A few weeks ago, I served for five days in the IDF reserves, called “miluim” in Hebrew. It was a huge exercise which was mentioned in the media but the details of which were kept secret. Suffice it to say that I got to work with the air force, witnessing the raw power of our air cavalry, and saw some of Israel’s best troops practicing a real war scenario. Indeed, our officer corps is amazing – adroitly handling navigation, communication, combined-arms coordination, and of course, morale and motivation. It is a great privilege to be part of this Jewish fighting force, made up of mostly fathers and husbands, and mostly fun as well.
Yet, while I loved being out in the field with troops and seeing parts of the land of Israel that I had not seen before, I had a sense of frustration about what we were doing. Why? Because we were practicing for a war which is probably not going to happen, while the real war is being fought against us right under our noses.
This is what I told my comrades: “Here on miluim we are having a nice five-day nature outing, but when I get home, to eastern Jerusalem, I will contend with rocks and firebombs, and when I get to my work in the field of media, I will have to fight against a tidal wave of worldwide anti-Israel messaging. In short, here on miluim, I’m at summer camp, but when I go home, I go back to the actual war.”
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There are three reasons why the next war is probably not going to be a classic old-school large-scale military affair for which we train in miluim:
1. Israel’s enemies already know they will lose
Our enemies have learned that Israel is strong at conventional warfare. After many embarrassing defeats at the hands of the IDF, they have realized that fighting a frontal, tank-to-tank, battalion-to-battalion war is no longer their best option – Israel’s military might is simply superior. Full-blown Israeli commitment is tantamount the destruction of enemy armies and that is why they will probably not initiate such action.2. Our enemies are pretty busy
Any state actors which have the capacity to arm, train and deploy large conventional armies are tied up right now. Don’t expect big ol’ Syria or Egypt to attack with jets and tanks anytime soon – the Arab Spring has basically eradicated their abilities to fight a conventional war. The Syrians are fighting on two fronts – against rebels (Jabhat al-Nusra) trying to topple the regime and against Islamic State (IS) taking over its eastern landmass.
Egypt has the Muslim Brotherhood within, and IS-affiliated forces flanking east and west, in Northern Africa and in the Sinai, and tremendous financial difficulties to boot.
Both of these countries used to be existential dangers for Israel – now they are but shadows of their former selves. Indeed, at the recent Herzliya Conference Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “There is no danger of invasion by Arab armies. None.”3. Israel doesn’t respond to conventional warfare as our enemies would like
Israel’s detractors have realized a fundamental truth – when we sense mortal danger we unite, mobilize and come out fighting hard, fighting to survive. Under war conditions we gain a certitude, resolve and willingness to sacrifice which stand in direct contravention to our enemies’ goals. In a paradoxical and unexpected way, attacking Israel en masse just serves to strengthen it.
For these reasons – IDF efficacy, Arab infighting and the prospect of a united Israel – our enemies have adopted new tactics. These tactics aim to avoid unifying the Israeli nation, and to keep Israel from fullblown commitment and mobilization. The new goal is to divide the Israeli public, bring about fear and inner strife, cause self-doubt and infighting, and the golden prize: create anti-Israel Jews to fight for the Jewish state’s demise.
A new kind of war is upon us, slowly trying to divide us and eat away at our morale, confidence, unity and sovereignty – and in some ways, our enemies are winning.
Here are three examples: 1. A death of a thousand cuts
While tank columns aren’t about to roll in, terrorists organizations have taken the place of big armies – from the small-scale terrorism of stones and firebombs to suicide bombings, tunnels and of course, rockets.
Terrorism has proven able to shut down a parts of the country – north or south – and even disable Ben-Gurion Airport. Terrorism is also able to keep foreign tourists away and keep Israelis from visiting Jewish sites.
But don’t be surprised if terrorism seems less of an existential threat than total war – that is exactly the intent. The terrorists want to keep Israeli commitment at a minimum while at the same time putting stress on its morale and the economy. Since the onslaught of the terror war strategy, Israel has not won a war decisively.2. If you tell a lie enough times...
The media, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and campus warfare is all really one thing – it is a war of delegitimization, which seeks to recast the story of Zionism as a narrative of wholesale theft and abuse. Not only is Israel not a light unto the nations, it is portrayed as a stain upon the nations – all this while jihad dons the dignified robes of “human rights” and “social justice.”
The greatest victims of this narrative warping are North American college students, the leaders of tomorrow.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the founder of the Amcha Initiative, a nonprofit organization that combats anti-Semitism on college campuses, told me that while many young Jews are being recruited to the anti-Israel cause, many more simply choose to opt out of the Israel story because it has become too costly for them on a personal level.
Our enemies are going after every single person, every single student, trying to convert them. Many of Israel’s natural defenders have been neutralized – and some even turned against it.3. Land grab
Quietly, but with great vigor, a wholesale land grab is going on in the Negev, in the Galilee and everywhere where Israeli law enforcement is weak. Huge swaths of land are being taken over by sprawling shantytowns.
While I was on reserve duty in the south, Beduin on ATVs closely trailed our unit, collected bullet casings and made numerous attempts to openly steal IDF property.
Here, again, I felt ridiculous, holding an M-16, practicing to fight a big war, yet helpless to fight the blatant flouting of Israeli sovereignty that was happening right before my eyes.
Even more troublesome is the fact that this loss of sovereignty could not happen without the aid of our own Israeli courts who drag their feet when dealing with Arab land squatting. Ari Briggs, spokesman for Regavim, an organization which works against illegal squatting, told me: “The lack of Israeli law enforcement in Arab towns and villages has caused widespread lawlessness.
Illegal building and land grabs, corruption and protection rackets, and radical Islam, have infiltrated these towns and villages.
“At the same time, local and foreign NGOs, intent on harming Israel, are working within these towns and villages to continue and enhance discontent, encouraging extremist behavior and making any government efforts ineffective. At its peak, 2,000 illegal structures per year were being built in the Negev, and now there are 140,000 of them.”
These are just some hidden battles of the actual war Israel is facing – and it is decidedly not classic field-warfare. These new tactics cannot be fought by the military alone, and even the military has to change in order to meet these challenges.
DR. HAIM ASA , one of Israel’s leading military strategists, and Vice Admiral (ret.) Yedidya Ya’ari (former chairman of Raphael Advanced Defense Systems) have written a new book, called Diffused Warfare, in which they argue that the IDF needs to become a lighter, faster army, which relies less on large battalions but acts in smaller groups, seeking out terrorists, hitting them with a precision strike or apprehending them, then disappearing. In other words, make our army a mirror image of the terrorist enemy we face.
This recognition of how the enemy is working, and creating new tactics to match it, needs to be paralleled in the other fronts as well.
For example: the BDS, media and campus disinformation campaigns are well-run propaganda machines that have sapped our morale and delegitimized Israel in the eyes of the world. Israel can no longer underestimate this threat and needs to create an information response machine which will strike back at narrative jihad and give Diaspora Jews and Israelis back their sense of the justness of our cause.
As Isi Leibler has recently written about Manfred Gerstenfeld’s new book, there is “a desperate need for the Israeli government to set up an advanced, well-staffed and amply funded anti-propaganda agency which will globally refute the loathsome lies and defamation and humiliate and shame those responsible.” This is especially true on campuses.
Finally, in regard to land theft and the erosion of sovereignty – Israel must create, uphold and enforce laws to empower our police to combat these phenomena.
There can be no loophole for minors throwing rocks. There can be no tolerance for mass squatting.
The assertion of sovereignty is, first and foremost, an assertion of Israeli law over all peoples who live here. As Joe Sabag of Israel Allies Caucus says: the future is not “land for peace,” but “law-for-peace.”
Indeed, the key to victory in the new war is to understand the goals of the enemy and to work decidedly against them: if they want to divide Israel, we must stay united. If they seek to demoralize us, we must boost morale. If they yearn to take away the minds of our young people – we must empower the next generation more than ever before. If they aim to exploit loopholes in our system, we must turn those loopholes into nooses.
And finally, if their goal to limit all of our strikes to a mere “proportional response” – we must hit them with overwhelming force which leaves no one guessing as to who is the victor is.
The author is program director and show host at Voice Of Israel. He holds a JD from Cardozo School of Law and is an ordained rabbi. @yishaifleisher.