After victory in the War of Independence, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said: “We do not yet know whether the recent war … which ended in victory for the IDF, is the last battle or not, and as long as we cannot be confident that we have won the last battle, let us not glory.”
From its earliest years, the State of Israel had no choice but to seek and confirm victory on the battlefield; its existence relied on it. It was this value that ensured its military successes up until and including the Six-Day War in 1967, a stunning victory against all odds.
After that victory, Israel understandably felt more assured of its endurance and resilience, and this led to the near disaster of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and even the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, from which it would eventually humiliatingly retreat in 2000, to bring an end to the attacks on northern Israel.
Arguably, it was the beginning of the peace process in the early 1990s which finally changed Israel’s way of thinking, from a nation that relied on defeating its enemies to one that relied on diplomacy, negotiations and compromise.
Even Israel’s constant battles on its northern and southern borders, against Hezbollah and Hamas respectively, were fought more in line with the diplomatic clock than any military strategy. The concept was to press Israel’s enemies and opponents into seeking indirect negotiations and a ceasefire. The frequency of these conflagrations has amply demonstrated the paucity and vacuousness of this strategy.
It has merely emboldened our enemies, on our borders and beyond, in places like Tehran, who now believe Israel has little stomach for war, let alone victory.
This explains why between conflicts our enemies grow stronger and each round becomes exponentially more difficult. Hamas is far better equipped and has more and longer-range missiles today than when it brutally conquered the Gaza Strip in 2006. Hezbollah has a sophisticated arsenal of weapons and capabilities which would be the envy of many armies around the world and is significantly stronger than it was during the Second Lebanon War.
While Iranian proxies continue to encircle the Jewish state, with the backing of a nation on its way to nuclear weapons capability, Israelis have become used to a flourishing, safe and stable nation which sees little threat on the horizon, despite the ongoing and regular rocket attacks on hundreds of thousands of its civilians.
Concepts of war, victory and defeat appear to be far from the lexicon of the average Israeli.
That is why it is vital that the IDF return to its position of vigilance against any threat, from near or far.
The IDF recently launched a large-scale military exercise, named “Lethal Weapon,” which focuses mainly on the northern front and a potential war against the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
“The aim of the exercise is to improve the IDF’s offensive capabilities at all echelons, while implementing the Victory Concept and generating new procedures between key headquarters,” the IDF spokesperson said in a statement.
The use of this terminology is extremely vital. It is not just mere words but part of the strategic vision that has guided the IDF since Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi became Israel’s 22nd chief of staff at the beginning of 2019.
From the very beginning, Kochavi employed distinctive language and formulated a different policy and strategy from those of his predecessors.
When he became chief of staff, Kochavi vowed to make the IDF “deadly and efficient,” and 100 days later began to formulate a new operational victory concept and new multi-year plan. During his first year, 70 generals were called on to formulate the operational concept of victory for the IDF that “will act as a compass for the military.”
It is clear that victory is no longer peripheral to the thinking of the upper echelons of the IDF, but the central focus.
Victory as a necessity in war and conflict has returned to Israel’s military operational thinking.
Ben-Gurion was prescient that the War of Independence would not be Israel’s last war. It has been on the brink of conflict for most of its 72 years, but on many occasions did not deliver the vital blow to its enemies that caused them to give up their war aims, now and forever. And Israel’s enemies are growing.
It is vital that at the top of Israel’s military pyramid there is someone who is finally bending the arc of victory back, making it once again the focus of the IDF’s conceptual framework.
Nave Dromi is an Israeli commentator and director of the Middle East Forum’s Israel Office.
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