Israel’s Deterrence after the Second Lebanon War

, February 13, 2007

 Vol. 6, No. 19     February 13, 2007

  • The Islamic fundamentalist war against Israeli and Jewish existence in the Middle East – which is being waged by both Hizbullah and Hamas – did not begin in 1967, and it is not going to end even if Israel redeploys along the 1967 lines.
  • Hardly anybody in Israel thinks that if we give territories now, we will get peace in return. We left Lebanon and Hizbullah grew stronger, ending in a war. We left Gaza and received a stronger Hamas and Kassam rockets. Israeli is not suicidal and we are unlikely to try this strategy again in another place.
  • If we do not respond to the Kassam rockets, we cannot provide even basic security to the Israeli population. If the current ceasefire collapses, Israel might decide to regain its deterrence and prevent Hamas from becoming Hizbullah No. 2 by returning to the Israeli-Egyptian border and by reoccupying some areas in the Gaza Strip.
  • If Iran achieves a nuclear weapons capability, it will proliferate very quickly to terror organizations, which is reason enough for Israel to defeat both Hizbullah and Hamas. Even if Hizbullah does not have nuclear weapons itself, it will be operating under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, which could affect Israel’s ability to respond effectively to attacks.
  • Israel should tell the countries that are going to give hundreds of millions of dollars to the reconstruction of Lebanon that the money will be transferred only after we have a sign of life from Israel’s kidnapped soldiers and they are released as stated in UN Resolution 1701.
  • Signing an agreement with Syria will not change the situation, except to make Syria stronger in Lebanon. Talking with Syria does not start with the Golan Heights. It starts with terrorism, and the role that the Syrians play between Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon.
  • What Israel needs now is leadership with an agenda.

Two Different Conflicts in the Same Region

There are two different conflicts occurring in our region at the same time. One is the Palestinian struggle for an independent state. The other is the Islamic fundamentalist war against Israeli and Jewish existence in the Middle East – which is being waged by both Hizbullah and Hamas. This war did not begin in 1967, and it is not going to end even if Israel redeploys along the 1967 lines. These two conflicts sometimes intermingle because they have joint interests, but it is not the same war.

The Collapse of Deterrence

Israel lost much of its deterrence in the summer 2006 war in Lebanon. In most cases, the fact that there was a war is proof of the collapse of deterrence. Now Israel must rebuild its deterrent capability.

There used to be a mutual balance of fear between Israel and Hizbullah. For many years we have known that once a conflict began, Hizbullah could launch rockets at the northern third of Israel and civilians would be in shelters for up to several weeks. On the other hand, Hizbullah knew that Israel could actually destroy Lebanon, while it could not destroy Israel. The prevailing conception was of a kind of a balance that ensured a calm situation. This worked for six years.

The Outcome of the War

The goal of the summer 2006 war should have been not only to defeat Hizbullah, but also to prevent it from regaining its strategic capability by destroying the arms route from Iran and Syria. In order to win such a war Israel had to defeat Hizbullah to such a degree that the other forces in Lebanon would complete the task and eventually destroy it, and then act as a barrier to isolate Lebanon from Syria, but this was not done. After the end of the war, Hizbullah was still strong enough to continue to launch its rockets.

UN Resolution 1701 is problematic for Israel because it does not give Israel the tools to prevent Hizbullah from regaining its strategic capabilities. Nor does it give Israel a way to obtain the release of its kidnapped soldiers. It was within Israel’s capabilities to achieve its military goals, but we did not do so, and Resolution 1701 prevents us from doing so after the war.

Resolution 1701 only mentioned Israel’s kidnapped soldiers in the preamble, with no linkage and no sanctions. Israel should have demanded that the agreement be linked to a sign of life from the soldiers or having them handed over to the Lebanese authorities. Also, the Israeli naval blockade of Lebanon should have been lifted only after there was a solution for the kidnapped soldiers.

Israel should tell the countries that are going to give hundreds of millions of dollars to the reconstruction of Lebanon that the money will be transferred only after we have a sign of life from Israel’s kidnapped soldiers and they are released as stated in UN Resolution 1701.

Hizbullah was hurt, but not to such a degree that it cannot regain its power, including its supply of money and arms. Politically, they have become even stronger in Lebanon.

Once a war ends in the Middle East and there is another war on the horizon, there is no deterrence. Actually, it is the opposite of deterrence if a war ends with everyone talking about the next one.

The Collapse of the Land for Peace Idea

The land for peace idea has now collapsed. Hardly anybody in Israel really thinks that if we give territories, we will get peace. We left Lebanon and Hizbullah grew stronger, with the situation ending in a war. We left Gaza and received a stronger Hamas and Kassam rockets. Israeli is not suicidal and we are unlikely to try this strategy again in another place. We have to find another way, and a new concept is urgently needed, taking into account how to regain deterrence.

Gaza

There is a connection between what happened in Lebanon and the way we left Gaza. We have to find a way to leave areas so that they will not become a threat, as happened in Gaza. Hamas is becoming like Hizbullah because we left the Gaza-Egypt border.

We have this strange ceasefire in Gaza. We cease and the Palestinians fire, and after awhile, everything collapses because it has no real basis. If the current ceasefire collapses, Israel will have to make a very tough decision. The Israeli decision might be to regain its deterrence and prevent Hamas from becoming Hizbullah No. 2 by returning to the Israeli-Egyptian border and by reoccupying some areas in the Gaza Strip. If we do not respond to the Kassam rockets, we cannot provide even basic security to the Israeli population. I hope we won’t arrive at this point, but a lot depends on the leadership on the other side of the security fence, among the Palestinians.

Iran

Israel cannot deter Iran just by being strong. We are vulnerable because our country is so small and would be particularly endangered if the Iranians achieve a nuclear weapons capability. In addition, if Iran achieves such capability, it will proliferate very quickly to terror organizations, which is reason enough for Israel to defeat both Hizbullah and Hamas. Even if Hizbullah does not have nuclear weapons itself, it will be operating under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, which could affect Israel’s ability to respond to attacks.

Finally, a nuclear Iran is not only an Israeli problem. If, in another ten years, there are a dozen nuclear states including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, this is an inherently unstable situation.

Syria

From the point of view of a national security strategy, Syria must be isolated immediately. Signing an agreement with Syria will not change the situation, except to make Syria stronger in Lebanon. Talking with Syria does not start with the Golan Heights. It starts with terrorism, and the role that the Syrians play between Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

My philosophy is all-inclusive. Use force, if needed, but this does not mean that we do not have to talk to people. We can negotiate and use force at the same time. In the end, we are trying to achieve coexistence as a basis for full agreements and a lasting peace with our neighbors.

Leadership is Needed

Looking ahead to its challenges, what Israel needs now more than anything is leadership with an agenda, knowledge, experience, and authority.

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Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan served as Head of the Planning Branch of the IDF General Staff and headed the Israeli security committee to peace negotiations with the Jordanians, Palestinians, and Syrians. He later served as head of the Central Command and as Deputy Chief of the General Staff. He also served as Chairman of Israel’s National Security Council and was the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on December 7, 2006.

About Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan served as Head of the Planning Branch of the IDF General Staff and headed the Israeli security committee to peace negotiations with the Jordanians, Palestinians, and Syrians. He later served as head of the Central Command and as Deputy Chief of the General Staff. He also served as Chairman of Israel's National Security Council and was the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister.