As Israel turned 71 on Thursday, an ex-top defense official gave his assessment of the evolution of the country’s security doctrine.
Speaking with Israel’s Channel 13, a former head of the National Security Council, Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, said, “On a strategic level, Israel has always been defensive, a policy according to which you live with the current situation and do not initiate a war to change it.”
This led Israel to adopt a policy of only fighting a “war of no choice.” That is, a war in which the very existence of the state was threatened by the enemy.
In the 1956 Sinai Campaign and the 1967 Six-Day War, Eiland noted, “we fired the first shot, but it was out of a sense of no choice, because of the actions of the other side.”
“The paradigm existed in Israel from the establishment of the state until 1982, when then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin made a policy change in relation to the First Lebanon War and decided that a war of choice was something a state should know how to do,” Eiland said.
Israel went to war in Lebanon to eliminate the threat to Israel’s north from the PLO, which was entrenched in Lebanon, as well as to destroy the base for Palestinian terrorism around the world. Israel ended up occupying a security buffer zone in southern Lebanon until 2000.
“After 18 years in Lebanon, the Israeli ethos has gone back,” stated Eiland. “That is, to the search for other reasonable solutions to the situation and the avoidance of war.”
Eiland pointed out that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently “said the same thing about the situation in the Gaza Strip.”
In addition, noted Eiland, the nature of war itself has changed. Until World War II, “there were wars between countries, at this stage the conflicts have become between states and terrorist organizations.”
“This change has far-reaching implications,” he said, “from the goals of war to the gaps in the field that are created by the desire not to pay a high price” in lives and treasure.
Because of this, as well as the experience of the First Lebanon War, Israeli sensitivities “not only to human life, but mainly to the lives of soldiers, has become very high and a very central consideration.”
“If in the past soldiers were killed so that civilians would live, today they sometimes say that it’s not so bad for civilians to suffer from rockets, as long as soldiers do not get killed,” Eiland stated, referring to the frequent rocket attacks on Israel’s south emanating from the Gaza Strip.