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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.

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

Hamas’s Dangerous Escalation in Gaza

June 22 2018

As Hamas has stepped up its attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip—using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons—Israel has begun to retaliate more forcefully. In response, the terrorist group has begun firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Yoav Limor comments:

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border [since 2014], this time it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed ‎to Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave. ‎Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of ‎the familiar “rules”—only [firing] at night and only at the ‎ communities in the vicinity of Gaza, and apparently while also ‎trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further ‎escalation. ‎. . .

The first reason [for the shift in tactics] is Israel’s own change of policy ‎with regard to kite terrorism. It took Israel far ‎too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary ‎kites sent over the border as actionable acts of ‎terror, but once it did, the IDF began ‎systematically countering them, including firing ‎warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting ‎Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.‎

The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and ‎distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was ‎launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives ‎have been killed and the Israeli military has ‎carried out over 100 strikes on Hamas positions in ‎the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to ‎show for it. ‎In this situation, Hamas is searching for [some sort of victory] by declaring that “bombings will be ‎met with bombings,” as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum ‎said Wednesday, in order to portray itself as defending Gaza from ‎Israel.‎ . . .

Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military ‎campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its ‎focus from the [developments in Syria], but it is sorely ‎mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain ‎kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new ‎equation it has presented. ‎At some point, Israel’s patience will expire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security