By Albin Touma
When Netanyahu bombed Gaza he “mowed the grass”. His aim: set back Hamas rather than end the conflict itself. New technologies and growing criticism of Israel in the US raise doubts about whether mowing the grass will work again or if the strategy is too static for a dynamic world. Despite this, Israel will likely continue to mow the grass for as long as no political solution exists and risks remain low.
Years of tragic images from Gaza have split the Democratic Party. Progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rebelled against President Biden during this conflict and called for conditioning US aid on how Israel treats Palestinians. A Gallup Poll finds that 53% of Democrats want the US to pressure Israel to make peace with Palestinians (Saad, 2021). Israel has also lost support among Americans younger than forty nine.
Even though support is on the decline the risk of cuts in US aid to Israel is low. 75% of Congress oppose conditioning US aid to Israel and a bipartisan group of 328 Congressmen signed a letter of support to Israel (Kampeas, 2021). Israel has received more aid than any other country since 1948 (above $125 billion) and today the US funds 40% of the IDF's budget or 20% of Israel's total defence budget (Freiilich, 2017, p. 136). These figures are impressive but in reality US aid amounts to 1% of Israel's GDP and 3% of its budget so cuts would hurt rather than kill (Freiilich, 2017, p. 136). Nevertheless, losing the support of Democrats is still of major concern to Israel since cuts would hurt.
Behind Israel's loss of support is the high number of Palestinian who die. The world supported Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 because 244 Israelis were dead after 7,000 terrorist attacks (Shamir, 2013, p. 13). This support soured into criticism during the Second Lebanese War when Israel responded with airstrikes to rockets and cross border raids. The airstrikes killed 700 fighters, injured 1000 fighters, and dealt a huge blow to Hezbollah’s force of 4,000 fighters (Shamir, 2013, p. 17). The airstrikes dealt an ever greater blow to Lebanese civilians as 1,1991 died, 4405 were injured, and 900,000 fled their homes (United Nations Environment Program, 2007, p. 10). Israel responded with overwhelming force again during Operation Cast Lead 2008-2009. The IDF killed 1417 civilians, 236 fighters and only lost ten soldiers of which four were killed by friendly fire (Shamir, 2013, p. 19). The casualty ratio rose from 1:6 to 1:86 between the First Intifada and Operation Cast Lead and certainly rose against during this round of conflict as 254 Palestinians died and only 12 Israelis. The casualty ratio is simply awkward.
The awkward casualty ratio is partly down to technology. Israel has one of the most technologically advanced armies in the world whereas Hamas is not technologically modern. The Iron Dome System downs 90% of rockets fired from Gaza (Jankowicz, 2021). In contrast, Hamas uses cheap unguided missiles of which an estimated 20% land in the Gaza strip. The technological retardation of Hamas might soon change as new technologies like drones can level the playing field.
Drones are becoming cheaper, more destructive, more precise. Yemeni Houthi rebels used a swarm of drones to attack Saudi Arabia's oil production in 2019. They cut Saudi Arabia's oil production by 50% equivalent to 5% percent of global production (Razzouk & Blas, 2019). Earlier this year a faction in Iraq even managed to fly a bomb-laden drone into the royal palace in Riyadh. The success of militias shows how cheaper drones with longer range and greater precision will change the power relationship between Hamas and Israel. In the next round of violence, Israel will pay a higher price for mowing the grass.
Technology and shifting attitudes expose the strategy's basic problem: it is a static strategy in a dynamic world. Or rather, it is not a strategy at all. Strategies demand a solution and Israel mows the grass because it sees no solution to Gaza. Hamas believes its existence is resistance so is not a peace partner and conclusive victory is undesirable as this would require a bloody ground invasion of Gaza. A ground invasion would also risk replacing Hamas with a more extreme group and require Israel to govern the strip for which there is no political will. Without a solution, Israel seeks to break their bones without putting them in hospital.
Broken bones are upsetting but not enough to make Israel change strategy. However upset Democrats may be, the threat of a shift in US policy on aid is small and Hamas has yet to use new technologies to make Israel question its strategy. For as long as there is no solution, Israel will carry on mowing the grass and for as long as Israel mows the grass, new technologies and shifting attitudes will make its strategic position more difficult. Locked in a cycle, Israel has forgotten that the only solution to the Palestinian conflict is political, that perpetual cannot solve war.
Albin Touma has previously worked in research roles at the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. He is a fellow at the International Youth Think Tank and recently graduated from the University of Glasgow with a first class degree in History and Politics.
Freiilich, C. (2017). Can Israel survive without America? Survival, 59(4), 135-150.
Jankowicz, M. (2021, March 13). Israel's Iron Dome has blocked some 90% of rockets fired by Hamas, limiting the impact of one of its biggest barrages. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from businessinsider: https://www.businessinsider.com/israel-iron-dome-blocks-90-percent-rockets-hamas-gaza-2021-5?r=US&IR=T
Kampeas, R. (2021, April 23). 75% of House members back no conditions on US aid to Israel. Retrieved from The Times of Israel: https://www.timesofisrael.com/75-of-house-members-back-no-conditions-on-us-aid-to-israel/
Razzouk , N., & Blas, J. (2019, September 14). Coordinated drone attack cuts Saudi oil production in half. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from WorldOil: https://www.worldoil.com/news/2019/9/14/coordinated-drone-attack-cuts-saudi-oil-production-in-half
Saad, L. (2021, March 19). Americans Still Favor Israel While Warming to Palestinians. Retrieved from Gallup: https://news.gallup.com/poll/340331/americans-favor-israel-warming-palestinians.aspx
Shamir, E. I. (2013). 'Mowing the Grass': Israel's Strategy for Protracted Intractable Conflict. Journal of Strategic Studies, 1-26.
United Nations Environment Program. (2007). Lebanon Post Conflict Environmental Assessment. UN environment programme.