Is War What's Needed to Bring Peace to the Middle East?

News Abroad

Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is

"We are in a war," Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said last week, referring to his country's fight with the Palestinians. The Palestinians agree:"This is war," responded Al-Fatah's commander on the West Bank, Husayn Shaykh.

In fact, Israelis and Palestinians have already been at war for over a year, but their leaders finally acknowledging this fact makes it easier squarely to assess the situation. War has clearly-established patterns, and these provide insights into the Levantine situation:

What each side seeks - to achieve victory and avoid defeat - is primarily psychological in nature. Victory consists of imposing one's will on the enemy (Israel wants its neighbors to leave it alone; the Palestinians want to destroy Israel) by convincing it that his cause is hopeless. Defeat means accepting that one's cause is hopeless.

Will, fortitude and morale are often more important for victory than are objective factors such as the economy, technology, arsenal, the number of casualties or votes at the United Nations. In many cases, these latter count mainly in so far as they affect a combatant's mood.

Resolution occurs when one party realizes it can no longer pursue its aims and gives them up. This usually follows its unambiguous vanquishment, either a military collapse (as in World War II) or internal rot (as in the Cold War).

"In every case I can think of," writes strategist Michael Ledeen,"peace has come about at the end of a war in which there was a winner and a loser. The winner imposed terms on the loser, and those terms were called 'peace.'"

Resolution can follow from other reasons - e.g., when a bigger enemy turns up. Worried about the common German menace, Britain and France buried their historic enmity in 1904.

Stalemate, conversely, keeps conflict alive by letting both sides hope to win another day. The Germans lost too narrowly to give up in their first attempt to dominate Europe (World War I), so they tried again (World War II), when they got decisively defeated and give up.

Many unresolved conflicts loom in today's world. The Korean War ended inconclusively in 1953; a half century later, another round remains likely - unless the North Korean regime collapses first. The Iran-Iraq conflict ended in 1988 with neither side feeling defeated, so more hostilities are likely - again, unless one regime first disappears.

So too in the Arab-Israeli conflict: The Arabs lost many rounds (1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1982) but never felt defeated, so they keep coming back to try again.

Diplomacy rarely ends conflicts. Hardly a single major interstate conflict has concluded due to some one's clever schema. The idea that a"peace process" can take the place of the dirty work of war is a conceit.

Again, to quote Ledeen,"Peace cannot be accomplished simply because some visiting envoy, with or without an advanced degree in negotiating from the Harvard Business School, sits everyone down around a table so they can all reason together." The oft-heard mantra that"there is no military solution" (repeated recently, for example, by former Sen. George J. Mitchell), in short, has things exactly wrong.

Applying these rules of war to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict offers some useful insights. Palestinians were winning until about a year ago, now Israel is.

Until Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took over, Israel was politically divided and militarily demoralized, avoiding reality and indulging in escapism (like"post-Zionism"). Meanwhile, Palestinians exulted in their successes. Smelling victory, they showed impressive stamina and great capacity for self-sacrifice.

A year later, circumstances have flipped. Palestinian violence had the unintended effect of uniting, mobilizing and fortifying Israelis."Specialists in terrorism have been surprised - some of us are even amazed," admits Ely Karmon of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya,"by the endurance, the patience, the relative calm of the Israeli public to what has happened in last year and a half."

Contrarily, the Palestinians' morale is plummeting and despair is setting as Yasser Arafat's ruinous leadership locks them into a conflict they cannot win.

History teaches that what appears to be endless carnage does come to an end when one side gives up. It appears increasingly likely that the Palestinians are approaching that point, suggesting that if Israel persists in its present policies it will get closer to victory.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post.

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More Comments:

Rehan Farooq - 3/1/2002

Pipes again? Isn't this guy discredited enough already (apparently not)? Is he on Shas payroll? Your vitriol is no different than other extremists and I suggest you, like them, go hide in a cave somewhere to save yourself further embarrassment. I hope the editors of this fine publication come to their senses and desist from publishing any more of his material.

charles d smith - 2/27/2002

Daniel Pipes argues that war is needed to bring peace to the Middle East, that when Israel crushes the Palestinians, peace will be at hand. This assumes, of course, that the Arab world will immediately thank Israel and establish diplomatic relations - at a time when Arab states have indicated a willingness for full recognition if Israel grants a viable Palestinian state, meaning Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, precisely what Pipes's right-wing constituency opposes.
Pipes's essay must be considered as a right-wing Israeli effort to deflect attention from the Saudi peace plan. He misrepresents the reality of what is occurring in the territories according to the Israeli press. Rather than Ariel Sharon having massive support, he has lost most of what he had; he is now under fire for having no policy whatsoever at a time when Israeli casualties have greatly increased. Rather than the Palestinians being on the verge of defeat, they have begun using new weapons and new tactics, explaining the increased number of Israeli casualties, especially military. The Israeli press is calling for reconsideration of the Sharon policy, deemed a failure, while Pipes presents it as on the verge of success.
The idea that Israeli military might will force Arabs to the peace table is fantasy but something right-wing Israelis adhere to although it has never worked. Pipes represents here Valdimir Jabotinsky's "Iron Wall," absolute force impelling Arab submission, a noteworthy effort at a time when Pipes's constituency in Israel consists mainly of right-wing settlers who are determined to retain the West Bank - Israeli expansionism, backed by Israel's U.S. lobby and backers. Among them is the lobby of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy with whom Pipes is associated.
Pipes had a similar version of this article in the JERUSALEM POST today (2/27). It is a call to the militants, with the hope that others will believe it. Apparently he has not seen Danny Rubenstein's article in HAARETZ, saying that Arafat's popularity has increased since the Israelis blockaded his home. U.S. readers might check Haaretz online at **** for their English edition and compare its accounts to any future Pipes' contributions. Charles D. Smith, U. of Arizona