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

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

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