Between the General and the Statesman

According to every current forecast, the Middle East will remain unstable in the coming years. Consequently, the political echelon and the national security echelon must cooperate subject to the understanding that strategy is the wartime implementation of policy. Opinion

Between the General and the Statesman

Israel's PM and DM Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot (Photo: AP)

In the shadow of the war that never was and the possibility of an Israeli strike in Iran and against the background of the statements made by the former head of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, on the investigative journalism TV Show "Uvda" (= Fact), tensions between the "national leaders" headed by the Prime Minister, and the national security echelon increased.

The issue of Iran, its nuclear program and its involvement in supporting and promoting international terrorism in our region, has been perched on our doorstep for a generation. Basic Law: The Military of March 1976, the ISA Law and the Mossad Law prescribe that the Israeli military answers directly to the government through the Minister of Defense and that ISA (Israel Security Agency, aka SHABAK or Shin Bet) and Mossad answer directly to the Prime Minister. No other military commander in the world has a span of responsibility greater than that of the Chief of the IDF General Staff, the officer who bears the burden of responsibility for the national security of Israel with faith and love for his country.

"[…] As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns… but there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know, and if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones." (Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defense).

The systems of the State of Israel, the Executive in particular, are more complex than ever before and require a unity of operation of the various organizations. Investment of resources in the military, as well as in non-military activities, is a necessity that arises from the situation appraisal for our region. The national leadership focuses on the problems facing it – not just on past conventions.

According to every current forecast, the Middle East will remain unstable in the coming years. Consequently, the military must be as strong as an "Iron Wall" – an assurance of the first magnitude for the continued existence of the State of Israel, the Jewish state.

Former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said, "We must rely neither on past victories nor on the weakness of the enemy. The victor of the past might fail in the future."

In his book "On War," Carl von Clausewitz coined the phrase "War is merely the continuation of policy by other means." Clausewitz wrote, "Strategy is the doctrine of the use of individual battles for the purposes of war." A primary lesson from the findings of the commissions of inquiry that investigated the wars in which Israel was involved in the past fifty years indicates that the national leader-strategist must specify the purpose of the operational aspect of the war, which should outline the plan of its objective – the tactical achievements that have a significance beyond themselves.

The distinction von Clausewitz makes between strategy and tactics is, in fact, a distinction between a goal and the means used to accomplish that goal. The policy of the national leadership – the government and the cabinet – determines the goals and the parameters within which the strategy will operate. According to von Clausewitz, the lower stage receives its significance and positioning from the stage above it. This creates continuity between the stages, which yields the unity of the war. Policy sets forth missions for the strategy states – the relationship between the two levels is not one of unilateral, linear determination. The relationship between policy and strategy is one of interdependence. Success at the diplomatic level depends on success at the strategic level, while success at the strategic level depends on the framework policy had established. One example that comes to mind is the "Dahiya Doctrine," the present Chief of the IDF General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, had devised during the Second Lebanon War (2006). The Chief of Staff applies the same strategy to the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights in view of the current events. The government, through the IDF, fulfills its commitment to the security of the citizens of the State of Israel. By doing so, it accomplishes the strategy through the distribution of military resources and the application thereof toward the accomplishment of the purpose of the indirect approach policy.

Strategy is the wartime implementation of policy. Von Clausewitz wrote, "To conduct a whole war, or (one of) its great acts, which we call campaigns, to a successful termination, there must be an intimate knowledge of state policy in its higher relations. The conduct of the war, and the policy of the State, here coincide; and the general becomes, at the same time, the statesman." In other words, if a military leader should think only in terms of the operational aspect, he might fail to fathom the political intention.

Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart regards super-strategy, namely policy, as the division of responsibilities between political leaders and military leaders, while von Clausewitz regards the process as a sequence – a succession.

A Broad Totality of Considerations

Contests between states are not exclusively military – they may be social, economic, technological and industrial. Strategy must take these factors into account and not merely as supplements to the operational element. It must relate to the broad totality as a factor that equals the operational element, as otherwise the operational aspect of the war will become meaningless without the previously mentioned factors.

The modern definitions of strategy expanded owing to the complexity and the diversity of the variables involved: the Arab Spring, the cyber world, artificial intelligence, etc. The US DOD Dictionary defines "national strategy" as "The art and science of developing and using political, economic, psychological, and military forces as necessary during peace and war, to afford the maximum support to policies, in order to increase the probabilities and favorable consequences of victory and to lessen the chances of defeat."

Military Strategy is "The art and science of employing the armed forces of a nation to secure the objectives of national policy by the application of force or the threat of force."

Von Clausewitz also wrote, "War is […] a political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means." Accordingly, one may argue that the political consideration is broader than the military or diplomatic consideration. This consideration examines which means would prevail.

When policy assigns tasks to the military/national security echelon, it must take into account military considerations of what the military forces can accomplish and the cost of those accomplishments. Provided the military leader understands the political intentions, he should insist on devising the (military) considerations and translating them into a military plan.

Attending political discussions will help the military leader develop sensitivity to the strategic aspects, a sensitivity whose absence might be damaging and prevent the military leader from understanding the complete picture. Therefore, the intervention of the political element in the direction of the security policy and military operations is essential. It is not just a matter of issuing one-time instructions during the war, but also a matter of consistently participating in the political direction of the war, as during the war, problems arise regarding which political decisions must be made. The political echelon must be familiar with the strategic totality (not in the technical sense) in order to know what they can demand and what the potential and limitations of the military force are.

During peacetime, policy should provide strategy with the conditions necessary to succeed by allocating resources to the build-up of the force, while during wartime policy should provide the conditions for military operation by creating a convenient atmosphere internationally. If the senior officer cadre concentrates exclusively on professional military work, their perspective might become narrow, and they might become subservient and develop a small-minded mentality. The military echelon should possess the ability to pass military criticism without self-deprecating itself in the face of the political echelon (as was the case with the military agreement between Israel and Egypt, in the context of which the strategic depth was lost pursuant to the pullout from the Sinai followed by the evacuation of the early-warning stations).

Policy is the element that dictates the goals to the military echelon, and the goals form the framework within which strategy should operate. On the other hand, strategy reflects policy in the context of the leeway and the constraints subject to which one may operate. In fact, strategy is broader than the purely operational consideration. It is global and more profound.


Brig. Gen. (res.) Shimon Hefetz served as Military Secretary to former Israeli Presidents Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav, and Shimon Peres

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