The scenes of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan have resonated very differently in various parts of the world and hold many lessons, especially for Israel.
Some in the West have seen a failure of American foreign policy in the region, and the scenes of a helicopter evacuating people from a rooftop was eerily reminiscent from a photo during the fall of Saigon in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War.
There is no getting away from the sense of defeat after a Western-trained Afghan army was routed in weeks, frequently surrendering without a bullet being fired.
Even Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader freed from a Pakistani jail on the request of the U.S. less than three years ago, expressed his shock at the ease in which they retook Kabul. Only a few months since President Biden promised to remove all remaining troops from Afghanistan, it took the Taliban eleven days to recapture almost the entire country.
The first lesson to be learned is that intelligence estimates are frequently wrong. Many experts told President Biden and his advisors that the Afghan army was ready to hold the country without direct Western help. Even up until the day before the capture, there was the belief that Kabul could be held for months rather than the hours it took to lose it.
The State of Israel has relied on this type of advice before, when it relinquished the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority who were subsequently routed by Hamas two years later.
Over the years, many foreign officials and experts have tried to tie hoped-for Israeli concessions with security assurances, but so far, the record has been terrible.
After Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the EUBAM (European Union Border Assistance Mission) was deployed at the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt. The mission was “to help bring peace to the area”.
After these forces ran away any time they were threatened by Palestinian forces, they left permanently in 2007, but not before bizarrely blaming Israel for their ignominious retreat.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, a UN-NATO peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, had done little more than protect itself as it has been impressively toothless at disarming Hezbollah and demilitarizing southern Lebanon.
The second lesson is that military expertise and technology doesn’t always win. The Afghan army, numbering around 250,000 had over $80 billion spent on it, but was humiliated by the Taliban who had little significant firepower.
The third and most valuable lesson for Israel is that fundamentalist Islam does not give up without force. The Taliban had remained largely dormant for two decades but never gave up hope of ultimate victory, even when the odds were stacked against it by the overwhelming presence of foreign militaries.
The major problem was that the international forces never truly defeated the Taliban, and did not provide a mortal blow to a paramilitary force which was allowed to regroup and dream of a future conquest.
This failure should be seen in direct opposition to the victory over the Islamic State in Iraq.
The Islamic State was territorially defeated. It was routed completely from the territory it purported to hold in 2017. Of course, there is still some Islamic State activity, but it is largely peripheral and Iraqi forces have shown they are in a good position to repel it.
Unlike the Taliban, the Islamic State was not left with large swathes of territory on which to reorganize, rearm and bide its time.
In any military tacticians’ book, absolute defeat is a world of difference away from partial defeat.
Israel’s enemies, like Hamas and Hezbollah, were left standing after every confrontation with the IDF. They might not have been victorious, but it is impossible to say they were defeated in any meaningful way.
When Israel goes to war with its enemies, defeat must mean defeat. It should mean that at the end of a conflict, the enemy is not left standing and remaining in power.
This lesson is not lost on Hamas which has already congratulated the Taliban on its stunning victory. Senior Hamas figure Musa Abu Marzuk praised the Taliban for its cleverness and ability to confront the United States and its allies while rejecting all compromises proposed, and without falling into the traps of “democracy” and “elections.”
Hamas and other terrorist organizations confronting Israel have been given a massive morale boost by events in Afghanistan. They perceive the West, of which they see Israel as a central part, as something that can be defeated with steadfastness and an unshakeable belief in an ultimate victory regardless of time and against all odds and logic.
Israel must take every step to disavow this belief and ensure that its opponents understand that while they might still dream of ultimate victory and the destruction of the Jewish State, they will instead taste the bitter crucible of defeat.
Published from Middle East Forum