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Perspectives Papers

Perspectives Papers provide analysis from BESA Center research associates and other outside experts on the most important issues pertaining to Israel and the Middle East.

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Over the past six weeks there has been an escalation in Israeli air strikes against Iranian, Hezbollah, and other pro-Iranian militia locations in Syria. The most powerful strike, on 1 April, killed the commander, the deputy commander, and several staff members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard force coordinating the actions of all the allied and proxy Iranian forces operating against Israel. These are the highest-ranking Iranian officers to have been killed since the 2020 assassination by the US of Qassem Soleimani, who was chief of the Iranian al-Quds organization and responsible for all Iranian operations outside Iran aimed at the US, Israel, and pro-western Arab states. The targets of the 1 April strike were convening in a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Damascus. The Iranians claim the building was in fact a consulate, so Israel placed its embassies across the world on alert for a tit-for-tat retaliation. During the night of 13-14 April, after two weeks of threats, the Iranians retaliated with their first-ever direct attack from Iranian territory into Israel. The operation is called "The True Promise." According to Israeli officials, Iran launched a barrage containing 185 explosive drones (nicknamed “suicide-drones”), 36 cruise missiles, and at least 110 ballistic missiles. In addition to the direct Iranian action, their various allies and proxies – the Houthis in Yemen, Iraqi Hezbollah forces in Iraq and Syria, and the Lebanese Hezbollah – also fired at Israel.
The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict contains a maritime dimension in the Red Sea. The Houthi offensive, ostensibly directed against Israel, is not only targeting Israel itself but also commercial and passenger ships under several flags, thereby creating a critical international strategic challenge. The EU has decided to respond by launching Operation ASPIDES. Unlike the US- and UK-led Operations Prosperity Guardian and Poseidon Archer, ASPIDES is not attacking Houthi targets but intercepting their strikes. While this wholly defensive approach can play a useful role in protecting vessels and can contribute to deterrence, it concerns the Israelis, who fear that the EU’s limited response to the Houthi threat reflects a similar stance toward Iran.
Under authoritative international rules, Israel’s mid-March targeting of senior Hamas commander Marwan Issa was law-enforcing. Among other egregious crimes, Issa was a key planner of the October 7 rampage against Israeli civilians. Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, former chief of Israeli military intelligence, accurately described this Palestinian terrorist leader as Hamas’s “strategic mind.” To fully understand this law-based action, geopolitical context is necessary. In essence, the world legal structure compels a vigilante system of justice. It is against the background of continuing global anarchy that terror-beleaguered states must identify and operationally shape their counter-terrorism options.
The war in Gaza has now been going on for six months, yet to this day, there has been no effort whatsoever toward a long-term political process. Without such a process it will not be possible to formulate an agreed plan for the "day after". The only political process so far is related to the negotiations to Israeli hostages, and temporary ceasefire, clearly much needed agreement sooner than later. The impression this conveys to the international arena is that Israel is not interested in discussing alternatives towards ending the war and adopting steps for stabilizing the situation in the Gaza strip and beyond. Tremendous damage is being caused by this omission. A move towards a political process, based on the main principles suggested in this article, may reduce the damage and serve vital Israeli interests.
While the confronting of threats is built into national security, the promotion of values is not generally an organic part of it. But in the current war, Israel must define its fundamental values: its commitment to human life with regard to the hostages; its position on the establishment of settlements in disputed territories; and its view on the price to be paid for peace. The injection of values into national security strategy should be based on deep, orderly discourse on the why, the what and the how. A broad consensus should be reached on how to combine these ideas with the principles of national security while dealing with both the inherent tensions they create ​​and the strategic and operative limitations they present. Such a discussion is substantively different from the belief-based skirmishes of the current national security discourse.
In recent years, the concept of decisive victory has eroded in Israel. October 7 brought it forcefully back to the center of the national security process. There are four types of victory: tactical (the ability of the IDF to negate the enemy's fighting ability); operational (the ability of the operative echelon to dismantle the fighting system facing it, which is currently happening in Gaza); military strategic (the ability to remove the military threat posed by the enemy for many years to come); and grand, or national, strategic (military victory leads to a fundamental change in the geopolitical situation, like a peace treaty or the establishment of a new regime).
IDF spokesperson
To continue its mission to defeat Hamas, Israel must take the initiative to replenish the stores of international legitimacy lost due to the acute humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. While the primary blame for the crisis lies with Hamas, which cares nothing for Gazan civilians, Israel is being held responsible even by the US for not doing enough to get aid in.
Israel’s war in Gaza, which is being waged in response to the devastating Hamas attacks of October 7, has prompted a surge of anti-Zionist discourse among many Muslims in the West, including in the US. The American Muslim community has been politically active since 9/11. Muslim activists, clerics and Islamic organizations are among the most prominent Western voices condemning injustices against Muslims worldwide, and the Palestinian cause is often a priority. President Joe Biden’s support for Israel in the Gaza war has angered many in the American Muslim community, and they may wish to punish him for that support in the November election. Will American Muslim opposition to Biden’s support for Israel have a political impact on the US election?
© IDF spokesperson
The occupation and holding of territory, which used to be a central component of the IDF's war concept at all levels, became almost irrelevant during Israel’s many years of fighting terrorism and guerrillas in Gaza and Lebanon. But there are three reasons why it is a big mistake to discount the value of conquered territory. First, the occupation by Israel of enemy territory (while evacuating the local population for its own protection) is considered by Israel’s enemies to be a painful loss, and the possession of territory can serve as a bargaining chip in political negotiations. Second, occupation offers the IDF an asymmetric advantage, as only it can occupy territory, clear it of the enemy, and protect it from counterattack. Third, after a long period of “wars of choice” in which Israel was the strong side, we have returned to the era of “wars of no choice” in which the occupation of territory has both internal and external legitimacy. These insights should be applied to any future war in Lebanon.
The war in Ukraine is acting as a super-accelerator in the development of low-cost, low-tech, mass-produced robotic military systems – robot armies, in other words - by actors with little financial or technological ability. One of the biggest questions weighing on the future global and regional balance of power is who will be the first to link these robot armies to artificial intelligence, which would allow them to operate autonomously. The West is possessed by phobias and obsessions that hinder it from adopting such systems. By contrast, forces that place a strong emphasis on the development of asymmetric capabilities – including both state and non-state actors hostile to the West – have absolutely no such inhibitions, creating a dangerous potential new reality.

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