“New” old preemption tactics in Israel defense as Bennett assumes PM role

Photo credit: Israel Defense Forces. IDF soldiers training in the Golan Heights. 

By | Rachel Brooks

June 17, 2021

Iran has been described as “the mother of terrorism on earth.” With a massive proxy network that stretches from the Gulf states into Latin America, Iran has built a spider’s web of proxy support to enforce its unique brand of Islamic law. In recent news, Israel, struggling to maintain peace with its Jewish-Arab population, has taken a more proactive stance against Iran-influenced regional aggression. Last week, Israel conducted an airstrike that targeted a Hezbollah arms depot in Syria. 

Fox News reported that there were 11 Syrian casualties in this strike and that Syria claims to have shot down “some” of the Israeli missiles. The airstrikes targeted Syrian Air Force positions that were on the outskirts of Homs and were used as a weapon’s depot of Lebanese Hezbollah. 

Israel’s new government takes out IRGC-backed Golan outpost

The Times of Israel wrote that Syrian media confirmed Israel’s operation struck an observational outpost in the al-Qahtaniyah region. The outpost was used by Hezbollah and other IRGC-linked proxy groups. Israeli tank forces shelled the observational outpost as part of an operation against the Iran-aligned militia in the Syrian Golan Heights. Israel Hayom likewise reported the story, stating that the outpost was used by Lebanon-based Hezbollah. Israel Hayom reports that the operation was part of a security and defense effort on “the Israeli side of the border.” 

The Jerusalem Post notes that this is the first strike of its kind under the new Government of Change coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. The post was reported as being 150 meters away from Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. The post was reported affiliated with the Syrian Army’s 90th Brigade and First Corps and has been frequented by Hezbollah and other proxies of Iran. 

The incumbent Prime Minister Bennett was previously Israel’s Defense Minister. In his tenure as Defense Minister, he reportedly worked to escalate Israeli actions against Iran-linked proxies in Syria. This was to force Tehran to withdrawal all of its forces from the border Israel shares with Syria. 

“New government expected to hold the line on big security,” The New York Times 

The new government under Prime Minister Bennett is expected to take a proactive stance on Israel’s major security issues, sparking discussion points across the western world. 

Previous Bennett policies on Iran included targeting ” IRGC permanent military presence” in Golan 

Bennett’s previous statements regarding Iran and Iran-backed terrorism proxies have even been weaponized in quotations by Israel’s major critics, such as the model and social media influencers Bella Hadid. Bennett’s stance as Defense Minister was to “step up the fight” against the perpetual presence of IRGC forces in Israel’s north, which Tehran has used to “weaken” Jerusalem. 

In February 2020, The Times of Israel reported Bennett’s statements on the signs of efficacy in the Defense Ministry’s escalation of policy in the north. Bennett was confident that there were “indications” that Iran’s hold at the shared border with Syria was “weakening” at that Iran was “beginning to reconsider” its stance in Syria. While other analysts attributed this “weakening” to the American assassination of al-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in early 2020, Bennett’s Defense Ministry was confident the Israeli effort on the Syria border front had contributed. 

A “fifth pillar” in Israel’s defense concept in play in 2021 

In December 2019, in The Jerusalem Post’s Opinion column, Yaakov Katz attributed the “Bennett defense doctrine” as a possible fifth-pillar of the Israeli national defense concept. The national defense concept was drafted by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion established the first three concepts of the Israeli defense code as Deterrence, Early Warning, and Decisive Victory. 

The Israeli defense concept was amended when Dan Meridor was given the task of updating the defense concept in 2006. Meridor drafted a 250-page defense document that, while never officially adopted, added concepts of “Defense” as a broader attribution of defense systems and an added layer of these systems to the tri-part concept of Ben-Gurion’s formula. 

The fifth pillar The Jerusalem Post described as “Preemption.” This concept is the organized use of preemptive tactics to deter Israel’s enemies from forming military “build-up.” Under Bennett’s defense ministry, risk-oriented preemption was observed as he took measures to reduce greater future risks. 

Now, as Prime Minister, and with the tank operation against the Golan border outpost in Syria, Bennett appears to be building on his preemption concepts. 

Responding to the “fifth pillar”, distinguishing between preemptive strike and preventive war 

In direct response to Katz’s commentary on Bennett’s earlier defense methods, Avraham Avi Hai, who worked in the offices of David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, noted that Israel has always conducted concepts of preemptive warfare as part of its defense strategy. Hai cited specialists who note that while preemptive strikes and preventive wars have technical distinctions, both are forms of preemptive warfare. Hai likewise was critical of Katz for crediting a “fifth pillar” to Bennett, as from ancient times all armies have adopted some form of preemption. 

Hai then cited the work of Barry Strauss in Strategika in an article where the historian broke down ancient tactics of preemption. Strauss noted the significance of the Spartan League offensive against Athens, the Peloponnesian War as “the granddaddy of all preventive wars.” 

“Preventive wars and preemptive strikes are both risky business,” wrote Strauss. 

“A preventive war is a military, diplomatic, and strategic endeavor, aimed at an enemy whom one expects to grow so strong that delay would cause the defeat,” he explained.  

Hai also referred to the Midrash Raba which gives ancient context for preemption tactics. He likewise referred to the preventive war measures of Japan when launching the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In this case, the preventive surprise attack was a calculated risk that was meant to weaken the U.S. western fleet but resulted in the United States joining the Allied Powers and changing the course of World War 2. In this case, preventive wars showcase their chain-reactive risk. 

Hai likewise argued the value of Ben-Gurion’s first pillar “deterrence” as a form of preemption, referring to Israel’s deterrence tactics in the Sinai campaign of 1956. 

So, while Naftali Bennett has dedicated his defense strategy and politics to a preemption-led defense, these concepts are not inherently new to Israel’s defensive measures. Under Bennett, a greater significance has been put on the role of preemption as Israel, with its politically unstable atmosphere of late, moves to strategize its response to a growing Iranian regime security issue.