Lawfare as a Means of Defining Military Doctrine in the 21st Century, IDF as an example to the CDF in the Wake of the ITFY in the Hague 

 By dr. Peter Anthony Ercegovac

& Marinko Tomašić


Doctrinal Military Autonomy as a Pillar of Statehood

The importance here is recognizing that the IDF, within its doctrine, was always able to act relatively autonomous of the democratic political structures. The success of 1973 came from the revitilisation of the IDF’s doctrine post 1967 with an ever more reliance on the doctrine of aggressive defence. What the period from 1964[1]– with the clashes with Syria over water supplies- through to the Six Day War of 1967 had taught the IDF was the political dovish path to peace through diplomacy and the engagement of superpower allies without taking into account IDF intel was what nearly led to the collapse of the state in a time of unexpected war (Gluska, 2007).

The Govt of Unity, which included Likud, did not see the signs as the atmosphere created by well intentioned politicians placed too much emphasis on the strength of Israeli democracy whilst neglecting the fact that her neighbours were not so democratically oriented. Whilst the Govt of Prime Min Eshkol was singing praises of its diplomatic solutions President Sadat of Egypt by May 1967 had moved his forces into the Sinai. If it were not for the adopting in 1966 by the IDF, in a hawkish move by the IDF Chief of Staff General Yitzhak Rabin contrary to the political will of the Govt, of a preparation for preemptive strikes against Syria and Jordan one would question whether Israel would have survived the initial onslaught of the 1967 campaign. In fact Segev (2007, p. 155) notes that the difference between Eshkol and Rabin lay in what could be described as generational issues. The IDF was filled with younger cadres who had been raised with the IDF, and saw is not merely as a responsive military entity but one that was designed doctrinally to take the initiative prior to it being necessary to go on the defence.

This younger cadre was in many ways responsible for the major doctrinal shift of the IDF that was correspondent to a shift in international affairs with the decline of the Soviet Union by the late 1980s and the subsequent rise of the First Intifada in 1987. Peace through land return was becoming a possibility in attempting to gain peace with the Palestinians. None of this could be achieved without IDF involvement. Moreover, since the Govt was reliant upon the Intelligence and Planning Divisions of the IDF for intel by the 1990s the IDF was placed within all echelons of the Israeli state. Even when by 1996 Prime Min Netanyahu attempted to rectify this the reality of the nature of the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza would lead to such moves petering out.

The beginning of the Second Intifada, the al-Aqsa intifada, and the failure of the 2000 Camp David Talks would see the environment made available for the IDF to claim more space in the policy-making process of state. One could suggest that the rise of hardliner Sharon to the Premiership over Barak was done with quiet and active support of the IDF. Sharon addressed the complaints of officers that politics hampered their ability to protect civilians. As Peri (2002) notes for the first time the Chief of General Staff of the IDF Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz engaged politicians with heavy criticism in the mass media eventually leading him by 2002 to become Defence Min in the new Govt. Civil control over the Defence Ministry was no more, but Israel would now be steered in a direction where doctrinal change could occur without threat to the security of the state. A rare luxury considering her geopolitical position in the world.

Technological Evolution, Doctrinal Change & National Security

Yet one of the major problems facing any army is that of doctrinal evolution vis-a-vis technological revolution. With the emergence of  what the American theorists have come to call the Revolution in Military Affairs, Networkcentric Warfare (NCW) has become a dominant model in strategy planning. Essentially, technology has taken its place at the centre of military doctrine. Carl Osgood noted (2008, p. 53-54) that this was a major factor in the IDF’s failure to attain their main agenda during the Summer 2006 incursion into Southern Lebanon. With an aim to eradicate Hezbollah the strategy was built around: «a doctrine that emphasised generating «effects» on Hezbollah’s «systems» in order to create a «consciousness of victory» on the Israeli side, and a «cognitive perceptiion of defeat» on the part of Hezbollah». The problem lay in the not only the diversive nature of the opponent, but also the fact the overuse of technological language within the command systems led to a misunderstanding at best, and misinterprating of orders at worst. Suddenly, a generation within the military emerged that was totally professional in its outlook but lacking an understanding of what their role was to be within a new evolving national polity.

For all the advantages of having a highly techonologically educated military elite what was not foreseen was that an overemphasis on technology also led to a neglect of the ideological reason for the existance of the IDF. NCW can blind many of its adherence, especially if they are of the mindset to be fascinated by technology per se. Hence, there is always a group who seek to place it at the centre of military doctrine, rather than simply accepting it as a tool to make the job of the soldier more easy. For Croatia this is of importance as we have now moved into a period of structural assimilation into the military planning systems of NATO. This runs the risk of the CDF becoming an auxillary wing of a great alliance with its own specialised roles predetermined by High Command rather than a defence force designed to secure the external borders of the state who come independently and with its own goals into the alliance command system. Yes the CDF needs to adapt but whether or not it should forgo conventional combat skills due to a foreign implemented dotrine is questionable. Even the USDF[2] was questioning by 2005 in Afghanistan whether it was worth reorganising  army doctrine to placate the demands of technology when no one can guarantee that the next war will be the same as the last. Can we guarantee that the next war (which seems most likely to occur over Republika Srpska in Bosnia, or over the cantonisation of Bosnia per se) will be determined along the same strategical lines that the were determined by pre-planned Serb aggression at the commencement of the Croatian War of Independence? By Israel’s next conflict in 2008 such questions became even more pertinent.

Israel’s three week offensive into Gaza and Southern Israel from December 27, 2008, to January 18, 2009, called Operation Cast Lead was, according to a critic of warfare without morality Roni Bart (June 2009, p.19 ), a new era in direct conflict resolution when the IDF moved not to pressure population groups out before attacking. Much of this came due to the failures of the 2006 campaign in Southern Lebanon and a much needed review of how an army in a period of non combat should prepare for upcoming conflict as a means of deterrence in the wake of the Winograd Commission. It was now up to Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to lead a cultural change that would redefine the doctrinal role of the IDF within Israeli society through the implementation of a new five-year plan called Teffen 2012 (Matthews, 2009, p.42). More importantly, on the initiative of the Ministry of Defence, the Government of Israel sought to defend all IDF members against potential war crime accusations. A stance that if the Croatian Govt chose to similarly do so would place her own armed forces in a secure position of not being answerable to anybody but the defence of the state and nation thus allowing her to develop a doctrine based solely on the survival of the nation-state and citizenry without fears of retribution from defeated enemy centres of power. At once professionalizing the army within the definition of its constitutional role as an insurer of the pillars of state- along with Parliament and Judiciary- remain intact whilst ensuring its autonomy in the evolution of its doctrine as the protector of the nation-state’s foreign borders and security spheres.

In the Israeli example, there developed a moral duality whereby many generations of Israeli soldiers were brought up in the belief that their army was the most moral in modernity. In the main this was built around the story of Major Hanan Samson’s death at the hand of terrorists in the Jordan Valley in 1969 whilst protecting the life of a mother nursing her baby as a symbol of national defence in times of war being built solely around the concept of any war fought in the name of national security being a just and moral one. For Croatia a similar scenario would be the development of the cult of the Croatian War of Independence. This is not the creation of a legend through the feeding of myths rather it is a nod to those who sacrificed their lives in the name of Croatian independence that their lives were not wasted. In fact their sacrifices would now be used as a doctrinal unifying gel for upcoming generations to understand that their forebears created a tradition built upon the sanctity of homeland defence[3]. So when looking at the refusal of the IDF to persecute any Israeli citizen of war crimes before conflicts occur one realises that the IDF never made the mistake of not covering their bases. From sending tens of thousands of phone calls to citizens in the Gaza and the dropping of pamphlets from the air to repeated media warnings- even at the cost of eliminating the strategy of surprise- the IDF ensured that civilians knew what was coming and that the nature of the battle would be from house to house.

So why is international community not seeking to trial Israel, yet for Operation Storm where Serb communities were equally forewarned Gen. Gotovina and Gen. Markač have been sentenced to 24 and 18 years imprisonment respectively? One interesting answer may lie within the IDF and how it successfully humanises the raison d’etre behind their actions. At the core of IDF philosophy is to place the universal principle of the sanctity of life at the centre of all their actions. However, including the protection of the life of the average soldier within this definition of the sanctity of life changes the very perspective of who the soldier actually is. He/she is not just a dehumanised figure in military uniform but a human individual willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to ensure the continuity of the collective being that is the Israeli nation. At the heart is the need for the IDF to continually evolve their ability to justify to the rest of the world the reasons for their specific methodology as they deny access to international judicial institutions of trialing individuals.

For Bart (June 2009 pp. 25-27) several points have become essential in ensuring the protection of the IDF and her soldiers, they are:

  • Mobilising international law- aimed at ensuring that the concept of “disproportionate response” that is outlawed by international law[4] is no longer an issue to be debated upon publicly by civil and military elites.
  • A transition from response to proactiveness- such as ensuring that the opposing side and international media is aware that their a ceasefires declared in order to allow for the provision of humanitarian aid to occur.
  • Increasing transparency- controlling the access of international observers to investigate military actions.
  • Advance-preemptive public relations- which would allow a combination of political PR officials to be part of operational planning details, and for international PR to be primed well before the event is to occur. Even to the extent of local liaison facilities being established between the IDF and local groups in Palestine and Lebanon.

In fact Operations Cast Lead also points to another development of great importance to the CDF. As Elkus and Burke (2010, pp. 14-15) point out many non-Israeli, including American, military analysts felt the operation was a strategic failure. The IDF, in dictating their interpretation of the operation, does not put much weight on world opinion. For them this was only one battle within the context of an ongoing war[5]. An ongoing war that is defined as the means to ensuring the national survival of the Israeli state and Jewish identity. As such international opinion must not supplant the mission of the IDF at any time, nor the strategy of continued deterrence.

Continued deterrence as a strategy has never seen the IDF forgo its defensive geo-political ideological line of national preparedness or immediate reserve mobilization. A prime example is the current debate being waged within Israel’s defence community over the return of the Golan Heights to Syria as seen in the works of Major-General (res) Giora Eiland (2009) which directly challenges the rights of civilian government to return land without discussing the military implications of such actions.

One reason why this is possible is that the major parliamentary committee that deals with foreign policy also deals with military policy, ie, the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. Hence, within the Israeli body polity there is no separation between defence and foreign policy. This allows the IDF to be both a civilian and political army at once. Through the annual report to Cabinet by the head of the Intelligence Division, CGS of the IDF and the head of the Research Unit the IDF is constitutionally obliged to advise the Govt on the geo-strategic stance of Israel within the region vis-a-vis war and peace. The document that is produced here for review is essentially the blueprint for foreign policy and state security. In fact due to the autonomous nature of all Israeli ministries whereby each minister runs his own policies through his ministries the CGS also has to be in contact, for security reasons, with all ministries which in itself gives him a political role as “advisor” to all arms of government.

For us this highlights how through its autonomous role within Israeli political society the IDF has developed a role that is both porous and structurally linked to the overall system of governance. Yoram Peri (2006) goes further to suggest that this was a planned development that was not just a reactive or proactive response to Israel’s wars but a doctrine developed from real politik analysis of Israel’s geopolitical placement in the world and the IDF’s role within this overall national defence strategy. As Reserve’s Major-General Eiland (2009, p.16), former Chair of Israel’s National Security Council from 2004 to 2006[6], wrote:

Geostrategic characteristics remain a key factor in determining a country’s ability to defend itself. England was never conquered because its army is strong but because it is surrounded by the sea. Russia was not defeated by Napoleon not by Germany due to its size and strategic depth. The Soviet Union during the 1980s and the United States currently find it difficult  to control Afghanistan both due to its size and its topographical features. Israel is threatened by Hizbullah from Lebanon and by Hamas from Gaza not because of their strength but because geography allows them to strike deep into Israel with primitive weapons. If Hizbullah, for example, with the very same arsenal, was located 200 km from the Israeli border, it would not be defined as a threat at all.

It is Gabriel Sheffer (2007, p. 2), in his analysis of Israeli security literature, who notes that even in the face of increasing Israeli public questioning of why the IDF has such a privileged place within Israeli society, but also in formulating policy, after the perceived failures of the 2006 Lebanon intervention one must recognise that there are nonetheless several clear facets of Israeli society that has led to this scenario. Which he (ibid., p.5) believes this is the development of a society that is based on the concept of a “Security network” that is a partnership between civil authorities and security forces that allows for the development of a robust militarised society that protects the nation-state’s democratic legitimacy. They are:

  1. The IDF has been there from the beginning of nation-state formation to this day,
  2. Israel has always been surrounded by threats with the IDF often being the sole guarantor of Israel’s survival,
  3. The autonomy of the IDF in forging its own security policies,
  4. Israeli society itself is in essence a “mobilised” society, and,
  5. The often “blurred” public opinion that the IDF is inherent to the Israeli political system.

At the core of understanding this is that Israel is a “nation at arms” as it has to be so in order to survive. Thus the borders between civil and military society are porous, ambiguous, autonomous and interactive leading to a politicisation of the military as well as the militarisation of society.  As Ron Tira (2010, p.39) points out the IDF simply follows the line of von Clausewitz whereby war is an extention of the political will of the nation. This is an extension of a trend that Tira (2010, p.52) has noted whereby in the USA, Israel and the West the military has attempted to place their doctrine and methodology into the political realm as war itself is merely policy of state, a last course of action when diplomatic compromise cannot be achieved.

(Nastavit će se…)

[1] In fact, according to Gabriel Sheffer (2008, p. 12) whilst citing Tom Segev the IDF already had a plan to occupy the West Bank along with East Jerusalem in 1963, though it was rejected by Prime Min Eshkol.

[2] As Osgood, 2008, p. 54 points out it was Lt Col. Gian Gentile who started questioning- whilst working at the U.S. Military Academy after two deployments to Iraq USDF- strategies by comparing their failures with those of the IDF in Southern Lebanon in 2006.: “The Israeli army wasn’t even able to handle basic tasks, such as command and control between battalions and brigades, or coordination between tanks and infantry. Gentile argued that the supposed success of the surge in Iraq compounds the problem for the U.S. Army because that, and the high profile of the new counterinsurgency manual, are have a “Svengali-like effect on us, like we have some secret recipe for success.””

[3] This is more common in contemporary democracies than most people realise. In Australia for example ANZAC Day, which recognises the sacrifices made by Australian and New Zealand Forces when landing during WWI at Gallipoli on April 25 1915 in what is now modern day Turkey, is not viewed as the commemoration of defeat or the folly of war rather is it viewed as the day when the fledgling Australian federation for the first time entered as one onto the international military stage. Which itself is a potent tool used today in creating a doctrinal role for the Australian Defence Force as a symbol of guarantor of Australia’s democratic freedoms and security interests.

[4] Arend, Anthony & Beck, Robert International Laa and the Use of Force- Beyond the UN Charter Paradigm (London, 1993) pp. 165-166.

[5] As quoted in Elkus & Burke, Israeli Special Forces Ari Spiegelman stated “the war is ongoing, with periods of more violence and periods of less violence, during which the enemy regroups and plans his next attack. When we feel that the enemy is getting strong, we must be prepared to make pre-emptive strikes, hard and fast at key targets, with viciousness, as the enemy would do to us. Only then can we acquire, not peace, but sustained periods of calm”.

[6] Major-General Eiland designed and implemented the IDF’s operational and strategic policies during this period

Dobrodošli na web stranicu Hrvatske družbe povjesničara Dr. Rudolf Horvat