evaluate this idea, it is necessary to keep in mind that there are certain constants of Is
predicament that do not change with the kinds of political shifts that the Middle East is witnessing. For decades Israeli defense policy planning has been predicated upon certain constants that have not changed. Israel is a small state with roughly 8 million citizens. It is surrounded by states that have a
combined population of 300 million, in territories hundreds of times the size of Israel. As a result, Israel’s
military assets may be seen as geographically concentrated in a limited area, while neighboring Arab states have been able to disperse launch sites, weapons depots, and military bases across a vast expanse of territory. In past Arab-Israeli wars, these asymmetries were exploited by Arab military forces, which enjoyed quantitati
ve superiority of active service military formations. Israel’s strategy was based on the need to
withstand an attack by numerically greater forces while its reserve formations were being mobilized in roughly 48 hours. At times of increased tensions, Israel
’s adversaries were always tempted to exploit these
asymmetries and launch a surprise attack. Terrain, topography, and strategic depth were essential
considerations influencing Israel’s ability to defend itself in these scenarios, and to stabilize the core
of the Middle East.
Is the Era of Land Warfare Over?
There are new strategic uncertainties in the Middle East that make it difficult to know exactly what kinds of threats Israel will face in the future. There are voices now asserting that the era of classical threats to Israel posed by land armies has completely ended. Some neighboring armies, they note, have been badly degraded by internal conflicts. With no superpower competition, there is no equivalent to the Soviet Union, which poured arms into the Middle East during the Cold War in order to buy influence.
That description of Israel’s strategic reality is only true for the short and medium term, however. It would
be a cardinal error to base national planning on a temporary snapshot of reality, for Middle Eastern states can be expected to rearm and again build up their conventional forces, initially, in order to bolster their ability to protect their regimes internally and to suppress restive minorities. At a later stage, these armies could be used to threaten vulnerable neighbors, as in the past. For example, Iraq is planning to modernize its ground forces and convert its army from a counterinsurgency force to a force with maneuver warfare capabilities based on new armored and mechanized formations. There are estimates that it will have over 2,000 main battle tanks by the middle of the next decade. Thus, military asymmetries are likely to remain one cause of regional instability in the future. Anyone assuming that the era of land warfare is over would be making a cardinal mistake.
The Rise of the New Terrorist Threat
Before Middle Eastern states recover their full military potential, terrorist organizations are likely to pose the most immediate threat behind the outbreak of conflict in the Middle East. Yet it is important to note that terrorist organizations today can pose a serious threat to a conventional army. Using asymmetric tactics, they operate from populated areas, and are prepared to use civilians as human shields. This strategy limits the ability of conventional forces to use their full firepower without causing unacceptable civilian casualties. In its wars in territories from which the IDF withdrew, particularly in South Lebanon and Gaza, Israel found itself unfairly accused of using disproportional force, although its operations were not much different from those of Western forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. When the UN Human Rights Council appointed the Goldstone Commission, it accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, a charge Justice Richard
Goldstone subsequently rejected. While the commission’s initial findings were discredited, Israeli strategy