Forty years since the Yom Kippur war commenced and the trauma remains, for all the states involved. Forty years since Israel’s last inter-state war, yet Israel is still preparing for the next inter-state war. The preparation and hence the defence and deterrence has successfully deterred any potential state adversary. The trauma of inter-state wars has however relegated preparation for other types of wars, and barred resolving the causes rather than just preparing to deal with the symptoms of threats against Israel. From the exodus from Egypt to conquering the land of Israel it took forty years to erase the memory of slavery and instil nationhood. Forty years since the Yom Kippur war it is time to erase the trauma and to wage peace, while still preparing for war.
Israel is in the process of acquiring the most sophisticated conventional weaponry known to the 21st century. The Israel Air Force is procuring the 5th generation F-35, the navy has signed for a 6th Dolphin submarine and the army is equipping with the Merkava IV main battle tank. From missile defense systems to assault rifles the Israel Defence Forces is at the fore of innovation, re-equipment and preparedness. There is no state that could stand a chance of threatening Israel. The trauma of the Yom Kippur War has influenced this procurement, yet the failure of Yom Kippur was not the equipment at the time but the intelligence evaluation that left Israel surprised. Indeed the success of Yom Kippur was the equipment and the valor of the soldiers to prevent Israel’s annihilation.
Forty years since the Yom Kippur war commenced and the trauma remains, for all the states involved. Two of Israel’s four neighbouring states have entered into peace treaties with Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Egypt was a direct consequence of the Yom Kippur War. Syria built up its chemical arsenal in the 1980s when Israel was operating in Lebanon, fearing incorrectly that Israel also had ambitions on Syria. However Syria is in a civil-war while Lebanon is fragmented. So Israel’s adversaries since 1973 have not been states, but rather non-state entities such as terrorist organizations and Palestinian nationalism. States such as Iran have sponsored these threats. Israel has found, like other counties, that the use of military means against non-state entities such as terrorist organizations, their state sponsors and nationalism is not the most effective of means. History has shown that nationalism eventually achieves its goal. History has shown that aircraft, tanks and submarines cannot combat terrorism or resolve nationalist movements; yet they are essential to deter and to defend.
Israel should take a step away from the trauma of inter-state war and consider not just the means needed to defend and to deter in preparing for war but also the means needed to wage peace. Akin to the analysis failure on the eve of the Yom Kippur war has been the failure to adequately expect and prepare for the 1st and 2nd Intifada. Both were as traumatic as the Yom Kippur War. The protracted multi-year urban bus-bombing attacks of the 2nd Intifada were the most traumatic non-state endeavours against the Israeli population. More Israeli citizens have experienced trauma or have known family and friends killed in the two Intifada that in inter-state wars. Eventually the Intifada were contained by ghetto-mentality tactics, not resolving the causes but rather restraining the perpetrators temporarily. The media quoted the GSS last Friday that in September there have been 133 terror incidents, a rise from 99 in August.
Forty years since the Yom Kippur war, Israel must retain its preparedness in defence and deterrence against state adversaries but must also take sizeable steps towards waging peace. Palestinian nationalism and state sponsored non-state terrorism will not be resolved or fade away by themselves. Palestinian nationalism and non-state violent activities are the main threats to Israel’s existence. As on the eve of the Yom Kippur war as today, Israel’s leaders must not complacently think that Israel is safe and secure. Today Israel’s leaders must not fail to analyse the signs that are on the wall. Palestinian nationalism may resort to radical violence to attain statehood, as Egypt turned to war in 1973 to attain political and not military goals. Israel must not be taken by surprise in a 3rd Intifada more violent than the previous. Israel’s leaders need to use the current negotiations to achieve Israel’s goals while also conciliating adversaries belligerent intentions. Israel needs to wage peace while preparing for war, least there be another trauma more debilitating than the previous.
Dr Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defence and Communication