ATbar “Protective Edge” – Insights
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“Protective Edge” – Insights

16/09/2014 | by Shavit, Shabtai  

Hamas Military Chief, Mohammed Deif (May he rest wherever he is), declared during Operation “Protective Edge” –

“We sanctify death”, meaning that the end justifies the means; we are strong; we have nothing to lose.

“You sanctify life”, meaning that you are fainthearted; guided by an “inferior” set of values.

This constitutes an asymmetry regarding the value of life! The following reflects another asymmetry:

Asymmetry regarding the value of existence:

  • They do not recognize our right to exist as a state and as people.
  • We recognize their right to exist.

They are apparently unaware of the human paradigm: that the survival instinct overrides any other value. Therefore, it is clear that they have no chance of realizing their goal.

Regarding the Jewish context, it has already been said that “the dead praise not the Lord” (Psalms 115, verse 17), meaning that if we become extinct there will be no one to praise the Lord.

The Size dilemma:

With regard to Hamas, Hamas is small and weak while we are big and strong.

With regard to the world of radical Islam (Sunni and Shi’ite separately, and both together), they are big and we are a drop in the sea. How does this difference predicts the intensity of the threat and the value of proportionality? To be addressed below.

An upsurge in anti-Semitism as a result of the operation:

Anti-Semitism is an acquired human trait. It generally lies in a dormant state with occasional eruptions.

When we are with our back against the wall – we merit a good word here and there. When we attack – the entire world is against us.

The entire world includes: Our Arab and Muslim enemies, anyone who was born or grew up to become an anti-Semite, the liberal West, and even fellow Jews who have lost all reason and show preference for the lives of our enemies over our lives and our national existence.

Operation “Protective Edge” gave rise to an interesting phenomenon: The Palestinians were the only ones who managed to join together the radical left and the radical right around the world, adversaries by nature, against the common enemy to all three groups – Israel.


A relative concept both in terms of definition and content. When the danger is existential, the value of proportionality is irrelevant. There are those who claim that when the enemy is small and weak it does not present an existential threat and, therefore, proportionality is required.

In response to a petition presented to the High Court, the President of the Supreme Court, Barak, issued a ruling on the subject of proportionality in the context of exposing state secrets: "Near certainty which  causes real damage to the security of the state”. When asked by Major Gen. (Res.) Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel how he applies this principle when it comes to sentencing someone who committed such an offense, his response was (not verbatim): I use my best judgment!

What do we have here? The President of the Supreme Court; a brilliant professor with abundant legal experience; a ruling on an issue that is not related to saving a life; an ivory tower in the form of the Supreme Court; cases that have a very low prevalence.

How Does This Work in the Real World?

The rationale behind a military or intelligence operation must undergo an examination of the operation’s intent, objective and mission, as well as an analysis of  "events and reactions"

The examination of "events and reactions" must provide the decision maker with the following information:

  • Is the operation feasible? (the working premise is that the operation – any operation – will deviate from the original plan during its implementation)
  • Is there a solution for every possible deviation from the original plan?
  • What is the aggregate risk level of the operation? (plan +"events and reactions")
  • Does the cost-benefit equation justify the operation?

I, during my tenure, used to precede the plan itself with an examination of the "events and reactions" in order to estimate the intensity of the risks before addressing the plan itself.

My own experience has repeatedly shown that things happen during the course of the operation that were not foreseen in the planning stage.

The examination of "events and reactions" in every operation takes place in the realm of proportionality. For instance:

  • A team of divers on its way to a target is discovered by an innocent fisherman. How should it respond?
  • A team of soldiers carrying out reconnaisance is discovered by a shepherd. How should it respond?
  • Intelligence estimates place Mohammed Deif in his house with only 90% certainty. Do you attack or not?
  • A row of tanks forms a bloc in urban territory and comes under fire from a multiple-story residential building. Silencing the fire will certainly cause harm to innocent bystanders. What do you do?

What do we have here?

  • Low-command level decision makers, none of whom come close to the level of Supreme Court President.
  • Decision makers who live in a life-threatening environment and not in ivory towers.
  • Decision makers who must make instantaneous decisions and who do not have time to debate and examine precedents.

In all of the wars that Israel fought from the War of Independence to the Yom Kippur War, we were the few fighting against the many who rose up to destroy us. In other words, the threat facing us was existential. When the threat is existential, proportionality is irrelevant since it is a battle for life and for national existence. In its historical ethos, the Nation of Israel twice experienced the destruction of the Temple and exile, and fell victim to genocide. In our asymmetrical wars against non-state terrorist organizations, we are the many and they are the few and, therefore, at least ostensibly, the threat facing us is not existential. If the threat is not existential, so we are told, proportionality is required. We believe that we need to examine the intensity of the long-term threat rather than the threat posed by each individual round of violence. In the major wars, we emerged undisputed with the upper hand. In the asymmetrical wars against terrorist organizations, each round ended with victory claimed by both sides.

That being the case, what constitutes victory in an asymmetrical battle? Israeli victory at the operative level means weakening the enemy’s power and “buying” as much time as possible until the next round. At the strategic level, victory means achieving long-term, multi-stage deterrence to persuade the enemy to give up its goal of destroying us and abandon its armed struggle against us, recognize our right to exist, and reach a solution using other means. This is the ultimate deterrence (which has been achieved with Egypt and Jordan).

For Hamas, which represents fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, victory means that it survived the latest round of fighting. Since its strategic goal is to eradicate the enemy on its way to establishing the Islamic Caliphate, the time factor is meaningless. The way to fulfill this strategy is conditional, first and foremost, on surviving each round of battle and so survival equals victory.

Regarding the weight of the threat on the strategic timeline, there is no question that each individual round of battle between us and Hamas does not constitute an existential threat, per se. However, if we examine the cumulative threat according to the strategic timeline, the following variables must also be taken into consideration:

  • The rift between Israel and the White House and its implications on our ability (loss of the automatic veto among other things).
  • The loss of automatic support for Israel from the US Jewish community.
  • The loss of support for Israel on US college campuses (the future generation of US leaders).
  • The loss of support for Israel from the European Union and from most of the countries that comprise it.
  • The growing criticism of Israel in the international media, including the American media.
  • The beginning of economic sanctions against Israel and their continued potential to damage the Israeli economy.
  • Growing anti-Semitism in the world, added to anti-Israel sentiment that enraptures both the radical left and the radical right.
  • The threat to Israel’s legitimacy from various international tribunals.
  • The erosion of Israel’s national strength, especially among the populations near the borders of the state.
  • The potential threat of an asymmetrical eruption (of war) on two fronts simultaneously (Hezbollah and Hamas).
  • Iran’s  support for Islamic terrorist organizations, once it becomes a nuclear power.

Does the strategic, long-term threat posed by Hamas constitute an existential threat or not? I choose to leave the question open to the discretion of the reader.

If a decision maker is convinced that the cumulative threat is indeed existential and manages to convince the world of such, then he can cast off the burden of proportionality that ties our hands behind our back in battling the enemy, prevents the enemy’s surrender, and casts doubt on our ability to persuade the enemy to abandon its armed struggle.

Four additional personal comments:

  • The thought that the enemy, by adopting the use of civilian population as a human shield, is forcing us to change our military sacred value of “striving forward” in our combat doctrine, per legal advisors, is just mind boggling!
  • Only one strategy is effective when facing enemies such as the ISIS, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and Hamas – that of Genghis Khan and Timur-lang. Otherwise, enlightened human society will continue to bleed, sacrifice and erode its strength, and in the final reckoning the victory of the forces of light over forces of darkness will come at too high a price. The only advantage is that we will be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and pat ourselves on the back for demonstrating morality in acting according to standards of proportionality.
  • I deliberately chose not to address the issue of utilizing the latest round of fighting to achieve a political solution within a regional framework since, at this stage, such a solution seems far from realization.
  • One final note regarding respect for the Israeli narrative of the “line of ploughing and fire” in the Israeli ethos. The settlements surrounding Gaza are in the State of Israel’s “line of ploughing and fire”. They are our "Frontier Force" and, therefore, it is befitting that their budget be part of the budget of the IDF!