JISS - The Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

In addition to the familiar military doctrine that was mainly crafted to meet the challenge of enemy states, Israel has an additional policy regarding threats that do not fit the full-scale war rubric: harassments inflicted by hostile non-state actors.


This is the fourth article in a special series of studies by JISS experts to mark Israel’s 70th anniversary. The series examines Israel’s diplomatic and defense achievements in grand strategic perspective.


Many people believe that Israel has a security doctrine; in other words, one doctrine alone. In this article I argue that in addition to the familiar doctrine that was mainly crafted to meet the challenge of enemy states, Israel has an additional policy regarding threats that do not fit the full-scale war rubric: harassments inflicted by hostile non-state actors.

Many people attribute only one security doctrine to Israel, whether it is a written doctrine or a collection of bits and pieces of policy, and this is incorrect. This mistake may well adversely affect our understanding of the goals Israel tries to achieve in varied situations, thus causing the leadership to choose the wrong mode of action. The misunderstanding can also instill disappointment in the public and in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) regarding military activities that did not achieve goals that they were never expected to achieve.1



Between Basic and Ongoing Security: Israel’s Initial Security Doctrines

Israel’s initial security doctrine developed on the background of the reality of the 1950’s and on the following basic strategic assumptions: that Israel will have to protect itself with its own forces alone; that agreements alone do not provide security; and that the State of Israel’s future is based on the “Iron Wall” principle as formulated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1920s. According to the latter principle, any future agreement will be achieved only when the Arabs will realize that they have no chance of defeating Israel.2 Thus, until the “Iron Wall” achieves its purpose, each Israeli victory is only preparation for the next round of fighting. And in the next round, it’s better for Israel to be the one to open fire first.3 Ben Gurion repeated this maxim several times.

This was the foundation for the doctrine known to the public in the abbreviated “3 D’s” format of “deterrence, early detection, and decisive victory.” The essence of the doctrine is that Israel must cause its enemies to think twice before attacking. If the country’s deterrence is unsuccessful, Israel must realize this early enough to mobilize its reserve forces. If possible, the war should be shifted to enemy territory via a pre-emptive strike; victory should be swift (in order to discharge the reserve forces and go back to normal as soon as possible, as the country can’t be held at war footing for long) and decisive (in order to renew and strengthen Israel’s deterrence capacity). This security doctrine addressed Israel’s “basic security,” which is the safeguarding of the very existence of the State of Israel against an immediate, conventional full-scale war.

However, most of the time Israel finds itself coping with another type of problem entirely – “ongoing security challenges” such as infiltrators, saboteurs and the like. To address this problem, a complementary security doctrine was born. Although this doctrine was never officially written down, we easily see how it has guided much of Israeli military behavior over the years.4 Moshe Dayan was the one who formulated the ongoing security doctrine most clearly (henceforth referred to as the “Dayan doctrine” in this article even though Ben Gurion and others were also involved in its formulation, and despite the fact that the doctrine had its roots in pre-state Palestine). The clearest formulation of this approach was in Dayan’s 1955 lecture, “Reprisal raids as a means for ensuring peace.”5 That was when Dayan said:

“We do not have the means to prevent the murders of [Israeli] workers in orchards or of families sleeping in their beds at night. What we can do is set a very high price for our blood, so high that no Arab locality, Arab army or Arab government will want to pay it.”

Dayan added:

“Our victories and failures in the minor skirmishes along the border and even beyond, have great influence on our ‘ongoing security’ and on the Arab world’s assessment of Israel’s power and Israel’s belief in its own strength [. . .] The Arabs will decide not to start up with us only when they realize that if they do so, they will encounter harsh reprisals and drag us into a conflict in which they will be at a disadvantage.”

Since then, the Dayan doctrine has been repeated many times by Israel’s top decision-makers and high-level commanding officers.

The Differences between the Doctrines

The Dayan doctrine which addresses fighting a threat that is not comprehensive and immediate, serves to complement the Ben Gurion doctrine. Nevertheless, there are several salient differences between them. The Ben Gurion doctrine addresses deterrence with regard to war and, if necessary, the need for decisive and immediate victory over the threatening military power. By contrast, the Dayan doctrine presupposes only partial success of defense and does not mandate the immediate defeat of the threat. This is especially true with regard to irregular forces and hostile non-state actors. There is no organized enemy that can be quickly located, defeated and destroyed; no army that can be routed. The less organized the adversary is, the less deterrence power lies in the doctrine. It is extremely difficult to deter non-state hostile actors; while this is true for organized terrorist organizations, it is even more applicable to small terror cells and random terrorists with no ‘official’ backing and support.6 Moreover, there is a great difference between early detection to prevent a terror attack, and detection to avert invasion by a foreign army.

The focus of both doctrines is deterrence, but in the case of confrontation with enemy armies we talk about deterrence from taking action, while in ongoing security, deterrence is achieved by taking action. When facing a real, immediate and basic primal threat – such as a full-blown army that may invade – Israel’s immediate goal was usually to avoid escalation. Military action would be taken when Israeli believed that the enemy wanted escalation, or to defeat the enemy before he has the chance to act. But when facing terrorists, infiltrators, terror organizations and their proxies, Israel has sometimes wanted to escalate the situation on purpose, to avoid future escalation. In other words: If terrorists hit us, we’ll hit them (or their proxies) back until the “price” for their continued activities will be too “expensive” for them to pay.

Thus, the deterrence concept involves two basic approaches:

  1. Punishing the strong, indirect entity involved even though it isn’t directly responsible for the actions against Israel, to convince it to try to avert harm on Israel. For example: “punishing” Egypt or Jordan so that they will not allow infiltrations from their territories.
  2. Inflicting enough direct harm on the attacking agent to gradually wear it down, but not to destroy it.

Thus, Israel will always try to find the agents that are really behind the anti-Israel activities and harm them until they stop. Israel does not necessarily punish only (or mainly) the sources of the violence (the proxies). This is a central tenet in Israeli thinking.

The Influence of the Six Day War on Security Doctrines

The Six Day War and the drastic changes it caused to Israel’s position, also affected the Dayan doctrine because it became necessary to cope with terrorists and irregular forces, even within Israeli-controlled territory. The PLO, which had been a small and unimportant organization before the war, began to constitute a real menace after its 1967 attempt to create an uprising in Judea and Samaria failed. It was forced to relocate to Jordan in that year and operate from there.

The PLO continued to operate independently against Israel from within the various Arab states, and the terror organization did not care about the price paid by the countries from which they operated. This made it more difficult for Israel to implement its deterrence policy, thus it adopted a mixture of methods. Sometimes, such as in the Karameh operation in 1968, Israel attacked the terrorists directly (and mistakenly assumed that the Jordanian army would not intervene). In other cases, the Jordanian army was purposely attacked. In yet other cases, infrastructure targets were assaulted (such as the east Ghor canal, today the King Abdullah canal) or Jordanian villages were bombed in reprisal, not only because of anti-Israeli Jordanian activity but terrorist activity as well. Eventually, limited cooperation developed between Israel and the Jordanians also because of PLO’s misdeeds. Gradually, the PLO lost their welcome in Jordan because of Israel’s reprisals and ultimately, the IDF was able to operate freely in the country without Jordanian interference.

In 1970 it became clear that Hussein was the correct “address,” though he was moved to action by threats on his own regime (and not Israel’s suffering). In Black September of 1970, Hussein expelled the terrorists from Jordan (they moved to Lebanon, where they already had some presence before) and opened the door to large-scale (though unofficial) cooperation with Israel. In effect, Jordan almost completely abandoned the circle of confrontation with Israel.7

But it soon became very clear that the government in Lebanon, as opposed to that of Jordan, was not strong enough to stand up to the PLO. In any event the tit-for-tat reprisal concept remained firm, such as Israel’s 1968 raid on the Beirut airport in which Israel destroyed airplanes belonging to Arab airline companies. This was in retaliation for the hijacking of an Israeli plane and additional terror attacks carried out by the PLO.

In other instances, Israel tried to punish terrorists directly by sending incursions into Lebanon or conducting operations to eliminate terror leaders and destroy their headquarters. These operations were designed not only to create deterrence, but to actually disrupt the terrorist organization’s operations. The Dayan doctrine was designed to force an external enemy to pay a price for Israeli blood: from infiltrators to countries who waged a war of attrition against Israel. However, when terrorists began to operate from within territory under Israel’s control, which happened after Israel began to rule over Judea, Samaria and Gaza – things became complicated. Israel could not force the local population to pressure their government, since Israel was the de-facto government. Therefore, when Israel faced an uprising in Gaza and terror attacks in the early 1970s, Israel had no choice but to mop up the territory itself and rule it.

In the post-Six Day War years, the Dayan doctrine was implemented against Egypt as part of the War of Attrition. Even though infiltrators and terrorists were not the targeted enemy, the deterrence logic was preserved vis-à-vis Egypt that tried to harm Israel by means that did not include full-scale war. Nasser hoped to wear Israel down by killing Israeli soldiers along the Suez Canal, as a stage toward building up his strength and re-conquering the Sinai Peninsula. Meanwhile Israel tried to wear down Egypt in turn, with a certain amount of success, by inflicting harm on the Egyptian army and on Egypt itself. The Israeli goal: for Egypt to realize that escalation does not pay. One example is when Israel shelled the Suez Canal cities and refineries, forcing hundreds of thousands of Egyptian refugees to flee the area and imposing heavy financial damage on Egypt. The problem was that the weakening of the Egyptians, brought the Soviets into the picture.

In 1969, Lieutenant General Haim Bar-Lev used Dayan’s logic when the former spoke about “escalation for de-escalation”8 vis-à-vis Egypt, and later on used the same terminology with regard to the Soviet Union. If there was no other way, Israel returned to achieving deterrence by the ancient method: escalation to prevent future escalation.

After the attrition and escalation of summer 1970, Israel received back-up from the United States in order to block the Soviets. The Americans also proposed the ceasefire in order to wind down the War of Attrition. The Soviet intervention, while extremely unwelcome, seemed anomalous. The Dayan doctrine remained in place, even though it was now patently clear that escalation could, and almost did, lead to a dangerous imbroglio of Israel with Egypt and the Soviet Union – a complication that Ben Gurion’s doctrine wanted to avoid at almost any cost. Yet the “escalation for de-escalation” doctrine did not change.

After the Yom Kippur War: From Reprisal Raids to Securing an Agreement

Paradoxically, the Yom Kippur war had more of an impact on the Dayan doctrine than on the Ben Gurion doctrine – even though the war was waged between regular standing armies. The emphasis on the intelligence failure during the war led people to believe that if the country had been warned in real-time, the war would have looked very different. In other words, the doctrine itself was still “OK,” what had failed was its execution. After the Yom Kippur war, the emphasis in Israel’s overall strategy changed from informal cooperation and alliances, to reliance on agreements.9 Israel was now more willing to rely on foreign players than in the past, so that others would share the responsibility for its security.

It is true that Israel had always searched for defense alliances and military aid (usually unsuccessfully), and routinely tried to secure international guarantees for the rights to sail on the Red Sea toward Eilat, and back from Eilat. But the changes after the Yom Kippur war opened a door to reliance on other sources to ensure Israel’s security over time. The first example is Shimon Peres’ proposal, in the course of talks that led to the Sinai Interim Agreement (1975), that American soldiers be stationed in the Gidi and Mitla passes as the “emergency force of the passes” between Israel and Egypt. Peres envisioned this as a fighting force and these soldiers, unlike UN ‘observers’ of the past, would constitute a real buffer between the sides, since harming these soldiers would involve a confrontation with a world power. According to this conception, the American soldiers would also fight should the need arise (unlikely) in order to avoid friction between the sides.

The idea of reliance on other “third parties” did not end there and was not limited to world powers. A salient example of reliance on a foreign force is that of Israel’s reliance on the South Lebanon Army (SLA, a Lebanese militia dominated by Christians). In spite of coordination difficulties and sometimes concerns over conflicting loyalties, the SLA assumed a large share of the fighting in Southern Lebanon and suffered casualties throughout the years that the security zone existed. It began when Israel intervened on behalf of the Christians in Southern Lebanon but it developed into part of the Israeli defense alignment.

The difference between assistance to the SLA and assistance to the Kurds in Iraq in the 1960s-1970s against the Saddam Hussein regime, or to the rebels in Yemen in the 1960s-1970s, is that the SLA was supposed to protect a region that would directly shield Israel. Israel based itself on a real alliance: its ally would help protect Israel’s border, and Israel would help the SLA. This had a great impact on Israel’s need to use its own power, as the SLA carried much of the burden of the daily fighting in the security zone, and enabled Israel to use fewer forces and suffer fewer casualties.

It was in 1978, before the SLA had formed but after an initial connection had been made with the Christians in Lebanon, that an Israeli bus was hijacked by Fatah terrorists on the Coastal Road near Haifa, and many of the passengers were killed. Israel’s response was to embark on the Litani Operation (officially, “Father of Wisdom”), which was not a manifestation of the Dayan doctrine. The goal of the operation was not to transmit a warning message to a specific group of people; the PLO was the only address, not the Lebanese government. Thus, the IDF operation was intended to deprive the PLO of the ability to attack Israel, as well as assist the Christians in Southern Lebanon. The wave of refugees created in the course of the campaign was a by-product of the fighting and not an aim of the fighting. And, in contrast to reprisal raids in the past, the process continued for more than a week (longer than the Sinai Campaign or the Six Day War) before the withdrawal stage began. In short, it resembled a full-scale Israeli invasion.

From the point of view of the Israeli government, the first stage of Operation Litani was supposed to be, “limited punishment raid [. . .] [and] to free the Christian enclave from the danger of occupation, and to distance the terrorists.” However, in the second stage the intents were to “establish a presence in South Lebanon until a diplomatic agreement is reached.”10 But Moshe Dayan, then Foreign Minister, argued that the operation would be justified only if it will leave “physical assets” (i.e. Lebanese territory)11 in Israel’s hands. (Dayan’s opinion was accepted by most of those present at the government meeting but was not listed as official policy.) However, within a short time period, Dayan changed his mind and chose to withdraw from Lebanon.

Chief of Staff Mota Gur hoped that the Christians in the south would take an active role in “organizing themselves over new areas,”12 and the action was also intended to avoid clashing with the Syrians or angering the Americans. Within only a few days the Defense Minister announced that Israel’s intentions were to remain in South Lebanon until an arrangement would be reached that would drive the PLO to the north of the Litani. The goal, he said, was that “south Lebanon would not remain the way it was till today.” According to an IDF study, “the tone of the discussion was that this was not an ordinary operation of response or retaliation, but that Israel should aspire to an agreement.”13 However, the Chief of Staff himself noted, “What agreement? With whom? No answer was given to this question.”14 On March 15, 1978 Prime Minister Begin announced that the IDF would remain in Southern Lebanon until an agreement would be reached “with the parties involved,”15 and Israel asked the United States to take action to achieve an international arrangement.

In other words: Operation Litani was not just another link in the tradition of reprisal raids. Israel had to physically enter the territory and cleanse it, since the idea of the Dayan doctrine – to cause the Lebanese government to wake up and actively prevent infiltrations and murders – could not be realized. Israel would also not tolerate the idea of PLO receiving control over the territory. Finally, the ultimate goal of Operation Litani was to reach an official agreement. Instead of deterring the ‘real’ address, Israel searched to reach an agreement with a third party that could constitute such an address after the agreement was signed – whether it was a local entity or an international force. The fact that it was not clear “with whom” to come to an agreement, did not stop Israel from searching for such a party which testified to the influence of the new, post-Yom Kippur war Israeli grand-strategy that emphasized security via agreements.

The First Lebanon War, which was much bigger than the Litani Operation, was also intended to end with a peace agreement. The use of force, at least if the Syrians would involve themselves in the fighting, was designed to remove those parties that interfered with attempts to achieve an agreement with Lebanon.16 The Lebanon War was closer to the “decisive victory” concept than the Dayan doctrine, because it was not a single act of reprisal and because the PLO in Lebanon was (at least) a semi-organized entity and the Syrians were completely organized. Since Israel wanted an agreement that would create an ‘address’, it was imperative to remove Syria and the PLO from Lebanon (and even then, it emerged that there were numerous competing ‘addresses’ in Lebanon.)

True, the Dayan doctrine had not breathed its last in the Israeli consciousness but instead, changed its form: The large military activities against Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1990s showed that the basic principles behind the doctrine remained intact, even though these specific military campaigns had certain unique characteristics.17 As in the past, these campaigns were designed to create escalation for the goal of preventing escalation. They were in response to escalation of the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel and were designed to inflict pressure in order to avoid continued escalation. But unlike most of the former instances, the pressure in the 1993 “Operation Accountability” and the 1996 “Operation Grapes of Wrath”– was indirect. The goal was to halt Hezbollah’s escalation; the method to attain this was to create pressure on the Lebanese residents who would (hopefully) pressure the Lebanese government who would then (also hopefully) inflict pressure on Syria; at the time, Syria was viewed as the entity controlling Hezbollah. True, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese residents became refugees in the course of the 1993 and 1996 operations.

This time, the recalcitrant entity (Hezbollah) was not a ‘guest,’ and the ‘hosting’ government (Lebanon) was actually a protégé or charge of another government (Syria) whose authority Hezbollah accepted. This was a most complicated situation. In addition, the two operations ended with ‘understandings’ – indirect agreements that regulated the ‘rules of the game’ between the sides. In these agreements, Israel tacitly accepted the legitimacy of Hezbollah fighting against it from Lebanese territory, something that Israel had not done in earlier periods. In the 1996 Grapes of Wrath agreements, Israel agreed to the establishment of an Arbitration Committee that included “the US, France, Syria, Lebanon and Israel” – in other words, an accord with an enemy that was NOT for the goal of stopping the fighting, but for regulating that fighting.

A similar pattern emerged regarding the fighting against the Palestinians which, in the years after the Oslo Accords, were viewed as a partner for negotiations. In actual fact, Israel still searched for a ‘third-party address’ until after Operation Defensive Shield (in 2002) and still followed the ‘escalation for de-escalation’ paradigm. Israel still believed, in the words of Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Ya’alon (January 2001), that what was happening was “really a clash of interests that will be decided, evidently after skirmishes on the territory have stopped, in an agreement.”18

But only after it emerged that no “third party” would resolve the issues, and that escalation did not lead to de-escalation – that the IDF embarked on the decisive Defensive Shield operation in 2002. The operation was not designed to convince the Palestinians that ‘the price of Jewish blood is too high to pay,’ but to take control of the territory in order to destroy terror infrastructures, and ultimately to win a decisive victory over terror. In actual fact, the failure of Israel’s attempt to employ the Dayan doctrine vis-à-vis Palestinian terror was what finally forced Israel to engage in a battle against the Palestinians to score a decisive victory. Afterwards, in light of the understanding that the Dayan doctrine could not be applied efficaciously to people living in territory under Israeli control, Israel adopted another strategy called “mowing the grass.” Although this is based on the Dayan doctrine (ongoing deterrence activities), another layer is added: periodically, it is necessary to conduct relatively large operations to hamper the capabilities of the enemy. This bears resemblance to Ben Gurion’s doctrine regarding rounds of fighting that will crop up from time to time. 19

To a large extent, the Second Lebanon War followed the traditional logic of the Dayan doctrine (hit them until the price of Jewish blood is too high). The important question debated by the Defense Minister, the Prime Minister and the IDF, was: What third-party address must we hit? 20 The infamous quote attributed to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, “We will hit Nasrallah so hard that he will never forget the name Amir Peretz,”21 represents a similar logic: There is an address, the address will be beaten up and learn his lesson.

But the Second Lebanon War also belonged to the era of agreements in the Israeli grand-strategy: Israel still hoped, in the course of a significant part of the war, that the UN would pass a resolution to create an international force. These soldiers (Israel hoped) would be able and ready to use their power in order to keep the peace and maintain Israel’s security, or at least cause Lebanon ‘to do the work’ itself. The “strategic purpose” document formulated by the IDF and accepted by the government in an early stage of the war, included the following points:

“Deepening Israeli deterrence in the area and creating inter-state relations with Lebanon. Halting terror from Lebanon’s sovereign domain toward the State of Israel, while forcing the Lebanese administration to actualize its nation-state responsibility.”22

The Gaza Trilogy: Operations Cast Lead (2008-2009), Pillar of Defense (2012), and Protective Edge (2014)

In contrast to the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead abandoned the idea of agreements in favor of a renewed emphasis on extracting a high blood-price to create deterrence. The desired end-game scenario could be with or without an agreement, similar to the era of reprisal raids and operations.

The objectives of the operation included: “To strike the Hamas government hard in order to improve the Gaza Strip security situation over time, while strengthening deterrence and decreasing rocket fire as much as possible,”23 expressed this clearly. The serious discussions regarding a ceasefire took place with the United States, and secretly with Egypt. The operation was unilaterally ended by Israel, with the argument that Israel’s objectives “were fully achieved, even more.” However, Israel added, “Should the flames continue, we will feel free to respond with great intensity,” and that the operation had “strengthened Israel’s deterrence capabilities.”24

The logic behind the Cast Lead operation more closely resembled Israel’s classic reprisal and deterrence operations than its activities in Judah-Samaria in the early 2000s or the Second Lebanon War. However, reprisal operations of the past were supposed to be as short as possible and Cast Lead was much more extended. This is mainly because Israel has been coping over the recent decades with an enemy operating in a higher-intensity, compared to the low-intensity guerrilla and terror organizations of the past, though with less intensity than full-scale war.25

The post-Cast Lead period generally followed the “escalation for de-escalation” pattern as defined decades ago, in which Israel finds a third-party address and strikes at it in response to every violation. The Protective Edge campaign (2014) was one of the longest in Israel’s history, and seemed to drag on until about a dozen Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel into Israeli territory in front of IDF cameras, ten days after the onset of the operation. This immediately transferred the focus of the operation to the tunnels, which caused almost all members of the Israeli public to appreciate the importance of the entire campaign and support it. On the other hand, Protective Edge exacted a high price in the lives of Israeli soldiers (to say nothing of the other side) and dragged on for a significant period. Therefore, even though there was almost wall-to-wall support for destroying the tunnels, many people couldn’t understand what were the overall aims and objectives of the operation.

However, when we examine the campaign through the lens of the security doctrines above, and especially the greater strategy it served – the logic behind them becomes clear. Like the Pillar of Defense campaign of 2012, a significant part of the campaign involved exchanges of fire between the sides (aerial assaults and firing of missiles in response to rocket fire). However, while Pillar of Defense did not involve ground maneuvers, such maneuvers played a large part in the scope of Protective Edge (though Israel maneuvered only to a limited depth) ­– maneuvers against the tunnels. However even before the Hamas operatives came out of the tunnel, Israel agreed to a ceasefire after some exchanges of fire, as in Pillar of Defense. Had not Hamas rejected those proposals, there would have been no anti-tunnel operation. After the maneuver stage, when the exchanges of fire continued, Israel tried to achieve a cease-fire via indirect negotiations with Hamas, and not via UN intervention as in the Second Lebanon War.

The cease fire that was achieved was, to a large extent, Hamas’ capitulation to Israeli and Egyptian dictates, while rejecting attempts of Western countries to intervene in the mediation process. Israel did not try to achieve a decisive victory, and if truth be told, Israel tried not to be victorious. A military presentation that was leaked from cabinet meetings argued that conquering the Gaza Strip would exact a high price and take a long time. Some of the ministers claimed that the presentation was an attempt at “intimidation” by the Prime Minister, who wanted to rule out the option of re-conquering the Strip.26 The Prime Minister himself made it clear that he, in contrast to some of the ministers, did not want to conquer the Gaza Strip but instead to deliver a deterrent blow to the enemy, a la Dayan:

“I have not ruled out the idea of bringing down Hamas, but in light of the accumulation of challenges that exist in the Middle East, it was decided to [only] inflict a harsh blow on Hamas [ . . .] Why should I [send troops] inside, when I can crush them from the air [ . . .]? True, Hamas remains there, but they are crushed, they are isolated and they can’t smuggle weapons [ . . .] and we have created an opportunity – nothing certain, but an opportunity – for long-term quiet [. . .] If they renew their fire, we’ll hit them with all our might.”27

The fact that Israel opted for a cease-fire even before trying to address the Hamas-tunnel problem, supports the thesis above: that Israel wanted to end the military campaign with a weakened enemy, but not a ‘pulverized’ one.

There are four reasons for such a decision. The most obvious one is the blood-price that Israel would have to pay for conquering the Strip, and the problems involved in ruling over it with a military government. These considerations and worries have accompanied Israel ever since the Disengagement [in 2005]; even those who opposed the Disengagement are very wary about re-assuming the reins over Gaza today. The second reason for concern is the possibility that an even more extremist group (than Hamas) would rise to power; this option often comes up in the Israeli discourse. The third reason, less talked about, is the fact that Israeli conquest of the Strip would trigger pressure on Israel to transfer the Strip to the Palestinian Authority. And in fact, this proposal was brought up and then duly rejected.28 The fourth reason is that by leaving a weakened Hamas in power, Israel could try to impose its dictates on the ruling power in Gaza. If Israel would transfer the Strip to the Palestinian Authority, this would create one Palestinian entity in Gaza and in Judea-Samaria instead of the two rival groups.29 And this would probably cause the PA to intensify its pressure on Israel.

In general, Netanyahu’s use of power in his second tenure as prime minister attempted to create deterrence through delivering blows to the enemy. This, to a large extent, conforms to Moshe Dayan’s security creed of many years ago. In addition, Netanyahu’s policies were designed not to distract too much from other Israeli strategic aims – such as the rivalry with Iran.


In this article I argue that Israel embraces more than one military doctrine because different threats need to be addressed by different doctrines. Also, while the basic principles of the doctrines do not change much because the types of threats remain similar – the way the doctrines are employed must change in accordance with the goals they serve. A campaign that is designed to help achieve an agreement must be conducted differently than one which is supposed to achieve the status-quo. A campaign that is not designed to achieve decisive victory will cause great frustration if the army (and the general public too) finds it difficult to understand the goals of the campaign and the strategy it serves.

The article points to the innate problematics of the Dayan doctrine. For example, the escalation for de-escalation theory has failed in the past more than once. The escalation may also spiral out of control instead of bringing de-escalation. The search for a relevant third-party to strike will be ineffective if that third-party has no real control over the terrorists or if there is no clear third party to begin with. Also, the doctrine cannot be employed to deter “lone-wolf” terror, stimulated by the general atmosphere, without a specific third-party address.

Dayan’s doctrine was intended to be implemented against external parties. When Israel tried to inflict pressure on the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian organizations, in a region nominally under its control, the result was an expensive failure that forced Israel against its will into the larger, decisive Operation Defensive Shield.30 And even after that ended, Israel came to the realization that these kinds of situations mandated the “mowing the grass” approach, with operations to deny terrorists’ their capability, not just their will.

The gap between what is and what ought to be, which exists in all policies and sometimes for good reason, may make it difficult to formulate a security doctrine and carry it out. The question of which military solution should be chosen is, of course, very affected by the specific strategic approach to the problem. The publication of “The IDF Strategy” in 2016 does help elucidate how the IDF wants to operate and how it views the conflict.31 But the implementation of IDF’s strategy depends on the question: For which goals is the State of Israel willing to activate its army? The army must not implement its own strategy disconnected from total Israeli strategy.

The fact that Israel actively holds complementary security doctrines (or different parts of a doctrine) is not problematic, because each one of them is designated for a different state of affairs: one is for war vis-à-vis regular standing armies; the second is for maintaining ongoing security at a price which Israel can pay (and with the hopes that its opponents cannot). The problems come from a tendency to mix the different doctrines, especially if someone says ‘Ben Gurion’ but really uses ‘Dayan.’ Therefore, changes in the security doctrine are not always carried out in the right places, nor in the appropriate ways, nor necessarily for the correct goals.

Similarly, the expectation for a decisive “Ben Gurion doctrine” victory, in an ongoing “Dayan doctrine” operation whose goal is to extract a price from the enemy – is a contradiction in terms. There is a built-in incongruity between the battle-objectives and strategic objectives which will almost certainly cause disappointment at the tactical results. Thus, it is important to understand which doctrine is employed when force is used, in order to understand what the State of Israel wants to achieve and what it realizes that it may not achieve under the circumstances. This is important, as well, in order to understand when to abandon one doctrine and adopt another.

[1] This is a shortened version of an article published in the IDF journal Between the Extremes 15 [Hebrew], https://bit.ly/2u8k8Z6

[2] Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “On the Iron Wall” [Russian] Rassvyet, November 4, 1923, translated into Hebrew on the Jabotinsky Institute Website:http://www.jabotinsky.org/media/9761/%D7%A2%D7%9C-%D7%A7%D7%99%D7%A8-%D7%94%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%96%D7%9C.pdf

[3] For more on this topic see: Ze’ev Elron, Towards Round Two: The IDF has changed, but the security doctrine remains the same [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv: Ma’archot, 2016).

[4] In addition to these two doctrines, Israel has a third, very specific approach to coping with an enemy state that is suspected of trying to achieve nuclearization. For this doctrine see my article, “What will ensure our existence? [Hebrew]”, HaShiloah 2, (December 2016).

[5] Moshe Dayan, “Reprisal actions as a means for ensuring peace,” [Hebrew] Monthly Review, August 1955.

The Israeli decisive victory is not political victory along the lines of Germany’s defeat in World War One. The very fact that there is a second and third round shows that while an immediate threat to Israel may be felled, that may not necessarily imply peace and quiet for generations.

[6] The Israeli experience in 2015-2016 did show, however, that most so-called “lone wolves” actually acted with outside encouragement, if not active support. See Shaul Bartal and Hillel Frisch, “Are Lone Wolves Really Acting Alone? The Wave of Terror 2008-2015,” Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 2017, https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/MSPS132_HE.pdf

[7] As is known, Hussein warned Golda Meir that war was imminent (the Jordanian army assumed a relatively symbolic role in the Yom Kippur War, mainly because Hussein couldn’t avoid it entirely). For years there were contacts and cooperation between Israel and Jordan until the signing of the peace agreement in 1994. See: Moshe Zack, Hussein makes peace [Hebrew] (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University, 1996).

[8] Yaakov Bar Siman-Tov, “IAF effectiveness during the War of Attrition, July-December 1969” [Hebrew], Ma’archot 283, (1982): 45.

[9] Henkin, What will ensure our existence [Hebrew].

[10] The Litani Operation, State Comptroller Report [Hebrew].

[11] An internal IDF document. The description of the Litani Operation in Motta Gur’s book, Chief of General Staff [Hebrew], (Tel-Aviv: Ma’archot, 1998), 393-472, was largely taken from this document. The quotes match almost word for word.

[12] An internal IDF document

[13] An internal IDF document

[14] Gur, Chief of General Staff [Hebrew], p. 430.

[15] Davar, March 16, 1978.

[16] The most comprehensive source that describes the decision-making process in the IDF and the decisions of the defense minister and government in the 1982 Lebanon War, is: Shimon Golan, Sheleg in Lebanon: Decision-making in the Supreme Command during the Peace for Galilee War [ Hebrew] Published by Ben Shemen: Modan, the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces. History Department, IDF: The Department of History, 2018. Golan clearly demonstrates how Defense Minister Ariel Sharon’s attitude toward the operation’s goals, shows that he was of two minds; while he “formally adhered to” the government’s relatively limited decisions, he personally wanted to “continue beyond them” to his target goal of “establishing a sovereign government in Lebanon that will be part of the free world and will sign a peace treaty with Israel or at least live with it in peace.” Ibid, 586-587.

[17] Ron Tira discussed the unique characteristics in “Israel’s second war doctrine” [Hebrew]. Strategic Assessment, Volume 19, No. 2, July 2016; 129-140. Tira presents the Accountability and Grapes of Wrath operations as the onset of a new era in Israeli operations. Nevertheless, one can find in these operations a continuation of the Dayan doctrine and the Israeli use of power in “routine security measures.”

[18] R. Moshe Ya’alon, The long-short road [Hebrew], (Tel-Aviv: Miscal, 2008), 110.

[19] R. Prof. Efraim Inbar and Dr. Eitan Shamir, “‘Mowing the Grass’: Israel’s strategy for protracted intractable conflict,” [Hebrew] Security in the Middle East 105, 2013, Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

[20] The Winograd Commission, Partial Report [Hebrew] Chapter five, articles 29-34, 69-72.

[21] Yedioth Ahronoth [Hebrew newspaper], July 14, 2006.

[22] Author’s notes, Northern Command Headquarters, July 2006.

[23] The earliest non-classified source is evidently [IDF magazine] B’machane, January 2, 2009.

[24] Channel Two News, January 17, 2009 http://www.mako.co.il/news-military/israel/Article-706e405e414ee11004.htm

[25]For the meaning of ‘medium-intensity warfare’ regarding the IDF, see:

Eado Hecht & Eitan Shamir, “The Case for Israeli Ground Forces,” Survival 58, 5, (October-November 2016):123-148.

[26] Barak Ravid, “The scenario that was presented to the ministers: The conquest of Gaza will take two months; hundreds of soldiers will be killed,” Ha’aretz, August 5, 2014, http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.2398339

[27] Quoted by Don Margalit, “Protective Edge (2014) is a success story [Hebrew],” Israel Hayom [Israel Today], August 31, 2014, http://www.israelhayom.co.il/article/214581

[28] Udi Segel, “Exposure: Livni’s program for a ceasefire in Gaza [Hebrew],” Channel Two News, August 8, 2014, http://www.mako.co.il/news-military/israel/Article-312ee9a22a6b741004.htm

[29] For the ramifications on Israel’s overall strategy see Henkin, What will ensure our existence.

[30] To a certain extent, one can use the same argument regarding terror attacks and fighting in Gaza in the 1968-1972 period, which was not detailed in this article.

[31] The latest incarnation is of April 2018, https://www.idf.il/media/34416/strategy.pdf

photo: By Major Ofer, Israeli Air Force רס”ן עופר, חיל האוויר הישראלי (Israeli Air Force) [CC BY 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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