The appropriate response to attacks from an adversary driven by an ideological imperative to dominate and subjugate you is escalation dominance, and in as few steps as possible. Dr Eran Lerman of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, talking on TV7 Israel News, was forthright in describing escalation dominance very simply as: “If they throw a chair, we throw a table; if they throw a cupboard, we throw the whole building.” Casual as this might sound, it captures the military dimension of escalation dominance. When Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force escalated its attacks on US facilities in Iraq. President Trump responded not by proportionately attacking Iranian facilities, but by assassinating the head of the IRGC-Quds Force, Qassim Soleimani, which was way out of proportion to the Iranian action, as Western dhimmis wasted no time in shrieking and wailing across the media. The point, however, is that it worked. Save for a token, largely-harmless, retaliatory attack to save face, the Iranian regime backed down.
To respond proportionately, and be known to respond proportionately, is to enable your domination-driven enemy to calculate the cost of his actions beforehand, and thereby to control an attritional strategy. Escalation dominance, by its inherent unpredictability, puts an immediate end to such a strategy, and makes you very hard for your enemy to deal with. Of course, had President Trump not agreed to a face-saving way out for the Iranian regime, they would have felt compelled to escalate in turn, because face is everything in a totalitarian culture. In other words, escalation dominance is controllable, contrary to the scare-warnings of those who would sooner submit than fight.
Yet “proportionality”, “de-escalation”, “confidence-building measures”, etc., have been the mantra of Western advisors for decades, the very people who, years or decades later, if their conscience gets the better of them, confess that they were wrong. By that time, of course, the proportionality and de-escalation policies that they had rammed down their supposed allies’, especially aid recipients’, throats may well have led to significant destruction and loss of life.
To accept another’s de-escalation advice, or more accurately, imposition, to buckle under another’s de-escalation demands, is to give up on one’s own autonomy and self-determination, the very definition of independence. In a recent Caroline Glick podcast that I highly recommend, she interviewed Dr David Wurmser of the Center of Security Policy. I would like to quote a rather lengthy and disturbing passage from the interview, in which Dr Wurmser lays out how Israel’s strategic room for manoeuvre ended up in the parlous state it finds itself in now, where she cannot even clean out a terror nest in Judea and Samaria without every two-bit American diplomat presuming to lecture Israel on the how and when of its security, let alone in the most insulting of terms. Wurmser recounts:
There was a war between the ’67 War and the ’73 War called the War of Attrition. It lasted three years and it emanated from the Egyptians, the Syrians and others of ‘the three nos of Khartoum’ that they will not enter peace, they will not recognise Israel, [etc.] The bottom line was, their answer was also done in weapons and war. So they waged a war of attrition against Israel and Israel began to use that war of attrition to improve its strategic position. It did the same thing in ’67: essentially, if force is forced on [you], then at least use it to improve your strategic position. The Israelis heavily bombarded the first 40 kilometres of the Egyptian side with artillery, with Commando attacks, Air Force attacks, etc., and the Egyptians had to push their forces back 40 kilometres.
The result of that was that Israel had a visible, tangible, concrete seventy-two hours’ early warning, because, physically, the Egyptian Army was seventy-two hours movement from the canal. So when the ceasefire was signed in 1970, after the Israelis did a particularly dangerous and successful set of operations against not only the Egyptians, but the Russians themselves, downing a lot of Russian aircraft piloted by Russians and killing the most senior Russian officer that was in Egypt, the Egyptians sued for a ceasefire, and of course, the moment the ceasefire was signed, the Egyptian Army started moving forward, which compromised Israel’s ability to have seventy-two hours’ warning.
Dr Wurmser explained that, “Israel needs that seventy-two hours because it is a reserve Army. It does not have enough forces to fight a war without calling up reserves. So it needs early warning, a strategic buffer.” The intelligence community assured the Israeli strategic planners that they can provide a seventy-two hours buffer from human intelligence inside Syria and Egypt, obviating the need for physical intelligence of seeing Egyptian army deployment on the border. Wurmser continues:
The Israelis wanted to resume the War of Attrition to push the Egyptian Army back, but the Americans said, listen, we have this peace process, the Rogers Plan, so please stop. Don’t do anything, and the Israelis said, sorry, but no. We have to do something. This is very dangerous. We need that buffer and in the end the Americans said, you know what? That buffer can be delivered by technology or fighter aircraft that cannot be shot down from the sky, tanks, etc. The Israelis said, well that’s beautiful, but we really don’t have money for this. So the Americans said, why, we’ll give you the money. You buy our equipment, we’ll give you the money.
That’s where this quote, “qualitative military edge” came from. The first use of that was a few years later, but of the actual essence of what that was, was born in August 1970 and the whole point of it was not, “We love you Israel,” it's “Israel don’t act strategically; don’t maintain your strategic manoeuvre and initiative; go to a second strike absorbing strategy, where you passively sit there and you react to an attack and sit on your hands and don’t preemptively strike and don’t shape the environment through constant use of force." So it was literally weapons and money for Israeli restraint, so that we could pursue our peace process, and also because we had issues with the Russians. There were some other solid strategic issues. Well, this became the foundation of Israeli security policy.
Dr Wurmser lays the blame for the failures of 1973 squarely at the door of allowing a foreign power to dictate Israeli foreign policy.
In 1973, they blamed the intelligence, which is fine, but the truth was the intelligence was asked to deliver something that is improper of an intelligence organisation to be required, which was that seventy-two hours warning. The real failure was the strategic failure of not having a buffer between Israel’s military and the Egyptian military that would allow for Israeli reservists to be mobilised. And then, when the Israelis did see stuff, they were going to preemptively strike anyway, but they were told, no, restrain yourself.
So you see how the American aid kicked in to cause Israel to restrain itself and boom! —all of a sudden the Israelis wound up starting the war without reservists on the line and without the Air Force having preemptively struck. And then on top of it all, the Air Force was shot down and grounded. The great qualitative military edge, the planes that cannot be shot down were shot down in droves, and the Air Force played no role in Israel's victory. That then required an American resupply, which only deepened the concept of dependence on America, rather than fundamentally questioned the utility of that or the wisdom of that.
The United States dictating Israeli strategic policy was just one step away both from the US inserting itself as the middleman in important Israeli foreign relations, such as peace agreements with Arab states, and from direct interference in Israeli domestic affairs, especially in building Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and in how Israel deals with terrorists.
By the time Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in June 1977, this shameful arrangement had solidified into a presumption. When the Americans came face-to-face with Begin’s Hadar, they found themselves up against something alien and incomprehensible to their presumptions. When President Jimmy Carter finally learnt of the Begin-Sadat breakthrough, and that all their discussions had been going on without his knowledge, the American President felt slighted and his officials openly talked of Begin’s ousting. If there were going to be any peace deals, the US President, rather than the parties to the deal, would get the credit for it. According to Moshe Zak:
The Carter Administration did not restrict itself to proferring (sic) advice; it also tried to apply pressure on Begin. Carter asked the Shah of Iran to impose sanctions on oil shipments to Israel to pressure the prime minister. To forestall this blow, Begin went to Teheran to meet secretly with the Shah. He brought an ancient map of Jerusalem and an antique dagger.
But it was not these gifts which determined the Shah's rejection of Carter's recommendation. The Shah later told The Washington Post that if the US wanted Iran to stop the flow of oil to Israel, it should itself first stop the flow of arms to Israel.
Even Senators felt themselves entitled to treat Israeli Prime Ministers as ungrateful indigents. And it went downhill from there…
On June 22 1982, Joe Biden was a Senator from Delaware and confronted then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin during his Senate Foreign Relations committee testimony, threatening to cut off aid to Israel. Begin forcefully responded, “Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”
This is the same Joe Biden, now President of the United States, before whom 2021 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his Foreign Minister Yair Lapid rushed to prostrate themselves in submission swearing iron-clad obedience, and the same Joe Biden who, for eight months since the current Israeli government assumed office in November 2022, has treated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu like a dog. When Biden, who as Vice-President thirteen years ago put an affectionate arm around Pay-for-Slay terrorist boss Mahmoud Abbas, discovered China muscling in on the Middle East, he at long last deigned to invite the Prime Minister of Israel to the White House.
Almost sixty years after recapturing Judea and Samaria in a defensive war from Jordan that had invaded, occupied and annexed it twenty years earlier, the legal status of that 20 percent of Israeli territory remains in question. With the distinct lack of Hadar of advisors such as Daniel Pipes, one should not wonder. On the question of what Pipes calls the “annexation” by Israel of Judea and Samaria, i.e., its own territory, Pipes, with the kind of confidence that Hugh Fitzgerald refers to as “idiotic certainty,” exhorted Israelis:
Don’t toy with Mr. Trump's temper, don't infuriate Democrats and Europeans, don't alienate Arab leaders, don't inflame Palestinians, don't radicalize the Israeli Left, and don't add Palestinian citizens to Israel. …[don’t] further [worsen the] alienation of diaspora Jewry and increase their exposure to antisemitism.
In other words, always cower quietly in abject submission. Never displease the overlord. Always immediately give up what is demanded and never ask for anything, except through a sympathetic interceder, etc., etc., sentiments straight out of the Pact of ’Umr. Always conceding not only what is yours, but also what is not demanded of you, just to keep nice with those seeking to oppress you, if not annihilate you, is the very opposite of escalation dominance. It might be a harsh thing to say, but the cap-in-hand ghosts of three millennia of exile and oppression and a thousand years of dhimmitude speak loud and clear down the centuries through the counsel of Daniel Pipes. Are there no more Ze’ev Jabotinskys, no more Menachem Begins, or even Yitzhak Shamirs left in the world to give advice, or possibly even lead?
When that same President Joe Biden offered to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hand over his country and abandon his people to the tender mercies of the invading Russians, Zelenskyy did a Begin: “I don’t need a ride; I need ammunition.” This is the mindset that escalation dominance against all odds is made of. Even the lowly Ukrainian soldier on Snake Island facing the mighty Moskva warship demanding his immediate surrender responded: “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!” At that point neither Zelenskyy, nor his brave soldier, were in any position to escalate, but that did not mean that they had to submit to Russian escalation. By refusing to submit, they did not gain escalation dominance, but they denied it to the Russians and that is the point. Refusing to accept escalation submission, they preserved that essential inner resource, self-respect, without which escalation dominance is not possible. Ukraine would remain a constant thorn in Russia’s flesh until such time as Ukraine could herself establish escalation dominance. Through a series of steadily escalating steps, Ukraine gradually approached the point of dominance. That time has finally come.
Until a few weeks ago, a “Grain Deal” was in place under which Ukrainian grain had safe passage from its ports through the Black Sea to the markets of the world. When the grain deal came up for renewal, Russia escalated the war by refusing to renew the deal. It simultaneously further escalated by declaring all shipping bound for or leaving from Ukrainian ports as military targets, thereby rendering the entire Black Sea outside a narrow strip of NATO territorial waters too hazardous for all but Russian and Russia-bound vessels. At this point, Ukraine finally seized her Menachem Begin moment. One analyst reported on Twitter:
From a strategic point of view, the Russian Sig oil tanker is the most ideal target. An attack against this Russian tanker is covered by the rules of engagement since oil is used by the military. It will also deter many other oil tankers from going [to] or leaving Russian ports, citing security issues and eventually compromise Russia’s most valuable money flow: oil trade.
Instead of giving in to Russian blackmail regarding the grain deal, Ukraine does the exact right decision in not to give (sic) in, but targeting the Russian oil trade instead.
This is exactly how to respond to Russian threats and blackmail. Do not negotiate, do not allow yourself getting (sic) into a defensive position, but strike back, even double as hard as necessary, to make sure that it delivers the intended pain for Russia, and then see what happens. You can be absolutely certain that Moscow will understand this message and will offer a “good-will” gesture. (My emphasis).
As Ukraine illustrates here, there is more to escalation dominance than throwing chairs and cupboards. Escalation dominance is certainly about out-shooting or out-bombing your enemy to such an extent that he regrets the last attack he launched against you and is unsure of whether he should attack again. However, far more effective is to escalate in order to directly attack the enemy's economy through attacking his military. For example, by forcing your enemy to take vastly higher than planned casualty rates, so high that reserves are quickly drained and the enemy is compelled to syphon precious human resources from the economy, the very economy that has to sustain the war.
An even more effective way to reach escalation dominance if your enemy's economy is highly dependent on a single primary product, such as oil exports, is by attacking and destroying your enemy's military fuel supplies at sea, as at sea there is no distinction between military and civilian oil transport. Such action both vastly increase your enemy's cost of production at the same time as driving his revenue through the floor, thereby rendering the economy incapable of sustaining the war.
The graph at the top of this essay illustrates this relationship, of how the war itself drove escalation dominance closer to within reach of Ukraine. As the gap between the volume of Russian oil exports and her oil revenues widens, the less capable the economy becomes of sustaining the war. At the same time, the lower Russian oil revenues, the lower the escalation threshold that Ukraine needed to cross to achieve escalation dominance.
By declaring all Russian Black Sea ports as targets and immediately following that up by attacking both a Russian warship and a Russian civilian tanker (serving the military) within 24 hours, forces the gap between oil volume exports and oil revenues to widen, through higher volumes and lower prices. This in turn forces Russia to put more tankers to sea just to slow down the decline in revenues, which both diverts Russian naval protection assets away from combat and creates more targets for Ukraine to hit, thereby reducing the cost of each attack for Ukraine. In this case, Ukraine has attained escalation dominance by forcing Russia to significantly change the relationship between its economy and its war effort, overwhelmingly to its detriment. This sets off a whole chain of critical choices Russia is going to have to make, none of which offers any advantages. There is no up-side to any choices Russia makes after this.
Furthermore, and immediately relevant to Israel, Ukraine achieved escalation dominance not with Western weapons, but with weapons she produces herself. Are we to understand that Israel, the tech wonder of the world, is incapable of producing her own weapons independently of the US? Do we look at the Merkava and say, "Yes, but"? Not only can Russia not escalate higher than the sea drone assaults, it also cannot respond at that same level. Sea drones are a weapon system beyond the Russian economy, both in terms of components and skill, as well as in terms of culture and work ethic. The most secure escalation dominance is when your enemy cannot respond at all, even if he wants to. All that remains to him is a stupid face-saving gesture.
Face cultures are inherently weak and the enemies surrounding Israel are all face cultures, the easiest cultures to vanquish, because they go to pieces when reality catches up with their unquestionable supremacism. The Palestinians are a special case because their identity is predicated on the annihilation of all the Jews, not only in Israel, but everywhere. They cannot be broken because they were created broken.
One might now wonder about where that ride that Joe Biden was so quick to offer Zelenskyy would have ended up. It puts one in mind of a recent humiliating spectacle across the pages of Tablet magazine of just how humble Jews find it acceptable to be to secure US intercession on their behalf. It is an age-old story, which in turn brings to mind the Polish Jewish elite’s ugly denunciation of Jabotinsky at “this twelfth hour” in Warsaw, the vitriolic abuse Jews heaped upon Zionists in the pre-WWII Jewish press, the lengths to which American Jewish leaders went to sabotage Jabotinsky, the Israeli government not extirpating the PLO when they had the chance because the Americans did not approve, Benjamin Netanyahu, often placed in the tradition of Jabotinsky, voting for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Gaza Strip, and of course, the junta of retired IDF generals and former Israeli prime ministers leading the current insurrection against their own country’s democratically elected government and, indeed, the country itself. In any other country, such insurrectionists would be in jail, if they were lucky, but again, the Biden Administration would not approve, so the Israeli government isn't even going to try.
All that remains is to find a real-world Israeli analogue for Dr Eran Lerman’s graphic description of escalation dominance as: “If they throw a chair, we throw a table; if they throw a cupboard, we throw the whole building.” It’s just not that easy to find.
- Stephen M. Flatow, "Ex-State Department Officials Admit They Were Wrong," The Algemeiner, 1 August 2023. https://www.algemeiner.com/2023/08/01/ex-state-department-officials-admit-they-were-wrong/
- Caroline Glick, “Should Israel Stop Receiving US Aid?” The Caroline Glick Show, JNS TV, YouTube, 2 August 2023 https://youtu.be/0IoAfYgt6eE
- Moshe Zak, “Master Negotiator Menachem Begin,” The Moshe Zak Article, Jerusalem Post, 13 March 1992, quoted in Begin Centre Diary, 30 August 2008. https://begincenterdiary.blogspot.com/2008/08/moshe-zak-article.html
- Steve Frank, “‘I am not a Jew with trembling knees’,” Jewish News Syndicate, 17 May 2020, https://www.jns.org/i-am-not-a-jew-with-trembling-knees/
- Daniel Pipes, “Annexing the West Bank Would Hurt Israel,” Middle East Forum, 7 May 2020. https://www.danielpipes.org/19457/annexing-the-west-bank-would-hurt-israel
- I have written about the West forcing Ukraine to submit to Russian escalation.
- Tendar, Twitter, 3 August 2023.
- “Ending U.S. Aid to Israel,” Tablet, 16 July 2023, https://www.tabletmag.com/collections/end-us-aid-israel
- Uri Misgav, “Eldad's legacy: ‘I don't believe a word of Benjamin Netanyahu’,” interview of Aryeh Eldad, Haaretz Supplement, 21 April 2016. Reproduced on Prof. Aryeh Eldad's website: https://www.arieheldad.co.il/mymk/%D7%A8%D7%90%D7%99%D7%95%D7%9F-%D7%A2%D7%9D-%D7%90%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%99-%D7%9E%D7%A9%D7%92%D7%91-%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%A1%D7%A3-%D7%94%D7%90%D7%A8%D7%A5-%D7%A2%D7%A8%D7%91-%D7%A4%D7%A1%D7%97-%D7%AA%D7%A9.php (electronically translated from the Hebrew).
יואל בן שמעון - The National Library of Israel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29603481
Screengrab from video "RUSSIAN Oil Profits Collapse as Refined Sales Crash & China & India Refine Cheap Russian Crude," Joe Blogs, YouTube, 5 Aug 2023 https://youtu.be/xYF74BdiCQM
Alicia Patterson Foundation, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29954034. (For educational purposes)
Joyce Battle and William Burr (editors), released under (generic) Creative Commons license as indicated in the caption. - https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/iraq-nuclear-vault/2021-06-07/osirak-israels-strike-iraqs-nuclear-reactor-40-years-later CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106706176
US government - Found at CNN but released by US government., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3939348