Israeli Security Doctrine between the Thirst for Exceptionalism and Demands for Normalcy
Israeli security has been invoked time and again to explain Israeli behavior and justify Israeli actions vis-à-vis neighboring states and peoples. Yet there have been few insights into the manner in which Israeli security doctrine3 has been formulated, the various factors that have shaped and influenced it, and the events that have re-shaped it over the years. Since 1991, Israel's regional standing and relations with Arab states and other actors have undergone major changes, owing in part to a number of events, chief among them the Gulf War (1990-1991), the September 11 2001 events in the US, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the capture of three Israeli soldiers in June-July 2006 and subsequent conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
How have events in the region and beyond impacted Israeli strategic and security thinking? And how has Israeli security thinking in turn impacted the course of events in the region, as well as relations between the various state and non-state actors? It is difficult to assess let alone prove that there is a causal relationship between any of these events. Yet assessing ways in which they may potentially to provoke or encourage shifts in policies would increase our understanding of at least some aspects of the dynamics of Israeli security doctrine and appreciate its domestic, regional, and global determinants. In this respect, an examination of the historical record of Israeli security doctrine would enable one to assess the resilience of the doctrine in, as well as its adaptation and transformation in response to, both periods of full-scale war as well as of constant low-scale conflict.
This paper examined both the historical and contemporary nature of Israeli policies, with emphasis on key elements such as: existential threats, wars of choice, unilateralism, and the war on terror. Historically, Israel's security doctrine was based on the assumption that Israel was engaged in a struggle for its survival. This view comprises not only an assessment of Arab attitudes towards Israel, but also a national (or ethnoreligious) consciousness and reference to the broader historical predicament of Jews and their continuous collective struggle for survival.
The 1948 war, despite bringing about a decisive victory against the Arab armies, nevertheless did not bring peace to Israel. On the contrary, it resulted in a series of coups and a subsequent alignment of Syria and Egypt along the Soviet axis (Yaniv 1993, 5). In terms of security, the 1948 war was not without its lessons for the Israelis. According to Israel Tal, the Vice Chief of the General Staff of the IDF in 1973, one of the primary lessons that were learned from the 1948 experience was the importance of "offensive as a basic strategy, reliance on assault power, and eventually the doctrine of preemptive attack and taking the fighting into enemy territory".