ANALYSIS / IDF Plans to Use Disproportionate Force in Next War

Top IDF generals say future war with Hezbollah will involve 'immense destruction,' heavy firepower.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

What will the next war look like? Recent statements from several senior Israeli military officials offer a surprising answer: Perhaps much like the last one.

Following on the Israel Defense Forces' failure in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the army is likely to resume fortifying its maneuvering capability, represented by the Armored and Infantry Corps, at the expense of its firepower, particularly that of the Air Force.

However, a recent interview with GOC Northern Command Gadi Eisenkot, and articles written by two senior reserve officers, indicate that the IDF will continue to give first priority to firepower, even if the targets it chooses are different than those chosen in previous conflicts.

This is not merely a theoretical matter. Though neither Israel nor Hezbollah seems particularly interested in another round of fighting, another conflagration is certainly possible. This could come as a result of a revenge attack for the February killing of senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh, for which the group blames Israel, or as an Israeli response to the group's smuggling of anti-aircraft weapons into Lebanon.

In an interview Friday with the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Eisenkot presented his "Dahiyah Doctrine," under which the IDF would expand its destructive power beyond what it demonstrated two years ago against the Beirut suburb of Dahiyah, considered a Hezbollah stronghold.

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases," he said. "This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized."

Colonel (Res.) Gabriel Siboni recently authored a report through Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies backing Eisenkot's statements.

The answer to rocket and missile threats from Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, he believes, is "a disproportionate strike at the heart of the enemy's weak spot, in which efforts to hurt launch capability are secondary. As soon as the conflict breaks out, the IDF will have to operate in a rapid, determined, powerful and disproportionate way against the enemy's actions."

"This strike has to be carried out as quickly as possible, through prioritizing strikes at its assets, rather than chasing after launch sites. Such a response is likely to be remembered by decision makers in Syria and Lebanon for many years, thus deepening deterrence," he said.

Major General (Res.) Giora Eiland, formerly head of the National Security Council, belongs to a similar school of thought, and even goes a step further.

He believes Israel failed in the Second Lebanon War and is liable to fail in a third such war, because it is fighting the wrong enemy: Hezbollah, instead of the state of Lebanon itself.

Writing for an INSS publication set to come out this week, Eiland states it is impossible to beat an efficient guerrilla army supported by a state immune from retribution. The fact that Hezbollah has rebuilt its strongholds beneath the Shi'ite villages in southern Lebanon will make any IDF maneuvering efforts difficult, he writes, adding that targeted strikes against rocket launch sites will not decrease the number of rockets fired at Israel.

"Hezbollah operates under optimal conditions from our perspective. A legitimate government runs Lebanon, supported by the West, but it is in fact entirely subordinate to the will of the Shi'ite organization," he writes.

Eiland recommends preemptive action: that Israel pass a clear message to the Lebanese government, as soon as possible, stating that in the next war, the Lebanese army will be destroyed, as will the civilian infrastructure.

"People won't be going to the beach in Beirut while Haifa residents are in shelters," he writes.

While Eisenkot and Siboni deal primarily with striking Shi'ite strongholds, Eiland sees Lebanon's infrastructure as a primary target, in a plan highly reminiscent of the one proposed by then-IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, which was eventually shot down by U.S. opposition.

Eisenkot's "Dahiyah Doctrine" also raises a number of questions about a possible international backlash, which could end the conflict under conditions favorable to the enemy.

What the three officials have in common, surprisingly, is their emphasis on air power. Anyone who thinks the Air Force will step aside given the results of the last Lebanon war will likely be proven wrong.