An interview with one of the favorites to lead the Mossad (& Israel allows Vanunu to speak openly about nukes)

September 09, 2015


[Note by Tom Gross]

(This is one of an occasional series of dispatches concerning intelligence matters.)

Tamir Pardo, the director of Israel’s external intelligence agency, the Mossad, is to step down at the end of this year.

Below is an interview with Ram Ben-Barak, one of the three leading candidates to succeed him. Ben-Barak currently serves as Director General of the Ministry for Intelligence Affairs (a small, low profile ministry that sits within the premises housing the Israeli prime minister’s office). He previously served in various operational positions within the Mossad.

It is extremely rare for someone in Ben-Barak’s position to give public interviews, and this is the first one Ben-Barak has ever given.

It appears in “Israel Defense,” a magazine with close ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence communities.

This interview is not in itself especially interesting (and there are a number of assessments in it with which I disagree). But the mere giving of the interview, published in English, is significant.

Also of note, when Ben-Barak is asked “Is there any sort of international move that could bring the war in Syria to an end?” he replies:

“In my opinion, no. The conflict is stronger than the influence the superpowers can wield. It is a Shi’ite-Sunni conflict. The Russians and the Americans are not a factor. They have some leverage over Assad, but he is only one player among many. Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS do not care about the superpowers.”

The other two leading candidates to become the next head of the Mossad are the Head of Israel’s National Security Council, Yossi Cohen, and the current Deputy Director of the Mossad, who cannot be named for legal reasons.



After that, I attach a piece by Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog, for The Washington Institute.

Last month, the Israel Defense Forces published a thirty-three-page document titled “IDF Strategy.”

Herzog writes: “This is a shorter, unclassified version of a comprehensive document designed as the conceptual framework for the new IDF five-year plan, ‘Gideon,’ which has yet to be approved by the government. This document is unique in Israel’s history because it not only defines and bases itself on elements of a national security doctrine, but was also released to the public.”

Herzog previously served as head of the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division and chief of staff to Israel’s defense minister. He is the brother of the Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog.



Also of note, last Friday evening, the Israeli government lifted its censorship order on Mordechai Vanunu and let Vanunu, a convicted nuclear spy, openly discuss Israel’s nuclear program on Israeli TV for the first time. The move would appear to mark a shift in the policy by the state of Israel, after decades of “nuclear ambiguity”.

Israel’s military censors allowed Vanunu to give a lengthy interview on Israel’s main evening Channel 2 news.

Vanunu was barred from giving interviews under the terms of his release from prison in 2004, after serving 18 years for treason.

He worked as a technician at Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona from 1976 to 1985. He then converted to Christianity, denounced the state of Israel, and sold what he claimed were Israel’s nuclear secrets to the (London) Sunday Times in 1986, including 58 photographs he had taken revealing the number of nuclear warheads Israel is said to possess.

Israel has never admitted nor denied having nuclear weapons. The official government policy is to say that Israel will never be the first country to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The decision to allow Vanunu to speak is believed to be connected to the deal the world powers have signed with the Islamic regime in Iran, a deal which that is opposed by almost everybody in Israel as foolish and extremely dangerous.

Vanunu now lives in Jerusalem with his new Norwegian wife, who he married in May, Professor Kristin Joachimsen.

In 1986, he was lured from London to Rome by an American woman he befriended calling herself Cindy (in reality Israeli Mossad agent Cheryl Bentov). “Cindy” then delivered Vanunu to her Mossad colleagues in Rome where he was taken to Israel and put on trial.

As I have noted in past dispatches on this list, Vanunu has given interviews on Israeli television before, where he reiterated his belief that Israel “should no longer exist” and that Judaism is a “backward religion,” but this is the first time he has been allowed to speak in Israel on the nuclear issue.

-- Tom Gross


Among previous dispatches on the Mossad:

* Pardo to replace Dagan as Mossad head

* Israel Harel, “The man who made the Mossad”

Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.



An exclusive interview with Ram Ben-Barak
By Amir Rapaport
Israel Defense magazine
September 3, 2015

“I think it is quite possible that the next objective of the Islamic State organization will be the Shi’ite community in southern Lebanon, namely Hezbollah. They are already fighting against one another in Syria, and if ISIS wins over there, they will advance into Lebanon,” says Ram Ben-Barak, Director General of the Israel Ministry for Intelligence Affairs.

This statement reflects one of the Intelligence Ministry’s objectives – to think of intelligence affairs in an “outside-the-box” way. It is made by the Ministry’s Director General, Ram Ben-Barak, in his first-ever media interview. This could well be his last public interview for a while, as the race for the position of the next Director of the Mossad, in place of Tamir Pardo who’s about to step down, has entered the last stretch. If Ben-Barak wins this race he will be unable to grant interviews until the end of his term in office.

Ram Ben-Barak is one of three primary candidates for the position of the next Director of the Mossad, along with Yossi Cohen, who currently serves as the Head of the National Security Council, and N., who currently serves as Deputy Director of the Mossad. The next director will enter office in January 2016. Ram Ben-Barak was one of the major speakers at the Intelligence and Special Units Conference initiated by the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC) and Israel Defense, held under the auspices of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Ministry for Intelligence Affairs. Ram Ben-Barak became the Director General of the Ministry for Intelligence Affairs in 2014, when it was still attached to the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, just before the recent elections to the Knesset. Following the establishment of the new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to appoint Yisrael Katz, who also serves as Transportation Minister, as the Minister for Intelligence Affairs, while Gilad Erdan was appointed as Minister for Strategic Affairs. Both ministries are regarded as an inseparable part of the Prime Minister’s Office, and reside in the Office’s building in Jerusalem. It was further decided that Minister Yuval Steinitz, who served as Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Affairs in the previous government, will remain in charge of the dialogue with the USA and with other western countries on the issue of the agreement being consolidated with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program, while serving in his new role as Minister for National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources.

In this interview, Ram Ben-Barak presented his views which have been shaped by decades of defense/security service. He is 57, born at Moshav Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley and is a veteran of Sayeret Matkal, the IDF elite unit. He served in numerous operational positions within the Mossad, and in the 1990’ his photograph was published when he was arrested with other Mossad operatives while breaking into a public facility in a European country. The Mossad managed to get him released quickly back to Israel, after he had been tried and sentenced to a fine only. Among his more recent positions within the Mossad, he served as head of the operations division and as Deputy Director.

“I deeply regret the separation between intelligence and strategy. In my opinion, intelligence and strategy are closely interlinked,” says Ben-Barak sincerely.

What is, in fact, the function of the Ministry for Intelligence Affairs in its new-old format?

“The Ministry for Intelligence Affairs has several functions,” says Ram Ben-Barak. “In principle, the Minister for Intelligence Affairs is a member of the Israeli cabinet, and raises his hand in voting over essential issues, like war and peace. That is why the best thing for him is to be well-versed in the current status picture, to know as many things as possible, and the Ministry sees to it. It is good to have in the cabinet people who are thoroughly prepped and briefed prior to important discussions. This is a service we provide to all of the ministers.

“Intelligence is a part of the day-to-day activity. Practically, the Minister for Intelligence Affairs is the Prime Minister’s ears and eyes. Agencies like ISA and Mossad are subordinated directly to the Prime Minister, who is the busiest person in the State of Israel. He cannot see everything up close. Once you have a Minister operating on the Prime Minister’s behalf, everything is presented to him on an ongoing basis. We perform budget audits on findings and on the force build-up process, which enables the Prime Minister to get a better picture of whatever is going on. The Minister does not tell the agencies what to do, but they know that any remark he makes will be heard by the Prime Minister, so his remarks are heeded. His importance is in the ministerial ability to supervise and ensure that the needs and directives issued by the Prime Minister are executed on the ground.”

Is there any difference between the intelligence information delivered to the Ministry for Intelligence Affairs and the information available to the Ministry of Defense, which is in charge of the IDF but not of ISA and Mossad?

“The Ministry concentrates all of the intelligence available to the State of Israel. We are an organized state. There is no difference between the Ministry for Intelligence Affairs and the Ministry of Defense as far as information is concerned. Everything works very efficiently. Numerous lessons were learned from past events, where the intelligence had been stopped at various places and was never delivered to those who needed it. The Ministry sees to it that the Minister reviews and analyzes the intelligence. We deliberate and ponder the intelligence received and attempt to consolidate an independent position of our own. There is nothing smart or intelligent about receiving it all from other sources.”

Is Iran really the top intelligence priority of the State of Israel?

“The Iranian issue is one of the most important issues we deal with,” said Ben-Barak during the interview that was held close to the date when the interim agreement on the nuclear issue between Iran and the P5+1 was about to expire.

“The Iranian issue has substantial influence, far beyond the fact that a nuclear Iran is intolerable in Israeli eyes. The agreement which is about to be signed will enable the Iranians to decide for themselves when they would like to become nuclear, and that is the most problematic aspect. It leaves Iran in possession of almost all of her capabilities. If it is concluded in a manner where it would not be possible to supervise Iran’s military facilities, and at the same time they receive massive amounts of money within a very short period of time, their economy will experience a massive growth and this would enable them to gain more influence in the Middle East, much more than they have at present.

“The greatest danger is that Iran is advancing toward a situation where no one will be able to threaten it anymore, a situation that would enable it to gain dominance in any region it chooses.

“Look at the situation even today – there is hardly any area in the Middle East where Iran is not involved: Iraq (at present, Iran’s interests in Iraq are consistent with the interests of the USA), Lebanon (Hezbollah is, in fact, an Iranian armed force) and Yemen (which is currently dominated by the Houthis, who receive their arms and advisors from Iran). Now, imagine what would happen if billions of dollars were to drop on Iran in the coming years. Iran would be under no restrictions whatsoever.

“I think that if the Americans had insisted and pressed a little harder, it would have been possible to reach a much better agreement. No one contests the fact that an agreement is a better option than war. This is fully understood by everyone – from the Prime Minister to the last civilian in the street, but a bad agreement can have very grave implications.”

Are the Americans sharing information on the process with us, or are we not really fully informed as the permanent agreement is being finalized?

“We are involved in the process with some degree of openness – sometimes more, sometimes less. Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz is intensively involved in the process. He will remain in charge of this activity until August 2015 at the very least. At the moment, Iran is the most pressing issue, but there are other issues.”

There has been some talk about the process with Iran leading to an arms race by Middle Eastern countries regarded as more moderate, like Egypt or Saudi Arabia, as a counterweight to the nuclear arming of Iran. Do you share those concerns?

“Absolutely. This process will almost certainly take place. The Saudis and the countries of the Persian Gulf are just as apprehensive as we are of an Iranian domination of the region. Eventually, there are massive natural resources in that area and in the past we witnessed an attempt by the Iraqis to capture Kuwait for its massive oil reserves.

“Consider the Shi’ite-Sunni confrontation that is currently dividing the Muslim world, and you will reach the inevitable conclusion that those countries are under pressure. There is no shortage of money in the Gulf States, they can buy anything they want. Once they realize that the Iranians are walking through a corridor that would lead them to a nuclear capability, they will enter that corridor too, and the entire region would be thrown into a new arms race.”

What can be said about the relations we have or do not have with countries regarded as more moderate, including countries in the Persian Gulf?

“There is an opportunity here. I would not like to go into details. I assume these things are being considered and that interests are shared. You can see the interests we currently share with Egypt. I assume other things are happening as well.”

“In the struggle between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, the Sunni Muslims face a dual problem,” adds Ram Ben-Barak. “On the one hand, they are threatened by the Shi’ite axis that aspires to gain influence and dominate. On the other hand, they face radical Sunni Islamists, who regard their states as heretical.

“For example, the Sunni Muslims are fighting against the Assad regime in Syria, but they should already think about the day following his collapse. The Islamic State organization, ISIS, is already confronting the moderate Sunni Muslims in Syria. This reality is highly problematic. As the situation in Syria currently appears, it would not be far-fetched to predict that very soon, these organizations will be deployed along the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.”

Is Assad’s situation really that bad? Is he approaching the end of his reign?

“That’s what it looks like on the ground at the moment, but we must not exaggerate it. The successes of ISIS and the other rebel groups were achieved in Sunni-dominated areas. Generally, they have not been very successful in non-Sunni areas. They succeeded against the Kurds in Iraq, but the Kurds managed to reinstate their domination. Assad’s military is practically shattered at this time, and it seems that Syria is advancing toward a situation of an Alawite-dominated area (the president’s religious affiliation), an ISIS-dominated area and an area dominated by other rebel groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra. It will be very interesting to see what eventually happens. We need to look forward and consider the possibility of ISIS moving on to their next objective, in southern Lebanon.”

Hezbollah is intensively involved in the fighting in Syria. Do you think they will lose their war over there?

“I believe so. They are not doing very well. There are Shi’ite militia groups that the Iranians dispatched and quite a few Hezbollah warfighters, but they are unable to stop the rebels. In his recent TV appearance, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called for an all-out mobilization. At the same time, you can see the pressure he is under with regard to the possibility that Israel could launch an initiated move against him now, of all times. He understands that this is a viable option.

“The Shi’ite Muslims are currently preoccupied more by radical Islam than they are by the Jews. In 4-5 years from now, there might be something different in southern Lebanon. In the Golan Heights it’s already happening. The Syrian Army is no longer there. Reality has changed. Frequent terrorist attacks along the border fence can actually begin tomorrow.”

Is there any sort of international move that could bring the war in Syria to an end?

“In my opinion, no. The conflict is stronger than the influence the superpowers can wield. It is a Shi’ite-Sunni conflict. The Russians and the Americans are not a factor. They have some leverage over Assad, but he is only one player among many. Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS do not care about the superpowers.”

When different enemies of Israel are fighting one another, it is not necessarily a bad thing from an Israeli point of view. Do you agree?

“This is a somewhat childish approach, as wars eventually come to an end and then a new reality emerges. Look, Hezbollah will be crippled without Syria, as it will be difficult for them to take delivery of the arms shipments from Iran, and that is important for us. But it is by no means certain that the alternative will be any better. During the Iran-Iraq war in the last century some people said it was the best thing for the Jews – and look where we are today. Even the war in Syria will stabilize eventually, and then we will once again become the common enemy. We must prepare for that.”

Generally, the state Hezbollah is in does not seem to be too good in the summer of 2015…

“Correct. On the one hand, it is not too good. On the other hand, they have thousands of warfighters who are fighting and gaining combat experience, which is less favorable for us.”

So some of the processes you refer to are positive while others are very negative. Bottom line, does time play in our favor or against us?

“I think that no existential threat is currently imposed on the State of Israel as was the case in the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. We share the same interests with many other countries, which is another advantage. From an economic point of view, we are a wonder. We live like they do in America. Consequently, I think that in general our situation is much better than it used to be, but we still face some serious challenges with which we have to cope.

“In my opinion, our greatest challenge is not necessarily an external one, but the fact that we have here a fairly large ‘middle-class-plus’ class, people who live in Israel and really think that we can afford to evade serving in the IDF. These people think that if they travel twice a year to Thailand or to ski somewhere, everything is fine. This is highly problematic, and might change the IDF into something quite different. The economic elite will not be a part of the military game. I think that it is becoming visible. You see it in the amount of youngsters who evade the draft. In my time, the Kibbutz movement provided the manpower for Sayeret Matkal. Today the religious Zionist movement does it. I think it is a problem, not because of the religious Zionist movement, but rather because a major segment of the public does not think that it has to be there.”

Do you anticipate the possibility of a third Palestinian Intifada?

“With regard to the Palestinian issue, we have to aspire to a solution of one kind or another. It is no coincidence that the Palestinians have not launched a third Intifada to this day. They are looking around them, they see what is taking place in Egypt, what is taking place in Syria, and they look at themselves. Overall, despite all of the problems. and there are many problems, their situation is relatively good and they should not worsen it by staging another uprising. On the other hand, a solution must be reached, but that is a political-diplomatic issue so I will not address it.”

What are the effects of the international boycott movement on Israel?

“It is undoubtedly an element in our strategic situation. The boycott phenomenon is a cause for concern and should be addressed. It is worrying mainly because it permeates. It has the potential of influencing people who are 20 today. By the time they are 35, the filth they hear today could influence them. It is important to realize that it is not a spontaneous effort by ‘bleeding-heart liberals’ concerned about human rights. Many people over there are misled by a well-oiled, amply-rewarded machine and a lot of money is being poured into it. Every time you see four Palestinians walk into a supermarket in London and remove Israeli-made products from the shelves – be aware that they are being paid to do it. It is a campaign that we should fight. The State of Israel has a problem fighting it, so pro-Israeli organizations should be encouraged and convinced that it is important to fight against this phenomenon, as Israel should be presented for the positive things it represents. The Palestinians maintain paid activists who conduct a propaganda campaign against Israel in every university campus around the world.”

Does the boycott have any implications with regard to the relations between the Israeli intelligence agencies and similar agencies around the world?

“No. It has no effect whatsoever in that regard. It does have an effect on the decisions made by employee committees, student organizations, lecturer organizations and cultural institutions.”

Is our relationship with the USA in perfect order?

“The strategic relationship is in perfect order.”

And within Israel, are the relations between the various intelligence agencies – the IDF Intelligence Directorate, Mossad and ISA – in perfect order?

“Those relations can always be improved. It is not that we do not have our controversies, but I have never seen, in my entire career, a problem that necessitated cooperation where that cooperation failed to materialize. It is my estimate that there are quite a few arguments even today, but with all due honesty and sincerity, I have never seen a situation where they failed to set aside all of their differences and resolve the problem. The personal relations between the directors of the services themselves are very good. No quarrels, no envy.

“There is no other place anywhere in the world where the inter-organizational relations are as good as they are over here. We have the entire information disseminated by every agency to the others. No one conceals information – this notion never even enters anyone’s mind.”

What about the controversy between the agencies as to who should be responsible for the developments in the Gaza Strip, which in the past was the exclusive intelligence responsibility of the ISA, when the IDF controlled the Gaza Strip?

“This is, indeed, a complex issue. Should the Gaza Strip be regarded as a separate country, another state, and therefore be the responsibility of the Mossad? For years, the people of ISA have said that they are still operating over there. I should imagine they think about how to handle it pursuant to the changing circumstances. They will probably reach some sort of arrangement regarding this issue, too. While the arguments are ongoing, I am still confident that the agencies will not sabotage the operations of one another.”

According to Ram Ben-Barak, “Our next war will be fought against organizations, not against armed forces – and that is a completely different story with regard to the resources to be acquired and our ability to dominate a space and engage individual warfighters. It is a different kind of warfare, not necessarily fought using tanks. These organizations are defeating armed forces all around us. We possess the technology and have to invest money and resources in it and get this technology into the actual fighting, on the land battlefield. It is not a simple undertaking fighting in the alleys of Gaza with a terrorist popping up from every sewage manhole. You should reach a situation where you dominate Gaza without actually conquering it. It is possible if you can create a situation where you can imagine hitting every armed person popping up from the subterranean medium.”

Do you think that the massive investment in intelligence in the context of the strategic force build-up process of the State of Israel is justified?

“Yes, especially with regard to the new battlefield. You must know what to hit and where the enemy is located. For this you must have good intelligence. The investment in intelligence is super important. I think that we should invest more in other things. Large-scale conventional wars are not very common anymore, anywhere around the world. They do not take place, first and foremost, because the outcome normally turns out to be the opposite of what you wanted originally. There is a high price to pay, in money and in human lives, and it is never beneficial politically. We must develop an alternative to war. We should enhance our covert capabilities – and I am not saying that because I come from the Mossad. That is where the future war will take place.”

There is nothing simple about covert warfare. Our enemies are not exactly losers in that field either…

“There is nothing simple about it, to put it mildly. Covert warfare is very challenging. We should invest more in it.”

Is the tremendous worldwide reputation of the Mossad justified?

“I am, of course, biased, but the answer is a resounding yes. I love that organization. It is my home, and I truly think it is an exceptional organization which is even better than what people think. The Mossad is a relatively small organization. It can change very fast, identify the threats and invest and apply the appropriate resources. It is an organization with exceptional people who possess excellent capabilities. It is good that the public does not know everything it does, as that means that we are okay. When people know – it normally means that something went wrong.”

So do you hope to return to the Mossad next year as Director?

“Very much.”

Who, in your opinion, will be selected as the next Director of the Mossad?

“All of the candidates are worthy this time. It is up to the Prime Minister to decide.”



New IDF Strategy Goes Public
By Michael Herzog
The Washington Institute
August 28, 2015

On August 13, the Israel Defense Forces published a thirty-three-page document titled “IDF Strategy.” This is a shorter, unclassified version of a comprehensive document designed as the conceptual framework for the new IDF five-year plan, “Gideon,” which has yet to be approved by the government.

This document, bearing the imprint of new chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, is unique in Israel’s history because it not only defines and bases itself on elements of a national security doctrine, but was also released to the public. Israel has not had a formal, written national security doctrine since the time of its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The last attempt at developing one in 2004-2007 (the Meridor Comission), was completed but not put to government approval; the “IDF Strategy” draws on that effort.

The unprecedented publication may be motivated by a desire to shape the lively public debate on prioritizing national resources between security and socioeconomic needs -- specifically, to shift it from a technical discussion of budgetary inputs to a strategic discussion on required security outputs. The new document explores the fundamental changes in Israel’s strategic and operational environment, which has seen rapid, violent upheavals and the collapse or weakening of state frameworks. The high degree of strategic and budgetary uncertainty has left the IDF without a formal government-approved multiyear plan since 2011.

Strategic Shifts

The document highlights several major changes in Israel’s strategic landscape:

1. Extreme, violent, and well-armed substate actors have replaced neighboring state armies as Israel’s main military threat; these include Hezbollah in Lebanon/Syria and Hamas in Gaza (nonstate jihadist elements are also accumulating on Israel’s borders, but for now they do not pose the same level of threat). In the past fifteen years alone, substate actors in the Lebanese and Palestinian theaters have forced Israel into five rounds of major armed conflict.

2. These actors can now target Israel’s civilian population centers and vital strategic facilities with significant firepower, potentially affecting the country’s societal resilience and ability to conduct a continuous war effort. This threat is constantly growing in volume, pace, range, accuracy, payload, and survivability. In addition, sophisticated military capabilities could undermine the IDF’s offensive capacity in the ground, air, and sea theaters. The threat also includes extensive subterranean activities; during last year’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the IDF exposed an extensive network of cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas for offensive purposes.

3. These substate actors are operating from civilian areas in a bid to deny Israel’s freedom of action or undercut the legitimacy of its war effort. This kind of warfare therefore encompasses nonmilitary dimensions such as legal, humanitarian, and media issues.

4. Israel’s political standing in the West has eroded over the years, complicating efforts to gain increasingly needed international legitimacy for fighting armed elements in civilian areas. Clearly, the main cause of this erosion is the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though the document does not explicitly make this point.

5. As the domestic costs of national security grow, so are the pressures to invest more in the economy and society.

Interestingly, the document does not mention the Iranian nuclear threat directly. This has led some commentators to conclude that unlike Israel’s government, the IDF does not attach the same severity to this threat following the P5+1 nuclear agreement. Yet Iran does in fact play an important part of the strategy underlying the document. First, while the IDF does not expect the nuclear threat to come to fruition during the next five-year plan’s timeframe, it does call for enhancing deterrence and maintaining preparedness for potential preemptive strikes against “countries with no joint border [with Israel].” Second, the IDF believes that substate actors “supported by Iran” do pose an imminent threat. Privately, its leadership is troubled by the prospect of these actors enjoying Iranian resources unfrozen by the nuclear deal.

Responding To the Challenge

The IDF identifies three basic situations for the use of force -- Routine, Emergency, and (full-scale) War -- distinguishable from one another by the scope of military and national resources involved and defined by different logics. Although armed conflicts with substate actors usually fall under “Emergency,” the IDF continues to focus its force buildup mostly on “War,” but with added versatility for Emergency. In the latter situation, the IDF could be directed to achieve “military decision” (see below), especially by destroying significant enemy capabilities, or to conduct a limited campaign focusing on strategic targets. Either mission would be designed to eliminate the enemy’s will to fight and achieve long-term deterrence. In Gaza, for example, the IDF would seemingly prefer to apply this concept by using a mixture of debilitating firepower and limited ground operations rather than conquering the territory and fully dismantling Hamas’s military capabilities.

The IDF strategy document assumes a protracted series of armed conflicts with substate actors and strives to force long lulls by achieving and maintaining credible deterrence. It also envisions building “cumulative” deterrence through a series of unequivocal military victories. Yet the new strategic and operational environment has compelled the IDF to redefine deterrence and the two other traditional pillars of its military strategy (early warning and military decision), and to add a fourth pillar: defense.

Deterrence is now defined in terms relative to the nature and diversity of the threat, unlike its near-binary role in preventing full-scale wars. It requires constant boosting, for which purpose the IDF developed the concept of a “campaign between wars” -- namely, clandestine, covert, and overt activities in Routine situations in order to thwart emerging enemy threats, especially the acquisition of specific arms. Early warning is now an element of intelligence superiority, which is to be achieved before and during any armed conflict. The term military decision also assumes a more relative character, corresponding to long-term deterrence, while consistent with the traditional Israeli goal of fighting short conflicts (it is often joined by the amorphous term “victory,” which the document defines as “achieving the political goals set for the campaign, leading to a post-bellum improved security situation”).

The defense pillar has been added to address the significant threat of enemy fire on Israel’s heartland. The most important element of this pillar is the ongoing development of a multilayered active defense system against rockets and missiles. If compelled to prioritize what it will defend first in a given conflict (e.g., when facing Hezbollah’s enormous rocket arsenal), the IDF would focus on preventing disruption of the war effort and protecting critical national infrastructure before protecting civilian centers. The document also takes potential enemy conquest of Israeli territory into consideration, including possible evacuation of civilians (a departure from the Israeli ethos), yet it calls for denying the enemy any territorial gain by the end of the confrontation.

Notwithstanding the growing weight of defense, the IDF continues to prioritize offensive action in both the buildup and employment of its forces. In this context, it strives to rebalance the relationship between firepower and ground maneuver, which has in recent years tilted increasingly toward the former with an overemphasis on achieving significant burnout of enemy capabilities over the course of a conflict. Under the new concept, the two have to reinforce each other, thereby creating synergic and systemic effects. The IDF document sets the goal of preparing tens of thousands of targets in Lebanon and Syria and thousands in Gaza ahead of a conflict, and striking thousands of targets daily during a conflict, including targets of opportunity. To enable this, the IDF is revolutionizing connectivity within and between service branches, combat units, and intelligence assets. Ground maneuvers will be launched from the outset of a conflict (unlike in the 2006 Lebanon war), including a new emphasis on surprise operations aimed at centers of gravity in the enemy’s operational or strategic rear, employing significant ground or special forces led by new command structures. The overall offensive concept is based on maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge as well as its air, naval, and intelligence superiority, and on ensuring critical mass of forces and capabilities.

Finally, the document breaks new ground in devoting attention to the nonkinetic aspects of armed conflict, adopting a multidisciplinary approach toward it. It regards cyberspace as another front, for which a Cyber Arm is being established. It highlights the need to prepare for the war of perceptions and to thoroughly address legal, humanitarian, and information dimensions; that is, Israel must strive to create and maintain political legitimacy for the use of force in order to enhance the IDF’s freedom of action in the current international environment.


The “IDF Strategy” is an important contribution to Israel’s strategic thinking and public discourse on national security. It deserves to be solidified by a governmental national security strategy.

The bottom line is that Israel faces extremely complex challenges in a fast-transforming landscape, posing acute strategic, operational, and domestic dilemmas. These challenges are epitomized by Iranian-supported Hezbollah, with its arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and its capacity to fire over 1,500 daily for weeks. As Israel prepares for the consequences of a nuclear deal that could compound existing uncertainties and threats from Iran’s proxies, the IDF document should provide a sound basis for bilateral U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue on major Israeli security concerns for the coming years.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.