News  The principles of war

The Daily talks to the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz about Israel, Iran, and the political uses of warfare

Yaakov Katz, the military editor of Israel’s largest English-language daily, defended Israel’s right to pursue military action against Iran in a speech to around 30 guests at Hillel McGill on Tuesday. After his talk, The Daily had the chance to speak with Katz in Hillel House about Israel’s foreign policy, the possibility of peace, and the uses of warfare.

Born in Chicago, Katz moved to Israel in 1993, where he served in the Armored Corps of the Israeli Defense Force. He has since worked extensively as a journalist and editor, covering the 2006 war in Lebanon and Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s 2008 air campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip) for the Jerusalem Post and USA Today.

In his speech, Katz focused on Israel’s current standoff with Iran, arguing passionately for the use of military force against the Islamic republic. He also described Israel’s wars with Hamas and Hezbollah as proxy wars with Iran.

He later stated that if “Iran were to tomorrow begin to enrich uranium to higher levels, the levels required for nuclear weapons – go to what’s referred to as the “break out stage” – that would constitute the grounds for an Israeli strike against Iran, sooner rather than later.”

In his characterization of the threat of Iran developing nuclear weaponry, Katz also posited that the development of nuclear technology by Iran would “motivate other countries to test the NPT [Nuclear non-proliferation treaty] and to test the world’s willingness and readiness to take real and decisive action.”

When asked why Israel’s own officially-denied but widely-acknowledged nuclear arsenal hasn’t created a similar license in the international community, Katz paraphrased current Israeli president Shimon Peres’s response to a similar question.

“The nuclear program was to allow Israel to make peace not to make war and that’s part of the idea behind the program – to create a strong Israel so that enemies wouldn’t attack it,” said Katz.

Katz went on to underscore what he sees as the fundamentally cyclical nature of the conflict.

“What we’re looking at today are cycles. … All you can really hope for today [is] to postpone the next conflict for a significant period of time,” he explained.

According to Katz, war is essential in these cycles as a tool to reach settlements, a theorization he traces back to the early 19th-century.

“[Carl von] Clausewitz, who was a very famous Prussian military theorist…said that war is part of the process to create the conditions that will allow the diplomats, the political levels, to create some sort of just resolution,” he said.

Clausewitz’s most famous formulation – that war is politics by other means – has been thrown into question since the advent of world warfare and weapons of mass destruction in the course of the last hundred years. Nonetheless, Katz defended warfare as an essentially political tool.

“What war can do is create viable conditions in order to create new realities. And we’ve seen that, for example, in the second Lebanon war, in 2006. Israel was attacked. Two of its soldiers were kidnapped. Rockets were landing in Israel. And Israel decided to go to war. It could have decided to suck it up, to swallow hard and ignore what had happened. But it decided to go to war, and I think legitimately.”

Decisions like these, he argued, do not provide definitive solutions, but their short-term impact makes them worthwhile despite the human cost. Katz again used the 2006 war in Lebanon and the 2008 Operation Cast Lead as examples.

“The fact of the matter is that for the past four years there’s been quiet in Lebanon. So that war led to [UN Security Council Resolution] 1701, which led to this new quiet, which led  to this new understanding of the threat from Lebanon. … Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last year was very controversial, but also led to a new period of quiet which Israel has never had before, almost two years of quiet in the Gaza strip. Is it the end of the conflict? No. Did that war in Lebanon end Hamas or end Hezbollah? No, but it’s able to change the reality.”

Hearkening back to his cyclical view of conflict, Katz gave the example of the First World War as an effective, but temporary political tool. 
“Think back to the end of the First World War,  when Germany was deterred until the beginning of the Second World War, when they were no longer deterred and decided to attack and invade Poland. So the concept is that these are all cycles and that’s what this warfare is all about. What Israel can hope for is that it can push off and stave off that future conflict for as long as possible.”

Katz did recognize the possibility of a paradigm shift in Israel’s situation with the arrival of new political actors.

“Hamas is part of the political process in the Palestinian arena, Hezbollah is part of the political process and part of the government in Lebanon,” he said. “Do we give them recognition? Do we talk to them? So that’s a whole separate issue in itself.”

In response, he asked, rhetorically, “What is there to talk about if they don’t recognize my right to exist?”

However, Katz did not entirely rule out the possibility that Israel would benefit from negotiating with Hamas and Hezbollah.

“So Israel refuses to talk to them. Is that the right or the wrong move? That’s a good question.”