Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn is a fervent advocate for US aid to Israel’s missile defense programs, especially the celebrated Iron Dome. In this op-ed, the House Armed Services Committee member argues that such technologies are just one part of a larger strategy for the survival of Israel: living with perennial threats by regularly cutting them back — often called “mowing the lawn” or “mowing the grass” — rather than wasting energy seeking either final victory or permanent peace, both of which are equally unachievable. While I happen to passionately disagree with his analysis of the US-Israeli alliance, Rep. Lamborn makes a grimly plausible case that American calls for Israeli restraint are not only unrealistic, they outright prolong the agony on all sides. — Sydney Freedberg, Deputy Editor.
Americans think of wars as decisive battles between the forces of good and evil. One side loses and one side wins and it’s over. Hopefully the good guys are the ones left standing. The bad guys may even turn into good guys, as happened after World War II.
Even if Israel were to somehow eliminate Hamas, however, an already existing terrorist group would likely take the lead and continue on Hamas’ path. Defeating a group militarily unfortunately does not mean defeating the hatred and bigotry motivating that group.
Things are different in the Middle East. Israel faces the challenge of fighting wars with no ultimate resolution, no light at the end of the tunnel, no clean resolution likely at the end, though we can always hope.
But the hope in America and Europe for instant and final outcomes drives the calls for comprehensive peace accords and negotiations between adversaries. Hope springs eternal undimmed by experience.
Israel has been grappling with these existential threats since its very birth. The foes may have changed over the years but the character of the danger remains the same. With no foreseeable resolution of the conflict, Israel has developed a strategy to manage the conflict. The strategy changes the aim from eradicating the enemy to one of debilitating the enemy’s military capabilities. This is achieved by targeting the enemy’s leadership and destroying its weapons. Israeli strategic think tanks, such as Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, have dubbed this strategy “Mowing the Grass”.
This is admittedly not the clean solution we would hope for. Recurring waves of violence send Israeli civilians looking for cover. The Iron Dome system, which I have supported from its developing stage and continue to fight for, has intercepted an impressive 90% of rockets aimed at populated areas. However the other 10% can still be lethal. No technology, not even the Iron Dome, can shield the hearts of people from fear or prevent serious societal disruption. At the same time, until the day the Arab population in Gaza decides to disengage from violence and cease to support terrorism they will continue to suffer from Israel’s justified retaliations.
This is a miserable reality, but it is the reality. Like all strategies, “Mowing the Grass” is based on a few components to be successful. First, for the enemy to be deterred he must be led to believe that an operation is a credible threat. Second the minimal aim of an operation must be to bring enemy capabilities back to at least pre-conflict stage, so as not to allow him to gain from interval periods.
Apparently the Obama administration’s support for Israel and Operation Protective Edge has run its course. Secretary Kerry is putting pressure on Israel to accept his offer of a cease fire sketched to fit all of Hamas’ demands. Such pressure undermines both of the “Mowing the Grass” components mentioned above. Thus this pressure is not conducive to security interests of the U.S. or those of the region.
Israel practices the highest levels of self-restraint. It takes extreme caution to minimize the damage to civilians and their basic rights, sometimes at the grave cost of Israeli soldiers. It is time for the Obama administration to change its course. The current circle of violence is more likely to end if President Obama stops making pleas for restraint and starts showing credible support for the Israeli campaign.
There is no need for U.S. funds or boots, only true backing in the international arena. There is no choice other than for Operation Protective Edge to continue until it reaches its objectives. Managing conflicts or “Mowing the Grass” is preferable to hoping for a silver bullet that doesn’t exist.
Rep. Douglas Lamborn is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.