How Israel Lost Its Appetite for Ground Warfare

Besides the immediate question of the intelligence failure of October 7—why didn’t the IDF and Shin Bet anticipate the attack and prepare to defend against it—there is also the much broader question of what went wrong with Israel’s strategic thinking. In this 2021 essay, recently made available in English, Omer Dostri criticizes the IDF for losing its appetite for maneuver warfare, i.e., sending substantial ground forces to destroy an enemy and bring about a decisive victory. Dostri argues that, in struggling with the difficulties of confronting enemies like Hamas, Israeli generals erred by focusing on limited warfare and attacks from the air. They developed complex doctrines, influence by French postmodernist philosophers, that lost sight of the basic principles of war.

Perhaps it is too soon to tell, but Dostri’s analysis appears prescient in the wake of October 7. He takes a careful look at other similar cases of conventional armies pitted against guerrillas—such as America in Vietnam and the French in Algeria—to argue that decisive victory is not impossible in such scenarios. He concludes:

War, including one in which the sides are not balanced in terms of power, can be decided only by use of ground forces, deployed as part of the general use of military and non-military capabilities. Clear evidence of this can be seen in past wars between states and guerrilla or terror groups. During such conflicts, enemy insurgents cannot be defeated in “clean” wars from the air alone, and are not impressed by efforts to influence them mentally with the pyrotechnics of smoke and fire.

This is also true of the Israeli case, despite its unique circumstances. The enemy’s military buildup and transformation into a terror army requires the state of Israel, and the IDF especially, to wage a war which will certainly require use of ground maneuver as part of a broad combined-arms effort. Maneuver needs to be aimed at military decisions in stubborn and complex fighting, which will very likely lead to serious losses.

Read more at Hashiloach

More about: IDF, Israeli Security, Postmodernism

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy