Written by Zaki Shalomo
A lively discussion has developed recently concerning the IDF's new response policy in the event of a renewed confrontation with Hizbollah. An article in Haaretz by Amos Harel; an interview given by GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizencout to Yediot Ahronot; the INSS Insight of early October by Gabriel Siboni; and a forthcoming piece in Strategic Assessment by Giora Eiland are among the recent forums for this debate.
Maj. Gen. Eizencout called the IDF's new response policy vis-Ã -vis Hizbollah the "Dahiyah doctrine": "What happened to the Dahiyah neighborhood of Beirut in 2006 will happen to each village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force and inflict huge damage and destruction. In our mind, these are not civilian villages but army bases...the next war must be decided quickly, aggressively, and without seeking international approval...Hizbollah understands very well that firing from villages will lead to their destruction." Gen. Eizencout explained that during the Second Lebanon War, the IDF attempted to prevent massive missile fire directed at Israel mainly through an effort to attack the missiles and their launchers in pinpoint fashion. From now on, he clarified, the policy will be different. "This won't be another 'launcher hunt' - that's total nonsense. When the other side has thousands of missiles and rockets, you don't have the option of hunting them. You might see one or two impressive operations, but the home front will get hit."
This is indeed a new policy of exercising force against Hizbollah, different from the policy implemented during the Second Lebanon War. Apparently the goals of the policy and the publicity surrounding it are to amplify Israeli deterrence and dissuade Hizbollah from escalating operations and reigniting the fire in the north. The policy's success depends on the assessment formed among Hizbollah leaders concerning the policy's credibility and Israel's determination to actually exercise it.
In this context, it is important to examine the new policy and its intrinsic risks from Israel's viewpoint. The policy is unequivocal with respect to the nature of an IDF response to a provocative action on the part of Hizbollah. In contrast, it contains a discernable vagueness as to the circumstances under which the policy would be activated. In essence, it does not provide a clear answer to the following questions:
These and other questions have no clear answer. Hizbollah can assume that the new response policy relates solely to scenarios resembling those of July-August 2006, namely: a comprehensive military conflict in which Hizbollah levels massive missile fire at northern border settlements and cities such as Nahariya, Acre, Haifa, Afula, and Hadera.
Even in extreme circumstances such as this, Hizbollah can assume that Israel would seriously hesitate before implementing such a policy of force against Hizbollah and civilian villages as implied by the principles of the new policy. Certain arguments and past examples are likely to lead Hizbollah to the conclusion that Israel would abstain from implementing the new response policy:
Hizbollah may likely conclude that in the final analysis, Israel will avoid implementing the new policy of response being trumpeted today. If so, Hizbollah is liable to test Israel's credibility and determination through a varied assortment of scenarios. As such, proclamations of a new response policy carry with them no small risk. If there is no unequivocal resolve to realize this policy - which seems highly likely - the result may well be the erosion rather than strengthening of Israel's deterrent capability.
The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) is an independent academic institute that studies key issues relating to Israel's national security and Middle East affairs. Through its mixture of researchers with backgrounds in academia, the military, government, and public policy, INSS is able to contribute to the public debate and governmental deliberation of leading strategic issues and offer policy analysis and recommendations to decision makers and public leaders, policy analysts, and theoreticians, both in Israel and abroad. As part of its mission, it is committed to encourage new ways of thinking and expand the traditional contours of establishment analysis.