Into the Fray: Redefining (failure as) victory
One can only hope that the stiffening of national resolve the public seems to be displaying in its choice of candidates for the next Knesset, will result in a new political atmosphere that will permit the IDF to once again become the formidable and feared fighting apparatus it once was.
IDF tank patrols Golan Heights Photo: IDF Spokesman Unit
Post-modern notions have blurred the strategic clarity of Israel’s political
leadership and its defense and foreign affairs establishment. [T]he
outcome of the 2006 [Lebanon] war makes the next round inevitable – Efraim
Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies
Israel can very capably defend itself...it lacks the will to make the
protracted efforts to defeat its enemies.... No one at the upper echelons of
Israel’s political life articulates the imperative for victory – Daniel Pipes,
director of the Middle East Forum
The IDF either lost ability to or forgot how
to close with and destroy a determined enemy.... When a nation’s infantry cannot
close the last 100 meters and kill a determined foe a country is in trouble –
Col. (ret.) Kevin Benson, former director, the US Army’s School of Advanced
Last week, Yaakov Lappin, who covers military and
security affairs for The Jerusalem Post, published an article which should give
cause for grave alarm to anyone concerned with Israel’s security.
reason the article, titled “Israel redefines victory in the new Middle East,” is
so disturbing is that it appears to indicate that Israel’s defense establishment
has learned little from the string of military failures – or at least,
non-successes – incurred by the IDF over the better part of a
Fossilized thought process?
As Lappin is a well-informed,
responsible journalist, there seems little reason to question the credibility of
his account of the prevailing mindset of the senior echelons charged with
formulating the nation’s military doctrine.
For what emerges is a dismal
picture of fossilized thinking – a kind of mental rigor mortis – reflecting an
unawareness of, or a refusal to acknowledge, the fact that the conceptual
templates and perceptual frameworks being employed to formulate Israel’s
operational procedures have precipitated a series of grossly unsatisfactory
outcomes in virtually all the IDF’s major military undertakings since the
beginning of this century.
Indeed, if one examines the realities that
developed in the wake of all these engagements, it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that Israel’s adversaries emerged with their strategic positions
perceptibly enhanced – or at least, with having wrung important benefits for
themselves and/or their constituencies.
Time and again, Israel’s leaders
have been unable to translate operational success into political-strategic
Quite the opposite. Each time, after the guns fell silent, the
other side has gained in strength and/or prestige, and Israel has been pressed
into making concessions regarding the conditions that prevailed in the status
Catalogue of counterproductive campaigns
A brief survey of the
aftermaths of the IDF’s more significant campaigns/operations in recent years
reveals a depressing picture of counterproductive martial endeavor, despite
frequent displays of impressive intelligence gathering, pinpoint targeting and
awesome destructive power.
Thus, the 2006 Second Lebanon War paved the
way for the ascent of Hezbollah.
Despite the massive devastation
inflicted on Lebanon, the inconclusive end to the fighting left Hezbollah in a
distinctly enhanced position both in terms of refurbished armaments and
political power. Indeed, any future threat to its status would seem more likely
to arise from the outcome of the civil war in Syria and the fate of the
movement’s hitherto sponsor, Bashar Assad, rather than any peril it might face
from the IDF.
Similarly, the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which,
although conducted with a greater level of professionalism than the Lebanon
fiasco, still left Hamas entrenched in power and spoiling for a fight, after
defying the might of the IDF for almost a month – and, as was to be demonstrated
a few years later, with greatly enhanced capabilities militarily and
international stature politically.
Even the interception of the 2010 Gaza
flotilla, which was intended to enforce the blockade of the Hamas-controlled
Gaza Strip, resulted in the blockade being eased and restrictions being
Likewise, the November 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense
demonstrated that Hamas had not been deterred by Operation Cast Lead, but merely
forced to regroup and re-arm, with a greatly improved array of weaponry. The
premature curtailing of the fighting by Israel not only left the organization in
a position to claim its defiant resistance victorious, but with its
international standing considerably upgraded, with visits by high-level
international figures and pledges of generous financial aid.
Egyptian brokered cease-fire understanding left Hamas with considerable
concessions, including the lifting of additional restrictions on imports, and
with undertakings by Israel to refrain from various military activities it had
carried out in the past.
Responding with resignation and rhetoric
judging from Lappin’s account of the mentality that dominates the formulation of
Israel’s security doctrine, this abysmal array of results is not difficult to
understand. Indeed, some might contend that they were largely inevitable. For it
appears that the nation’s policy-makers have resolved to respond to the
realities of the New Middle East with a regrettable combination of resignation
Lappin begins his article with the following observation:
“Israel is redefining its concept of military victory in a Middle East dominated
by terrorist organizations turned quasi-state actors.”
However, to some
it may appear that the notion of “victory” (at least as it is understood in
common English-language usage) has been expunged from Israeli strategic
thinking, both as an admissible cognitive entity and as an attainable, even
desirable, military goal.
According to Lappin: “Victory was seen by the
Israel Defense Forces as a clear-cut event, which ended when the enemy raised a
He continues: “Today, however, the IDF considers this
thinking out of date in the 21st-century battle arenas of the region, where a
terror organization such as Hamas will continue firing rockets into Israel right
up until the last day of a conflict, and claim victory despite absorbing the
majority of damages and casualties.”
Lappin also writes that Israel’s
strategic planners have renounced the notion of seizing territory from which
attacks are launched against Israel – or at least prescribe refraining from it
as far as possible: “Today, the goal of seizing control of the enemy’s turf is
seen as a short-term initiative, and...is a highly unpopular development among
strategic planners, who now argue that this should be avoided wherever
It would seem that “victory” is not the
only concept that is undergoing a “semantic overhaul.” So it would seem is the
notion of “deterrence.”
Lappin: “Deterrence, rather than clearcut
conquest or triumph over the enemy, has formed the goal of Israel’s last three
conflicts: the Second Lebanon War of 2006; Operation Cast Lead against Hamas and
Islamic Jihad in 2009 and Operation Pillar of Defense against the same entities
in Gaza in November.”
As he goes on to clarify, however:
“...deterrence-based military achievements are temporary by nature. At
some point, deterrence erodes away, and must be reestablished all over again.
This is what happened in Gaza last month. And the IDF has been preparing for a
fresh confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which today is armed with at
least 50,000 rockets and missiles, many of them... that can strike deep inside
This suggests a radical departure from the usual significance
ascribed to both “deterrence” and to the means employed to attain it.
as Lappin explains: “The IDF’s evolving new
[deterrence-rather-than-triumph-based] doctrine involves short spells of
fighting, in which the IDF hits the other side...hard enough to ensure that the
Israeli homefront will enjoy prolonged calm after the fighting
Deterrence redefined (cont.)
Clearly, in the new IDF jargon,
“deterrence” no longer entails engendering the ongoing perception in the mind of
potential adversaries that aggression will have unacceptable consequences, but
merely inducing short periods of respite until the consequences are no longer so
This is a formula for a never-ending tit-for-tat cycle of
attacks and counterattacks, in which the aggressor can persist in attrition,
secure in knowledge that the IDF will eschew measures aimed at “clear-cut
conquest or triumph over the enemy.”
In other words, whatever the damage
inflicted on the environs, the enemy can be sure of being left able to fight
But perhaps what is even graver is that measures to achieve
an effective deterrent posture are no longer focused on ensuring that the
enemy’s will-to-fight is broken – as in the case with Germany and Japan after
World War II. Instead, the virtually explicitly stated goal today is to coerce
the enemy into a temporary truce, which merely forces it to regroup and redeploy
while allowing it to rearm and rebuild, and thus to resume hostilities at a
later stage, with its appetite to engage undiminished.
As Israel Harel
recently remarked in Haaretz in a scathing rebuke of the prevailing ethos in the
IDF: “This is why terrorists can and will fire thousands of rockets at Israel,
and this is what will lead us to the next intifada.”
In his “How Israel Bungled the Second Lebanon War” in Middle East Quarterly,
Efriam Inbar makes an astute diagnosis of the malaise: “... many IDF leaders
believed that minimal force if not diplomacy would suffice to minimize the
To make the point, he cites then-chief of the Northern Command,
Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, who declared: “There is nothing that can be solved just by
the military... There is a need for a diplomatic solution,” adding, “I do
not believe that anyone wants to go back into Lebanon.”
This is precisely
Cowered by the tyranny of political correctness, Israel has
abandoned the pursuit of military imperatives. The dread of being bogged down in
a “quagmire” of a land operation has ensnared it in the quicksand of impotence,
leading to a string of strategic failures that have left its adversaries
stronger than they were before Israeli action.
Yes, Israel’s overall
national strategy must incorporate a judicious mixture of military and
diplomatic endeavor. But diplomatic endeavor must be geared to facilitating the
pursuit of that strategy’s objectives, not to undermining it –and certainly
cannot become a determinant of those objectives, nor a factor that dictates the
measures to achieve them.
The IDF needs to remilitarize its thinking,
readopt military methods/methodologies, and reinstate military
It needs to refocus on “military solutions” and leave the
diplomatic ones to the diplomats.
Reinstating the “white flag” objective
According to Lappin, the architects of Israel’s defense strategy have
essentially renounced any endeavor to coerce the enemy to raise a white flag of
This is a grave error rooted more in the prevailing mood in
the political milieu rather than in military realities in the
True, some might protest with a degree of justification, the idea
of a comprehensive victory over the Arab world is a dangerous, unattainable
delusion. Perhaps – but imposing surrender on the enemy in specific theaters of
military engagement is not.
Thus, as Inbar observes, the IDF definitely
could have “eviscerat[ed] Hezbollah’s ability to harm Israel.”
surrender could have been imposed on Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006; it could have
been imposed on Hamas in Gaza in 2008. It can and must be imposed on Hamas
The missing ingredient was not martial prowess of the IDF, nor the
motivation of its warriors. The lack of political will was the missing
ingredient required for a more successful outcome.
In the next encounter
– regrettably made inevitable by the policies now adopted – Israel’s Arab
adversaries, whether non-states, quasi-states or states, must be crushed by
overwhelming force, from the land, sea and air. Their leaders must be seized or
slain. They must be forced to admit defeat – and indeed forced to hoist a white
flag as an unambiguous acknowledgment of surrender.
The coming elections
This is far from an exhaustive critique of the problem Lappin sets out in his
article, and much remains to be addressed that, sadly, the constraints of space
does not permit.
But given that the sources of the malaise afflicting
Israel’s military planners are dominantly political, one can only hope that the
stiffening of national resolve the public seems to be displaying in its choice
of candidates for the next Knesset, will result in a new political atmosphere
that will permit the IDF to once again become the formidable and feared fighting
apparatus it once was – free of the impediments which currently curtail its
operational alternatives, endanger the country it is assigned to defend and
imperil the citizens it is charged to protect.
(www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel
Institute for Strategic Studies.