

    Ties up money where it should go elsewhere.

    However, there is ample evidence that the warfare state takes resources away from better use.

    I hope you are right about sanity returning to the national defense apparatus. Will have to get away from the national security apparatus.

    May not be that easy.

  15. Sven Ortmannon 23 Jan 2009 at 9:31 pm 15

    “If Sun Tzu was the Prime Minister of Israel what would he do?”

    Sun Tzu had a strong preference for not fighting avoidable wars because wars can ruin a state.

    He also placed a strong emphasis on allies IIRC.

    That fits to my line for Israel; they should better look at Europe, for a single real ally (USA) isn’t enough if you’re against such odds. You might lose that ally and get drowned by your numerous foes in few years as it happened to the crusaders once they were isolated from Europe.
    Israel should keep inside the accepted behavioral norms of Western/Southern Europe if it wants to survive for more than just one or two more generations.

  16. senor tomason 24 Jan 2009 at 2:27 pm 16

    “it happened to the crusaders once they were isolated ”

    An apples and oranges comparision. Israel has nukes. The crusaders did not. If cornered the Israelis can carry out a scorched-earth defense and go down in flames taking many of their enemies with them. Israel’s enemies know this and it is an effective deterrent to most of them – one of the exceptions being that crazy loon Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who would welcome this scenario to enable the coming of the twelfth imam.

  17. JJon 24 Jan 2009 at 8:51 pm 17

    Some years ago Rush Limbaugh gave his solution to the Middle East crisis, it was, in a word, GENOCIDE.

    His view was that either or, of course his hope was that the Arabs, Christian and Muslim, is the group that ceases to exist.

    Frankly, I cannot countenance that approach.

    I think Israel’s inability to use the nuclear option due to the OBVIOUS REASONS, on the Palestinians and others in the immediate vicinity does pose a real problem in their ambitions.

    Their nuclear capable submarines, courtesy of Germany, are not very useful in that context.

    Israel has been using other tactics which they feel are somewhat productive and for all I know may have borne enough fruit to warrant their continuation.

    I suppose the idea of one man, one vote, in a single state might be a sensible idea however not one that is welcome in contemporary Israel and America.

    What US or Israel does, nuclear weapons wise, to IRI is what interests me more than this Gaza shooting ducks in a barrel exercise for which the IDF and IAF were practicing in their mock city in the desert for some 6 months before this.

    Living in America I have to say it is perilous times, not in small part, due to this special relationship.

    Whether it is worth it or not each must decide for him or herself.

  18. EmeryNelsonon 26 Jan 2009 at 3:21 pm 18

    I couldn’t disagree more that Israel doesn’t get 4GW. They accept and deal with the changes in warfare faster then any western writer/theoritician, and we can’t even talk about military organizations of western countries which for the most part can’t forget WW II.

    “‘We Could Destroy All European Capitals’ Israeli Professor

    “Written by http://www.daily.pk
    Monday, 26 January 2009 18:49
    An Israeli professor and military historian hinted that Israel could avenge the holocaust by annihilating millions of Germans and other Europeans.
    Speaking during an interview which was published in Jerusalem Friday, Professor Martin Van Crevel said Israel had the capability of hitting most European capitals with nuclear weapons.

    “We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets of our air force.”

    Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that “collective deportation” was Israel’s only meaningful strategy towards the Palestinian people.

    “The Palestinians should all be deported. The people who strive for this (the Israeli government) are waiting only for the right man and the right time. Two years ago, only 7 or 8 per cent of Israelis were of the opinion that this would be the best solution, two months ago it was 33 per cent, and now, according to a Gallup poll, the figure is 44 percent.”

    Creveld said he was sure that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted to deport the Palestinians.

    “I think it’s quite possible that he wants to do that. He wants to escalate the conflict. He knows that nothing else we do will succeed.””

    [CR: This is quite disturbing, if true (and I have no way of verifying it). Professor van Creveld is one of our most astute observers of the course of modern conflict and one of the primary architects of the concept of 4GW, which he calls “non-trinitarian warfare.”]

  19. Brianon 26 Jan 2009 at 6:39 pm 19

    The above quote apparently from a 1977 book called “The Gun and the Olive Branch” in which Creveld was pessimistically describing what Israel’s reaction could be.



    Seems like the above is taken way out of context, unless there is a new interview out there. I’m not sure where to look for something “published in Jerusalem Friday.”

    [CR: Brian, thanks.]

  20. Brianon 26 Jan 2009 at 6:41 pm 20

    I didn’t really read the rest of the page on the second link, seems like a repeat of the first; I’d edit it out if I could.

  21. JJon 26 Jan 2009 at 9:24 pm 21

    I read Creveld’s remarks about the Samson option but that was several years ago, so this seems a republication of those remarks, which I had read in both Israeli and European newspapers back then.

    Israel has that capability that much is certain.
    I wonder van Creveld ever brought that up.

  22. senor tomason 30 Jan 2009 at 1:37 pm 22

    “Israel’s inability to use the nuclear option due to the OBVIOUS REASONS, on the Palestinians and others in the immediate vicinity”

    Israel woud not have to use nukes to devastate Gaza. In a hyper-densely populated area like Gaza daisy cutters would do the job very well.

  23. Maxon 31 Jan 2009 at 1:52 pm 23

    “They may see victory in the culling of future generations.”

    “Each Palestinian boy or girl killed as “collateral damage” may be seen as a victory for Israel.”

    In revisting this analysis I’m struck by the intense irrony of the thought
    and suggestion of the Isreali’s coming to adopt a stratigy that in a very real sense could parallel Hitler’s infamous “Final Solution.”

    Third party reports and accounts, this time out, of experimentation with socalled “dime bombs” that rend flesh from the body,
    and the use of Phosphorous muntions suggests Isreal
    could arguably have crossed that line, and are in the
    early stages of exactly that, the wholesale, industrialised
    slaughter of an identifiable racial entity.

    As history has taught us, in the long run it may turn out to be as Painfully tragic, as it was for Germany, and as much for the Iseralis as it is for the Arabs.

    Has the whole world gone nuts ?
    Or is it just me ?

  24. Maxon 31 Jan 2009 at 2:15 pm 24

    “Now it is national security, whatever profits can be made from perpetual, meaningless mobilization will be extracted from the US.

    Yeah, so ?

    Apart from all that, and the fact we never seem to win,
    we’re apparently good with it.