Israel Cannot Protect Itself with Airpower Alone

September 9, 2019 | Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security
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In an in-depth report on the Jewish state’s grand strategy, the scholars at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security argue that “the most important challenge facing any government in Israel is nurturing cohesion in Israeli society.” They also caution that, at present, “high-risk military operations, dicey diplomatic gambles, and ambitious territorial changes” are unlikely to be worth the dangers that accompany them. In particular, “unilateral Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank will not enhance Israel’s security nor improve its international standing.”

So far as military preparedness is concerned, the report criticizes the IDF’s current doctrine of relying on airpower and precision missiles combined with extensive intelligence, which has failed to bring any decisive victories. While the patient containment of Hamas may still be the best strategy for dealing with Gaza, Israel will have to return to its older doctrine—sending ground troops deep into enemy territory—to deal with the graver threats posed by Iran and its proxies, not to mention the unforeseeable dangers that could arise in a notoriously unstable region:

In most clashes [with Hizballah and Iranian forces in Syria], a deleterious dynamic has repeated itself. At first, Israel successfully launches a salvo of firepower based on accurate intelligence gathered over a long period of time; then follows a decline in the quality of targeting intelligence with an attendant reduction in the number of targets that justify a strike; a recovery by the enemy and a continuation of its attacks against Israel; Israeli frustration, leading to attacks on targets with high collateral damage or on useless targets; an immense effort to acquire new quality targets, which can lead to an occasional success but does not alter the general picture; a prolonged war campaign, leading to public anger and frustration; and a limited ground-forces maneuver, not sufficiently effective to bring the enemy to the point of collapse.

Consequently, a return to combat along more traditional lines is inevitable in cases where a ground campaign, aggressively pursued, will render better results than air activity. In such situations it is necessary to maneuver into enemy territory to locate and destroy enemy forces—or to capture them, thus undermining the myth of the self-sacrificing jihadist “resistance.” . . . Only a determined ground effort can break the spirit of the enemy. . . .

Should Israel neglect the capacity to maneuver, its enemies will conclude that Israel’s ability to harm them is limited. Indeed, some of Israel’s enemies today believe that Israel’s fear of ground warfare and its unwillingness to suffer casualties suggests weakness in Israeli society. To restore deterrence, Israel must not shy away from convincingly demonstrating its capacity to carry out a forceful ground offensive.

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