Israel’s Enemies Today Aren’t Conventional Armies or Terrorist Groups, but Something New Entirely

April 1, 2022 | Eran Ortal
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For the first quarter-century of its existence, the IDF faced conventional military threats from enemies that vastly outnumbered, and often outgunned, it. But from the 1980s onward, it had to refocus its attentions on fighting asymmetric wars against Palestinian and Lebanese guerrillas and terrorists. It has recently realized that it must recalibrate once more to combat what it calls “diffuse, rocket-based terror armies”—most of which are backed by Iran. (Notably, IDF planners have chosen not to call these “terrorist groups” or “militias.”) To this end, it has developed its “Momentum” plan and a concomitant new strategic approach, which Eran Ortal describes:

All the IDF’s campaigns during the 1990s in Lebanon and Gaza featured extended periods of fighting, with rising costs and increasing strikes on the Israeli home front, a threat that remained relevant even after the introduction of the Iron Dome system in the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas.

The disappointing results of these campaigns were usually attributed to the familiar challenges of counterinsurgency and counterguerrilla warfare. . . . The apparent paradox between the total supremacy of the IDF and the ambiguous results of the campaigns against Hamas and Hizballah caused frustration among both decision makers and the Israeli public.

The IDF no longer speaks of “asymmetric warfare” against “inferior forces,” in which Israel’s main limits on the use of force are self-imposed. . . . Rather, the new IDF operational concept describes the enemy as an advanced networked adversary that has cracked the secret of Israel’s military power and presents Israel with an operational challenge that serves enemy strategy. These are organized, well-trained armies, well-equipped for their missions, with straightforward operational ideas and tactics, all of which support a clear and dangerous strategy and ideology.

The operational concept at the heart of the Momentum plan effectively accepts [that] the main test of Israel’s military power is that of decisive victory. This includes the ability not only to defeat a terror army like Hizballah but also to do it relatively quickly, at an acceptable cost to our forces and our home front, and in a way that is irrefutable.

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