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Short or Long War, Israel Will Fight On

opposing fists painted like israeli and palestinian flags

Micah Halpern By Wednesday, 12 June 2024 04:23 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Modern-day Israel is not built for long conflicts. Short wars — think the Six-Day War — is where it excelled.

And while its desire for short wars is both a source of pride and a necessary reality, Israel will not give up if a war drags on. When it must, Israel will fight on — until the victory is its.

Israel is a small nation with a comparatively small, highly dedicated fighting force anchored by its reserve fighters. One of the reasons conflicts must be resolved quickly, is to permit Israel Defense Forces reservists the ability to return to normal life so that the Israeli economy can return to normal.

The exact size of the Israeli army is a military secret. It is estimated, however, to be composed of about 170,000 standing male and female soldiers. Add to that its approximately 465,000 reservists, and the total number of Israel's military is about 635,000. 

As a standing army, Israel is the 28th largest in the world — a strange ranking considering that 80 countries have a military of fewer than 20,000 and 126 countries have fewer than 100,000 in their army. Only 22 countries have an army larger than 200,000, and only five have more than a million.

The backbone of the IDF, its reserve system, is composed of seasoned, mature, thoughtful soldiers. Professionals, they are doctors, lawyers, accountants, drivers, farmers, information technology workers, and more.

They are the able-bodied workforce that engines the Israeli economy.

A long, extended conflict — a conflict that drags on — saps the economy. And Israel can sustain itself for only so long under conditions that do not permit reservists to return to their work.

Then, too, Israel is a country with limited resources. 

During wartime, Israel's fuel and ammunitions are limited. They need to be replenished after use.

Stockpiles are only so deep. And while Israel has enough to carry on now, in conflicts with both Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, the strain will soon be felt.

And that, parenthetically, is why the Biden administration's threat to slow down its delivery of missiles to Israel was such a shock to the military establishment. To continue to fight and to prepare for future conflicts, Israel's armaments cannot be depleted and not refilled.

The population of Israel is about 9.5 million; of those, 8.3 million are Jews. In geographic size, Israel ranks 153 out of 193 nations — slightly smaller than El Salvador and Belize.

Conflicts take a toll on the economy, certainly. More importantly, conflicts take a toll on human life.

For Israelis, every human life is sacred. That is one of the reasons the Israeli army is not called an army, at all. It is the IDF.  It is the Israel Defense Forces. It is there to defend the people of Israel.

On Oct. 7, Hamas massacred approximately 1,200 people. Since that horrific day, several hundred members of the IDF have died in military operations against Hamas; well over 10,000 Israeli soldiers have been wounded.

And while statistically, given the enormity and difficulty of the battles the IDF is waging, the number of soldiers killed and wounded is small; for Israel, it is huge. The longer the conflict, the higher the cost in human lives and Israeli limbs. 

In Israel, every soldier has a name, a face, a story.

There is not a single soul in Israel who has not been closely touched, multiple times, by this war with Hamas. There is not a single Israeli who does not know someone who was murdered or injured on Oct. 7, someone who has been wounded or killed in battle.

In Israel, there is no such thing as six degrees of separation.

For Israelis, there is no escaping the wars of survival — especially this war, which is deeply personal. And very long.

The Six-Day War is, of course, the perfect model. While they extended longer than six days, Israel's other engagements with its Arab neighbors have also been short.

Previous operations in Gaza and Israel's previous wars with Hezbollah ended quickly, compared to other wars waged around the world. The goals were simple and attainable: fight, win, over, and done.

The Arab and Muslim world thinks differently. It thinks nothing of 200-, 300-, and even 400-year conflicts. Hamas and Iran are undaunted by long, drawn-out conflicts.

Just look at the Crusades to understand their inspiration. They are in this conflict for the very long run. They intend to defeat the foreign invaders on Islamic lands.

Hamas and Iran, the real force behind Hezbollah, think that Israel and the United States have neither the mindset nor the stomach for a long conflict. They might be right about the United States, but they are dead wrong about Israel.

Israel wants peace. Israel will redefine its objectives to end the conflict quickly and create an armistice; but if that cannot happen, Israel will power on. Israel is not going anywhere, because there is no other place for Israel to go.

The Jewish state has lived in perpetual conflict since 1948: tensions, wars, operations come and go. Israelis want peace, but they are prepared for war. That is what Hamas does not understand. 

Israel's desire for a short conflict does not make Israelis weak; it makes them strategically practical.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern," a weekly TV program, and "My Chopp," a daily radio spot. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.

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Modern-day Israel is not built for long conflicts. Short wars - think the Six-Day War - is where it excelled. And while its desire for short wars is both a source of pride and a necessary reality, Israel will not give up if a war drags on. When it must, Israel will fight on.
israel, hamas, hezbollah, iran, war
Wednesday, 12 June 2024 04:23 PM
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