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Disproportionate Force: Israel’s Concept of Response in Light of the Second Lebanon War
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Not long ago Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was quoted as saying, “the Zionists will think ten thousand times before attacking Lebanon.” Nasrallah’s remark appears to have been in reference to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s declaration, made while visiting the IDF Home Front Command, that the IDF would face fewer limitations in future confrontations. Indeed, the pressure on Nasrallah seems to be taking its toll. The Hizbollah leader is beginning to internalize what he understands as a fundamental change in Israel’s approach in responding to a threat emanating from Lebanon.

Indeed, an updated Israeli security concept regarding Israel's response to rocket and missile threats from Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip is gradually evolving. Now, more than two years after the Second Lebanon War, it appears that Israel’s immediate response after the July 2006 kidnapping attack significantly boosted its ability to deter Hizbollah and Syria from operating against Israel.

The current predicament facing Israel involves two major challenges. The first is how to prevent being dragged into an ongoing dynamic of attrition on the northern border similar to what in recent years developed along the border with the Gaza Strip. The second is determining the IDF’s response to a large scale conflict both in the north and in the Gaza Strip. These two challenges can be overcome by adopting the principle of a disproportionate strike against the enemy’s weak points as a primary war effort, and operations to disable the enemy’s missile launching capabilities as a secondary war effort.

With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy's actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite. In Syria, punishment should clearly be aimed at the Syrian military, the Syrian regime, and the Syrian state structure. In Lebanon, attacks should both aim at Hizbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centers of civilian power that support the organization.

Moreover, the closer the relationship between Hizbollah and the Lebanese government, the more the elements of the Lebanese state infrastructure should be targeted. Such a response will create a lasting memory among Syrian and Lebanese decision makers, thereby increasing Israeli deterrence and reducing the likelihood of hostilities against Israel for a an extended period. At the same time, it will force Syria, Hizbollah, and Lebanon to commit to lengthy and resource-intensive reconstruction programs.

Recent discussion of “victory” and “defeat” in a future war against Hizbollah has presented an overly simplistic approach. The Israeli public must understand that overall success cannot be measured by the level of high trajectory fire against Israel at the end of the confrontation. The IDF will make an effort to decrease rocket and missile attacks as much as possible, but the main effort will be geared to shorten the period of fighting by striking a serious blow at the assets of the enemy.  

Israel does not have to be dragged into a war of attrition with Hizbollah. Israel’s test will be the intensity and quality of its response to incidents on the Lebanese border or terrorist attacks involving Hizbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. In such cases, Israel again will not be able to limit its response to actions whose severity is seemingly proportionate to an isolated incident. Rather, it will have to respond disproportionately in order to make it abundantly clear that the State of Israel will accept no attempt to disrupt the calm currently prevailing along its borders. Israel must be prepared for deterioration and escalation, as well as for a full scale confrontation. Such preparedness is obligatory in order to prevent long term attrition. The Israeli home front must be prepared to be fired upon, possibly with even heavy fire for an extended period, based on the understanding that the IDF is working to reduce the period of fighting to a minimum and to create an effective balance of deterrence.      

This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy.

By instilling proper expectations of the IDF response among the civilian population, Israel will be able to improve its readiness and the resilience of its citizens. Still, the IDF’s primary goal must nonetheless be to attain a ceasefire under conditions that will increase Israel's long term deterrence, prevent a war of attrition, and leave the enemy floundering in expensive, long term processes of reconstruction.

Source >  INSS Insight

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