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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