Israel Must Win the War

Middle East Conflicts - May 5, 2024

In the spring of 1941, there were only six democracies left in Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland. With the Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939, the totalitarian despots, Stalin and Hitler, had become allies, dividing most of Europe between themselves, while petty tyrants controlled other European countries. But in June 1941 Hitler repudiated his alliance with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, and in December he declared war on the United States. Now, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States suddenly became allies. Consequently, Germany’s defeat became only a matter of time. When Allied forces in November 1942 won some victories in North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill exclaimed at the Lord Mayor’s luncheon in London: ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ These were prophetic words. The German forces at Stalingrad had to surrender in February 1943, and slowly the Red Army drove the remaining German forces westwards. The Allied forces landed in Sicily in July 1943 and in Normandy in June 1944, meeting fierce resistance from the Germans. In July 1944, an assassination attempt on Hitler failed, and in September, the Allied forces entered Germany.

A Ceasefire in 1944?

Would the autumn of 1944 have been the right point in time to negotiate a ceasefire to spare the lives of German civilians, in particular women and children, allowing Hitler to control what remained of Germany? Everybody recognises the absurdity of such a proposal. The German Nazis had to be crushed. They were evil, not only because they had repeatedly violated international conventions on warfare and international law, but also and most importantly because they were conducting a real genocide, the systematic extermination of European Jews. They had become savages, placing themselves outside civilised society. But the frequent calls for ceasefire in Gaza are similarly absurd. The Hamas terrorists are as evil as the German Nazis. In their attack against Israel on 7 October 2023, they killed about 1,200 people, the largest number of Jews killed in one day since the Holocaust, taking hostages (thus violating international law), raping women and beheading babies. They do not hide the fact that they want to kill all Jews and destroy Israel. There are only two important differences between the German Nazis and the Hamas terrorists. First, the Nazis tried hard to hide their crimes in Auschwitz and elsewhere, whereas the Hamas terrorists seem to revel in their own brutality, recording their activities and putting them online. Second, the German Nazis usually did not use their compatriots as human shields, hiding behind or amongst them, as the Hamas terrorists do.

The Concept of Collective Guilt

Israel must in 2024 win the war against Hamas, just like the Allies had in 1944 to win the war against the German Nazis. In this tragic conflict, civilian casualties are deplorable, but inevitable, especially because the Hamas terrorists use their fellow Arabs in Gaza as human shields, placing their military bases beneath hospitals and schools, and trying to blend in the population so as not to be identified as warriors. But are the civilians in Gaza innocent bystanders only? There was a lively discussion after the defeat of Nazi Germany whether the Germans had deserved their fate, not only all those killed (5.7 million) or maimed, but also the ten million people who were thrown out of Poland and Czechoslovakia and sent to Germany. After all, most of them had supported Hitler and the Nazis. The philosopher Karl Jaspers argued in a 1946 book, Die Schuldfrage, that the German nation had to acknowledge a collective guilt for the Nazi atrocities. Canadian philosopher Jan Narveson has however convincingly rejected the concept of collective guilt, or responsibility, except in extraordinary circumstances where some causal connections can be established. Collectives do not act, individuals do. Therefore individuals are responsible for atrocities, not collectives.

I think the question of German guilt was plausibly dealt with by German economist Wilhelm Röpke in Die deutsche Frage: ‘The guilt of the Germans is different to that of the National Socialists; it is the guilt of the seduced, not of the seducers, the degradation of the violated, not the infamy of the violators.’ Röpke pointed out that in the last free parliamentary elections in Germany, in March 1933, the Nazis received not a majority, 44 per cent of the votes, although they controlled the state apparatus and most of the media (and the universities where Nazi students assaulted Jewish students in much the same way as left-wing students in North America and Europe do today). If the argument is that the Germans should have opposed the ruling Nazis, Röpke has a cogent answer: ‘Who that has not experienced it can realise what it meant to live under the continual pressure of an inconceivable terror and in an atmosphere in which a man could no longer trust his neighbour or his friend or his own child?’ This is of course the case as well in Gaza now. If you oppose Hamas, however timidly, you are dead, shot in the back or thrown out of a window. Nevertheless, the Germans of the Nazi era were blameworthy, as Röpke said, even if they were not personally guilty of, or accomplices in, the Nazi atrocities. They let themselves be seduced. The same applies to the inhabitants of Gaza. They let themselves be seduced and cannot therefore be regarded as innocent bystanders only, although they certainly do not deserve what has been happening to them.

Israel Can, and Will, Defend Herself

The United States is putting pressure on Israel to accept a ceasefire. Jews are not allowed to win wars, obviously. The United States has displayed a curious inclination herself to abandon wars before she has won them, probably mostly as a result of domestic difficulties. She is by far the mightiest military power in the world, and she should win any war into which she would wholeheartedly go, whether in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. She has never been really defeated by her adversaries, only quietly folding up the tent (and leaving her allies in the lurch). It is a different matter that perhaps she should not have meddled with any of those countries in the first place. ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’ But I do not think Israel will succumb to pressure for a ceasefire from the United States or from anyone else. As Golda Meir remarked: ‘If we have to have a choice between dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.’ In the last few decades, Israel has herself developed effective but inexpensive weaponry and is therefore not as dependent as before on American military aid. This was demonstrated in the successful fight in recent months against Hamas in Gaza where the IDF tried hard to target only the Hamas terrorists and not civilians. It was demonstrated even more stunningly on 13 April 2024 when Israel shot down almost all the drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles sent from Iran which consequently became a laughing stock in the whole of the Middle East. The Sunni states in the region fear Iran, not Israel. As the astute military expert Edward N. Luttwak points out, the main reason for the delay in going into Rafah, the only remaining territory in Gaza controlled by Hamas, must be that Israel is negotiating with the Arab states what to do about the population of Gaza after Hamas has been destroyed.