Israel’s Strategy for Fighting Terrorists and Guerrillas Must Be Different from Its Strategy for Fighting Enemy Nations

June 11 2018

Israel’s basic grand strategy since the 1950s has involved fighting short decisive wars, preferably in enemy territory, with the goal of deterring its enemies from attempting future attacks. This approach—which Yagil Henkin terms the “Ben-Gurion doctrine”—proved successful against the Egyptian and Syrian armies, but is less suited to fighting unconventional wars. Thus Moshe Dayan developed an alternative strategy based on the belief that Israel, in Dayan’s words, “can’t prevent the murders of [Israeli] workers in orchards or of families sleeping in their beds at night, [but] what we can do is set a very high price for our blood, so high that no Arab locality, Arab army, or Arab government will want to pay it.” Exploring the ongoing tension between the two doctrines, Henkin shows why neither one was wholly adequate to the task of suppressing the second intifada:

When facing a real, immediate, and basic primal threat—such as a full-blown army that may invade—Israel’s immediate goal was usually to avoid escalation. Military action would be taken when Israeli believed that the enemy wanted escalation, or to defeat the enemy before he had a chance to act. But when facing terrorists, infiltrators, terror organizations, and their proxies, Israel has sometimes wanted to escalate the situation on purpose, in order to avoid future escalation. In other words: if terrorists hit us, we’ll hit them back until the “price” for their continued activities will be too “expensive” for them to pay. . . .

[After the outbreak of the second intifada], it emerged that . . . escalation [of the conflict by Israel] did not lead to de-escalation [by the Palestinians], leading the IDF to embark on the decisive Defensive Shield operation in 2002. That operation was designed not to convince the Palestinians that “the price of Jewish blood is too high to pay” but to take control of [parts of the West Bank] in order to destroy terror infrastructures, and ultimately to win a decisive victory over terror. In actuality, the failure of Israel’s attempt to employ the Dayan doctrine vis-à-vis Palestinian terror was what finally forced Israel to engage in a battle against the Palestinians to score a decisive victory.

Afterward, in light of the understanding that the Dayan doctrine could not be applied efficaciously to people living in territory under Israeli control, Israel adopted another strategy called “mowing the grass.” Although this is based on the Dayan doctrine (ongoing deterrence activities), another layer is added: periodically, it is necessary to conduct relatively large operations to hamper the capabilities of the enemy. This bears resemblance to Ben-Gurion’s doctrine regarding rounds of fighting that will crop up from time to time. . . .

The fact that Israel actively holds complementary security doctrines (or different parts of a doctrine) is not [in itself] problematic, because each one of them is designated for a different state of affairs: one is for war vis-à-vis regular standing armies; the other is for maintaining ongoing security at a price that Israel can pay (and with the hopes that its opponents cannot). The problems come from a tendency to mix the different doctrines. . . . Therefore, changes in the security doctrine are not always carried out in the right places, or in the appropriate ways, or necessarily for the correct goals.

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Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli grand strategy, Israeli Security, Moshe Dayan, Moshe Yaalon, Second Intifada

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria