An Israeli Air Force F-16.
An Israeli Air Force F-16. Photo by Yuval Tebol
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Israeli governments over the past six years have adopted a modus operandi of shooting with a pistol to which a silencer is attached: Pinpoint military operations, generally from the air or sea, without large ground forces, whose objective is to eliminate an emerging threat. So it was in September 2007 with the attack on the nuclear facility North Korea built in eastern Syria, and so it has been with other operations attributed to Israel, from Syria to Sudan.

Israeli policy operates on two levels: The first is the practical level, the operation itself, a response to a security need. The second level is Israel’s effort not to call too much attention to itself by maintaining official silence. If American military doctrine of the past decade has been called “shock and awe,” then Israel’s could be called “shock and shush.”

An important component of Israel’s operational policy is coordination with Washington. The United States in recent decades has been sucked into the region and has deepened its military involvement here. Its leadership must know what Israel is planning so that it can be prepared. Since the policy of contained, undeclared operations has been consistently implemented over many years, one can assume that it is acceptable to Washington, and that it represents a continuous line of decision-making that is void of internal politics and based solely on security considerations.

What was true before Syria descended into two years of bloody civil war is even more true now. Bashar Assad’s regime is fighting for its life, and its allies are gradually backing off. On the assumption that Hezbollah units are helping fill the thinning ranks of Assad’s military, it would seem that the Syrian president would have a hard time refusing requests made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah or their joint patrons in Tehran. In such a complex situation, there is increased risk that strategic weapons, such as ground-to-ground and ground-to-air missiles, would be transferred to Hezbollah. Given the risk of further escalation that might include another war in Lebanon, there is a place for exerting pinpointed and straight-forward force, without unnecessary verbal provocations.

Force must be used with discretion. The Israeli government must make sure that its military operations will not spark an escalation that could set the whole region aflame. Even when its attacks achieve their objectives, it’s best not to boast or to view the successes as legitimizing the continued use of uncontrolled force.