The Gideon Doctrine: The changing Middle East and IDF strategy

The IDF outlines the parameters of its military thinking and practice.

Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot observes an exercise by Armored Brigade 401 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot observes an exercise by Armored Brigade 401
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IN MID-JULY, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot met with military reporters and briefed them off the record on the latest local and regional developments. He also presented a new five-year plan “Gideon,” named after the Israelite judge-warrior, who was instructed by God to battle the Midianites and destroy their idols.
The Gideon plan has two purposes: First to avoid cuts and, in fact, obtain yet another increase in the defense budget – currently around NIS 60 billion ($15.3 billion), not final and still growing – at the expense of welfare, education, health and all the other national necessities. Gideon is also another effort – the fourth in recent years – to obtain approval from the government to implement long-term planning. So far, due to never-ending dispute and bickering between the Ministries of Defense and Finance, various long-term plans have either been rejected or not authorized.
In mid- August, the Chief of Staff’s briefing turned into an official, but sanitized, 33-page document titled “IDF Strategy.” Though the document does not state it in so many words, what emerges is the fact that the Israel Defense Forces is the strongest military structure in the entire region, which spreads from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
The “IDF Strategy” is meant “to serve as a guideline to the IDF and is based on vital national interests and agreed notions of national security and military thinking and practice.”
Already in 2007, then-minister Dan Meridor wrote a very lengthy and detailed security doctrine defining the “National Goals” for the State of Israel:
1. To ensure the existence of the state, defend its territorial integrity and the security of its citizens. [It’s worth noting, however, that Israel has never defined its borders.]
2. To preserve its values and nature as a Jewish and democratic state and home to the Jewish people.
3. To ensure the social and economic strength of the state.
4. To strengthen the regional and international status of the state while aspiring to have peace with its neighbors.
Here, it should be noted that while the pursuit of peace is mentioned by the IDF, judging from the actions over the last three years taken by the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it seems that peace with the Palestinian Authority is no longer a possibility.
“IDF STRATEGY” accepts and reaffirms these four principles. It also acknowledges that, in a democratic state, the military is subjected to the supremacy of the government.
Yet, interestingly enough, the document goes beyond this obvious imperative – it states that the IDF obligation is not only to the elected government and Knesset, but also to society and citizens of the state who elect their representatives and ministers. Since he was appointed Chief of Staff less than a year ago, Eizenkot has stressed, on several occasions, that “the people’s trust” is an important element of the way the IDF works, operates and sets its goals. “We have to be sensible” in our demands and “sensitive to other needs of society.”
According to the document, the security doctrine is based on four pillars. Three are as old as the state and were already defined by the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion: deterrence, early warning and decisive outcome.
A fourth pillar – defense – was officially added a decade ago.
All in all, the IDF sees its mission as repelling and neutralizing threats, creating effective deterrence; postponing confrontation, if possible, but also to use both defensive and offensive strategies and utilize force in the most determined and effective way, while respecting international law and the rules of war. The IDF also emphasizes the importance of strategic cooperation with the US and the development of strategic ties with other countries.
In the document and in Eizenkot’s briefing, it is clearly stated that, like other nations in the region, Israel was taken by surprise by the spontaneous events of the “Arab Spring” of 2010-2011. As a result, Military Intelligence has since put a lot of emphasis on trying to understand the “zeitgeist,” creating and beefing up research departments that deal with and monitor the social media in Arab states and Iran.
The Arab Spring is now described by the IDF as an “Arab Shake-up,” which relates to the unexpected twists in its results. “The old order has collapsed,” said Eizenkot. Four countries – Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq ‒ are shaped by civil war and the decline of central government.
Egypt barely escaped the same fate due to the determination of its military and the backing of a broad base of civilian society that holds onto a sense of national cohesion.
Egypt, ruled by President Fattah al-Sisi, a former chief of staff and defense minister, which has in the last two years strengthened its military and intelligence ties with Israel, is facing a growing challenge of daring terror attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. The most prominent terror group is Ansar Bayt al- Maqdis, which less than a year ago pledged its allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed “caliph” of the Islamic State (ISIS). The group now calls itself the Sinai district of the Islamic State, in return for financial support. This danger emanating from Sinai has brought Israel and Egypt closer.
Indeed, as “IDF Strategy” notes, ISIS “is a new and amazing phenomenon that no one anticipated.”
The changes in the Middle East are strongly reflected in the IDF’s strategy document.
It contends that the nonconventional weapons threat to Israel has been reduced because of the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria and the dismantling of chemical and nuclear programs in the last two decades in Iraq and Libya.
Instead, Israel is confronted by the rising strength of “non-state actors” such as ISIS and other terror groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria) and formations on Israeli borders in the south and on the Golan Heights in the north.
“IDF Strategy” also perceives Hezbollah and Hamas as dangerous enemies in possession of nearly 100,000 missiles and rockets that can be directed at almost any military or strategic site in Israel.
Interestingly, Iran is only mentioned twice in the document, which describes it as a “threat” to Israel mainly because of its support of terror groups in the region. But there is no reference to its nuclear program ‒ in sharp contrast to the government and Netanyahu who have made the “Iranian threat” the No. 1 priority of their policy and political agenda.
In private sessions, Eizenkot and his top military commanders have criticized the nuclear deal reached recently between the world powers and Iran, but also acknowledge that it contains positive elements and, above all, is a done deal, at least for the 10-year duration of the agreement, unless Iran is caught redhanded, once again cheating.
Accordingly, the IDF has been trying to adjust itself to the emerging reality. Since 1985, it has reduced the number of tanks by 75 percent and its warplanes (usually old and outdated) by 50 percent. On the other hand, it has invested more money to extend the submarine fleet (soon to be at six), which according to foreign reports, is capable of launching nuclear missiles, thus creating for Israel a “second nuclear strike capability.” Also, in the last two decades, it has increased by 400 percent the number of drones in its possession and has improved intelligence and cyber capabilities.
“IDF Strategy” is an important document, but not a revolutionary one. In a way, it states the obvious, reflecting in an honest and accurate manner the challenges, risks and opportunities facing Israel. Its main problem, however, is that in many parts it doesn’t reflect the attitude, beliefs and practice of the government.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli security commentator and co-author of ‘Spies Against Armageddon.’ He blogs at and tweets at yossi_melman