One thing I admire about the American Army is its ability to change. It is the most difficult thing to do at a large organization's level as well as at the personal level. In October 2008 the Pentagon took a close look at its war strategy in Afghanistan in the face of rising violence from an increasingly complex insurgency. If I understand well, the new strategy shifts the focus of American effort from fighting and killing the rebels, to some kind of ultra-ethical Peace Corps campaign. The Army turns its skin and start supplying baby formula and medical attention to the civil population, to train local police and facilitating the local political mechanisms, but never becoming too prominent or too involved. The Army let the locals play it out among themselves. And they become super-moral. If an Army jeep hits an ass, it searches for the owner to pay him full compensation. Soldiers never walk through cultivated land, they avoid damaging the crops. If they have to, they ask for permission and pay generous damages. This unsoldierly behaviour is intended to reduce the fiction between the Army and the local population that is uninvolved in the war. Robert Gates defended this innovative strategy (which is so untypical of occupying forces):
We have seen the Russians before us. They had no moral problems in burning down villages and killing civilian population. They lost.I dont know if it is international pressure or President Obama's coldness, or just because we are always copying the Americans, but the Israeli Army is adopting the same strategy. Soldiers at the checkpoints are ordered to be extremely polite when in contact with the Palestinian population, they are instructed to be sensitive toward mothers and sick Arabs, they are forbidden to search them, they cannot cut up cakes to see what is inside as they used to do, etc. Cameras have been installed at the checkpoints to document their behaviour, and when caught acting rudely, the Army sends them to jail in a cloud of publicity. The Army is prosecuting soldiers who stole from Arabs and sending them to jail like common thieves (Many soldiers are Russian immigrants and resent this "bizarre" attitude. Everything in a conquered territory is supposed to belong to the conquerors, pon'yemay?). Also once more I am seeing large crowds of Palestinians from Samaria looking early morning for day jobs in Kever Benjamin City.
Apparently, the new strategy is working, because we in Israel are having a terror-free period like never before. No suicide bombers and only isolated attacks by Arabs going amock because of the heat. It may be conceivable that the right-wing nationalistic hard liners (we have some of these types in Israel, even bloggers) asking for revenge and punishment of the Palestinians, have been wrong all this time. Is sensitivity and gentleness the new way of making war?