About Us






Monday, November 5, 2012
Applied Strategy: The Challenges of Applying Force in a Changing Middle East

Applied Strategy: The Challenges of Applying Force in a Changing Middle East
Ron Tira Military and Strategic Affairs Volume 4 No. 2 September 2012

[Ron Tira, author of The Nature of War: Conflicting Paradigms and Israeli
Military Effectiveness, is a businessman and a reservist in the Israeli Air
Force’s Campaign Planning Department.]

Israel’s strategic environment of mid 2012 differs signi?cantly from that of
a few years ago.1 In the current environment, the military force application
that Israel is liable to need differs in purpose, constraints, and the
accompanying military-political interface from the force application of the
past. The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the particular
characteristics of force application in this contemporary environment.

One of the main parameters requiring a change in thinking is that in the
emerging multi-sided strategic system, using military force against a
particular enemy can have important political and strategic consequences for
relations with third parties – some enemies, some allies, and some with
vacillating positions. Clearly this constraint existed in the past as well,
but it has now become weightier. The number of relevant third parties is
increasing; the ties between the actors are more complex and often less
predictable; and the political and strategic effects on third parties can
sometimes be more signi?cant than the direct result of force application
against the enemy.

For Israel, this is true of two current challenges. The ?rst part of the
article deals with the challenges of using force in the context of the most
critical security issue today – the Iranian nuclear program. A possible
attack against Iran is intended to have a signi?cant effect on the policy of
the relevant actors, not only on Iran’s nuclear and physical capabilities.
Thus the debate focusing exclusively on the length of time Iran will need to
repair the damage caused by an attack indicates a lack of understanding of
the objective and strategic meaning of an attack.

To an extent, the purpose of an attack is, inter alia, to influence the
policy of the US, an ally, and not merely the enemy’s policy. This fact
should be a consideration underlying the design of an operational plan.
Thus, it is possible that the covert campaign by intelligence agencies
against the nuclear program does more harm than good. Even if the covert
campaign yields immediate bene?t with regard to Iran’s nuclear and physical
capabilities, its effect in the political and strategic sphere is negative.
The reasons for this will be discussed at length below.
The second part of the article deals with the challenges involving the
application of force in Israel’s other potential main theaters of
confrontation, led by Gaza and Lebanon.

Internal instability in Egypt and Jordan and internal developments in Turkey
cause these countries to vacillate in two ways. First, the emerging policies
in Egypt and Turkey are equivocal: theses states may be either allies or
potential challengers. Second, Israel’s use of military force in theaters
like Gaza and Lebanon is liable to have a negative impact on internal
developments in Egypt and Jordan.

Indeed, a large scale military campaign in Gaza, Lebanon, or any other
bordering theater area is liable to prove politically and strategically
costly in Israel’s relations with the vacillating countries. Stronger
interdependencies and linkages between theaters mean that the price that
Israel might pay in its relations with Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey is liable
to outweigh any direct military gains against the enemy. And even if the
decision makers in these Sunni states assess that they could bene?t from an
engagement between Israel and a Shiite entity such as Hizbollah, challenges
might surface by the increasingly important factor of popular Sunni Arab
sentiment following an attack against Lebanon and its government.

In recent decades, Israel’s enemies have tried to restrict its freedom of
action and military effectiveness in a variety of ways, including the use of
sub-state organizations and intentional blurred distinctions between the
civilian and military worlds as well as between war and lull. The next stage
in restricting Israel’s freedom of military action could result from
exploitation by Israel’s enemies of the vacillating states, whether in the
diplomatic arena or through hostile operations from their territory or in
the vicinity of their military assets.

Part I: The Iranian Nuclear Challenge

The Rationale for an Attack against Iran

The argument that an attack against Iran will be ineffective because it
would cause only limited and reparable damage to Iran’s nuclear program has
surfaced again in recent months. This focus on the physical result of an
attack omits its essential goal and its political nature. As Clausewitz
said, the main importance of force application lies in its influence on
policy, not just the speci?c physical damage that it inflicts.

The goal of Iran’s policy is to obtain nuclear weapons. The goal of Israel’s
policy is to change Iran’s policy. Iran is determined to obtain a nuclear
capability, and any damage to its nuclear capability, whether limited or
extensive, military or covert, will only delay the implementation of Iran’s
policy by the time required for reconstruction. It therefore follows that in
order to carry out its policy, Israel must influence not only Iran’s nuclear
capabilities (which can be rebuilt), but mainly its policy. Damaging nuclear
capabilities may buy limited time, but it is doubtful whether by itself it
can change policy. Israel may ?nd it more challenging to directly affect
Iran’s policy, but the US is capable of it.

Iran portrays itself as a regional and even a global power, but this
portrayal masks profound structural, economic, and military weaknesses. One
out of every seven Iranians is illiterate, its gross national product is
roughly equal to that of Argentina, and at least some of its key weaponry
dates back to the 1960s and 1970s. Iran suffered critical damage and
sacri?ced almost an entire generation in the eight-year war against Iraq and
its army, an army that the US defeated within a few days. It can be assumed
that in any direct confrontation between the Iranian military and an
advanced Western military, the latter will prevail.

Why then is the US unsuccessful in forcing its political will on Iran? What
works in Iran’s favor is the asymmetry in the seriousness and determination
in the respective Iranian and US attitudes toward the Iranian nuclear
program. From Iran’s perspective, the nuclear program is a supreme goal, and
it is willing to incur major risks and pay high prices to achieve it – or at
least it is posturing in such a way.2 Indeed, Iran is succeeding in
deterring its enemies and positioning itself as ready for any
confrontation – even though its profound weakness presumably means that it
does not seek a direct military confrontation with the West, and would
probably not withstand one.

The US does not appear as determined as Iran. It balances a large number of
considerations, among them a rise in the price of oil and potential damage
to its economy, the November 2012 elections, and the need for an
international coalition. In addition, it is still traumatized by its wounds
in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hesitates to take risks and pay the
accompanying prices. Another factor working against the US is that in recent
years, due to the way it dealt with a number of regional challenges
(including Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon), it has been perceived as indecisive
and inclined to recoil from strategic commitments.3 If, however,
circumstances prompt the US to attribute the same importance and urgency to
the nuclear question as Iran does, it can be assumed that the world’s only
superpower would have the upper hand.

Iran wishes to gain time in order to advance its nuclear program. The US
seeks to avoid or at least postpone high risk and potentially costly
decisions, and it therefore continues to delay the moment of truth of its
declared policy. At this stage, Israel is also deterred by the price that
will be exacted from it by Iran’s proxies and the international community if
it acts alone against Iran’s nuclear program. Consequently, for now, it too
is not expediting the moment of truth. Furthermore, it is possible that some
of the measures being employed by the US – a series of visits to Israel by
senior of?cials, the meetings with Iran, sanctions, and movement of forces
in the Persian Gulf – are designed not to influence Iran, but to persuade
Israel to bide its time. A fundamental equilibrium point of the
political-strategic system is thereby emerging, whereby all three parties
allow time to pass.

The risk exists, however, that Iran and the US administration share
additional strategic equilibrium points. The ?rst point is a possible common
interest of Iran and the US in creating a perception that the nuclearization
threat is not immediate and the diplomatic dialogue has not yet been
thoroughly explored, which lends them justi?cation for allowing time to
pass. The second potential common interest between Iran and the US is
creating an impression that military action would be useless, allegedly due
to both the redundancy of the nuclear program and Iran’s expected response.
The third and most important risk is that Iran and the US may develop a
common interest in a quantum leap from the stage of “there is more time for
diplomacy? to a stage of “it’s too late for military action,? without
passing through a stage in which only military action may still change Iran’s

These points of equilibrium are unacceptable to Israel, which must expedite
the emergence of a strategic moment of truth in which all parties put their
ultimate cards on the table. A variable that might upset these equilibrium
points would be Israel’s immediate willingness to pay the prices and take
the necessary risks for carrying out its policy. Such a new situation is
designed to force a change in the risk-bene?t analyses of the other two
vertices of the triangle. In other words, the goal of a military strike by
Israel will not be to cause any particular damage to Iran’s nuclear assets,
but to resist the existing strategic and political equilibrium points and
generate a different political-strategic reality, in which Iran’s desire to
obtain nuclear weapons is tested at a moment of truth, when the three
parties are equally committed to the test.

In order to influence the political considerations of the parties, it may not
be necessary for an Israeli military strike to target the entire nuclear
program, and instead it can also target other high quality strategic targets
in Iran. The required achievement is not damage to a given number of
centrifuges, rather, it is the persistence of the military action against
Iran until the goal is achieved. The IDF must preserve its force during the
attacks, so that Israel can deliver a credible political message that it
will simply not accept the old equilibrium points, and can pursue a viable
military strategy for as long as necessary. Therefore, in this speci?c case,
the principles of force protection and security are more important than the
selection of targets for attack. Attacking speci?c targets that lead to
major losses for the attacking force will impact negatively on the ability
to persist in the required military strategy, and are therefore liable to
impede the military force from executing the chosen policy. The force
buildup and the operational concept must be aimed mainly at developing
operational endurance.

The Covert Campaign: More Harm than Good

According to various press reports, Western intelligence agencies are
conducting a covert campaign to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, via attacks
against individuals, equipment sabotage, and cyber attacks. According to the
strategic rationale outlined above, however, the covert campaign may well
yield more harm than good. If we accept the rationale that we seek to move
the political-strategic equilibrium points in the Iran-US-Israel triangle
and change the respective attitudes towards time, risks, and costs, this is
the criterion by which the covert campaign’s effectiveness must be judged.

The covert campaign involves relatively few risks. It is ambiguous with
respect to the responsibility for operations and the question of whether
speci?c events are the result of a deliberate action, malfunction, or
accident. Operations in this campaign can be disavowed, and the price that
the actor instigating the campaign must pay is lower than that of the overt
military alternative4 (this obviously refers to the costs and risks incurred
by the dispatching state, not the operational unit, whose risks are liable
to be high). The covert campaign is therefore to a great extent the recourse
of a party seeking to avoid risks.

When a covert campaign is the principal line of action selected, the
underlying message communicated is that the actor fears an overt and direct
military confrontation because of the attending costs and risks. A negative
strategic dynamic is thereby created, owing to the difference between the
rival parties in their attitude towards risks. Iran is posturing as a tough,
risk-accepting actor. Israel and the US choose risk-hedging means, such as
the covert campaign, cyber attacks, sanctions, and diplomatic negotiations,
and are therefore perceived as risk-averse actors who seek to limit their
exposure to the price they will have to pay in the moment of truth.

So while Iran is seen as determined and willing to take risks, Israel and
the US are seen as receding, without either of them having to show their
cards. The winner in each round is determined by the fact that the US and
Israel are unwilling to call the bet, not by how strong their cards are. The
underlying truth is that Iran does not want a direct military confrontation,
and would probably be badly defeated in a situation in which all three
parties put their cards on the table. The dynamic that has emerged, however,
enables Iran to adopt a strategy based on a projection of power, even though
this is not backed up by real capabilities, and on the assumption that the
US and Israel will be the ?rst to fold.

The exceptions that prove the rule are the rare cases in which Iran’s rivals
showed determination, laid their cards on the table, and demonstrated
credibility in their willingness to take risks; Iran retreated in these
cases. An example of this is Iran’s capitulation in January 2012, after
threatening to blockade the Strait of Hormuz in the event of the US
returning its ships to the Persian Gulf.5

As the covert campaign progresses, however, and more and more dubious events
occur, it is gradually emerging that the behavior of the US and Israel is
consistently limited in risk. This consistent behavior pattern makes it easy
for Iran to formulate its strategy: a poker player who knows how high his
opponent will bet can always push him into folding by raising his bet above
his opponent’s risk threshold. Under this dynamic, almost all the red lines
presented by Israel and the West in recent years have been crossed.6 Nuclear
installations have been operated and uranium enriched in large quantities,
while the real power of the parties has never been put to the test.

Judging by the results, therefore, the covert campaign is not succeeding in
upsetting the equilibrium points in the Iran-US-Israel triangle. Despite the
physical damage, Iran is not altering its policy. Any covert damage to the
nuclear program (if it occurs at all) only requires Iran to repair the
damage, or to adjust and execute a tactical maneuver. Eventually, it returns
to its strategic path and its nuclear ambitions. Furthermore, the covert
campaign gives the political leaderships of Israel and the US a soothing
feeling that “they are doing something,? thereby seemingly justifying
postponement of the moment of truth and the fact that critical time is
allowed to pass. For this reason as well, the covert campaign maintains –
rather than challenges – the basic equilibrium point.

The covert campaign is therefore not the way of bringing the game to its
moment of truth; it is a behavior pattern from which the enemy learns that
it need not fear high risk measures that exceed the price range it has
already taken into account, and that despite the physical-tactical damage to
its assets, the enemy can continue marching toward its political-strategic
goals. Thus in order to achieve its goals, Israel cannot continue to
maintain a policy of low and measured risks. Israel must bring the game to a
point at which bets are almost unlimited, in which no player folds, and all
of them must show their cards. Israel can achieve this if it initiates and
maintains a higher level of risk in the game. The cost and the risk are the
entry ticket to the strategic game; willingness to pay the price and incur
the risk is the strategy to resist the existing equilibrium points; and
persistence under circumstances of risk and cost is the main theme of the

Attacking the Enemy’s Strategy

Extending the spectrum of discussion and considering the need to attack Iran’s
strategy raises additional considerations in favor of a military attack and
against a covert campaign. A successful strategy is one that presents the
enemy with dilemmas – when every option selected by the enemy gives one an
advantage. In this spirit, a military attack by Israel will present Iran
with several strategic dilemmas:

a. Should Iran respond with wide scale action against American interests,
or should it con?ne its response to Israel and try to avoid involving the

b. Should Iran continue its current effective approach of expanding its
capabilities and remaining at the nuclear threshold, or should it stage a
breakout to developing nuclear weapons?

With respect to the ?rst dilemma, if Iran responds against vital interests
of the US (action in the Strait of Hormuz, for example), it will by itself
bring the moment of truth in the strategic game closer. On the other hand,
if Iran con?nes its response mainly to Israel through its proxy Hizbollah,
at least the next confrontation with Hizbollah will be for a worthy
strategic cause. Israel should assume that it will face Hizbollah sooner or
later, for one reason or another, and it is preferable for the next round to
result from the Iranian nuclear program rather than circumstances with no
bene?t for Israel, such as an internal Lebanese crisis, a miscalculation, or
an event like the local border incident at Milestone 105 (the cause of the
Second Lebanon War).

Incidentally, an Israeli attack against Iran will also present Hizbollah
with dif?cult dilemmas, because the organization will have to decide whether
or not to behave as an Iranian proxy, which would entangle Lebanon in a war
from which it will suffer large scale damage for the sake of an issue that
does not concern Lebanon’s national interests. In any case, Iran’s response
will expose the limitations of its power, and Iran currently has greater
deterrent capability than it would have after trying to carry out its
threats. Subsequent to actual Iranian application of force, as opposed to
its current successful posturing, the strategic dynamics and calculations
may considerably differ from the current ones.

With respect to the second dilemma, if Iran stages a breakout by developing
nuclear weapons, it will again promote the arrival of the moment of truth.
If Iran continues its current approach of expanding its infrastructure and
remaining at the nuclear threshold, but with reduced capabilities as a
result of the attack, it will reinforce Israel’s contention that the nuclear
program can still be rolled back by violent means.

For these reasons, only an open military attack, not a covert campaign, also
constitutes an attack against Iran’s strategy.

Part II: The Use of Force in the Main Theaters of Confrontation

The Vacillating States

Three key states – Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan – were partners of Israel and
made a substantive contribution to its strategic freedom of action.
Signi?cant changes are underway in all three of these states, and their
great importance to Israel makes it necessary to discuss them prior to a
discussion of Israel’s enemies.

The Turkish military (which is, or at least was, secular) was a key player
in Turkish politics. For many years, Israel regarded it as a partner in
containing pan Arabism, the Soviet Union/Russia’s Middle Eastern tentacles,
Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and in the war against sub-state organizations. This
approach was expressed in close military and intelligence coordination,
reinvigorated in the mid-1990s. Political backing from a regional Muslim
power also provided Israel with useful freedom of action.

The 2002 elections, however, initiated a dramatic change in Turkish
politics, with the gradual exclusion of the Turkish military from the
political power centers and the military’s becoming less secular. Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shifted Turkish policies to a
confrontational stance towards the US, Europe, and Israel. The ?rst signs of
friction between Israel and Turkey appeared during the Second Lebanon War;
Operation Cast Lead provided Erdoğan with an opportunity to ignite a crisis,
and the flotilla to Gaza orchestrated by the Turkish organization IHH led to
a profound rift. Another point of friction that has drawn insuf?cient
attention is the Eastern Mediterranean gas ?elds, which were divided in an
agreement between Israel and Greek Cyprus. Turkey does not recognize Greek
Cyprus, and Turkey and Lebanon do not recognize the agreement on division of
the gas ?elds.

Turkey is not Israel’s enemy, and should not be treated as such, but Turkey’s
emerging policy has several consequences. First of all, at this stage Turkey
is no longer Israel’s partner in the regional balance of power.

On the contrary: it seeks to hamper Israel and capitalize on crises with it.

Second, Turkey is expanding its political and diplomatic penetration of the
Arab world, and wishes to position itself as a regional patron. Third,
Turkey is bolstering its physical presence in the theater, including the
presence of military assets. These developments increase the potential
friction between the countries, and are becoming part of Israel’s tapestry
of political, strategic, and operational considerations.

Certainly Israel should try to avoid deterioration in relations with this
NATO-member state, yet it is dif?cult to assess under what circumstances
friction between Turkey and Israel might increase, and how far such
deterioration would go. Circumstances exist, however, that are liable to
heighten the danger of worsening relations. If the IDF embarks on a large
scale campaign in Gaza, Lebanon, or another bordering arena, Turkey may well
attempt to ful?ll its aspirations to regional leadership by backing its Arab
allies. Israel’s freedom of action can be restricted through political
means, but the possibility of some Turkish physical presence in the theater
cannot be ruled out. For example, Turkey might expedite humanitarian aid to
the theater and use military forces to secure its delivery. An Israeli
aerial or naval blockade on the theater, if imposed, could well become a
point of friction between Israel and Turkey, and it should be carefully
considered whether the complications of a blockade outweigh its advantages.
Turkey’s physical presence in a theater is itself liable to pose dif?cult
operational dilemmas.

Egypt is the most important Arab state, and until the peace agreement with
Israel, the Egyptian military constituted the principal challenge in each of
Israel’s wars. In the ?rst two decades following the peace agreement between
the two countries, a dual political reality existed. On the one hand, Israel
bene?ted from greater freedom of action, secure in the knowledge that the
border with Egypt was peaceful. Even during crises like the First Lebanon
War and the ?rst intifada, Israel was free of concern about the opening of
another front in the south. On the other hand, Egypt remained politically
hostile and acted against Israel on various issues, including the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty and the attempts to channel Jewish immigration from
the Soviet Union to the US, as well as in regional political questions and
at international diplomatic forums. In Egyptian jargon, it tried to “cut
Israel down to its natural size.?

In the ?rst decade of the new millennium, however, Egypt gradually became a
strategic partner of Israel against Iran and its proxies in the Arab world.
The Israeli-Arab fault line was replaced by a fault line between Israel and
the Sunnis on the one hand and the Shiites on the other (and their
satellites, some of whom were Sunnis). This reversal in Egyptian policy
expanded Israel’s freedom of action, and strengthened it strategically, as
signi?cantly reflected in the bilateral, regional, and international backing
Egypt gave Israel in the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.

A new political reversal occurred in February 2011 – this time for the
worse – when Egyptian President Husni Mubarak was ousted from power and
Egypt embarked on a path that strengthened the Islamic movements at the
expense of the seasoned military establishment. The question of where Egypt
is headed is still open, and Egypt should certainly not be treated as an
enemy. At the same time, the internal developments in Egypt have several
consequences. First, the strengthening of the Islamic movements weakens
Egypt’s status as a stable ally of Israel against their common enemies, and
it cannot be assumed that Egypt will back Israel’s future military campaigns
the way it did in recent years. Second, Israel’s embarking on a large scale
military campaign (in Gaza, for example) in and of itself is liable both to
prove a factor in shaping internal Egyptian politics and to strengthen the
factions that oppose peace with Israel.

Hamas has deep-rooted historic and personal ties with the Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood Egypt, and the two are to a large extent sister movements.
Indeed, given the removal of Mubarak and the crisis in Hamas- Iran relations
concerning Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, a trend is
emerging in which Hamas is weakening its ties with Iran and replacing them
with ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The system in which Israel and
Mubarak squared off against Iran and Hamas is liable to be replaced by a
Hamas and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood axis opposed to Israel. Moreover,
Egyptian public opinion is more assertive than in the past, and even if
policymakers in Egypt are willing to accept certain Israeli military
measures, newly-empowered Egyptian public opinion is liable to reject them.
These processes are generating a direct link between Israel’s use of
military force – primarily against Hamas – and the internal Egyptian dynamic
and Israeli-Egyptian relations, one that clearly restricts Israel’s freedom
of action.

A symbiotic relationship between Israel and the Jordanian royal house has
existed for years. The Hashemite family suffers from profound weaknesses,
particularly as it rules over a Palestinian majority. Furthermore, Jordan is
situated at a crossroads between more powerful forces: Syria, Egypt, and
Iraq. In face of these weaknesses, Israel has provided the Hashemite family
with a protective umbrella by stating that a threat to the Jordanian royal
house constitutes a casus belli for Israel. This situation has successfully
withstood several tests, particularly in 1970. For its part, Israel has
found the Hashemite family to be a partner in two important spheres. The
Hashemite kingdom has become a de facto demilitarized zone with no enemy
forces, and has usually prevented hostile use of its territory and long
borders with Israel. In certain senses, Israel’s strategic depth extends to
eastern Jordan. In addition, an Israeli-Hashemite partnership, albeit
limited, has emerged concerning the containment of Palestinian national
aspirations and their direction to channels that relieve the threat to
Israel and the Hashemite monarchy.

Jordan was too weak to seal its territory hermetically against terrorist
action and expeditionary forces directed against Israel. Its weakness even
infrequently obliged it to participate in Arab coalitions against Israel.
Yet most of the time and on most issues it kept its part of the symbiotic
bargain. Worthy of note is the warning provided by King Hussein to Israel
about the Arab plans to launch the Yom Kippur War. The peace agreement
signed by Israel and Jordan in 1994 was little more than a symbolic
declaration of a strategic reality that in any case had already existed for

Today, however, the Hashemite dynasty faces complex threats from a number of
directions, and its future is unclear. The ?rst threat – the internal
agitation in Jordan – has reached a stage in which the legitimacy of the
king is challenged openly. The second threat is that even the Bedouin
tribes, who have been the mainstay of the monarchy, are beginning to take
part in the agitation against the king.7 The third threat is a result of the
American withdrawal from Iraq, which has left room for Iranian influence in
Mesopotamia, thereby bringing Iran to Jordan’s back door. It may only be a
question of time before Iran begins to intervene in Jordan. The fourth
threat is the Hashemite dynasty’s loss of the support provided by Mubarak;
it is doubtful whether the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would back the
Hashemites against Islamic agitation. The ?fth threat is the unpredictable
spillover effect on Jordan of a potential breakup or change of regime in

The challenges and increasing weakness of the Jordanian royal dynasty have
two main consequences for the use of military force by Israel. The ?rst is
that a situation in which Israel conducts a large scale military campaign in
some theater while the Israeli ambassador sits in Amman and the king sits
idle is liable to pose a dif?cult internal challenge to the royal family.
The challenge will be even more dif?cult than that posed by Operation
Defensive Shield and Operation Cast Lead. The second is that if the
Hashemite monarchy falls for any reason, Israel will lose an important asset
that contributed greatly to its security and strategic power. Israel’s
longest border is liable to change its character. It therefore follows that
where the Hashemite monarchy is concerned, Israel’s freedom of action is

A Major Military Campaign and the Vacillating States

The potential political and strategic bene?t of a large scale campaign by
Israel in one of the prime confrontation theaters is limited. Both southern
Lebanon and Gaza are examples of this.

Hizbollah’s rocket array, with its high redundancy, is now deployed with
unprecedented depth. According to media reports, it is dispersed among the
population in 160 civilian urban areas. Reaching a military decision against
Hizbollah, in the sense of depriving it of the ability to operate high
trajectory weapons against Israel, is impractical in a reasonable amount of
time and at a reasonable price. Furthermore, any military campaign will have
dif?culty in addressing the fundamental problem of Lebanon: the country
comprises ethnic minorities lacking state-like coherence, and its weak
central government will have trouble enforcing its sovereignty in its own
territory. It is possible to degrade Hizbollah, damage it, and affect its
behavior for a while, but it is dif?cult to imagine a military campaign that
could create a different fundamental political reality in Lebanon that would
be better for Israel. In attempting to design a campaign in Lebanon, Israel
can choose between a large scale campaign in which both sides will pay high
prices and a smaller campaign that will exact limited prices from both
sides. The optimal political result, however, will probably be similar in
both alternatives, and will in any case be limited.

In contrast to Hizbollah, it is possible to deprive Hamas of the ability to
launch rockets against Israel, but this involves a takeover and
comprehensive combing of the entire Gaza Strip. If the IDF occupies the Gaza
Strip, the problem arises what to do with it afterwards. More important, it
is dif?cult for a military campaign to address the fundamental problems of
Gaza: a dense Palestinian population, which suffers from human, civilian,
and economic underdevelopment and embodies a radical culture, and is
situated in geographic proximity to Israel’s heartland. The possible
military achievement in Gaza may be better than what can be expected in
Lebanon, but here too it is dif?cult to imagine a political end state that
represents a stable and sustainable reality that is better for Israel.

The modest political and strategic achievements that can be obtained in a
large scale military campaign in Gaza or Lebanon should be weighed against
the potential complications in political and strategic relations with the
vacillating states mentioned above. Were the expected gains against the
enemy remarkable, it might be worthwhile to pay the price of worsening
relations with the vacillating states. However, it is questionable whether
there is any point in risking the upsetting of relations with the
vacillating states and perhaps causing them internal shocks, merely for the
sake of obtaining a limited and transient achievement against the enemy.

The change in the Arab world also provides a new context for the challenge
of collateral damage to civilians. This is not only a question of media, the
laws of war, or Israel’s relations with international organizations. The
increased weight of public opinion in the considerations of Arab decision
makers means potential effective pressure on them when collateral damage is
caused. In the emerging reality, some degree of legitimacy from Arab public
opinion for an Israeli campaign is more than just valuable – and that
creates a much higher hurdle for the use of force.

The obvious problem lies in the fact that Israel is not the only party
deciding whether to conduct or refrain from a violent confrontation. The
enemy also gets a vote. As Israel’s freedom of action narrows, that of its
enemies is expanding, or at least is seemingly expanding. Assessing
Hizbollah’s freedom of action in a changing environment is a complex
question, since it derives from Iran’s position and political
considerations, internal shockwaves in Syria, inter-ethnic relations in
Lebanon, the actions of the international court investigating the Harari
murder, and so on. At the same time, in certain circumstances, Hizbollah’s
complex array of interests is liable to generate motivation on its part for
deliberate escalation with

An analysis of Hamas’ freedom of action is also far from simple, and the
movement must contend with various limitations.8 In estimating possible
courses of action by Hamas, however, the changing reality must be taken into
account, including the increased weight of the Islamic movements in Egypt,
the loosening of the Jerusalem-Cairo axis, the crisis in Iran-Hamas
relations, and the undermining of Egyptian governability in Sinai. Hamas, or
at least some elements in it, now has af?liations (to some extent
conflicting) with Tehran, Cairo, and Ankara. The growing closeness between
the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas entails two aspects: on the one
hand, the constraints on the Egyptian leadership can be a restraining factor
on Hamas (and this has been the case in recent months). The strengthening of
Hamas’ state-like characteristics as the ruler in Gaza also constitutes a
restraining factor. On the other hand, the close relations between Hamas and
Egypt are liable to imbue Hamas with the sense that it enjoys greater
freedom of action against Israel. At some point, Hamas may seek to challenge
what remains of Israeli-Egyptian relations by drawing Israel into a major
military campaign in Gaza. In contrast to its behavior in recent months, it
is liable to use its rocket arsenal in a way that will leave the Israeli
government with little choice other than to embark upon a large scale
military campaign in Gaza. In this case, the political trap set by Hamas
should be understood and avoided wherever possible.

The realization that the possible political and strategic bene?ts of a
campaign in Gaza or Lebanon are liable to be meager, and that the costs and
potential entanglements in relations with the vacillating states are
signi?cant, can lead the Israeli military planners to several conclusions.
First, under the currently prevailing circumstances, major campaigns liable
to cause large scale collateral damage should be avoided whenever possible.
When a violent event or miscalculation occurs, force should be applied in a
way that facilitates a rapid exit from the cycle of violence and avoids
undesirable escalation. Second, if the enemy deliberately chooses escalation
and makes a large scale campaign unavoidable, the perspective should be
widened and the military plan’s political and strategic effect on the entire
region should be considered, including public opinion in the vacillating

These are seemingly the exact parameters for the IDF’s consideration of
essentially defensive strategic plans. The problem is that given the current
war model of Hizbollah and Hamas, the question of what a defensive strategy
means in this context needs to be clari?ed. When the enemy attacks deep
within Israel’s territory with high trajectory ?re from deep within its own
territory while remaining in a defensive disposition on the frontlines (a
concept in IDF jargon known as “offensive-defense?), it is unclear what
unique operational content can be given to an IDF defensive strategy. On the
face of it, it is necessary to reach the enemy launchers with either
?repower or by maneuver in order to affect them, but these launchers are
deployed deep within enemy territory and are embedded in urban civilian
areas. It is therefore necessary to consider whether this is indeed the only
possible way of applying force in situations of both strategic defense and
strategic offense (if it is at all possible to distinguish between them
under these circumstances), or whether there are more effective ways of
using force.

The military planner should search for ways to restrict the enemy’s
strategic freedom of action to continue ?ghting, and convince it to
terminate the current cycle of violence, even without reaching a military
decision against the enemy. It should be considered whether it is possible
to operate in places and ways that can reduce friction with the enemy
population, avoid a permanent seizure of territory, and maintain the
legitimacy of using force. Because of the emergence of interdependence
between theaters, it should also be considered whether it is correct to
commit a campaign to a given theater of conflict, or whether it is more
important to preserve the ability to switch rapidly between theaters. The
military must add the legitimacy of the use of ?repower and maneuvering as
viewed by public opinion in Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey to its list of
considerations (though not as the sole consideration). Achieving legitimacy
is not restricted to the duration of the ?ghting, and intensive action in
this direction should be taken both before and after force is used.

In the Six Day War, the opposing sides conducted a symmetrical battle on a
smooth playing ?eld, and Israel achieved a clear decision. Since 1967, the
violent confrontations with Israel have featured efforts by its enemies to
restrict its ability to realize its full military potential. This has been
done in a number of ways: using non-state armed organizations, planting
combatants among civilians and blurring the division between civilian 81 and
military, blurring the distinction between war and lull, and creating
intermediate low intensity confrontations in which Israel suffers attrition
but does not embark on a major campaign. The next stage in restricting
Israel’s military freedom of action may consist of the use by Israel’s
enemies of the vacillating states on two levels. On the political and
strategic level, Israel’s considerations will include its relations with the
vacillating states, and it will therefore restrain itself more than in the
past. On the tactical and physical level, Israel’s enemies can attempt to
attain new degrees of freedom for themselves by operating from the territory
of the vacillating states in close proximity to their assets, including
military assets.

Conclusion: From an Isolated Campaign Theater to a Multi-sided War Theater

In recent decades, strong gravitational forces have pushed the various
players into close strategic blocs, and have blurred the differences between
them. Such gravitational forces were active in the conflict between blocs
during the Cold War, for example, and starting in 1991, they have been
manifested in the pro-American and anti-American Middle Eastern camps.
Following the decline of American hegemony and other changes, however, these
gravitational forces have weakened. Consequently, differences in interests
among the various players have been highlighted, and the tapestry of
af?liations among the players has become more complex.

In the emerging reality, the clear dichotomy between rival and ally has been
replaced by a range of intermediate behavioral patterns. This phenomenon
complicates Israel’s use of force and the analysis of its influence on
players who are not enemies, but who do not coordinate their actions with
Israel – yet are active in the war theater and are relevant to the strategic
dynamic. This phenomenon requires a stronger military-political interface
than in the past.

This situation is relevant to the Iranian nuclear challenge, in which some
of the most important effects of using force are not on the enemy, but on an
ally – the US. This is also relevant to the bordering confrontation
theaters. Since the 1980s, Israel has become accustomed to conducting wars
with a single isolated campaign theater, and most of the crises it has faced
have been bilateral. It appears that this reality no longer exists, and it
is faced with a complex system of af?liations, some of which will emerge and
be shaped only as a result of the ?ghting.

1 Ron Tira, “The Breakup of Israel’s Strategic Puzzle,? Strategic
Assessment 14, no. 3 (2011): 43-56.
2 Ron Tira, “Yes They Can: The US Can Prevent Iran from Acquiring the
A-Bomb,? In?nity Journal, IJ Exclusive, May 2012.
3 Ron Tira, “The United States in the Middle East: An Exercise in
Self-Defeat,? Strategic Assessment 14, no. 1 (2011): 41-54.
4 Martin C. Libicki, “The Strategic Uses of Ambiguity in Cyberspace,?
Military and Strategic Affairs 3, no. 3 (2011): 3-10.
5 “Foreign Warships Will Need Iran’s Permission to Pass through Strait of
Hormuz,? Fars News Agency, January 4, 2012.
6 Reza Kahlili, “Iran Nuclear Compromise No Longer Needed,? Washington
Post, April 9, 2012.
7 H. Varulkar, “The Arab Spring in Jordan: King Compelled to Make
Concessions to Protest Movement,? MEMRI, December 12, 2011,
8 Shlomo Brom, “The Storm within Hamas,? INSS Insight No. 316, February
28, 2012.

Search For An Article

Contact Us

POB 982 Kfar Sava
Tel 972-9-7604719
Fax 972-3-7255730
email:imra@netvision.net.il IMRA is now also on Twitter

image004.jpg (8687 bytes)