The Dahiya Doctrine: Fighting dirty or a knock-out punch?

Security and Defense: Attacking residential areas which double as enemy command centers may seem cruel to some, but for many in the IDF, it’s a strategy that is necessary until Hizbullah and Hamas change their ways.

iaf white phosphorus airstrike gaza beautiful 311 (photo credit: BLOOMBERG)
iaf white phosphorus airstrike gaza beautiful 311
(photo credit: BLOOMBERG)
The plans for future wars are drawn up by the IDF Operations Directorate, which is based in the military’s heavily-fortified underground command center, known by its Hebrew name, Bor or “pit” in English.

Located in the Kirya – the IDF’s Pentagon – in Tel Aviv, the Bor is accessed through a large steel door that is sealed shut in the event of a nonconventional attack. In front is a big sign reminding visitors to remove the batteries from their cellphones before entering, since enemies can eavesdrop even if a phone is turned off.

The stairs seem almost endless. On one floor there is a door with a sign “Northern Front – Syria,” where operations officers pore over maps and plans pertaining to a future war with the country’s neighbor to the north. Down the hall is the same door for Lebanon and Gaza.

Go down another two flights of stairs and one arrives at the chief of General Staff’s conference room, where the IDF’s top brass meets almost weekly for highly-classified discussions, and a review of operational plans.

The room is quite bare except for a U-shaped table and a wall lined with plasma TV screens, video cameras and pictures from previous meetings from the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005.

At least once a month here, a disagreement erupts between the top generals over the significance of the Dahiya Doctrine and whether it should be used again in a future conflict. Most believe it should.

DAHIYA IS a neighborhood in Beirut which can only be accessed by card-carrying Hizbullah members. During the 2006 war, the IDF bombed large apartment buildings in the neighborhood since they were also used as Hizbullah command-and-control centers, and were built over Hizbullah bunkers.

The disagreements regarding the doctrine are not directly connected to the Goldstone report, but more to the impact such strikes have on Israel’s enemies. Those against this doctrine believe that due to the makeup of Hizbullah and Hamas, it is almost impossible to deal it a fatal blow like when fighting against a conventional military. Those in favor believe that a blow to a terror group’s nerve center can indeed have such an effect.

One officer involved in operations planning calls the current type of warfare the IDF is facing the “Collage War,” since when fighting against an organization like Hizbullah or Hamas, IDF commanders will face characteristics from guerrilla, terror and conventional battles. In other words, a commander invading Lebanon will face anti-tank missiles (conventional), kidnapping attempts (terror) and underground tunnels (guerrilla).

As a result, there is not one center of gravity
that, if destroyed, would end the war. This is in contrast to the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Israel retook the Suez Canal, a clear sign that Egypt had lost.

While Dahiya is hundreds of kilometers away from the Gaza Strip, for Judge Richard Goldstone, they are one and the same. In his report to the United Nations, to which the government is expected to respond very soon, Goldstone brings a quote from OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to back up his finding that Israel consistently destroys buildings and houses during operations in the Palestinian Territories.

“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” Eizenkot said in an interview in October 2008. “We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”

This remark, in addition to others made by Israeli officials, led Goldstone to the following conclusion: “Disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.”

Eizenkot even received a letter from Goldstone notifying him that his statements would be used in the report.

It would be natural to think that such a notification would deter Eizenkot from making similar remarks in the future. On Sunday though, he proved the opposite, when at a conference in Tel Aviv he said the IDF would continue to apply this doctrine in the future.

“Hizbullah is the one that is turning these areas into a battleground,” Eizenkot said of future plans to bomb homes in Lebanese villages where Hizbullah is storing rockets and maintains command posts. “I hope this will restrain them... but if not, we need to explain to ourselves and to others that this is something that Hizbullah has brought upon itself since it is building its combat zones inside these villages.”

THE SAME is true for Hamas. Since Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has not changed its strategy of using civilian infrastructure to launch attacks. Quite the contrary. And it is augmenting its tunnel systems throughout Gaza. It is placing command-and-control centers on the bottom floor of apartment buildings with the aim of deterring IAF strikes.

As a result, in a future conflict, the outcome will likely not be much different than it was last winter. As long as Hamas continues to fire rockets from schoolyards and store its weapons in mosques and people’s homes, the IDF will have no choice but to venture into the built-up areas where collateral damage is statistically greater.

Israel’s response to the Goldstone report is threefold: One, the IDF has written a report – estimated to be 1,000 pages long – that goes through the Goldstone report word for word, and even catches it on spelling mistakes. This will be released to the public by mid-February and will include a rebuttal to the war-crimes charges, many of which were found to be baseless.

The second layer of the response is the decision by the government on whether to establish an inquiry commission. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has apparently been pushing for the establishment of such a commission along the lines of the Winograd Commission. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have been opposed.

One compromise that was suggested was the establishment of a judicial investigative panel that would review internal IDF investigations of alleged wrongdoing during Operation Cast Lead, but would not interrogate officers who participated in the operation. The hope is that the establishment of this panel would deflect the war crimes charges found in the Goldstone report, and at the same time would fulfill UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for “credible domestic investigations” by both Israel and Hamas.

Thethird layer of the response is an attempt by the defense and politicalestablishments to convince the world that the problem is not with theway the IDF fights – considering the warnings it provides the civilianpopulations and the precautions it takes when opening fire – but withthe world’s understanding of modern guerrilla warfare.

Ashkenazitried to do that on Tuesday and Wednesday during meetings he held onthe sidelines of a NATO conference in Brussels with his American,Turkish, French, Canadian, British, Australian and Spanish counterparts.

Untilthis happens, the Goldstone report will very soon become just anotherchapter in a never-ending book of UN reports slamming the IDF’s conducton the battlefields of Gaza and Lebanon.