Fighting Without Borders: Is The Homefront Sufficiently Protected?
Until Hezbollah’s rocket war in 2006, Israel’s air superiority seemed more
Dov Tamari 29/5/2012
Reality has changed along with the wars in our region. Today, observers
discern two main types of conflict: large industrialized wars that
characterized the twentieth century, like the Arab-Israeli conflict until
the Yom Kippur War, and asymmetric conflicts that are wars against terror
and that involve fighting between state and non-state actors.
I believe the distinction between traditional and asymmetric wars has become
obsolete; a better term would be “fighting without borders.” This does not
imply that territorial borders no longer exist in warfare (though sometimes
this is the case, as in the campaign against al-Qaeda). Rather, it means
that today, most wars do not fall under a concrete, uniform definition.
The US campaign in Afghanistan is an example of a war that opened with a
lightning military strike achieved by a combination of air power, CIA
operatives, and special forces, and later developed into a massive force
Another example is the ongoing struggle between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel
perceives Hezbollah as a terror organization, but to be more precise,
Hezbollah has a fully-equipped post-modern army that poses a threat to the
Traditional concepts such as victory, subduing the enemy, and dictating
peace terms have also changed. Even short wars have become a series of
campaigns similar to rounds in a boxing match.
In the Israeli context, the change is becoming more apparent. In the past,
every war, whether Israel initiated it or was forced into it, resulted in
Israel’s swift occupation of enemy territory and the destruction of enemy
forces. After a ceasefire was declared, the IDF remained in the captured
area either for a long stay with the intention of expanding Israeli
territory, or for a matter of weeks in order to reach some kind of
However, the extended stay in captured territory did not usually yield the
expected fruits of victory. Israel held the Sinai Peninsula for ten years,
maintained a presence in Lebanon for eighteen years, and remained in Gaza
for forty years. Instead of benefiting Israel’s security, the occupation of
enemy territory created a breeding ground for armed non-state actors.
Today, the scope of military campaigns is much more limited than in the
past, the intervals between the rounds of fighting are much shorter, and the
threat to civilians, national infrastructure, and daily life has increased
A security doctrine and the concomitant use of force should be limited to
defending the population, infrastructure, and vital national interests.
Instead of subjecting the civilian sphere to the ravages of a rocket
onslaught until the IDF completes its maneuvers on foreign soil, civilian
protection must be the guiding light in any war or campaign.
The security and force application doctrines should be shaped according to
the impact that a military campaign has on the homefront. The likelihood
that the enemy will seize Israeli territory is far smaller than the threat
of a missile attack against vital infrastructures and densely populated
areas. The concepts of war and military structure must be adapted to the
safety of the homefront.
How will this revised conceptualization impact future wars and campaigns?
First, the terms “strategic defense” and “operative defense” will shift to
the center of the IDF’s and Israel’s security thinking. The argument can be
made that the defense of the state and its citizens has always been the
ultimate aim of every Israeli government. However, in reality, this
“ultimate aim” translated into an attack on a neighboring state.
Furthermore, regardless of whether or not an offensive operation succeeded,
Israel failed to gain the desired political results. Ironically, in some
cases, it even sowed the seeds for the next war. The centrality of defense
in the security doctrine will have implications on the IDF’s structure.
Active defense, in the form of stationary weapons and Precision Guided
Munitions, must assume a central role in the protection of the state.
Experience has taught that a significant technological advantage does not
necessarily result in significant gains unless it is accompanied by a
doctrine of force application that shapes the military’s buildup.
The war doctrine that envisions long-term results has to be replaced by a
“series of campaigns” approach. Some of the campaigns will be initiated,
others will be responsive, but their scope and area of operations will be
limited even if the time between them is relatively short.
Wars of attrition can serve as empirical platforms for understanding
non-state organizations that unleash their arsenal on the civilian
population and infrastructures. No organization, no matter how radical, is
invulnerable to prolonged attrition. Our experience with attrition warfare
between 1967 and 1973 and during the First and Second Intifadas shows that
Israel can endure attrition better than its enemies.
Attrition, like an offensive war into neighboring states or Palestinian
territories, cannot be undertaken nor be successful unless it receives the
legitimacy of the international community. The absence of legitimacy in the
use of military force, even in response to aggression, is Israel’s greatest
bane. Israel’s lack of legitimacy is the government’s responsibility and
comes from a policy that consistently ignores the importance for the legal
approval of wars. As such, a gap exists between Israeli policy and the use
Finally, homefront defense is based on the standard military doctrine for
wars and emergencies. When the military assumes responsibility for defending
the homefront, it falters at some point, despite the command’s experience
and positive attitude. The civilian sphere’s inescapable involvement in the
war – termed the “victory of the homefront” – strengthens both the
individual and collective. Public solidarity is created by the realization
that we all took part in the war. With the passage of time, the success or
failure of the war is judged by the consciousness of the individual and
society, rather than by the loss of life and property damage.
Responsibility for the passive defense and functioning of the civilian
environment during wartime is divided among various authorities. These
include government ministries, heads of municipalities, national and local
emergency organizations, hospital personnel, welfare workers, teachers,
security officers, and disaster relief volunteers.
Unlike the military layout, the civilian division of authority suffers from
a lack of clearly defined areas of responsibility and hierarchy,
insufficient training, and an unsatisfactory level of preparedness. When all
of these diverse agencies and authorities converge on the IDF’s Homefront
Command, which is a well-disciplined military organization, they find
themselves unable to function properly during a crisis. The military
constantly trains its personnel and holds routine disaster exercises and
alert drills. The civil authorities lead a routine civilian life, and their
budgets are primarily channeled towards social welfare.
We must find an answer to close the gap between military and civilian
thinking and activity. The question is how to reinforce discipline and
professional capabilities in a soft environment unsuited for military
thinking and action. The proposals for national, structural, and
organizational changes either fail to provide a suitable answer or are too
ambitious for the government (which suffers from a chronic reluctance to
Therefore, civilian combat forces must be established within the authorities
and emergency organizations. Integration is possible with the help of an
organizational body that functions at the local level in the same way the
Homefront Command operates on the national level.
The goal is to have every relevant office at the local level undergo
compulsory, professional training in emergencies at a national or regional
The distinction between traditional wars and asymmetric wars has become
obsolete; a better term would be “fighting without borders” for wars that
cannot be labeled under a concrete, uniform definition