In the 1950s, Jerusalem tasked Moshe Dayan with combating the Palestinian guerrillas—known as fedayeen—who infiltrated Israel’s borders from Sinai, Gaza, and Jordan to attack soldiers or civilians and destroy crops. When simple retaliation, although tactically effective, proved insufficient to deter further attacks, Dayan developed a more sophisticated long-term strategy of using attrition to Israel’s advantage. Gershon Hacohen argues that the Jewish state can learn much from Dayan’s approach in combating the Iranian presence in Syria—especially since the IDF cannot simply launch an all-out offensive to clear Syria of Iranian forces:
[Dayan anticipated] two possible [outcomes]: either the ongoing retaliatory strikes would gradually curtail the terror, or they would lead to war and a new regional order. Meanwhile, by taking the opportunity to undertake operational friction with the regular forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the IDF built up its capability and established an awareness of that capability in the eyes of both the enemy and the international arena more generally. The quality of the IDF’s performance in these operations undoubtedly contributed to its eventual collaboration with France and Britain in the 1956 Sinai campaign.
Applying Dayan’s thinking to today’s strategic context, the fighting with Iranian forces in Syria, especially on the Golan border, can be viewed as a means of initiating a clash with those forces [while avoiding] a full-fledged war.
Having the audacity to use force, especially in a situation that hovers on the very real threshold of war, does entail the risk of escalation, but also holds the potential to give Israel a prominent role in the crystallizing anti-Iran regional coalition. The objective of [a more intense] clash [with Iran] would be to showcase Israel’s operational superiority by proving its military capability and strategic daring, thereby making clear that Jerusalem does not fear a military conflict in defense of its vital interests.