ISRAEL’S SECURITY DOCTRINE AND THE TRAP OF “LIMITED CONFLICT”


No. 514     March 2004

  • The many classic examples of low-intensity conflict – in Indo-China, Malaya, Algeria, Cuba, and Northern Ireland – are irrelevant to the case of Israel. Not a single citizen in Britain, France, or the United States had his daily routine in his native country disrupted as a result of the low-intensity combat conducted by his country’s army on a foreign battlefield.

  • The guerilla and terror actions in Vietnam, Algeria, Ireland, Rhodesia, and other places were not directed against the very existence of the rival nation and its army.

  • Something about the Western response to a strike on its population centers can be learned from the American reaction to 9/11, with its military operation directed at the heart of Afghanistan as the sender of terror. In this case, the doctrine of limited conflict was cast aside, as the “strong” side under attack undertook to summarily obliterate the “weak” attacker in accordance with the laws of war.

  • In the mid-1950s, Israel was also subjected to a terrorist onslaught. The IDF’s reaction was dictated by a security doctrine that led to the 1956 Sinai Campaign, a war intended to defeat the terrorist entity that had emerged in the Gaza Strip under Egyptian auspices. When it became clear to Israel’s leadership that acts of retaliation were unable to halt the terror, they reached the inevitable conclusion that the only solution was a rapid military victory by conquering the territory and eliminating the instigators of the terror and their hosts.

  • Suicide terrorists, though presented as ultimately insurmountable weapons, are really products of a system whose leaders value their lives, property, and reputation. Accordingly, it is the heads of the terrorist organizations who should be the main targets of attack, and not only the end products, the suicide terrorists.

  • The halt in attacks by Hamas from September 2003 to January 2004 was the direct result of the threat to the lives of the group’s leadership after an unceasing series of air attacks. This proved once again the validity of Israel’s traditional security doctrine, that requires those in charge to apply force – the IDF – to provide defense together with achieving a decision as rapidly as possible against any type of war that may be waged against the State of Israel.

A Doctrine Inappropriate to the Israeli-Palestinian Setting

In Jerusalem Viewpoints #486, “Understanding the Breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations” (originally published in the IDF journal Marachot 383, May 2002), Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi argues that the political process and the armed conflict being waged against Israel by the Palestinians are in effect different paths in service of the same goal: “the destruction of the Zionist enterprise.” If we accept Halevi’s well-reasoned assumption regarding the strategic goal of the Palestinian Authority under its current leadership, then Israel’s attitude and actions against it should be entirely different from the conception currently formulated in the instruction manual The Limited Conflict on the subject of confronting Palestinian terror.1 Halevi notes in his assessment that “Israel conducted the political process with the Palestinians on the basis of the conception that its dispute with them is essentially a political one.”2 This fundamental assumption has also penetrated the IDF, and led to the new doctrine known as “limited conflict.”

The central problem with this doctrine is its basis in a reality and thought processes reflecting other settings, entirely dissimilar to the Israeli-Palestinian setting. Edward Luttwak, a foremost strategist of the West, stated that “in war as in peace, different national styles come to the fore…accordingly, any attempt to graft one national fighting style upon an armed conflict with another nation, with different conventions of power, weaknesses and other societal relations – usually results in failure.”3 The logic of this statement explains the serious mistakes that have plagued both the interpretation given to the objectives of the terror, and the nature of the Israeli response. The objectives of Palestinian terror have been interpreted in accordance with a system of concepts imported from settings fundamentally different from the local one, and which have inevitably created an inappropriate basis for professional thinking. The intention here is to offer a critical look at this new military doctrine and to present a few areas in which it has already failed, in the hope of stimulating a discussion of the degree of its suitability for Israel’s confrontation with the Palestinians.

The Assumption that Terror Does Not Threaten Israel’s Existence

The mistake in the conduct of the war against terror began when the protagonists of the political process with the PLO adopted the view that, since the Palestinians do not and will not possess tank divisions, therefore, terror does not threaten Israel’s existence. According to this claim, even if the Palestinian Authority fails to alter its modes of operation and, despite the Oslo Agreements, it continues to be a terrorist entity, this does not constitute a significant danger to the State of Israel. Yet this claim is premised upon a disregard for the fact that terror is a form of war, and one that seeks to achieve a decisive outcome by using alternative tactics.

Those who are accustomed to thinking in terms of a conclusive outcome achieved by maneuvering divisions alone, have failed to understand that terrorism achieves its objectives by maneuvering public opinion into a situation where it despairs of its ability to emerge victorious. The potential damage assessments that initially dictated Israel’s evaluation of the effects of terror were minimalist underestimates. However, it is now clear that in the long term the perpetration of Palestinian terror has wrought immense cumulative damage in the social, economic, and political spheres, and that the response to terror – based on attrition – has proven to be woefully inadequate.

A more sober view of terror surfaced in a June 2000 interview in Bamahane with Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, then Coordinator of Operations in the Territories, who stated that the purpose of the IDF’s campaign was “to reduce the level of terror, which in the scope and depth of its damage has become a strategic threat, with the first signs of threatening our existence in terms of quality of life.”4 This represented the first occasion in which a senior IDF officer officially conceded that Palestinian terror threatens the existence of the State of Israel. If this is indeed the nature of Palestinian terror, then continued adherence to the “limited conflict” doctrine is mistaken. As will be demonstrated, this doctrine was never intended as an answer to mortal threats. In other words, the inner logic of Halevi’s analysis leads to the conclusion that as a fighting doctrine, the concept of “limited conflict” is not relevant to the conflict raging between the State of Israel and the Palestinians, and to the declared strategic aims of the Palestinian Authority.

Loss of Belief in the Ability to Win

The most disturbing phenomenon produced by the concept of a limited, low intensity conflict is expressed in the emergence of a generation characterized by pessimism regarding its ability to win. This is occasionally followed by a loss of faith in the justness of Israel’s cause, self-reproach regarding what our enemies are doing to us, a loss of sensitivity to human life, and the blurring of the demand upon the state to discharge its most basic duty of protecting the lives of its citizens. All of these may be seen in the evaluations of “experts” who contend that terror cannot be overcome – a determination which means reconciliation with terror as a permanent way of life, and its conception as a natural phenomenon.

The permanent humiliation suffered by the terror victim becomes the prevailing mood, engendering more humiliation, until at the end of the process, not a single value will remain that is worth endangering one’s life.5 The way becomes open to a loss of belief in the imperative of living in this particular location. From the terrorist’s perspective, this is the precise mind-set which he seeks to instill in the victims of terror. Thus, in this respect, too, terror threatens the life of the State of Israel.

Limited Conflict in Other Locations

While we are often presented with comparisons between the events in Israel and the experience of other countries in similar situations, there are two central dimensions that distinguish the case of Israel from other cases, rendering these comparisons irrelevant. The differences involve the location of terrorist operations in relation to the critical assets of the state whose representatives they target, and the overt, declared objective of the terrorists in relation to the national entity against whose control they operate.

The 1996 IDF publication Tatzpit deals entirely with “Low Intensity Conflict.”6 This publication, together with its follow-up, “Fighting on the Lebanese Front as a Conflict between Unequal Forces,”7 figured importantly in the formulation of the doctrinal guideline known as the “Limited Conflict,” issued in 2001. The Tatzpit issue included a number of articles and sample doctrinal guidelines, collected and translated from the professional guidelines and articles of foreign armies, reflecting those armies’ experience in confronting low-intensity fighting. But none of the settings presented as reference models for the IDF bear any similarity to the setting in Israel.

For example, an article entitled “Principles of Combating Uprisings,” based on the British experience, contains no references to the British response to organizations which every other week explode buses full of passengers in the center of London, leading to the total disruption of everyday life – the reality experienced by the State of Israel. The contexts are entirely different, focusing on the uprisings in Indo-China, Malaya, Algeria, Cuba, and Northern Ireland. Yet for all of these examples, there is not a single citizen in Britain, France, or the United States whose daily routine in his native country was disrupted as a result of the “low intensity” combat conducted by his country’s army on a foreign battlefield. Yet they form the basis for the adoption of the limited conflict doctrine.

The Israeli case is fundamentally different from the others, given the proximity of the instigators of terror to Israel’s population centers and infrastructure, as opposed to the oceans that separated the national infrastructures of France, Britain, and the United States from the fronts at which their soldiers fought. There is a world of difference between the protracted combat against guerilla forces in Vietnam or Algeria, the kind conducted by thousands of American and French soldiers while life in Washington and Paris went on as usual, and the urban terror in Israel which occasionally paralyzes entire population centers and causes immense damage to the economy and to morale.

Something about the Western response to a strike on its population centers can be learned from the American reaction to 9/11, with its military operation directed at the heart of Afghanistan as the sender of terror. In this case, the doctrine of limited conflict was cast aside, as the “strong” side under attack undertook to summarily obliterate the “weak” attacker in accordance with the laws of war. The fighting tactics used by the Americans are not those of limited conflict. The doctrine of “attrition” is a luxury that even the huge United States does not accept for its citizenry.

Israel Faces a Different Kind of Threat

Unlike the case of Israel, the guerilla and terror actions in Vietnam, Algeria, Ireland, Rhodesia, and other places were not directed against the very existence of the rival nation and its army. For example, the National Liberation Front (FLN), which began operating in 1954 for the liberation of Algeria from French occupation, never called for the destruction of France as a national entity. The opposite is the case, with the FLN defining its objectives to include: “external contacts between France and Algeria…defined in an agreement between the two states on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”8

In the Vietnam War, Marshall Lin Piao, who was the Chinese Minister of Defense at the time and subsequently Mao Tse-Tung’s successor, indicated that he did not see his goal as destroying the United States. He said in 1965, “the members of a nation subjected to aggression are not confronting United States’ imperialism in Washington and New York, in Honolulu or Florida, but are fighting for independence and freedom on their own soil.”9

The declared aim of the communist underground active in Malaya against the British in 1948 was nothing more than to install a communist government on the peninsula, including Singapore, while “unifying the citizenry at all levels: the castes, the nationalities, the political parties, the mass organizations…against the imperialism of the United States and its lackeys.”10 Here, too, there is no trace of any opposition to the actual existence of the British people in its homeland.

The Palestinian Charter

In contrast with the goals of the struggles of the Algerians, the Vietnamese, and the Malayans, the Palestinian Charter states quite clearly that Palestinian independence can only be attained through the destruction of the State of Israel. The Charter remains the constitutive document of the Palestinian Authority, and attests to the strategic goal of the Palestinians, which has not changed until today, despite the agreements that the PA has signed with the State of Israel.11

  • Section 6 of the Charter: “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.” Accordingly, all traces of independent Jewish existence are to be eliminated, not just in the territories but throughout “Palestine.”

  • Section 9: “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase.” Peace” is thus a tactic in the service of the realization of the overall strategy: just as in organized combat, attacks may be interspersed with periods of strategic ceasefires, intended to solidify gains and prepare for the next stage.

  • Section 19: “The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the State of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time.” While the United Nations is an extremely important institution for the Palestinians, its 1947 decision to establish Israel is deemed irrelevant.

  • Section 22: “Zionism is a political movement organically associated with international imperialism and antagonistic to all action for liberation and to progressive movements in the world. It is racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist, and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods….The liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence…in the Middle East.” Thus, the State of Israel is to be absolutely eradicated.

While a Palestinian commitment was given to change the sections of the Charter calling for Israel’s destruction, the Charter still has not been changed, and adherence to it still characterizes both the Palestinian public and its leadership. According to a survey by the Palestinian Center for Journalism and Media, most Palestinians believe that the purpose of the latest uprising is not only to terminate the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza but also to destroy the State of Israel.”12 The FLN, too, was characterized by fanatic loyalty to its fundamental principles,13 but, as noted, these did not include the destruction of France.

The general picture is clear: Forty years have elapsed since the formulation and drafting of principles of the Palestinian Charter, but they are still alive and intact. Apart from the policy of destruction of the Jews as a people declared by the Nazi leadership, history has yet to witness an organization like the PLO that openly declares that its national goal is the destruction of a neighboring people. These goals cannot be compared with the goals that animated other restricted conflicts, in which remote colonies attempted to shake off the yoke of their colonial rulers. The “political horizon” offered by the Palestinian Charter is positioned at precisely the same place as the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.

Disregard for Basic Facts

Human beings are frequently disposed to ignore facts that threaten their basic assumptions. But those among us who may belittle the power of spoken and written words and their practical significance should recall the period preceding the Yom Kippur War when Sadat, the Egyptian president, declared that he was prepared to sacrifice an enormous number of soldiers for the liberation of Sinai. In Israel, his words were received with absolute disparagement.14 This could only have happened because our Jewish-democratic value system was and remains absolutely different from that of leaders of Sadat’s ilk and his contemporaries, especially in the context of goals that justify the sacrifice of human life. Sadat intended his words to be understood literally, yet in Israel they were understood rather generously: “he doesn’t really mean it,” “it is impossible for a leader to act in that way,” “it was a statement intended for internal consumption,” etc. The results of Israel’s contempt are well known, but the lesson was not learned, and we continue to understand the words of Arab leaders in accordance with a value system which is irrelevant to the subject of our interpretation.

Yehoshafat Harkabi diagnosed the situation in which “the goal of destroying a state and the purging of a national existence as a political agenda…may appear as an unreal exaggeration….Political scientists steeped in the doctrines of international relations and international law…are liable to display internal opposition to the concept that this is the objective and goal of the conflict, and would be highly skeptical regarding the authenticity of Arab declarations expressing those goals….Similar expressions of incredulity and disregard of the goals of elimination were also very prevalent in the past in Israel.”15

Two comments must be made regarding Harkabi’s remarks. First, the writer fails to underscore the fact that the same parties who were accessories in the realization of the plan to eliminate European Jewry, or who were at least witnesses to the realization of these intentions, are now disregarding the identical intentions of the Palestinian leadership. Second, contrary to Harkabi’s view, the tendency to ignore declarations of destruction made by the Palestinians is still alive and well among many Israelis.

The Limited Conflict from the Perspective of Israel’s Security Doctrine

It is particularly difficult to actualize a fighting doctrine that does not derive its logic from the security doctrine of which it is a part.

While the terrorists do not use tanks and jets, the negative effect of their actions on public morale is more damaging than the aggregate effect of all the past wars. We must, therefore, relate to their actions as a war for all intents and purposes. Once the other side understood its general weakness in a full-scale war, it changed the character of the fighting, conferring it the character of a limited, protracted and draining military confrontation, hoping to achieve his objective which had remained unchanged: the destruction of the entire Zionist enterprise.

Terror, by definition, does not attempt to engage an entire army. Its objective is attained when the terrorist outflanks the security forces and spears the soft spot of public morale among the civilian population. As opposed to other kinds of war, the collapse preceding the realization of its objective does not begin at the battlefront, progressing backwards into the civilian hinterland. Its source is the home front, in the citizens who have lost their confidence in the ability of the army, which they have come to view as a body incapable of providing them with personal security.

For the State of Israel to be capable of dealing with intensive, prolonged fighting of the kind dictated by the doctrine of limited conflict, there must be a fundamental change in its basic assumptions – those which produced its traditional security doctrine, the main thrust of which was to avoid a protracted war. Now, according to the basic conceptions of its local perpetrators, terror is a tool utilized in a full-scale war; it is, therefore, a mistake of major dimensions to continue to treat terror as something “non-war” and, as a result, to relate to it in terms that make no mention of a rapid decision.

The doctrine of the limited conflict states that, unlike the wars of the past, this time Israel is fated to wage a protracted war, as if it was a superpower like the United States, Britain, or France, that waged remote, protracted, conventional wars that invariably ended with their withdrawal from the battlefield. This kind of fighting is referred to as a war of attrition, and is the ideological backbone of the limited conflict doctrine. However, this concept absolutely contradicts the basic assumptions of the traditional Israeli security doctrine, which eschews any possibility of prolonged fighting due to Israel’s endemic shortage of resources, both human and material. Adoption of the attrition doctrine means shelving Israel’s traditional security doctrine.

A rapid decision not only prevents loss of life, it also forestalls the severe economic impact of a protracted war.16 Since the outbreak of the current fighting, at the end of September 2000, the Israeli economy has paid a heavy price. Instead of an annual growth rate of 4 percent, the economy contracted at a rate of 1 percent per year, a loss valued at about 45 billion shekels in the first two years alone.

The historical connection between a war’s battlefront and its economic cost was researched by the economist Bryan Caplan, who concluded that a “local” war causes significant economic damage to the state involved, while a “distant” war usually stimulates economic growth of the state whose soldiers are fighting abroad.17 Thus, the immediate conclusion of Israel’s “local” war is imperative as well because of the serious economic and social implications of the continued confrontation.

In the mid-1950s, Israel was also subjected to a terrorist onslaught. The IDF’s reaction was dictated by a security doctrine that led to the 1956 Sinai Campaign, a war intended to defeat the terrorist entity that had emerged in the Gaza Strip under Egyptian auspices. When it became clear to Israel’s leadership that acts of retaliation were unable to halt the terror, they reached the inevitable conclusion that the only solution was a rapid military victory by conquering the territory and eliminating the instigators of the terror and their hosts.

A Politician Who is a Terrorist and the Reverse

The division of Palestinians between “political” and “military” wings is another perspective totally divorced from the conceptual world of the subjects of such an interpretation. It has produced a situation in which the first group enjoys immunity from harm, because they are not perceived as instigators of violence. Yet an examination of the structure and organization of underground movements like the PLO, which since its very inception has been run along the lines of a communist resistance movement, indicates that the violence is orchestrated by both the political and military wings. According to Robert Thompson, those belonging to the political wing are responsible for terror and sabotage, whereas the military wing oversees guerilla activities, such as ambushes and attacks.18 It is not by chance that the head of the political wing of the Palestinian Authority continues to wear his military uniform, and it is similarly not surprising that many of those who instigate terror have never worn battle fatigues.19

A Military Solution

It is more than disturbing that a military doctrine has been created which is based primarily on confrontational conceptions that are convenient exclusively for the other side. The doctrine of limited conflict creates precisely the combat reality that the enemy expects and desires as a means for our defeat. For this reason, it involves – though obviously not intentionally – elements that strengthen the enemy.

As noted, according to the doctrine of limited conflict, a decision is achieved through “protracted attrition.”20 This doctrine further states that “limited conflict is political in terms of the nature of its means and not only in terms of its objectives and constraints, and that as a result, the form of military action will be dictated directly by the political consideration.” From the moment that the State of Israel and the IDF determine that the aim is a political victory, while the enemy keeps striving for a victory based on brute force, we have become the victims of conceptual confusion, one which harnesses and adjusts the use of force in accordance with political restrictions and considerations that make military victory impossible.

A similar situation emerged during the period between November 29, 1947 – after the adoption of the UN Partition Resolution – and March 1948, when political considerations prevented the Hagana, which was numerically and qualitatively superior to the combined Arab forces in Mandatory Palestine, from attacking areas that were under Arab control. Instead, the Hagana was only able to attempt to open roads to besieged Israeli towns and villages. In this “Battle for the Roads,” political constraints forced the Hagana to operate along a battlefront about as broad as the front bumper of an armored car. By March 1948 this crisis had culminated in the loss of 1,200 lives, Arab bands were in control of all major arteries of transportation, and remote Jewish settlement blocs were cut off and isolated.

In a practical expression of the final disenchantment with diplomacy’s ability to resolve the conflict through superpower intervention and the forced implementation of a political solution, Operations Head Yigal Yadin wrote to David Ben-Gurion in 1948, under the heading, “Summary of the Combat Situation”: “It must be determined that all the stages of the fighting until now have been dictated to us by the enemy, and we have not been able to influence the strategic-operative course of the fighting, which has been characterized by its development from an uprising into a war between two semi-regular forces. The only solution is for us to take the operative initiative in an attempt to defeat the enemy militarily.”21 To Ben-Gurion’s credit, it must be said that even though he had long adhered to the doctrine of a political solution, and there are those who claim that in doing so he prevented preparations for an overall conscription of forces with a view toward a military victory, he nonetheless reassessed the situation and changed his conception, thus paving the way for the change which began with Operation Nachshon against the Arab forces controlling the road to Jerusalem.

As opposed to the example of 1948, today the IDF is contributing to the entrenchment of the political approach. The establishment of a new fighting principle in the image of “protracted attrition” is the antithesis of Israel’s overall security doctrine, given that it is premised on the absence of any resolution of the war. It also ignores the fact that the Palestinian strategy of terror is intended to bring about Israel’s total defeat. Have the policymakers once again fallen prey to the hubris of underestimating the enemy, as occurred in the Yom Kippur War?

The idea of the impossibility of a rapid decision seeks to base itself on the distinction between “war” and “limited conflict.”22 In assuming the existence of such a distinction, it ignores the fact that reaching a decision, as in any war, is also the prime motivation of terror, especially as implemented by the Palestinians. Believing that “the terror is not a threat to our existence” leads to: “the terror is not bent on victory,” which subsequently translates into: “terror is not war.” As a result, the attitude to terror differs from that adopted with respect to war, in which, according to Israel’s traditional security doctrine, a rapid decision is required.

The desire for a decision is generally confronted by deterrence; in other words, the side intending to attack and force a decision does not actualize his intentions due to his recognition of the damage his side will incur should he attack. Suicide terrorists, though presented as ultimately insurmountable weapons, are really products of a system whose leaders value their lives, property, and reputation. Accordingly, it is the heads of the terrorist organizations who should be the main targets of attack, and not only the end products, the suicide terrorists. The defeat of terror would become possible by physically eliminating its ability to finance, enlist, organize, and transport terrorists. In other words, instead of operating according to the principle of “attrition,” operations should be conducted in accordance with the old principles of initiative and aggressiveness, which will lead to full and ongoing control of the territory. Only the implementation of these principles will enable the identification and elimination of the organization and its leaders, producers of terror, including those masquerading as “statesmen.”

In his book Government and Rebellion, Robert Thompson discusses the concept of “quashing rebellion.” The expression implies that the initiative is exclusively in the hands of the enemy and that the government’s role is only to respond to it and frustrate its continuation.23

All of the facts indicate that the doctrine of limited conflict is particularly convenient for the enemy, but it is not appropriate for the State of Israel. The concept of “protracted attrition” will enter the history books together with the conception of “stopping the enemy on the ceasefire lines” prior to 1973.24 The claim that “there is no solution to terror,” which is the basis for the current, prolonged, decisionless attrition, endangers the continued existence of the State of Israel. The doctrine of limited conflict draws its concepts from places in which the nation in control of distant foreign territory could consider whether to retain its control, and when the damage liable to be caused as a result of its forfeiture of control was negligible. However, as opposed to other places and cases, the terror launched against the State of Israel entails that it be treated like any other war, which requires a quick decision.

According to my understanding, there is no problem that a particular group of people created, which cannot be solved by another group of people. The only difference is in the level of determination, cunning, and strength one is prepared to enlist. The Palestinians, Hizballah, and others have understood that when the State of Israel decides to engage in a war of higher intensity, even without utilizing its total capacity, then terror – wherever it reigns, however strong it is – cannot stand up to the strength of the IDF.25 After more than three years of combat following the doctrine of limited conflict, it has been proven that a “high intensity” response is the answer to terror.

According to the principles outlined in Israel’s “Battle Doctrine,” the first rule of war is aggressiveness. The initiative must be taken away from the unorganized force, which must be forced to go on the defensive and must be relentlessly pursued. The fundamental principle in fighting against irregular forces is to strike at them and eliminate them before they go into action.26

Steps Toward the Return of Israel’s Traditional Security Doctrine

Unlike the senior IDF commanders, who at the instruction of the political echelon dealt primarily with “easing the conflict” and the search for a return to negotiations, it was the brigade commanders who proved that it was possible to achieve a military decision in those places that were thought to require a heavy price in blood. The conquest of the Balata refugee camp near Nablus by the Paratroop brigade in February 2002 and the capture of the Jenin refugee camp two days later by the Golani brigade, both with minimal losses, brought about the beginning of a change in the concept created by the idea of “limited conflict” and the ability to subdue terror militarily.

These successes paved the way for Operation Defensive Shield that began a week later in the wake of the terrorist attack on a Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. During the first year and a half after the outbreak of terrorist violence in September 2000, the IDF did not deal with the possibility of subduing terror, as required of a military organization. The “professional” explanation was the concept of a “limited conflict” that in its essence was not to lead to a military decision.

However, the takeover of refugee camps and partial control of the Mukata compound in Ramallah were only the first barriers to be overcome. The next barrier was the concept that saw a separation between the political echelon – those who produced the terror – who were not to be hurt, in the interest of seeking negotiations at any price, and the operational echelon, that provided a very limited target. This barrier was only crossed in June 2003, when a missile was fired unsuccessfully at Hamas spokesman Rantisi. After a brief pause in attacks by the group, Hamas returned to the attack after the military pressure against its leaders eased.

At this point the connection between the threat to the head of the snake and its body became clear even to previous skeptics. This recognition led in September 2003 to a temporary shaking off of the rules of attrition, with an unceasing series of additional air attacks on Hamas, including the bombing of a building in which the group’s leadership were meeting, and bombings within Syria of a terrorist training base. The result was that the Hamas leadership went underground and their attacks ended.

In mid-November 2003, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, then a senior advisor to Israel’s minister of defense, warned that “Hamas is under pressure since we attacked its leadership, that for a long time was mistakenly thought to be political, though it is known that there is no difference.”27 However, the pressure was again eased, and three months later, a Hamas spokesman told a mass open meeting in the presence of all its leaders – clearly an ideal target – that he intended to renew attacks of mass murder.28 Not surprisingly, the lack of continued pressure on the Hamas leadership resulted in the bombing of a Jerusalem bus in January 2004.

It seems that the passion of those who send terror bombers off to their deaths disappears when the subject becomes their own lives. The gains that resulted from the air attacks on the Hamas leadership proved, once again, that under conditions of war it is necessary to act according to the principles of war, such as “concentration of effort” with “repetition and continuation,” together with “actions aimed at a clear target.”

The development of a new attitude by an organization that has chosen violence as its sole method of operation cannot come about through political negotiations with it, accompanied by “signals” that largely involve blowing up empty houses, imposing closures, and closing border crossings. All these actions are of little benefit because they present no threat to the center of gravity of the terror – the leadership.

The halt in attacks by Hamas from September 2003 to January 2004 was the direct result of the threat to the lives of its leadership, together with the construction of a defensible physical barrier in the form of the security fence. This situation stood in direct contradiction to the concept of attrition, which had guided the thought and actions of the heads of the security services and the IDF up to that point.

This situation is bitter proof once again of the validity of Israel’s traditional security doctrine, that requires those in charge to apply force – the IDF – to provide defense together with achieving a decision as rapidly as possible against any type of war that may be waged against the State of Israel. True, the methods of action are different, and the restrictions, such as fighting in a civilian area full of media and everything that results from this, are more serious. But the necessity of having the IDF able to bring about a military decision in every type of war remains as valid as ever.

*     *     *

Notes

1. Instruction Manual, The Limited Conflict, 2001 (Hebrew). It should be noted that this publication does not cancel other professional guidelines in this area of warfare, which appear, for example, in the book Battle Doctrine (Hebrew).
2. Lt.-Col. Yonatan Halevi, “The Palestinian Perspective of the Solution to the Dispute,” Marachot 383, May 2002 (Hebrew).
3. Edward N. Luttwak, “The American Fighting Doctrine and the Military Balance of Power,” Cyclone 5, 1979.
4. Aluf Benn, interview with Gen. Amos Gilad, Bamahane, June 28, 2002 (Hebrew).
5. In this context, the words of Binyamin Zeev Herzl: “Malicious and foolish self-ridicule is one of those slavish character traits that we have imbibed during hundreds of years of oppression. A free man does not regard himself as ridiculous, nor does he tolerate others who ridicule him,” appear in the Jewish Chronicle, January 17, 1896. This essay was put into book form in The Jewish State.
6. Operations Department, Instruction Manual, Tatzpit 14, January 1996; Instruction Manual, Zarkor, March 1999.
7. Instruction Manual, Zarkor, March 1999.
8. Alister Horn, Wild Battle for Peace (Tel Aviv: Marachot, 1989), p. 96 (Hebrew).
9. Yehoshafat Harkabi, Guerilla Warfare (Tel Aviv: Marachot, 1971, p. 215 (Hebrew). This article of Lin Piao, summing up Chinese strategy in the Far East, was read on Chinese Radio on September 3, 1965.
10. Robert Thompson, Government and Rebellion, Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Tel Aviv: Marachot, 1967), p. 23 (Hebrew).
11. See Halevi, “The Palestinian Perspective.”
12. Walla, Internet site, June 11, 2002 (Hebrew).
13. Alister Horn, supra n. 8, p. 96.
14. In his book My Life (Jerusalem: Idanim, 1978), Anwar Sadat wrote: “the fundamental task was to eradicate the shame and humiliation of the 1967 debacle. I think that it would be a thousand times more honorable for us if 40,000 armed troops, including myself, were to be buried in the crossing operation.”
15. Yehoshafat Harkabi, The Arab Position in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1968), pp. 5-34 (Hebrew).
16. The data regarding the Israeli economy over the last two years was taken from the research of Dr. Michel Strabichinksy from the Research Department of the Bank of Israel.
17. Bryan Caplan, “How Does War Shock the Economy,” Journal of International Money and Finance, 21 (2002):145-162.
18. Thompson, Government and Rebellion, p. 33.
19. In this context, see Arafat’s speech in the United Nations, clad in an army uniform, holding an olive branch.
20. The Limited Conflict, p. 4.
21. Avigdor Shaul, ed., Toldot Hahagana (History of the Haganah) (Tel Aviv: Marachot, 1955), p. 1456.
22. The Limited Conflict, table comparing war and limited conflict, p. 51.
23. Robert Thompson, Government and Rebellion, p. 49.
24. Testimony of Chief of Staff David Elazar, Agranat Commission, p. 1350.
25. Bamachane, July 5, 2002.
26. Battle Doctrine, 1963, vol. 2, “Fighting Against Enemy Forces Operating in an Irregular Manner,” p. 164.
27. Israel Radio, November 15, 2003.
28. Israel Radio, December 13, 2003.

About Colonel (Res.) Yehuda Wegman

Colonel (Res.) Yehuda Wegmen served for over a decade as a senior instructor of fighting doctrine at the IDF Command and General Staff College. During the Yom Kippur War he served as an officer in the first reservist battalion to reach the Golan Heights. Today he develops military instructional methods and writes on military and security matters.