Deterrence is Merely Perception

In today’s world a primary element of a nation’s security, is the ability to convince its enemies that the consequences of certain actions would be unacceptable. Thus the enemy would be deterred from taking the undesired actions.

Deterrence works only if the enemies perception of the consequences of their actions are accurate.

Creating deterrence is not unlike branding a product. People have to know what the product does, and does not do. The qualities of the product also have to be instantaneously recognizable.

Wednesday’s events in Northern Israel has shown that while Israel has worked hard to create a high level of deterrence, that effort has not succeeded completely. Its enemies perceive weakness in Israel that allows them to attack the safety and security of Israel. On the battlefield, Israel is considered a force too strong to be reckoned with.

But, in the world of public opinion, Israel has suffered many setbacks which have reduced its abilty to deter its enemies. The Israeli army adheres to a strict moral code. Going into battle, each solider carries these moral values; in their hearts and physically in their pockets. They strive to adhere to this code which is stronger than the requirements of international law.

Media outlets invoke the idea of proportionality when discussing Israeli actions in a conflict without any understanding of what it means. The images they plaster around the world show an incomplete picture. It is as though the wars waged against Israel is a game of numbers and not that of security of Israel and its citizens.

The fact that, at the end of the day, if all that is remembered are the number of casualties on both sides not the root cause of the latest conflict nor who initiated the fighting, hurts Israel’s level of deterrence. Whether it is Hamas or Hezbollah/Iran, the enemies of Israel can calculate their action based on their confidence in international condemnation of the Israeli reaction. As such, Israel’s enemies purposely attack Israeli civilians to garner an Israeli response and then hide behind their own civilians in hospitals, schools, and places of religious worship to order to increase the condemnation of Israeli action.

The fact that the world falls into this game negatively impacts Israel’s deterrence capability since Israel is susceptible to international pressure. Unlike terrorists who hide from public view until they appear in order to kill and maim, Israel is in the public eye every moment. It is a vibrant nation actively engaged in the world’s economy and society who’s every action is subject to scrutiny. It is subject to public pressure in a way that a terrorist, or its sponsors, never is.

So, how does Israel increase its deterrence level?

Like the perception of a brand, deterrence is in the eye of the beholder.

Just as when a brand launches a product in a new market or for a new crowd, it needs to understand their audience and makes the necessary adjustments to bring success, so must Israel when they face their various enemies.  Just as the New York market is different from the market is Los Angeles (and not to even speak about the Israeli market), each of Israel’s enemies must also be looked at as different markets.

In terms of security, Israel’s enemies must understand that in fighting with Israel, they will lose whatever is most important to them. As such, Israel has to define its military targets prior to any strike in order to begin to achieve the military deterrence they are looking for.

But, knowing thy enemy is only a fraction of the equation (albeit an important fraction). Once Israel does a “market analysis” to understand what eliminating the military threat entails, they must also understand what the other side perceives as a victory.

For Israel to strengthen its deterrence, the other side needs to understand that a confrontation with Israel will result only in defeats – both in the battlefield and in the international arena.   Terrorist organizations are rewarded each time Israel is condemned in the media, in protests, and in international governing bodies. Israel has tried many things to prevent this. They have hired world-renowned lawyers in the rules of engagement to advise on IDF action during ongoing wars, they have sent Israeli Knesset ministers and members of the Foreign Service to speak to the press and members of governments to explain Israel’s case, and they have called up the IDF spokespersons in mass to answer press inquiries.  However, what has yet to be done is to change the mindset that sees those who start rocket attacks, Hamas for example, as victims while Israel, when defending its civilians, as an aggressor.

Opinions are not changed via sound bites and meetings. For opinions to change, one must truly understand the complexity of the situation in a short amount a time. The media needs to see firsthand the challenges that the Israeli army is faced with. They need to be embedded with the troops WHEN they are going in the tunnels. They need to be in the rooms WHEN the IDF detects rocket launches from schools and hospitals. They need to be in the control room WHEN the IAF drops leaflets in neighborhoods and uses the “knock on roof” method to ensure that people leave their homes. Reporters need to SEE the tough decisions that the Israeli army is faced with and understand that the decisions made at these times dictates whether the enemy will feel casualties or Israeli civilians and soldiers. Seeing is believing when you open your eyes and your minds.

Israel also needs adhere to its policy of ambiguity. Lately, too many “unnamed sources” from the government do not follow their own policy of ambiguity. Lately, too many “unnamed sources” from the government and military sectors speak to the press. They comment of suspected activity in the Sudan, unconfirmed incidents in Iran, and unexplained explosions in Syria and Lebanon. What the enemy thinks they know who is responsible for certain actions, but are unsure, they can’t launch an attack on Israel. However, when their suspicions are confirmed, it gives them reason, and an excuse, to attack Israel.

With a few silent lips and open eyes, Israel can increase its level of deterrence, thus providing greater security to its citizens.

About the Author
Adam Cohen is the CEO and co-founder of LANUA Global Strategic Brand Consultants. Adam has an MA in Law from Bar Ilan University.
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