National Resilience at the Home Front – Stability at the Front Line

The structural evolution of the nature of modern war calls for the consolidation and institutionalization of a comprehensive home front security concept as part of the required national security doctrine

A damaged house in the Israeli city of Netivot following a direct hit by a rocket fired from Gaza (Photo: IDF)

For more than two decades now, extensive conceptual and research essays have been written about the characteristics of conflicts in the 21st century. Among other things, these essays address the evolution of the conflicts from a structural point of view: war is no longer about two opposing military forces facing one another, but more about the military force of a state facing non-state players.

This form of war, which is a primary characteristic of the conflicts in which Israel is involved, affects the nature of the conflicts in various ways and is reflected, for example, in the inability to measure the war using binary concepts, which translates to an inability to define the concepts of overbalance, victory and defeat.

Some authorities maintain that after about two decades in which Israel has been conducting its military confrontations within this new context, the Israeli public has begun to internalize the new characteristics of the conflict, including the prolongation of military confrontations (contrary to the durations of past confrontations with the Arab countries), along with the inability to achieve unequivocal overbalance and the unfortunate fact that terrorism is here to stay and will be extremely difficult to subdue or eradicate.

Despite the growing capability of the public in Israel to understand the characteristics of the conflicts and the way they affect normal life, it still appears that the Israeli public yearns for the tangible, the concrete; for something that will symbolize the dominance of one nation over another and the success in enduring serious external challenges. It is my assertion that subject to the characteristics of today's conflicts, the social resilience of the population within a given state can serve as an actual response to the challenge to national security presented by the opponents, and even constitute a "banner" or objective to be accomplished at the national level under the circumstances of a confrontation, including the circumstances of an on-going terrorism challenge.

Resilience is the ability of any system – individuals, communities and nations – to flexibly cope with a severe interruption, contain its implications, which always include degraded performance, and mainly to recover from that degradation promptly and reinstate the previous level of systemic performance, and possibly even a higher level of performance. Social resilience can constitute – at the community level and possibly even at the national level – a concrete, present reality in the public space. Resilience may be discussed, aspired to and even implemented when required. It can replace the flag – the past symbol of victory.

Military historian Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, in his classic book "Thoughts on War" (1989, pp.71-73) refers to the disruption of normal life as a war strategy: "…dislocating their normal life to such a degree that they will prefer the lesser evil of surrendering their policy, and by convincing them that any prospect of returning to normality is hopeless unless they do so surrender."

Liddell Hart asserts further that disrupting the normal life exerts pressure on "the spirit". According to him, "Pressure on 'the spirit' is intimately connected with that on 'the pocket', a thorough and long-continued interruption of the normal life of a nation is as depressing and demoralizing as the intimidation of the people by methods of terrorism…".

Liddell Hart goes on (and his thoughts appear to have been written just recently) to assert that terrorism, "Even if temporarily successful, usually react among civilized nations to the detriment of the aggressor by stimulating the will to resist or by so outraging the normal sense of other nations as to pave the way for their intervention."

It may be stated, therefore, that the disruption of normal life is, in fact, according to the familiar conceptualization of Liddell Hart, "An indirect approach strategy", used to subdue the enemy by disrupting its "spirit" and undermining its ethical and material equilibrium (and therefore aspiring to delve deep into primarily psychological elements). So, the higher the social-national resilience demonstrated by a nation, the more it would be capable of demonstrating that its opponent (in the case of Israel – terrorism, as produced by non-state entities) had failed to defeat it, namely – to break its spirit.

A Protective Envelope for Social-National Resilience

Social-national resilience, in the context of the characteristics of confrontations in the present era, has two aspects: one refers to the manner in which the population copes when faced with an "interruption" such as a military confrontation, and the other (which, to a considerable extent, is an outcome of the first one) has to do with the population returning to normative performance, in the event that this process takes place and at the rate it takes place. The impact of these two aspects transcends the local scope of the confrontation. The ability of a population (for example, the population of Israel) to successfully cope with an "interruption", and even more – its ability to spring back, very quickly, to normative performance following that interruption, are examined by the population being affected as well as by the enemy. A demonstration of social-national resilience will affect both sides. The Israeli public will be affected by the way it would conceive its own capability to successfully cope with the "interruption". The enemy (Hezbollah or Hamas) will be affected with regard to the question of its ability to generate a sufficiently severe and prolonged interruption that would lead to a sense of withdrawal and demoralization within Israeli society. Accordingly, attaining a proper level of social-national resilience in Israel vis-à-vis man-made interruptions (as well as opposite natural interruptions) should have an effect on the manner in which the opponent conceives its success in the confrontation. If, for example, the population of Israel returns to fully functional performance relatively quickly, it will indicate that the attempt to subdue it failed. In the last rounds of fighting against Hezbollah (2006) and the three rounds against Hamas in the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead of 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense of 2011 and Operation Protective Edge of 2014), the Israeli population faced some challenging interruptions but always managed to recover quickly and return to systemic performance within a few days. This was, in effect, a demonstration of a relatively high level of social-national resilience, which established the ethos of enduring the challenges presented by the enemy.

In Israel, as in many other countries, social resilience is held in high regard. But beyond the lofty statements, too little thought is devoted by the establishment to the strategic significance of civilian resilience and the manner in which it may be practically promoted among the general public. It is my assertion that a comprehensive concept of home front security should be consolidated and institutionalized as part of the required national security doctrine. This concept should rely, to a considerable extent, on the central role of developing civilian resilience as a strategic solution to the severe interruptions generated by terrorism, and in particular the kind of terrorism the Israeli home front is expected to experience in the context of the next confrontation. Israel gained extensive practical experience in this field. In a thesis I recently presented at an INSS conference on the subject of trauma and social resilience, I outlined the social resilience elements of the Israeli settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip, which helped those settlements demonstrate a relatively high level of social resilience. My study analyzes the manner in which social resilience had been developed at the settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip over the years, in a methodical and well-organized fashion, "from the bottom up" (from the individual to the family, to the community and to the local council), while utilizing state support and based on the local social capital (namely – the supporting social systems) of those settlements. The accomplishments of the settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip can and should be accomplished in all Israeli settlements expected to be the targets of enemy rockets and missiles. Israel's enemies direct their efforts mainly at the civilian front. The resilience of the home (civilian) front must be developed using familiar, readily-available materials. In most cases, this objective is yet to be accomplished.


Carmit Padan is a Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and a doctoral student at the Sociology & Anthropology Department of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Additionally, she is a member of the executive board of the Association of Civil-Military Studies in Israel


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