ABSTRACT

This book uses Israel as a critical case for questioning the belief that Western democracy cannot sustain prolonged wars of attrition. The book refutes the commonly held myth that Israel’s ability to withstand the price of attrition in terms of casualties and damage to the economy and society was clearly much lower than that of its enemies, and that Israel proved to be operationally inefficient and failed to live up to Western ethical standards when conducting wars of attrition, particularly in their low-intensity form. Attrition has played a major role in modern and post-modern war,1 as a result of two major developments: the pervasiveness of asymmetrical low-intensity conflicts (LICs), and the ascendancy of firepower over maneuver. In LICs nonstate players possessing capabilities weaker than their opponents often employ attrition as a force multiplier against their stronger adversaries. The ascendancy of firepower has posed constraints on the stronger side’s ability to apply blitzkrieg and even “regular” war, on the one hand, placing new capabilities at the weaker side’s disposal for attacking the stronger side’s civilian rear and military, on the other. Different aspects of attrition have been addressed and analyzed in the literature. There is a significant body of theoretical discussion of the phenomenon of attrition by modern military thinkers – Carl von Clausewitz, Hans Delbrück, Basil H. Liddell Hart, twentieth century guerrilla thinkers (e.g., Mao Tse-tung, Vo Nguyen Giap, Che Guevara, Lawrence of Arabia, Regis Debray) and counter-insurgency doctrinaires and planners (e.g., Robert Thompson, Roger Trinquier)2 – each reflecting the particular nature of attrition in his own time and his country’s strategic circumstances. The more recent literature on LICs (e.g., Martin Van Creveld), Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) (e.g., Thomas Hammes, William Lind), Complex Irregular Warfare (e.g., Frank Hoffman, Jeffrey White), Hybrid War (James Mattis and Frank Hoffman), and war weariness (e.g., David Garnham, Jeffrey Pickering, Jack Levy and Clifton Morgan)3 – have all preoccupied themselves with Western democracies’ ability to cope with LIC challenges, in which attrition plays a major role. Surprisingly, though, no comprehensive discussion of this important, pervasive, dynamic and nuanced phenomenon has ever been offered. Chapter 1 addresses the theory of attrition and undertakes to fill this void.