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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Winning Counterinsurgency War: The Israeli Experience

Filed under: Israel, Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israeli Security, Palestinians, Terrorism
Publication: Special Reports

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Contrary to popular belief, conventional armies can indeed defeat terrorist insurgencies. This study will detail the six basic conditions which, if met, enable an army to fight and win the war against terrorism, among which are control of the ground where the insurgency is being waged, acquiring relevant intelligence for operations against the terrorists themselves, and isolating the insurgency from cross-border reinforcement with manpower or material. It will also examine the factors that can help drive a wedge between the local population and the insurgent forces seeking its support. The principles of war will also be analyzed in terms of their applicability to asymmetric warfare to show how they still serve as a vital guide for armies in vanquishing terror. Finally, the study warns that if the U.S., Israel, or their Western allies incorrectly conclude that they have no real military option against terrorist insurgencies – out of a fear that these conflicts inevitably result in an unwinnable quagmire – then the war on terrorism will be lost even before it is fully waged.

Part I: Can a Conventional Army Vanquish a Terrorist Insurgency?

The urgency of designing a winning strategy for waging counterinsurgency warfare has clearly arisen in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War and with the post-9/11 War on Terrorism, more generally. These low-intensity conflicts are not new in the history of warfare. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual reminds its readers that “insurgency and its tactics are as old as warfare itself.”1 One author dates the first guerrilla campaign from the Spanish rebellion in 1808 against Napoleon’s French forces.2

But today, these smaller wars have suddenly become more prominent, especially after the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the huge Soviet conventional armored threat to Central Europe. The approach of the Western alliance toward limited counterinsurgency wars has been, on the whole, very negative. This might be due to the experience of the U.S. Army in Vietnam. Decisive victories, like the Second World War, seem harder to achieve, despite the enormous firepower the U.S. could employ in such conflicts. Western withdrawals from Lebanon (1983) and Somalia (1993) in the face of terrorist attacks only reinforced this perception.

Consequently, the term “unwinnable war” became increasingly associated with a variety of counterinsurgency campaigns. In 1992, Bush administration [41] officials pursued a hands-off policy on Bosnia, describing it as “an unwinnable situation for the military.”3 After 9/11, even the former commander of NATO Forces in Europe, General Wesley Clark, told the Daily Telegraph that America, Britain, and their allies could become embroiled in an unwinnable guerrilla war in Afghanistan.4 Underlying all these analyses is the assumption that counterinsurgency campaigns necessarily turn into protracted conflicts that will inevitably lose political support.

More recently in 2005, Foreign Affairs carried an article by a Rand analyst who called the Iraq War “unwinnable” and suggested that the U.S. eliminate its military presence, and rally Iran and the Europeans to help. The “Iraq Study Group,” chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, did not go this far, though it suggested in 2006 that the situation in Iraq was “grave and deteriorating” and hence looked to pull U.S. military involvement back to a “supporting” role alone for the Iraq Army.5 If Western policy-makers conclude as a result of U.S. military engagements in Afghanistan and in Iraq that the U.S. and its allies have no military option against worldwide insurgencies launched by international terrorist groups, then the War on Terrorism will be lost even before it is fully waged.

Recent military progress by U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq have begun to counter much of the previous analyses that view counterinsurgency warfare as an inevitably hopeless quagmire that will bog down any Western army which engages in such a mission. During October 2007, the new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, an authority on counterinsurgency warfare, managed to cut monthly U.S. fatalities to a third of what they were a year earlier. Attacks in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province fell from around 1,300 a month in October 2006 to under 100 in November 2007.6 There were over two hundred fatalities per month from car bomb attacks alone in the Baghdad area in early 2007, yet by November and December that number fell dramatically to around a dozen fatalities per month.7 These results did not constitute a decisive military victory, for U.S. commanders were the first to admit that al-Qaeda had not been defeated.8 But the results certainly indicated that a counterinsurgency campaign was not a hopeless undertaking.

This monograph demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, military forces can indeed defeat terrorism by adopting an alternative concept of victory, called “sufficient victory.”The Economist tried to develop a similar concept of its own in this regard: “‘Victory’ for the West is not going in either place [Afghanistan and Iraq] to entail a surrender ceremony and a parade.”9 At best, the Economist suggests that the West can look forward to “a tapering off of violence.”10 As such, terror is not completely destroyed but is contained at a minimal level, with constant investment of energy in order to prevent its eruption.

This analysis will first define key terms: insurgency, terror, and various types of victory. It will then detail the six basic conditions which, if met, enable an army to fight and win the war against terrorism:

  • The decision of the political echelon to defeat terrorism and to bear the political cost of an offensive.
  • Control of the territory from which the terrorists operate.
  • Relevant intelligence.
  • Isolating the territory within which counterterrorist operations are taking place.
  • Multi-dimensional cooperation between intelligence and operations.
  • Separating the civilian population that has no connection with terrorism from the terrorist entities.

As several of these conditions indicate, counterinsurgency strategies already have a strong political dimension, for they involve the loyalties and well-being of the civilian population where the war is being conducted. But as the analysis will explain, the preferences of the civilian population will be primarily affected by conditions on the ground where they live and not by political arrangements negotiated between diplomats in distant capitals, far from the battlefield. The U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual also concludes that “citizens seek to ally with groups that can guarantee their safety.”11 This can be achieved when the political leadership in the insurgency area is willing to take responsibility and stand up to the pressures of the terrorist organizations and even fight them.

Indeed, Gen. Petraeus’ breakthrough in Anbar Province came about because of the decisions of local Sunni tribal leaders in western Iraq about how to best protect their security and not through the detailed efforts to work out a more perfect Iraqi constitution in Baghdad, which had been the focus of coalition political efforts previously. Indeed, this lesson is applicable to other conflict zones, particularly where the central government’s authority is weak and lacks the capacity to substantially change the security situation on the ground, as in southern Lebanon or even among the Palestinians, as well.

Finally, the monograph analyzes the principles of war in terms of their applicability to asymmetric warfare – essentially the war against terrorist and guerrilla organizations – and shows how these principles still serve as a vital guide for armies in vanquishing terror.

The adoption of two erroneous assumptions – that terror is more determined and resilient than the democratic state and that victory is always a matter of the mind and not a product of coercive physical measures – has induced many to believe that there is no military method to cope with terror in order to vanquish it. These kinds of assertions have become more common in much of the discourse concerning Israel’s war with Hizbullah in 2006 and the war of the U.S.-led coalition against insurgent forces in Iraq. History – even the history of the State of Israel – proves that this contention is seriously mistaken.

The Military’s Mistake

I would not be writing this article had I not heard from a student at the Israel Defense Forces Staff and Command College that some of the lecturers who speak before Israeli officers have asserted that “an army cannot vanquish terror” and that “only a political process can bring about a cessation of terror.”The student’s understanding was that since it was axiomatic that a conventional army could never win a guerrilla war, therefore in every possible encounter between an army and a terrorist organization, the army could not hope to achieve victory. The student clearly applied this principle to the struggle between the IDF and Palestinian terror.

It seemed that in their classes these students had not heard from their lecturers the historical cases in which Western armies had actually defeated insurgent forces in difficult guerrilla campaigns. The U.S. Army was twice involved in successful counterinsurgency campaigns in the Philippines (from 1899 to 1902, and between 1946 and 1954). Additionally, the British Army won a tough counterinsurgency war in Malaya between 1952 and 1957. In the Middle East, the British also waged successful counterinsurgency campaigns during the 1930s in British Mandatory Palestine and decades later in the 1970s in Dhofar Province in Oman. I cannot help but imagine that some of these very same lecturers are cloaking their lack of understanding for the sphere of war in general, and the war against terror in particular, with mellifluous words and pseudoscientific arguments. Theirs is an argument that historical experience clearly refutes!

The “inability” argument is frequently put forward in unprofessional language that creates a new terminology, unintelligible to everybody. This, in turn, facilitates the avoidance of genuine clarification of that which is being discussed and of the actual situation.12 When did this tainted phenomenon mature in our midst, giving rise to a situation in which some military men prefer to evade their obligation and responsibility to vanquish terror, passing the buck to the statesmen? This is not purely a question of abstract philosophy, but one that carries great practical significance. In its light, elected officials, who are left without any military option against terror, must either flee a confrontation with terror or submit to its demands. If this should become the case, then Israel’s security would likely slowly deteriorate, exactly as those who pursue terror expect. Here I will seek to elucidate that an army can emerge victorious over terror – on condition that it is made clear what exactly is meant by “victory” and the practical results that can be expected from the army in the context of such a victory.

In order to conduct a fruitful discussion, it is necessary to accurately define all the components of the problem, namely: what is an “army” in the context of fighting terror, what precisely does the term “victory” mean, and what sort of “terror” are we dealing with?

Defining the Essential Terms


An “army,” in this case, is not merely the “armed forces.” In addition to the security organizations, it also comprises especially the intelligence community in its broader sense. In the particular case of the State of Israel, the question is not whether the IDF can vanquish terror, but whether the general array of the IDF, the Israel Security Agency (ISA), the Mossad, the police, and the national economic and financial bodies that function together in a well-coordinated effort can vanquish terror. Thus, anybody examining whether the IDF, which is the only body defined as an “army,” can, by itself, vanquish terror will have to respond in the negative.

Insurgency and Terror

Insurgency is the general term for many types of asymmetric warfare, including terrorism. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual uses the definition of an insurgency as “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict.” It is a “politico-military” struggle, according to the Field Manual, “designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control.”

There clearly have been many types of insurgencies in world history with a wide variety of politico-military goals, including independence movements against colonial powers and Marxist revolutionary movements against nationalist regimes. The Arab Revolt was an insurgency against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and provided another example of a nationalist insurgency which encouraged the breakup of a multinational empire. Today, there is a rising threat of Islamist insurgencies that have adopted the tactics of “terror,” as described below. The current Islamist insurgencies have far-reaching politico-military goals of eliminating Israel, toppling pro-Western Arab regimes, and spreading radical Islam worldwide in order to re-establish the Caliphate.

The current Islamist insurgencies have far-reaching politico-military goals of eliminating Israel, toppling pro-Western Arab regimes, and spreading radical Islam worldwide in order to re-establish the Caliphate.

“Terror” is thus a subset of insurgency warfare. The concept “terror” encompasses four types of terror, but all employ deliberate violence against civilians in order to obtain political, religious, national, or ideological objectives:

  • Internal terror of the anarchistic variant that operates against an existing regime.
  • Cross-border terror of the type waged from Jordan by the PLO against the IDF in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) during the 1960s; the war waged by Hizbullah from southern Lebanon and presently by the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip against Israel.
  • International terror of the al-Qaeda variant, which found expression in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the attacks in London, the firing of an antiaircraft missile at an El Al airplane in Kenya, and the attacks in Istanbul. Hizbullah also engaged in international terrorism at least twice in Argentina and in Thailand.
  • Terror waged by someone who contends to be fighting against an occupier, such as the Palestinian terror in the West Bank or that of the Iraqis against the Americans in Iraq; namely, terror that is carried out against a state whose military forces are situated in the area where the terror is perpetrated.

This discussion deals exclusively with the question of the feasibility of vanquishing terror that is operating in an area that is at least nominally controlled by the military forces of the state combating the terror – the fourth type. However, in many cases, the various types of terror intermingle. Some of the conclusions are applicable to combating other types, especially that of cross-border terror.


What type of victory is to be achieved? The answer to this question should serve as the focus of discussion regarding the army’s mission and its part in annihilating terror. The military concept of “victory” is more familiar from the realm of conventional warfare, where the enemy is defeated, destroyed, or deprived of its ability to continue the war, even if it should so desire.

Military victory can frequently also influence the will of the state whose army has been defeated, causing it to cease thinking in terms of the resumed use of military force. However, this objective is not a prerequisite for the current definition. During the latter half of the twentieth century the “total victory” model of the Second World War was assimilated as part of military doctrine. What characterized the close of that war was that, following the destruction of the German army and the military conquest of Germany, and following Japan’s surrender and conquest after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs, the Allies controlled both countries. During the years of the U.S. presence in Berlin and Tokyo, it erected new regimes that were totally different from the predecessor regimes in both countries. This was total victory, based on military victory, which transformed two fanatic and militaristic countries into avowedly peace-loving regimes.

This is not the sole model of victory recognized by history. For example, the defeat of Germany in the First World War was completely different. As proof of the matter, Germany embarked on another great war twenty-one years later. Such was also the case of the defeat of Egypt and Syria in the Six-Day War. Six years after that victory the two again attacked Israel. These precedents will better enable us to define the military victory required against terror and in guerrilla warfare.

One can speak of three levels of victory:

Total Victory – Total victory eliminates the terrorist organizations and guerrilla groups and their demands from the political and global map, and no one except those victimized by the terror recalls that it was ever part of reality. Such, for example, occurred in the defeat of Communist guerrillas in Greece after the Second World War. Paying a bloody price, the Greek army, aided by the British, managed to liquidate the terror movement. Once that war was concluded, Greece no longer faced a Communist threat. The result of the fighting against rebels in Oman during the Dhofar rebellion between 1965 and 1975 was similar: the Sultan, whose son today rules that Persian Gulf country, managed with British aid to liquidate the rebels, who received assistance from neighboring countries. If a revolt were to take place in the sultanate, it would not be related to the terror movements, which were totally destroyed more than thirty years ago. The Palestinian terror against the British and the Jews in 1936, as well as the Palestinian terror in Jordan in 1970, were both completely uprooted by force and did not return to threaten the British Mandatory government in Palestine or the Hashemite regime in Jordan.

Temporary Victory – This was the case in the victory over Palestinian terror in Gaza in the beginning of the 1970s, when Ariel Sharon was commander of the IDF Southern Command. After the dismantling of the terror in Gaza, the IDF reduced the size of the forces that controlled the Gaza Strip to isolated units, and Israelis could circulate there almost without trepidation. The terror did indeed return to Gaza, but it was after fifteen years of quiet, with the new terror essentially different from its predecessor.

Sufficient Victory – This is a victory that does not produce many years of tranquility, but rather achieves only a “repressed quiet,” requiring the investment of continuous effort to preserve it. The terror is not destroyed but is contained at a minimal level, with constant efforts to prevent its eruption. For many years, this was the achievement of the British in Northern Ireland and the Spanish against the Basques. This was also the achievement of Israel in the West Bank in the aftermath of the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield.

Temporary victory and sufficient victory do not provide a solution to the ideological conflict that forms the basis of the armed struggle and terror. As long as any reason whatsoever exists – political, national, ethnic, economic, religious, ideological, or an amalgam of all these – that facilitates the recruitment of people to the terror movements, and as long as there is an active hardcore that has an interest in prolonging terror, one must expect terror to continue or to be renewed. A military effort cannot be expected to solve a problem of historical dimensions. As long as some of the terror bodies have escaped liquidation, then a complete and total solution to such a conflict can in principle be provided solely by a political solution. Nonetheless, one must reemphasize: a political solution is not the affair of the army, and efforts to obtain it cannot be divorced from the obligation to fight determinedly against any attempt by the enemy to secure achievements through violence, as in the case of the present attempt by the Palestinians to make political gains through terror.

The distinction between these two levels of addressing a problem must be clear: a solution to the conflict lies in the hands of the statesmen. However, the army – and only the army – is the relevant party as long as there is no such solution, and it bears responsibility to check the violent aspect of the conflict.

Part of the widespread misinterpretation in certain circles is caused by confusion between terror and ideological conflict. Since the army does not possess the tools to contend with the latter, people draw the conclusion that “there is no military solution.” In general, as stated, the army is expected to address only the violent aspect of the conflict, which is terror, and is not expected to discover a solution or to fight in order to find an exit strategy from the conflict in toto. It would be preferable if the army would not term the fight against terror a “limited conflict,” but rather employ its proper name, “war on terrorism,” in the literal sense. The semantic change would perhaps help the army comprehend that it is obligated to combat terrorism without any excuses, and not engage in the political dimensions of a conflict which should be left to the civilian echelon.

Of course, in the general framework of such fighting, one must address aspects of psychological warfare, contend with the financing of terror, and incorporate other non-violent aspects that supplement military activities. However, these supplementary activities are performed with the goal of impairing the ability of the terror bodies to carry out their plans and not within the political dimension of solving the dispute in general.

It clearly emerges from the foregoing that as long as the conflict that led to the eruption of terror is still in full force, the army’s fundamental objective is to destroy the capability of the other side to employ terror, irrespective of whether this takes a one-time effort or whether it will require continued activity over the course of years. This objective is crystal clear and is of a military nature by any professional yardstick. However, it cannot be obtained if those who are expected to execute the task are using vague concepts such as “attrition,” “cognition,” “effects,” and other terms that permit one to argue that terror cannot be destroyed.

“Sufficient victory,” namely, that which can contain and check terror a moment before it strikes, becomes more significant if, due to continuous frustration by the army of the terror organizations’ efforts to attack, the terrorists decide – consciously or otherwise – to reduce the number of their terror attempts. This situation would mean “victory” on a much higher plane, because it signifies that not only has the terrorists’ implementation capability been impaired, but also their ability to pass from intention to action. Such an achievement is possible, for example, when the terror bodies are too busy protecting their own lives to plan terror and carry it out or when internal opinion turns against them and prevents them – directly or indirectly – from carrying out their intentions.

Defense measures that interdict terror, including the securing of possible targets, can seriously handicap the terrorists’ ability to carry out their intention. However, only by attacking the terror organizations in their lairs and mobilization points, before they set out to implement their plans, can one cause a decline in their operational ability.13 The implementation of a terror attack is a complicated process involving the participation of many bodies, beginning with the preachers and recruiters and ending with those who press the trigger or the detonator switch on explosive belts. Striking any one of these factors – as early as possible – yields not only an increase in the number of interdictions, but also a reduction in the number of attempts by the terror organizations. Such a triumph, while it does not incorporate a crushing and rapid victory, still constitutes an achievement and should be defined as such.

A military victory is measured in the classic wars of maneuver, inter alia, by the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy in manpower and equipment. In the war on terrorism, by contrast, the IDF’s achievement is measured by criteria that are not clearly military, such as the degree of security and tranquility. This tranquility finds expression in civilian measures as well, such as indices of economic growth.

A study of the strategy that was intended to subdue Israel, authored and openly disseminated by the terror perpetrators, informs us that the bulk of their efforts, which are indeed heinous but limited in comparison to a general war, are devoted to crippling the morale of Israel’s citizens. The plan is for this type of blow to constrict immigration, arrest tourism, cut foreign investment to a trickle, and cause capital flight abroad. All this would result in negative economic growth, mass despair, and emigration until Israel disintegrates from within.

An examination of these indices in March 2002 demonstrates that some of these objectives were indeed realized in practice, and the terror perpetrators were on the brink of attainment with regard to the others. Did this represent a professional failure on the part of military men, who did not comprehend their mission and did not properly evaluate the situation, or was it a failure of the political echelon that refrained from using the army? It would be wise to investigate and understand this issue. However, what is important is the outcome that emerges from repeated historical lessons: an army, if it acts properly, can prevent terror and win the war against it.

Operation Defensive Shield (April 2002)

The situation that prevailed in the West Bank after Operation “Defensive Shield” (April 2002) is an excellent example of how terror can be vanquished with military force – at least at the third level of victory, namely, to destroy the enemy’s capabilities through a continuous effort and without solving the conflict. Israel went to war after it counted 132 dead, all of them civilians, in the preceding month (meaning the equivalent of more than 1,500 deaths a year). In a continuous and uninterrupted effort following that campaign, Israel’s terror casualty rate declined to 11 civilians for all of 2006, which mathematically speaking was less than 1 percent of the 2002 figure. In 2007, Israeli civilian casualties from terrorism originating in the West Bank fell even further. In practical terms, Israel was clearly victorious in repressing terrorism. This is true even if the Palestinians’ effort to renew their terrorist attacks and their dream of killing Jews inside Israeli territory remained as strong as ever. It was an outstanding victory – the type of victory over terror that one can demand of the army.

Of course, from the army’s standpoint, even 11 people murdered annually by terror constitutes an unacceptable number, and the utmost must be done to reduce it to zero. Yet there is no doubt that such a figure, and the commensurate relative tranquility and prosperity it affords Israel, represents a genuine failure for terrorism. Indeed, we see that those who pressed to allow the IDF military freedom of action at a time when its hands were tied, and who penned the slogan “Let the IDF Win,” were correct. When the government allowed the IDF to act, it actually did win.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that a decision on the battlefield does not reflect the entire picture. The story is told of the American officer who met a North Vietnamese general and told him: “You know, we examined all our battles in Vietnam and it turned out that we subdued the South Vietnamese guerrilla movement and we liquidated all the guerrilla forces that had penetrated from the North.”The North Vietnamese responded to him: “That is correct, but why is it relevant?”

An important truth is concealed in this response, pertinent to relations between the political and military echelons. The outcome on the battlefield should lead the political bodies to understand that the situation permits them to withstand the demands of the terror organizations. If they still elect for one reason or another to compromise, surrender, withdraw, or concede, then all the work invested by the military echelon is in vain. In other words, it is possible that a victory over terror may not lead to an improved political situation. This is one area where classic warfare, on the model of the Second World War, differs from the type of warfare we are discussing. Therefore, the burden imposed on civilian decision-makers in this type of war is more onerous.

Precisely because of this, civilian directives to the military must be precise and detailed in order to serve the political objective more accurately. This political objective must also be stated as clearly as possible by the political echelon. Israel learned this again from its experience in the Second Lebanon War.

Regardless, the political echelon’s difficulty in exploiting a victory over terror cannot serve as an excuse for the military to abandon the quest for military victory.


The late Colonel Shmuel Nir (Samu), who served as divisional intelligence officer in the Northern Command at the time I was intelligence officer for the command, wrote an article that laid the basis for the concept of “attrition” instead of “victory.”While meritorious in some ways, his argument contains a serious, fundamental flaw. Samu analyzes the components of power wielded by our antagonists in the conflict and determines, correctly, that we are dealing not only with physical power, but with the reciprocal relations between resources, capabilities, and determination. In his discussion of determination, he contends – without proving his argument – that “the principal advantage of the inferior side is in the determination component, which expresses itself in a national power of perseverance and an ability to absorb punishment in the face of foreseeable or possible losses and destruction.”14

The facts demonstrate otherwise. It has never been proven that terror organizations possess greater resilience than the community of democratic peoples; it has never been proven that terror organizations are prepared to sacrifice more than are their victims; and it has never been proven that the society from which terror emanates is prepared to absorb greater anticipated destruction than those fighting terror. It was bin Laden who proposed a cease-fire to the United States, rather than the United States to bin Laden. So who has greater resilience? Did not Israeli society demonstrate as much resilience as its enemies during the course of the terror war that took place between November 1947 and May 1948, in which Israel absorbed 1,200 dead, or in the war beginning in September 2000, in which Israel sustained 1,400 killed? Since a state that is fighting terror generally employs greater resources and capabilities than the terror organization it is confronting, and since the state is not inferior to the terror organization in resilience, Samu’s argument regarding the advantage of terror in the general correlation of forces stands refuted.

Samu also presents the idea that “victory is a matter of society’s cognizance.”Thus, it is argued that Israel did not depart Lebanon because the IDF was defeated in the fighting, but because the cognizance of Israeli society had shifted due to guerrilla pressure and the cost in blood, which appeared excessive (in the last 17 months of Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon, Israel suffered 21 dead).

Success on the battlefield led to the destruction of Communist terror’s capability in Greece without a change in anyone’s cognizance. The same applies to the present situation in the West Bank. The current tranquility was achieved not because someone changed his cognition about the other side, but because the IDF and the Israel Security Agency almost completely liquidated the terror organizations’ capacity for action. Quite a few surveys, as well as the Palestinian elections, point to the fact that nothing has changed in Palestinian cognizance, but the statistics demonstrate that terror has been greatly reduced there.

The fact that Israel did not withdraw from Gaza under the pressure of terror did not change a thing. When we are dealing with cognizance and image, reality is not the determining factor.What matters is the way Israel’s actions are perceived by the Palestinians.

True, this is a “third-level victory,” namely, the type that requires constant effort to preserve the achievement, and it is also true that sometimes the terror organizations manage to act and kill. Nonetheless, given the assumption that the IDF will continue to bring down the level of terror, it is clear that from the perspective of terror and its objective to undermine the Israeli way of life, terror has been a total failure. It is possible that if Israel had not withdrawn from Gaza, thus allowing the terror organizations to claim “victory,” then the result of the war on terrorism would have been even clearer. The fact that Israel did not withdraw from Gaza under the pressure of terror did not change a thing. When we are dealing with cognizance and image, reality is not the determining factor. What matters is the way Israel’s actions are perceived by the Palestinians. When Israel kills or arrests the terror perpetrators (and from a professional standpoint, it is preferable to arrest), this is not a “victory of cognizance,” but a small step on a long road to victory in practice in a real physical sense. When the age of the terror operatives drops from the late 20s to the late teens, it appears that we are dealing with a “bottomless pit,” while the truth is that we have a real, concrete achievement. The replacement generation is younger, with less experience than its predecessor, and it does not have the same ability to direct, recruit, and lead. This is compounded by a sense of persecution stemming from the arrest and destruction of their predecessors and from the clear awareness that their lives are similarly at risk, with only a matter of time until they become a target. The new generation is also more cautious and preoccupied with escape, and hence produces less terror and definitely less qualitative and dangerous terror.

The adoption of these two mistaken assumptions – that terrorists are more determined and resilient than democratic states and that victory is always a matter of cognizance rather than the outcome of physical and coercive measures – has induced many to believe that there is no military approach for contending with terror in order to defeat it.

This confusion could have been prevented had it been understood that no one expects a military body to solve an ideological conflict and that even military “victory” signifies various levels of achievement, where the first requirement of victory is to check terror in a physical manner and not to alter the enemy’s political perceptions. In the long run, the military failure of terrorist organizations might lead them to alter their ideology, but that cannot be the mission of the military that should be focused on the capabilities of its adversary and not its intentions.

Part II: The Conditions Necessary for Winning the War Against Terrorism

Six Basic Conditions

An examination of many terrorist events throughout the world (but especially the Israeli experience in fighting Palestinian and Hizbullah terrorism) shows that six basic conditions can be defined which, if met, provide the foundation for defeating terrorism:

Six basic conditions can be defined which, if met, provide the foundation for defeating terrorism. They do not ensure victory over terrorism, but without them victory is impossible.

  • A political decision to defeat terrorism, stated explicitly and clearly to the security forces, and the willingness to bear the political cost of an offensive.
  • Acquiring control of the territory in and from which the terrorists operate.
  • Relevant intelligence.
  • Isolating the territory within which the counterterrorist fighting takes place.
  • Multi-dimensional cooperation between intelligence and operations.
  • Separating the civilian population from the terrorists.

These conditions are necessary but insufficient; they do not ensure victory over terrorism, but without them victory is impossible.

Clausewitz was right when he said that “war has its own grammar.” Even the most chaotic human situation, which seems to be an endless collection of individual, illogical, unconnected incidents – namely, war – has basic rules. A country can decide against going to war, but if it chooses warfare, it must act according to war’s basic principles. Ignoring them will prove futile; unless they are genuinely addressed, that war cannot be won. The war on terrorism is a particular case, thus all the “grammar rules” of ordinary war influence it in their own particular way, at varying degrees of intensity, and with emphases different from those of classic war. However, they all do have influence. Furthermore, the war on terrorism utilizes additional principles that complement those of ordinary war rather than negate them. This section will attempt to reveal these principles as necessary but insufficient preconditions for defeating terrorism.

By “victory” we refer to the third type mentioned above, namely, “sufficient victory,” which does not lead to many years of quiet but rather results in smothering the flames of the insurgency; it is maintained only at the cost of continual effort. Terrorist groups are not destroyed but become unable to act, and continuous counterterrorist measures have to be undertaken to prevent the renewal of attacks. A condition for coping with terrorism is understanding that the battle is long and that, even after success, continuing to suppress it demands ongoing, long-term effort, a great deal of hard work, the lives of soldiers, and patience. The basis for every political or military decision (important for every state that decides to fight terrorism and not to surrender to it) is the understanding that there are no easy solutions. No solution is absolute, and no success sufficient to say “finis” to terrorism. The steadfastness of the populace fighting terrorism is no less important than the success of the army sent to do combat.

The Conditions and Their Importance

1. A Clear Political Decision by the political echelon to defeat terrorism and the willingness to bear the political cost of an offensive military policy. Since in many cases terrorism seems unbearable and extremely difficult to overcome, political leaders and even military commanders hesitate to define the objective of the war on terrorism as “defeating and ending terrorism.” Many prefer to define the objective as “reducing terrorism,””preventing terrorism,” or “forestalling terrorism,” or to use indirect expressions such as “reducing it to a level that enables the population to lead a normal life,” or “containing it so that it will not rend the fabric of life.” Such murky definitions lead to a kind of laxity that avoids the decisive use of force and makes it possible to cover up the failure of the war on terrorism. “Reduction” and even “forestalling” are terms that are both unclear and cannot be measured, to say nothing of definitions relating to indirect results given in completely undefined social terms.

The “defeat” demanded by the politicians can be reduced to a sufficient victory, as explained above, but from a military point of view the objective is perfectly clear: to prevent terrorist operatives from bringing their plans to fruition, despite their unrelenting desire and continued efforts to do so. Thus it is clear that every terrorist event is a failure for the army, which is not true regarding terrorism’s political and public successes, which are not the army’s business and with which it has to cope only marginally.

Every civilian leadership that has not resolutely defined the objective is directly responsible for the failure of the war on terrorism. It is clear, however, that a precise definition demands a focused force, and therefore precise military definitions of the force’s objectives are the responsibility of the senior military command, authorized at the political level. Implementation must be based on the understanding that military measures (and paramilitary ones, such as confiscating funds and blocking financial conduits) are meant to influence the operational aspect of terrorism, that is, the use of force. At the same time, the political level should deal with the other aspects, such as the political isolation of a terrorist organization or ensuring that proper international legislation is passed legitimizing the war on terrorism.

There must be a clear political decision by the political echelon to defeat terrorism and the willingness to bear the political cost of an offensive military policy.

A more salient example of the failure caused by incorrectly defining an objective occurred in Lebanon between 1985 and 2000. During those years the government did not instruct the army to destroy Hizbullah’s ability to attack Israel and the IDF. When, in the middle of 1986, General Yossi Peled arrived at the Northern Command, he found no objective had been set that could be translated into a clear military mission, so he defined one himself as “quiet for the civilians in the north.” At the time it seemed an excellent definition to this writer as well, who served as intelligence officer for the Northern Command between 1986 and 1989. In retrospect, I think it was incorrect. It never related to the proper objective, i.e., destroying Hizbullah’s ability to attack Israel and the IDF. If there is no well-defined objective, the army cannot strike terrorism a mortal blow. Worse, every action was measured by the wrong standard: did it provide more or less “quiet for the civilians in the north?” The correct question should have been, “Did it bring us closer to the genuine objective of destroying Hizbullah’s capabilities?” If the answer was affirmative, the action should have been carried out while looking for ways to reduce attacks on the civilians in the north. We turned the secondary factor, reduction, into the objective and by so doing crippled our ability to wage war against Hizbullah correctly until we withdrew in 2000.

It is the military’s responsibility to make it absolutely clear to the politicians that it is impossible to defeat terrorism solely by defensive methods, and the politicians must completely understand that the war on terrorism has a political price. Experience has shown that the international community is not always prepared to legitimize an attack – and that is the nature of fighting terrorism – in the presence of civilians who are not terrorists and who run a high risk of being harmed. Whoever is unwilling to pay the price would do better not to think about achieving the aforementioned objective because, as noted, defensive measures are insufficient. The question of dividing energy between offense and defense will arise during the war on terrorism, but victory will be possible only if (and sometime primarily because) a policy of assault is pursued.

Defining the objective and understanding that it will be necessary to attack and thus endanger the lives of innocent civilians are both essential for the success of every action soldiers take against terrorist and guerrilla forces.

2. Controlling the Territory. The practical importance of control is first clearly functional and is manifested by the ability to operate in the relevant territory with small forces and heeding strictly military considerations without political limitations. In practical terms, this means that when it is necessary, military forces must be located in areas where terrorism is active, for example, where intelligence information indicates terrorists are organizing. If the commander in the field can make a decision based on his own considerations, without needing to pursue a (usually lengthy) process of obtaining political authorization to respond, the important advantage of controlling the territory can be seen in the context of fighting terrorism. The objective is for a small force (squad or company) commanded by a junior officer and without armored vehicles (APCs or tanks) to arrive quickly at any location to utilize the information, detain suspects, or destroy weapons or infrastructure. To achieve that end, the territory must first be subjugated and then controlled. This requires the use of a large force to locate, detain, and destroy the terrorist apparatus and its personnel, so that no terrorists or guerrillas can threaten the force operating there. Achieving control is a long process that can last days and, in difficult situations, even months.

The objective is for a small force commanded by a junior officer and without armored vehicles to arrive quickly at any location to utilize the information, detain suspects, or destroy weapons or infrastructure.

The second factor defining control of a territory is the ability to check the movement of the populace from which the terrorists emerge to attack and into which they subsequently disappear. Checking the movement of the populace denotes that the force fighting terrorism deploys roadblocks through which the populace and their possessions pass for inspection. These can be permanent or temporary, depending on the security situation and intelligence information as evaluated by the commander in charge, whose main considerations are security and the requirements of fighting terrorism.

Two aspects of the classic control of a territory are not relevant here. It is not necessary to deploy on relatively high ground in enemy territory, but rather, after a determined and sometimes long war, to be able to clear the territory of “serious” terrorist elements and activists until there is no threat to the force fighting terrorism. Second, once the territory is under control, there is no need for forces to be permanently deployed within urban or densely populated areas. The forces fighting terrorism can be deployed along access roads and on the outskirts of inhabited areas, so as to allow for a rapid response inside the territory or the immediate sealing of roads, in accordance with the special needs of fighting within a specific location.

Over the past years in Israel we have experienced all the stages of fighting terrorism in an abridged but clear way: until the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, Israel controlled the territories with minimal forces. Israeli civilians and a minimum number of soldiers could be found at any time in territories where Palestinians were concentrated, with almost no fear and certainly with no need of roadblocks and the daily use of force. The intifada tested Israel’s ability to withstand terrorism. Since control of the territory was almost complete, the IDF stopped terrorism almost completely (but found it hard to deal with mass demonstrations). However, after the violence began, it was only then that the army entered population centers and only when they were protected.

Only recapturing the territory in Operation Defensive Shield (April 2002) and its subsequent control (which continued for several months) could lay the foundation and provide the necessary conditions for a successful campaign against terrorism.

After the Oslo Accords (1993), the IDF withdrew from populated areas (1994-1995), and large areas became off-limits for the IDF for more than five years. Therefore, it is not surprising that when the State of Israel found itself besieged by suicide bombing and other forms of terrorist attacks (2000-2002), it did not have a military solution, the use of tanks, APCs, planes, and helicopters notwithstanding. The awful truth was that there could be no military solution because the IDF lost control of the territory after Oslo. Only recapturing the territory in Operation Defensive Shield (April 2002) and its subsequent control (which continued for several months) could lay the foundation and provide the necessary conditions for a successful campaign against terrorism. Therefore, only then could the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) achieve today’s situation, before the completion of the security fence, in which the percentage of terrorist attack preventions grew and the number of attempted terrorist attacks decreased. After only a few years, terrorism dropped to about a half percent of what it was at its height.

It is important to share an observation about the difference in conditions between Israel and almost anywhere else in the world. Israel does not take responsibility for the civilian government of the territories, nor for their civilian policing. This is because the Palestinian Authority regards itself as sovereign in those areas – with a tremendous amount of Israeli support but without Israeli authority. In any other location, control of the territory would also mean taking responsibility for the civilian government, that is, a genuine military administration. That is the crux of the non-military control of a territory and is essential for effective military measures.

It is perfectly clear that there can be no control of the territory without more friction with both the civilian and terrorist populations. At first glance that would seem to contradict both natural instinct and the many who say “more friction, more losses; less friction, fewer losses.”The situation on the ground proves that such an approach is invalid and that friction, which is part of controlling the territory, is necessary in order to achieve the freedom of movement necessary to operate. Friction makes it possible to obtain more intelligence, hampers the terrorist who wants to plan an attack without interference, and allows the army to sense which way the wind is blowing. Only then is it possible to react quickly and efficiently to both intelligence and events.

History has shown that an attempt to achieve quiet by reducing friction will fail in the long run, even if in the very short run it provides a pleasant, intoxicating serenity. In some instances, quiet is preserved because the other side needs it to reorganize before renewing its terrorist attacks (for example, Arafat after he returned to the Palestinian Authority in 1994). It is indeed often in the terrorists’ interest to postpone the renewal of attacks (for example, Hizbullah after the IDF withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, for reasons related to Syria and Iran). Whenever those fighting terrorism lost control of the territory, terrorism came back and struck them ten times harder, with forces that had become reorganized and stronger. The terrorists waited until they felt that they could advance their interests through the use of force. This dynamic is precisely what happened in Southern Lebanon on the eve of the 2006 Second Lebanon War and in the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the 2005 Disengagement.

That is the essence of the tahdiya (period of calm) proposed by Hamas, for there is no doubt that under the aegis of a ceasefire it will gain strength and then use force against us. Terrorist organizations stock up on weapons by exploiting their control of the territory and reduced friction with the IDF (for example, after the IDF withdrew from the Gaza Strip and abandoned the Philadelphi route). For Israel to be able to provide the proper response, the IDF will have to take the following steps: conquer the territory, control it, remove most of the terrorist organizations’ operational force, and deploy an effective intelligence system. Every step is difficult, demanding, time consuming, and carries a price in human life. There is no substitute for controlling the territory for anyone whose mission is to fight terrorism successfully.

3. Relevant Intelligence. Controlling the territory allows the possibility of obtaining relevant intelligence, without which terrorism cannot be fought. Relevance is made up of three factors: precision, quality, and timing. A close relation exists between controlling the territory and intelligence. Without control, there is usually little real chance of enlisting agents from within the populace where the terrorists are active or from within the terrorist organizations themselves. Accumulated experience shows that human intelligence is at the heart of fighting terrorism and, for that reason, control of the territory has an important influence on intelligence capabilities. Moreover, since detentions are the basis for good intelligence obtained by interrogation, and wide-scale detentions can only be carried out when there is genuine control of the territory, only such control will provide the flexibility to activate complete networks to follow up partial information from a lead that is not totally clear.

Needless to say, good intelligence also makes control easier by preventing terrorist attacks. It is also clear that the more precise the intelligence, the more it enables focused action to be taken against terrorists without collateral harm. In this way it is possible to remove one of the worst obstacles to effective control, namely despair and useless injury among the local population, which lead many of them to join the terrorists. Separating terrorist elements from the innocent population is an ongoing, essential effort that must be supported by intelligence. For that reason, intelligence must be precise. In addition, it must arrive in time to be efficiently utilized to enable counterterrorist activities to be carried out and terrorist operatives to be attacked. Indeed, the shelf life of intelligence information is crucial; reports must be acted upon while they are still of value (e.g., while the enemy remains at a particular location).

Fighting terrorism requires a special quality of intelligence. It must determine routines, so that every anomaly will be noticeable, and it must enable identification in a timely fashion of every stage of preparation of an attack. To do both, two efforts need to be made. First, networks must be created to provide permanent, fundamental cover of the entire territory in detailing the enemy’s normal behavior. Second, one way or another, intelligence must infiltrate the terrorist organizations’ chain of command, regardless of how loosely organized it might be, to find out what it is planning, and when and where it intends to act. Such intelligence is focused on a specific person or place. Only the combination of both factors will permit military efforts to be directed at fighting terrorism.

Beyond the intelligence necessary to fight terrorism directly, it is important to legitimize the fight. Today it is clear that both internal and external legitimization is necessary, and this is more evident when the country fighting terrorism is a democracy. Acquiring the sympathy and favorable public opinion of the international community is vital to the long-term fight against terrorism, which tries to present its murderers as “freedom fighters.” Intelligence plays an important role in the struggle for legitimization and sympathy by exposing the lies and cruelty of terrorism in a way that enables the civilians of the country and the entire world to understand the policy of fighting terrorism. Insofar as is possible, intelligence has to support the battle for the hearts and minds of the world without losing its professional credibility. This is not easy. It is a new challenge, still in need of significant clarification, whose importance is nevertheless clear. It bears the danger, however, that it could deflect intelligence efforts from carrying out their main and vital task.

4. Isolating the Territory Within Which the Insurgency Takes Place. Terrorists cannot operate unless they have freedom of action in the territory around them, from which they need:

  • A safe-haven country, where they can find shelter when pursued, and where they can train and acquire the knowledge needed to improve their capabilities.
  • Weapons, assuming they cannot buy or manufacture arms of sufficient quality and quantity.
  • Financial backing, which enables them to support sympathizers, maintain terrorist deployment, purchase weapons, and take care of the families of operatives who were killed or detained.
  • Two types of reinforcements: experts in certain types of warfare and “ordinary” fighters, who allow them to fill the ranks when the war against terrorism is successful.

Terrorists cannot operate unless they have freedom of action in the territory around them.

If the military force does not seal the border, efforts to wipe out terrorist elements are useless. This is because the terrorists will replenish their storehouses and refill their ranks with operatives from beyond the border, and it will be impossible to stop them. A truely bottomless pit will exist, and pressuring terrorists will be ineffective, because they will be able to acquire what they need from outside the territory in which they operate regardless of the pressure. It is vital to close borders on two sides, both preventing support from reaching the terrorists and preventing terrorists from entering Israel.

To illustrate, the United States’ failure to seal the Iraqi-Syrian and Iraqi-Iranian borders is one of the main reasons for its failure to stop terrorist attacks directed against its soldiers in Iraq during the early years of the insurgency. Ninety-five percent of foreign fighters in Iraq who provide the bulk of suicide bombers came through Syria alone.15 And the U.S. Department of Defense was reporting as late as December 2007 that the Iraqi security forces were still in the process of constructing border forts to encircle Iraq.16 Thus, during most of the Iraqi insurgency, terrorists have received support, reinforcements, knowledge, and weapons from two sovereign countries.

This failure to isolate the Iraqi insurgency from reinforcement made struggling against it a Sisyphean task from a military point of view. No matter how much damage the Americans caused to the terrorists, their links with countries beyond the region in which the war was being waged enabled them to close gaps and become stronger. A similar challenge was posed to the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan because the Taliban established sanctuaries over its eastern border inside Pakistan. It is extremely difficult to attack sources of arms, money, and men when they are far away, and ten times harder when they are sovereign countries and members of the UN.

One of the reasons for the IDF’s failure during the years it was in Lebanon fighting Hizbullah in a secure territory that bordered the State of Israel (1985-2000) was its inability to seal off the security zone in Southern Lebanon from the territory to the north. Thus Hizbullah could wage a guerrilla war without endangering its operatives when they attacked within the security zone. The overwhelming majority of guerrilla attacks were carried out by forces that infiltrated from without and only the tiniest fraction were carried out by residents of the security zone. Hizbullah was conspicuously unsuccessful in its efforts to establish its power inside the region, but the IDF’s inability to seal and isolate the region allowed the organization to wage a continual war while relying on the support of the populace beyond the region controlled by the IDF. The IDF did succeed, to a great extent, in controlling the territory and deploying an effective intelligence network, especially following the support it managed to enlist from the populace of the security zone, regardless of ethnic affiliation. However, its failure to isolate the region in which the fighting took place was critical.

In the Second Lebanon War as well, the IDF preferred to launch its attack without first isolating the area of Southern Lebanon at the line of the Litani River. This turned out to be one of the IDF’s main mistakes and one of the principal reasons that the war ended without a clear Israeli success. Although the IDF had total air superiority, Hizbullah continued to stream fresh operatives and weapons systems into the area. No less important was the fact that the Hizbullah forces in the front lines did not feel cut off and, hence, did not perceive that they were threatened. As a result, they continued to fight against the IDF and did not collapse.

The same considerations apply to the Palestinian theater as well. Israel decided to forfeit control of the perimeter of the Gaza Strip when it withdrew its forces from the Philadelphi route separating Egyptian Sinai from Gaza. The scale of smuggling increased so that Katyusha rockets and SA-7 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles entered the Palestinian arsenals. In contrast, no such weaponry entered the West Bank, precisely because Israel firmly controlled its perimeter from the Jordan Valley. By its control of the ground, Israel has also been able to thwart the production and deployment of domestically produced rockets that have been launched in massive numbers from the Gaza area. In short, Israel has paid a price for losing control of Gaza’s perimeter in its counterinsurgency campaign against the Islamist groups, like Hamas, as well as Fatah affiliates, that continued to assault Israeli civilians with rockets even after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

Other countries that fought terrorist and guerrilla forces have made the same mistake. For example, the United States did not employ ground forces in Laos to prevent fighters and weapons from entering South Vietnam from North Vietnam. The reason was political: the United States had signed an agreement not to violate Laotian neutrality, and the American State Department managed to convince the various presidents to adhere to this agreement, despite the fact that both North Vietnam and China were uninhibited in violating it. Military personnel failed to convince the decision-makers that it was absolutely vital to block the bypasses through countries that were officially neutral. That was apparently the main cause of the American military’s failure after the Tet offensive, which was a military disaster for the Vietcong, to prevent regular North Vietnamese forces from using a well-known trail to enter the south. It was those forces that in the end made the difference.17

The isolation required in fighting terrorist organizations also includes non-geographical aspects. For example, an effort should be made to create economic isolation, which means preventing the entrance of funds from outside the territory, whether through bank transfers, money changers, or in the suitcases of messengers. Isolation of information is also extremely important, especially in the more professional realms, such as preparing modern explosive devices. In addition, attempts to transfer information, such as bringing in experts who acquired knowledge elsewhere or CDs with professional information to improve fighting ability, must be prevented.

5. Multi-Dimensional Cooperation Between Intelligence and Operations. The previous conditions analyzed here have won universal recognition and relate to defined military missions. The next condition – novel to a certain extent, at least for Israel’s defense establishment – deals with relations within the campaign against terrorism. This issue is discussed in British literature, especially in relation to the suppression of Communist terrorism in Malaya, as well as in relation to Vietnam18 – the first pointing to success and the second to the lessons learned from failure. The emphasis is different for Israel, because the issues are more military than civilian.19 Determining the proper solution for Israel began with a long process of trial and error, especially after the second intifada began (September 2000), in view of the terrible price in blood that made a combination of capabilities necessary to eradicate terrorism. Let us illustrate with a situation that could possibly take place today: an action might be carried out in Judea and Samaria in which the operative force is the special forces unit of the police; intelligence is gathered by the Mossad and Military Intelligence but processed by the Israel Security Agency (ISA); the action and reserves are commanded by the territorial brigade, which is subordinate to the Judea and Samaria division; the force will have close support provided by unmanned aircraft and attack helicopters operated by the Air Force, with aid from Territorial Command Intelligence supported by the Chief of Staff’s mapping unit. The operation itself can be put into action within a few hours of receipt of the relevant information from the intelligence community, whether it came from an agent abroad or the observations of a special force in the casbah of a specific city.

Understanding that the reaction time and cooperation of the various elements – intelligence community, army, and police forces – is critical to the war on terrorism led to two important changes in the methods and general organization of those fighting terrorism:

A great deal of authority was delegated to the lowest ranks, those in contact with the enemy and in the field. Today the freedom of action of a brigade commander in the field and an ISA coordinator in his area is ten times greater than during a lull in the fighting. This is an essential element of the system, and therefore any attempt to reduce this authority, or to demand authorization beforehand from the higher levels of administration, will cause the security systems to lose an important aspect of their ability to fight terrorism.

The elements that make intelligence and operational missions effective – such as interrogators, translators, control of unmanned aircraft, etc. – which, for economic reasons and for supervision purposes, had been centralized in headquarters, have been decentralized to lower levels. This was done so that the forces in the field could gather intelligence quickly, understand it immediately, and respond rapidly. The response may be manifested by gathering information, activating an operational force, or having an interrogator arrive at the place of a suspect’s detention to ensure immediate action. The objective is to respond with zero delay to an event, information, or intelligence. As a result, research capabilities and the authority to produce information and evaluate a situation also have to take place at ground level. Understanding this necessity is basic for every action.

Only someone who has overcome the bureaucratic obstacles that exist in every organization and who has combined the various advantages that every organization or branch has to offer, while ignoring the obstructions in accordance with the various cultures of command and work, can achieve the capabilities necessary for fighting terrorism. This is without a doubt the Israeli security forces’ most important achievement. Room for improvement still remains in several areas, but we have clearly come a long way. Realizing that people make mistakes, because mistakes are unavoidable in cases of actions undertaken rapidly and under pressure, is at the foundation of every theory of fighting terrorism. Israeli cooperation between its fighting branches and intelligence community can be (and indeed is) a good example for other countries struggling with the same problems and challenges. Moreover, since this method necessitates delegating authority to the forces in the field, the principle of backup must be developed and accompanied by a level of freedom of action usually seen at much higher echelons. To a certain extent, this awareness relates to the best action in classic warfare as well, called “mission command.” In the specific case of the war on terrorism, it is the only alternative that will produce results.

6. Separating the Civilian Population from the Terrorist Entities. There is a vital need in counterinsurgency operations against terrorist groups to drive a wedge between the civilian population that has nothing to do with terrorism and the terrorist entities against which a military campaign must be conducted. Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, the former Australian officer who now serves as an advisor on counterinsurgency to General David Petraeus in Iraq, has indeed noted: “The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither.”20 It is important to stress that this separation can only be accomplished if the second condition for success in counterinsurgency is met: namely, control of the territory in which the military struggle with the terrorist operatives is being waged.

There is a vital need in counterinsurgency operations against terrorist groups to drive a wedge between the civilian population that has nothing to do with terrorism and the terrorist entities against which a military campaign must be conducted.

Three levels of separation can be distinguished: Separation can result simply by a military force taking the necessary precautions not to injure innocent civilians who have nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist groups who are active. This includes preventing collateral damage when using force in order to arrest or eliminate terrorist operatives. It is critical for an armed force to avoid adopting procedures that harm civilians or their freedom of movement when such measures are employed against terrorist operatives through roadblocks or closures. It is extremely difficult to avoid causing any harm to every single innocent civilian, despite all the precautions a security force might put in place, when measures are adopted in a civilian environment in which terrorist operatives are active. Nonetheless, everything must be done to avoid such situations that can bring harm to the innocent or cause sweeping damage to the civilian population as a whole.

The IDF’s record could include an enormous accomplishment that was achieved in the Second Lebanon War when it emerged that only Shiites affiliated with Hizbullah were attacked by the Israeli Air Force in Beirut, while in other parts of Lebanon’s capital, the IDF command was careful to minimize any harm that it caused. Lebanese Shiites, Christians, and Sunnis sat in Beirut cafes just a few hundred meters from Hizbullah’s Dahiya Quarter that was almost completely destroyed. The rest of the Lebanese populace knew that Hizbullah’s headquarters were located only in Dahiya, and therefore that would be the only section of Beirut that would be harmed. The carefulness and precision of the Israeli air operation enhanced the prestige of the IDF and averted a situation in which many Lebanese would be motivated to join Hizbullah.

Lebanese Shiites, Christians, and Sunnis sat in Beirut cafes just a few hundred meters from Hizbullah’s Dahiya Quarter that was almost completely destroyed. The rest of the Lebanese populace knew that Hizbullah’s headquarters were located only in Dahiya, and therefore that would be the only section of Beirut that would be harmed.

A second level of separation between civilians and terrorist groups can be achieved when it becomes possible to drive a clear wedge, and even a conflict of interest, between the civilian population and the terrorist insurgents. An example of this success was Israel’s control of Southern Lebanon prior to its withdrawal from the area in May 2000. During the period in which Israel maintained a south Lebanon security zone, Hizbullah did not succeed in recruiting cells of activists in the area. There were two reasons why this situation developed. First, Israeli intelligence units were able to thwart most recruitment efforts within the local population. Second, this was clearly assisted by the fact that within the south Lebanon security zone a strong economic interest emerged among its residents to preserve the continuation of quiet and to benefit from life under Israeli control, along with the maintenance of their ties as Lebanese citizens to the Lebanese state. It should be added that the standard of living in Southern Lebanon was higher than in many parts of Lebanon and, as a result, most of the southern Lebanese population did not want to give up this advantage.

The third and highest level of separation is one in which the local population actually enters into active combat against terrorist organizations. If this can be achieved, then the chances of defeating a terrorist insurgency increase sharply. If the previous two levels are achieved, then the terrorist insurgency cannot gain strength, but if the third level is implemented, then the conditions are put in place for an active struggle against it. That was the situation in Southern Lebanon, where most of the Christian and Druze residents feared the price they would have to pay if Hizbullah ruled in this region. In order to avert Hizbullah’s success, the civilian population in Southern Lebanon actively assisted the IDF.

It appeared in early 2008 that the U.S. had achieved this level of separation of the Sunni civilian population of al-Anbar Province in Western Iraq from al-Qaeda and that this is part of the explanation for the success achieved by the U.S. with the implementation of its 2007 “surge strategy” under General David Petraeus. Even the Sunni Arab population, which had previously fought U.S. efforts to facilitate the emergence of a democratic (and Shiite-dominated) regime in Baghdad, understood the damage that would be caused with a takeover of Iraq by al-Qaeda affiliates. As a result, the Sunni Arabs have been prepared to fight for the stability of their sectors and to prevent the infiltration of extremist elements from abroad.

Any state fighting terrorists should seek to reach the third level of separation, but at least it should be sure that the first level is secured. The success of Israel against Palestinian terrorism that began in the spring of 2002 emanated from the fact that the IDF understood how to keep to an absolute minimum the losses to Palestinian civilians who had no connections with terrorist groups.  Yet there were clear limits to the effort of the Israeli success.  The longer a civilian population, like the Palestinians, is exposed to a sustained campaign of incitement by the insurgent forces, by the Palestinian Autuority itself, the more difficult it will be to achieve a high level of separation of the population from the insurgency.

Israel’s failure to entirely eliminate Palestinian terrorist capabilities requires that it be satisfied with the lowest level of decisiveness in this struggle. For example, Israel has been unable to motivate the civilian Palestinian population to reject terrorism and to wage an armed struggle against Hamas and other militant Islamist groups that lead large parts of Palestinian society.

An interesting question is that of priorities, specifically, what is the correct order for fulfilling the aforementioned conditions? It seems to be genuinely necessary to put political decisions first. Whether it is best to begin with the process of isolating the fighting territory or controlling it is an open question. Isolation should be pursued as the first stage, if possible. (In Iraq, for example, it was necessary to start with “conquest.” However, the Americans did not prepare for control and sanitizing its huge territory.) The intelligence effort can begin seriously after occupation, without dependence on isolation and even before control. The organizational system should be prepared in advance, but experience has shown that it changes during war, and a price is paid until it stabilizes correctly according to time, place, and challenge. What could be done against the Palestinians in 1936 by the British Army cannot be done today, even though the territory is identical.

Part III: The Principles of War in an Asymmetric Confrontation

What Is Asymmetric Warfare?

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and especially since the events of September 2001, much has been said and written about the nature of future wars and how those of the present day are different from those of the past. In this context, the term “asymmetric” emerges to describe an important type of warfare. “Asymmetric warfare” seems to mean a war in which the opposing sides, both of which use force to achieve their ends, are not equal in military strength.21

In Israel, the term is used to refer to the war between the IDF and organizations or armies that do their best not to look like armies. They are not armies, in that it is difficult to locate them in the field, to attack concentrations of their forces, to identify the command and control chain, and to hamper their ability to fight. The enemy is evasive, less hierarchical, can fade into the background, and has no grandiose plans that can be foiled. In essence, if one side is modern and industrially advanced with a professional army and the other side is not, then it can be said that they are fighting an asymmetric war.

Asymmetry has another important component, namely, the way that decision-makers on both sides relate to the losses they sustain and the injury inflicted upon the opposing civilian population. Generally speaking, and certainly in our part of the world, it is easier for the side that is not a modern country to make decisions leading to the death and injury of enemy civilians. Indeed, we have seen that civilians are the main target for such organizations. The decisions of the modern country, on the other hand, are greatly influenced by the desire to have as few military casualties as possible and usually no less by its sensitivity to the legal and moral aspects of harming civilians. The asymmetry in the way terrorist and guerrilla forces relate to the enemy’s civilians, and their willingness to suffer and even exploit the deaths of their own civilians, is no less critical than the differences in military strength, and perhaps even more so.

The definition proposed here for “asymmetric warfare” is “a war between the regular army of a state and an organization using terrorism or guerrilla tactics from within areas under the control of the regular army or crossing the borders of those areas, while receiving support (active or passive) from the civilian population from within which it operates.”This definition does not include global jihad or terrorist cells in London that plot to attack civilians, or the struggle waged by MI5 against such cells, or the counterterrorist activities undertaken in an Arab village in Israel. It does not include ground-to-ground missiles fired by the Iranians, Syrian gas attacks, or the war against anti-aircraft missiles in Syria. From the Israeli point of view, it covers the war against the terrorism emanating from beyond its borders since 1965 (the first Fatah attack); the war against terrorism originating in Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and Judea and Samaria since the late 1960s; and Israel’s wars in Lebanon.

What Are the Principles of War?

According to the IDF Dictionary of Terms:

The principles of war are the principles expressing the rules of military thought and action that serve as the permanent basis for combat doctrine….Applying the principles of war differs at different levels and for different operations….Their relative importance can be expected to vary from event to event….The list of principles is a methodological tool that differs from army to army and from era to era.22

The dictionary emphasizes that while the principles remain the same, the list morphs according to time and place, with application always dependent on context.

According to the introduction to the British doctrine of warfare, issued in 1996,23 many countries have adopted a list of war principles, concentrating on those that are most important and have proven themselves in the long run as applicable to waging wars. The principles are not a checklist ensuring success, but, used with judgment, they will serve as a guide to planning and carrying out military operations at all levels, as well as the criteria for examining possible directions for action. Ignoring the principles increases the chance of failure in battle.

It should be noted that the principles serve the purpose of planning and commanding military campaigns on the battlefield, and do not serve the purpose of resolving the conflicts at the root of the military struggle. Perhaps instead of “principles of war” they should be called “principles of fighting,” to clarify their limits and non-applications. For example, they do not relate to the important broader issues of war, such as social, religious, political, economic, territorial, and cultural factors, without which conflicts and wars between nations or groups cannot be understood.

The British list features ten principles:

1. Selection and maintenance of aim
2. Maintenance of morale
3. Security
4. Surprise
5. Offensive action
6. Concentration of force
7. Economy of effort
8. Flexibility
9. Cooperation
10. Sustainability/administration.

The Americans list the following nine:

1. Objective
2. Offensive
3. Mass
4. Economy of force
5. Maneuver
6. Unity of command
7. Security
8. Surprise
9. Simplicity.

Where the British list “flexibility,” “cooperation,” “maintenance of morale,” and “administration,” the Americans have “unity of command,” “maneuver,” and “simplicity.” The only change the British have made to their list was in the order in which their principles appear. The Americans have recently added three additional principles to the official literature under the heading “Other Principles.” They are:

1. Restraint
2. Perseverance
3. Legitimacy.

The IDF’s list of principles, defined in 1998, features ten entries24 (parenthetical explanations are the author’s):

1. Mission and Aim – Adherence to the mission by being guided by the aim (understanding the force’s mission within the framework of the aim – and acting accordingly)
2. Optimal utilization of forces (achieving the maximum with what is available while correctly combining capabilities)
3. Initiative and offensive (the commander in the field determines action; he must aim for contact and engagement with the enemy)
4. Stratagem (achieving surprise, but more importantly, identifying, targeting, and exploiting weak points of the enemy)
5. Concentration of efforts (every effort, action, and effect are made to attain the principal mission and aim)
6. Continuity of action (unswerving pressure to prevent the enemy from reorganizing; exploiting our forces’ successes)
7. Depth and reserves (to distance threats in order to enable continuity of action in crises)
8. Security (to avoid exposure of the flanks and weakness following a concerted effort)
9. Maintenance of morale and fighting spirit (impels the soldier forward and preserves the unit’s vitality under pressure; essential for a small army to compensate for its materiel weakness)
10. Simplicity (each element of the stratagem must be simple to execute even if the broader plan and mission are complicated).

The principle of administration (which is not in either the American or IDF list of principles), beyond the understanding that an army marches on its stomach, is extremely important and is the basis for concentrating efforts and forces at the operative level and certainly at the strategic level; neglecting it will keep the army from victory. In a country fighting with a small army within interior lines of operation (the permanent condition in Israel), shifting the strategic effort is critical and depends on administration.

The IDF list of principles of war is slightly different from the British and the American. It does not include “unity of command,” perhaps because the IDF’s chain of command is structured differently, nor does it feature “maneuver.” (After the Second Lebanon War, perhaps its inclusion on the list should be considered. It was once thought so obvious that there was no need to mention it.) On the other hand, the IDF includes “continuity of action” (which the Americans have only recently added), replacing “maneuver,” as well as maintenance of morale (which the British include as well). “Depth and reserves” is a principle exclusive to the IDF, apparently because defense is extremely important in view of the inequalities between Israel and its neighbors: numerical, demographic and geographic.

Applying the Principles of War to Asymmetric Warfare

Unfortunately, for many years Israel has been fighting a war that fulfills all the criteria of an asymmetric war against various guerrilla forces: Hizbullah in Lebanon; Hamas in Gaza; and Palestinian terrorism from Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. We are not alone. Many other countries have a great deal of experience in fighting terrorism and various types of guerrilla aggression, from the jungles of Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaya to the deserts of Oman, the hills of Greece, Algeria, and Afghanistan, and the alleys of Beirut, Amman, Bint Jbeil, Gaza City, Nablus, and Baghdad.

Sufficient empirical evidence is available to state that armies can successfully fight terrorism and guerrilla organizations, destroying their operative capabilities, even if the conflict remains active in other areas. As was previously demonstrated, ample experience similarly enables us to examine whether or not there is genuine need to change the principles of war. What follows relates to the experience accumulated by the IDF in fighting terrorism under the special conditions prevalent in Israel and in light of the list of principles accepted by the IDF, although it might seem that they are applicable to most armies across the globe, with changes particular to each army and case.

1. Mission and Aim: This principle is critical for every military move. It calls for both the mission and the aim to be clarified, and it ensures that achieving the mission does in fact serve the aim. Experience shows that every time a mission was not completely clear, for example, in the Second Lebanon War, Israel paid a high price. The principle requires of every commander to use the force he commands to carry out the mission he was given, with the mission serving the aim as defined. The aim always has first priority, serving as a kind of beacon illuminating the mission. At any level of the military hierarchy, the aim is the mission of the superior level. It can be concluded that in some extreme situations, not carrying out the mission can better serve the aim and, in such a situation, the aim always has priority. At the tactical level, for example, if terrorists have left a house in which they were hiding, it is preferable to attack them rather than the house, which had been defined as the mission.

If the last war in Lebanon had clear aims, such as “to destroy Hizbullah’s fighting capabilities as a guerrilla organization operating against Israel in south Lebanon in order to allow the Lebanese government to realize its sovereignty in south Lebanon,” and the Northern Command’s mission had been defined as “to prevent Katyusha rockets from being fired into Israel,” there is no doubt that the fighting forces would have been given a clear order that could have been followed. The operative translation of the aim and mission to the command would have meant that there was no alternative but to instruct the ground forces to occupy south Lebanon, destroy Hizbullah’s entire infrastructure, and neutralize its Katyusha-launching capabilities. That would have been a clear, legitimate military mission. At the same time it would have been clear that the mission to conquer Bint Jbeil, because it symbolized Hizbullah success, had no foundation and related neither to the mission nor the aim, meaning there was no point in carrying it out.

Wiping out terrorism in Judea and Samaria after April 2002, when we could extrapolate Israeli casualties to about 1,600 murdered civilians annually, was possible because a clear mission was defined as (if not in these exact words) “the army has to stop terrorism (the aim) to enable Israelis to live normal lives,” and the result was Operation Defensive Shield.

2. Optimal Utilization of Forces: This principle may seem at first glance to be less necessary for fighting terrorism, but that is not the case. One of the main challenges in fighting a guerrilla or terrorist force is that a combination of many capabilities is necessary for success. If intelligence, special forces, the air force, the army deployed in the field, and the police are not effectively utilized, each in its particular area, terrorism cannot be overcome. One of the most outstanding successes of the Israeli defense system is its ability to wring the utmost out of every element. In 2002, the combination of high-class intelligence from the Israel Security Agency and Military Intelligence, the pinpoint striking capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, and the incredible professionalism of the forces brought about a unified, coordinated operation within Palestinian territory. It was efficient, effective, avoided collateral damage, and was the secret of the security forces’ success in fighting terrorism in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. It was a classic example of the “full utilization of forces,” in which each component brings its unique capabilities to the battlefield and, combining them, leads to a synergetic result that is far more than the sum of its parts.

This principle is manifested in another important way. The IDF faces several challenges at once: the confrontations in Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon as well as preparing for coming wars. If the principle of the full utilization of forces is neglected, and the greatest benefit is not derived from each of the units deployed in the various sectors to deal with the various tasks, the IDF will not be able to meet the challenge. This principle demands that the force fighting terrorism exploit the special nature of each unit to prepare for the war and demands that those responsible for preparation think about how to enable the units to operate well when called upon to fight. Observing the “full utilization” principle is of supreme importance in both operating and building a force to facilitate allocation of tasks between the regular army and the reserves. Those in charge of dispensing resources will agree that, in the long run, at the General Staff level, a most important goal is to carry out the various tasks at a reasonable economic price.

3. Initiative and Offensive: After the success of “initiative and offensive” in Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002 (as opposed to the defensive failure of the year and a half that preceded it), and the realization that lack of initiative and offensive were the two main weak points of the fighting of some IDF units in the Second Lebanon War, it is clear today that without both it is impossible to fight terrorism and guerrilla organizations. Because the enemy is elusive, this principle is more important in asymmetric warfare than in regular warfare, in which large units operate and there is not always room for uncoordinated local initiative. Every junior officer must understand that the outcome of such a war, in which small forces are put into operation against terrorist and guerrilla organizations, depends on him and what he does, in seeking out and engaging the enemy whenever and wherever possible. This is the key to fighting in the small and sometimes isolated frameworks of asymmetric warfare.

4. Stratagem: Israeli terminology differs from the British and American, both of whom refer to “surprise.” In Israeli terminology, surprise is an important and perhaps necessary component of stratagem, but not its essence. What is crucial is exploiting surprise to be able to strike the enemy’s weakest point and shatter his center of gravity. Surprise is never the last step but rather the first; the aim is to strike the decisive blow. The objectives of stratagem and exploiting surprise are both important and bring added benefits. During the last war the army did not internalize the principle of stratagem; it made do with surprising Nasrallah only and did not exploit the surprise to win. Adopting stratagem in every move must be at the heart of military thought. If in a regular war there is no choice, and stratagem can be replaced by greater force or firepower, in asymmetric warfare there is no replacement because in many instances too much force or firepower will do more harm than good.

Compared to the principle of the “full utilization of forces,” the following three – “concentration of efforts,””continuity of action,” and “depth and reserves” – seem at first glance to be less critical for fighting terrorism. However, they are indeed important and necessary.

5. Concentration of Efforts: This was lacking in the Second Lebanon War. The IDF did not fully concentrate its ground power in any location, nor did it have a central goal in south Lebanon in which to engage its forces throughout the front. For a long time there had been no main thrust in fighting terrorism in Judea, Samaria, or the Gaza Strip. This changed when the mission was defined as the detention or destruction of whoever enabled terrorist operatives to carry out their attacks, from the head of Hamas to the technician who attached the explosives to the body of the suicide bomber. All were the main thrust. Only after it became clear that most of the IDF’s existing capabilities had to be concentrated on locating and detaining or destroying the personnel in the chain of terror did the IDF manage to lower the level of terrorism.

In many instances in the war against terrorism, the focus of the main thrust is not a physical location but rather a specific process or individuals. Thus, proper planning in asymmetric warfare would be to examine the definition of the main thrust necessary to keep the terrorists from bringing their schemes to fruition. This is the center of gravity of every terrorist organization. When this becomes the only criterion for a military action, then all systems participating in the effort will know where to place their focus and how to prioritize their efforts.

6. Continuity of Action: At every stage in Israel’s war against terrorist and guerrilla forces, the enemy was able to rest, redeploy, and later carry out more terrorist attacks until we brought the principle of continuity of action into play. Only when the IDF understood this concept and decided to tenaciously use what it called “the lawnmower tactic” – killing or detaining everyone who appeared on the terrorist chain – did it overcome terrorism. In an attempt to stop the continuity of IDF actions that kept it from building up its strength, Hamas suggested a tahdiya, a mutual period of no attacks. Since the Hamas objective was to gain breathing space to reorganize and build up its forces, it was indeed beneficial that the State of Israel did not agree to this.

At the strategic level, not implementing the principle of continuity (for example, withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon plus subsequent desisting from the fight against terrorism there) led to and will lead to the strengthening of terrorism, which will be difficult for us to deal with in the future. Even those who claim that such steps are politically justified cannot ignore their military significance. This again shows that the principles of war are important at all levels and that it is not more important to chase an anonymous terrorist in order to detain him than it is to prevent the enemy from organizing and improving his capabilities. In the war against terrorism, continuity – while often challenging to carry out – is one of the more important principles, especially because of the almost total dependence on continuous intelligence, which is not always available.

7. Depth and Reserves: The following three examples show the importance of depth: Israel has learned the hard way that depth is critical when the enemy possesses rockets and missiles. Kassam rockets falling in Ashkelon and Katyushas in Haifa have illustrated the importance of ten theoretically insignificant kilometers. For example, if Israel had controlled a ten-kilometer strip in south Lebanon, most of the missiles that hit Haifa would not have done so. By the same token, with five additional kilometers of Israeli control in the northern Gaza Strip, Ashkelon and Sderot would have been beyond Kassam range.

In the fight against terrorism in Judea and Samaria, a simple fence with room to maneuver behind it raises the level of security. When there is no depth on the other side of the fence, and it is defended only from the Israeli side, the result is abduction of soldiers to the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Thus, nothing can replace depth, even in the case of a fence.

The situation in south Lebanon before the IDF withdrew was different from what it became after the withdrawal. Losing the slim depth Israel had had in the north led to a concentration of Hizbullah activity penetrating into the State of Israel, without the terrorists having to waste time and energy on their way to the fence. Today the presence of UNIFIL is meant to generate a kind of depth, but, in my opinion, that effort will not bear fruit in the long run, and we will again lose our depth.

The part played by “reserves” should also not be neglected, both in their strategic and operative aspects: they are less salient for fighting terrorism but critical for fighting guerrilla forces. If in the Second Lebanon War, the Northern Command had had genuine reserves and had sent a large force to occupy the surrounding area after the first success in the region of Bint Jbeil, this would have bisected Hizbullah’s ground deployment and perhaps even led to its partial destruction in places where the IDF could have threatened Hizbullah’s rear. The fact that efforts were made along the entire front instead of using reserves did not enable genuine achievements to be made.

The four principles of “optimal utilization of forces,” “concentration of efforts,” “continuity of action,” and “depth and reserves” would seem to illustrate the advantages a regular army has over guerrilla and terrorist forces in a war – if it utilizes these advantages correctly. For example, the principle of “full utilization of forces” can genuinely express the technological superiority a country usually has over a terrorist or guerrilla organization. If the army knows how to fully exploit technological capabilities and integrate them correctly and intensively into the war effort, it will have a tremendous advantage. In fighting terrorism in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria since September 2000, one of the IDF’s secret weapons has been its success in employing its technological capabilities. In the Second Lebanon War, the IDF successfully applied technology to destroy Hizbullah’s heavy long-range rocket launchers. On the other hand, in Israel’s attempts to destroy the host of small rocket launchers from which most of the rockets were fired, the limitations of technology were made evident, as was the danger of becoming a slave to it.

The principles of “concentration of efforts” and “continuity of action” are effective in the arsenal of a regular army because it can generally rely on them more than the smaller terrorist and guerrilla organizations can. Differences in size make the terrorist and guerrilla groups weaker, and their concerted efforts usually do not go beyond the operational level. It is therefore clear why continuous military pressure can hamper terrorists’ efforts to exert pressure on an army or on the civilians of the enemy country, with the exception of pinpoint locations, such as the concentrated Kassam attacks on Sderot. When an army does not make the most of its advantages and allows the enemy to rest, redeploy, and plan, the results are liable to be problematic. That was made conspicuously clear between September 2000 and March 2002: the IDF responded to individual cases of Palestinian terrorism, among other reasons, because the political level did not allow it to operate continuously in Judea and Samaria. The result was a drastic rise in the number of terrorist attacks and casualties, especially among civilians. The change in perception and the implementation of the two aforementioned principles, among others, brought about a drastic and immediate reduction in the number of attacks and casualties. The principle of “continuity of action” has been scrupulously preserved in Judea and Samaria because its indispensable nature has been recognized.

Generally speaking, “depth and reserves” are the privilege of states rather than organizations, and their utilization will afford a state’s army great advantage. In a state applying this principle, its army can push the enemy into smaller or isolated areas, enabling it to use its larger space to operate from all directions at the same time. Terrorist organizations and guerrilla forces, which are usually small, find depth relatively unattainable. Terrorists generally have no reserves, and guerrilla groups have to be extremely advanced to transform themselves into the kind of army which has significant reserves during fighting.

Thus it can be seen that the principles of “optimal utilization of forces,” “concentration of efforts,” “continuity of action,” and “depth and reserves,” which are sometimes regarded as proof of the irrelevance of the principles of war in asymmetric warfare, are actually at the core of the advantage that regular state armies have over irregular forces.

8. Security is essential for fighting terrorism; it complements “initiative and offensive.” Because of its importance, one of the most problematic uncertainties for decision-makers in the realm of fighting terrorism concerns the amount of resources to devote to “security.” Assuming that resources are limited, how much should be taken from the main thrust of attacking terrorist and guerrilla forces to secure fighting forces on the base and during the fighting itself? How many of the total forces should be allocated to securing the rear and the civilian population? Another aspect of “security” is the plan to conceal the activities of forces so that the enemy does not discover them. This was another factor that we apparently did not completely understand in Lebanon, and Hizbullah showed that it knew how to use this weakness of ours to its own benefit.

9. Maintenance of Moral and Fighting Spirit: This principle is at the core of every commander’s concern, especially in the case of warfare using small groups or even individuals against the terrorist.  On most occasions, such operations cannot be supported by artillery, air support, or by the momentum of broader military units that surround them. In a war against terrorist or guerrilla organizations, the fighting spirit of the individual soldier and small group is supremely important, especially when they are far away from superior command and have to decide for themselves how to act. Morale and fighting spirit are particularly tested in asymmetric warfare because it is a long-term battle with no end in sight, rather than a one-time effort, no matter how difficult, such as the wars that the IDF was accustomed to fight in the past. By the nature of asymmetric warfare, not only do soldiers have a great many dull, exhausting, frustrating missions to carry out – and they have to be carried out extremely well – but regular units sometimes carry out missions that seem more appropriate for special units. Both demands test morale and fighting spirit as well as the discipline and professionalism of the soldiers and their commanders. The need to confront civilians in securing roadblocks, for instance, or aggressive operations in densely populated areas, make the issue of morale and discipline even more complex. Thus, the principle of maintaining morale and fighting spirit is even more important in all forms of the war against terrorist and guerrilla forces.

10. Simplicity: While this principle is generally important on the battlefield, it is ten times more important in fighting terrorism. This is mainly because counterterrorism is by nature complicated by its need to operate among the civilian population. Complex actions usually increase danger to forces due to involvement with the surroundings. Therefore simplicity is important in the field, at the operative level as well as the tactical. Indeed, it seems to be more important operationally than tactically: the army is clearly interested in every unit being able to operate against terrorism and thus reduce dependence on special units, which always operate intensively. Beyond the desire to obviate a dependence that would limit them, many actions have to be carried out on short notice (often to preserve the principle of continuity of action). Without simplicity, there would be too few operations, and some would be undertaken too late because of the time necessary to complete preparations. When opposing an elusive enemy, simplicity is almost a sine qua non in creating long-term pressure.

The above analysis makes it clear that when the IDF’s principles of war are examined in light of the needs of asymmetric warfare, none of them is extraneous, irrelevant, or even unimportant. However, it is clear that applying these principles demands deliberation and professional skill. No two operational events or wars are similar, and the way in which the principles are integrated into a plan or carried out needs to change each time. Moreover, at the appearance of a contradiction between principles, a commander’s merit is judged by how well he prioritizes and applies them. With the exception of the first principle, “aim and mission,” everything depends on the commander and his assessment of the situation.

The question now is whether a principle is lacking, without which it would be difficult to fight terrorist and guerrilla forces, and which, if added, would make for better planning and a significantly easier fight. In my view, the most important difference between classic warfare and asymmetric warfare is the involvement of civilians as active or passive partners on one of the fighting sides. This difference is part of the essence of asymmetric warfare, and its dimensions are determined by the irregular side, which uses terrorist and guerrilla tactics from within and alongside the civilian population.

Regarding other conditions that have changed a great deal recently, it seems that media exposure has caused a change, for two reasons:

The public at large is partially but immediately exposed to the events and situation on the battlefield. When this is done imperfectly, there is no possibility of halting the correspondents and cameramen who are on the scene or of preventing them from transmitting their pictures to the outside world. Decision-makers are exposed to continuous, uncontrolled media reports during events, and they must respond to them immediately.

For that reason, external pressures can interfere with the running of a small country such as Israel, which is very sensitive to international public opinion. As a result, Israel sometimes acts according to interests opposed to its own.

An intensive study of asymmetric warfare shows two innovations: civilians are part of the terrorist organizations’ strength and capabilities, and therefore friction with them cannot be avoided; and the media expose counterterrorist activities in a way which is liable to influence the way decision-makers respond, with little connection between the truth and what is reported. These two innovations taken together demand that a new principle be added to the IDF’s list of war principles: “image and legitimization,” whose purpose is to make commanders of all ranks relate to both in planning the fighting and its execution. This means that at every level, whoever plans and carries out an action in war has to consider how it will be presented and appear in the media.  He should, by commission or omission in planning and execution, reinforce both internal (inside the State of Israel) and external (by the world in general) legitimization for Israel’s actions in the war. Military planners have to be aware of the issue of involvement of civilians: on the one hand, some of them may have to be harmed when there is no choice, and on the other, there must be untiring effort to prevent them from being injured, insofar as this is possible. All this must be done while paying the greatest possible attention to the need to explain to the Israeli public, and to the world, every action carried out, including failures.

As opposed to the Americans, it is not necessary for Israel to add “restraint” in the use of force as a principle of war. For Israel that would be a grave error. Sometimes the need might arise, but generally speaking, a small country like Israel can deal with terrorism and guerrilla organizations only if its response is not proportional and is carried out in such a way as to convince the other side that it too has something to lose. A proportional response will drag Israel into a war of attrition whose rules will be determined by the terrorists, and which it will lose. A country like Israel can successfully cope with terrorism and guerrilla tactics only if it retains the ability to respond disproportionately; otherwise, it will find itself fighting according to the enemy’s rules.

I have given a great deal of thought as to whether the principle of “intelligence” should be added, without which it is impossible to fight terrorism, and have decided that adding it would go beyond accepted principles of war. In an article in Maarachot,25 I defined the necessary conditions for fighting terrorism, one of which is intelligence. However, it is a condition and not a principle of war. In addition, I found that the British apparently also had their doubts as to whether it was a principle or a condition, and they too came to the conclusion that it was the latter.


The discussion above has shown that one can essentially vanquish terror, even if it is a victory that only prevents terror from successfully implementing its plans, while it does not influence the terrorists’ intentions. Victory of this type requires constant and determined effort from the moment that it is attained, for if not, conditions will revert to their former sorry state as soon as the terror organizations deem themselves strong enough.

An evaluation of the war on terrorism must address the question of the level of victory over terror that can be obtained under conditions of the battle theater – total victory, temporary victory, or sufficient victory – and how one can improve the level of victory over time. It is clear that such a discussion is relevant only if one embraces the contention that the democratic state is essentially capable of subduing the terror that menaces it.

Six conditions have been set forth without which no military force can fight terrorism. After these conditions have been met, which is admittedly not easy, the difficult, complex, crushing, dull war, without flags and trumpets, begins: fitting together bits of intelligence information, drawing conclusions, putting into operation small forces under difficult conditions within a mixed populace of terrorists and innocent civilians in a densely-populated urban center or isolated village, and small tactical victories. The war itself must be focused on prevention, and that includes detentions and attacking the terrorist operatives who put terrorism in motion and who are the critical resource of the terrorist organizations. It is a long war with no success promised, but based on preconditions it is possible to wage it and, in the conditions of the State of Israel, absolutely necessary. The history of our success in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) since the spring of 2002 illustrates that clearly.

An examination of the IDF’s principles of war in light of the needs of planning and fighting terrorist and guerrilla forces (i.e., asymmetric warfare) clearly indicates that each of the principles taken individually and as a group are vital guides to fighting this type of war.

 * * *


* The author wishes to express his appreciation to Dr. Dore Gold for his contributions to this analysis.  An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Hebrew in Maarachot, Journal of the Israel Defense Forces in three parts. Part III of this article is based on a lecture given at the Fisher Institution for Air and Space Strategic Studies, Herzliya, Israel, May 2007.

1. Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, and Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, U.S.Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), p. 2.

2. John A. Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 15.

3. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Is Shying from the Bosnian Conflict,” New York Times, July 19, 1992.

4. Ben Fenton, “General Warns of Unwinnable Guerrilla War,” Daily Telegraph, March 3, 2002.

5. James Dobbins, “Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War,” Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations, January/February 2005.

6. “Can a Lull Be Turned into a Real Peace,” Economist, December 15-21, 2007.

7. Thomas Ricks, “In Iraq, Three Wars Engage U.S.,” Washington Post, February 3, 2008.

8. Ibid.

9. “Can a Lull Be Turned into a Real Peace,” Economist.

10. Ibid.

11. U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, p. 16.

12. Yaakov Amidror, “The Military Strike as a Cognitive Paradigm of Effects,” Maarachot, December 2005, pp. 403-404.

13. This is not a novel idea. See the chapter dealing with fighting irregular forces that appears in the book, Battle Doctrine, Vol. II.

14. Colonel Shmuel Nir (Samu), “The Nature of Limited Conflict,” in Hagai Golan and Shaul Shai (eds.), “The Limited Conflict,” Maarachot, 2004.

15. Ann Scott Tyson, “Iran Continues to Support Shiite Militias in Iraq, Pentagon Says,” Washington Post, December 19, 2007.

16. U.S. Department of Defense, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, Report to Congress, December 2007, p. 39.

17. See Richard H. Shultz, Jr., The Secret War Against Hanoi (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), pp. 204-206.

18. Ibid.

19. One of the reasons is that Israel has not dared to take strong direct action against a civilian populace.

20. Dave Kilcullen, “Understanding Current Operations in Iraq,” Small Wars Journal,

21. Michael Evans, Alan Ryan and Russel Parkin (eds.), Future Armies, Future Challenges (Crows Nest NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2004), pp. 148-156.

22. IDF Dictionary of Terms (Ministry of Defense, 1998), p. 484.

23. British Defense Doctrine, Warfare Publications, 1966.

24. It should be noted that at the time there was an argument over which principle was more important, “simplicity,” favored by Lt. General Ehud Barak, who was Chief of Staff, or “administration,” favored by Major (res.) Benjamin Amidror, who was head of the IDF’s military doctrine and training branch. Thus, eleven principles appear in the booklet issued by the Command and Staff College, that is, both “simplicity” and “administration.”The principle of “full utilization of force” was added by Lt. General Moshe Levy when he was Chief of Staff.

25. Yaakov Amidror, “The Necessary Conditions for Fighting Terrorism,” Maarachot #412, May 2007, pp. 32-37.