There's been much talk over the past two years of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and victory. What does it mean in practice?
In August 2018, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that the IDF's next chief of staff will be someone who talks "in terms of decisiveness and victory." That turned out to be Aviv Kochavi. He, indeed, affirmed at his January 2019 swearing-in ceremony that the army "is all about victory." Also speaking at that ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concurred; all recent efforts, he added, focused on making the army "ready for a single goal – victory in war."
Kochavi then relentlessly kept victory in the limelight. At a 2020 ceremony, for example, he stated that "The IDF is there: ready, powerful, and aggressive. We will be there for every mission, prepared, and determined. We see victory as the only way to achieve our goal." Naftali Bennett, the next full-time defense minister after Liberman, also emphasized victory; on one occasion, he criticized former chief of staff and then-political party leader, Benny Gantz, for settling for "a tie," and not a decisive victory, in the 2014 Gaza war. Gantz replied indignantly with four videos titled "Only the strong win."
So persistent is this theme, Kochavi's immediate predecessor as chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, has felt compelled caustically to defend himself from charges of timidity: "We have been combating terrorism rather impressively, and managed to confront a complex, convoluted reality and overcome it every day. But these days, some people, influencedby political agendas, are trying to make the military out to be indecisive, having lost its will to win and too focused on liberal, leftist issues."
The IDF under Kochavi's leadership developed "Momentum" (Hebrew: Tnufa), a multi-year program to achieve this much-bruited victory. As explained by Yaakov Lappin, a specialist on Israel's defense establishment, Momentum revised the very definition of victory. Previously, it meant ground offensives seizing enemy territory. Now, that no longer suffices because the enemy can "continue to launch guerilla strikes from tunnels, bunkers, or residential buildings on advancing (or halted) forces or fire volleys of projectiles at the Israeli home front." In this case, "Israel is denied decisive victory."
The IDF's new definition of victory involves "the rapid destruction of enemy capabilities."
Therefore, the new definition of victory involves "the rapid destruction of enemy capabilities" such as command posts, rocket launchers, weapons storehouses, enemy command levels, and combat personnel. This thorough destruction now ranks as "much more important than the seizure of territory." The greater the enemy capabilities destroyed in the shortest period of time and with the smallest possible number of casualties, "the more decisive the victory."
In this spirit, a Momentum exercise codenamed Lethal Arrow consisted of, as Lappin describes, "key headquarters of units from the Ground Forces working closely with one another, including with the Air Force, Navy, Military Intelligence, the C4i and Cyber Defense Directorate, and other sections of the military." This massive coordination means, as my Middle East Forum colleague Nave Dromi explains, that "victory is no longer peripheral to the thinking of the upper echelons of the IDF, but the central focus."
Momentum has many other potential uses. Bennett advocated extending this offensive spirit against Palestinian leaders: "It's time that the government of Israel changes from defense to offense. We have to create a situation where we are hunting down all the leaders of the terror organizations, day and night, in and out, so they have no respite and no time to organize attacks against us." His successor as defense minister, Gantz, sees Momentum as a turning point: "We will defeat Hamas militarily, we'll bring quiet to the residents of the south, and will not allow this to spill over into the West Bank."
Bravo to the IDF for evolving from the simple holding of territory to "the rapid destruction of enemy capabilities." Bravo for developing a mission that concerns tactics, not strategy – as befits the military. Momentum rightly aims to win on the battlefield, not coerce the enemy to give up its long-term goals; that is the province of politicians.
Israeli politicians should build on Momentum and extend the drive for victory to the political arena.
Next, those politicians should build on Momentum and extend the drive for victory to the political arena. That means developing a parallel plan to convince the whole Palestinian population that Israel is tough and permanent, that the gig is up, that it has lost the war, that the time has come to reject rejectionism and live as good neighbors with Israel. How about it, Mr. Prime Minister?
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.