Mordechai de Haas
Ger; Haredi; retired Lieutenant Colonel; Russian security academic

Israel Defence Forces at 75 years – Guardians of Israel

IDF emblem [courtesy author]

Today is the birthday of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). IDF was founded on 17 Iyar 5708 (26 May 1948). How has IDF developed since 1948, in terms of warfare, threats, build-up and challenges? And how will IDF counter the current and future threats?

*** This blog is dedicated to the brave soldiers of IDF who defend us day and night! ***

Past and current threats and warfare

In the first decades of the State of Israel, IDF had to cope with conventional warfare. In 1948-1949, in the ‘War of Independence’, IDF had to fight for the existence of Israel, hence a defensive war. The ‘Suez Crisis’ of 1956, meant the use of IDF for political reasons, namely, control of the Suez Canal and the Sinai. In 1967, with the ‘Six-Day War’, IDF carried out pre-emptive strikes against Jordan, Syria and Egypt, to make them lame before they could attack Israel. The ‘Yom Kippur War’ of 1973, a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria, was only successful for Israel at a high price of casualties.

The Yom Kippur War was arguably IDF’s most recent conventional war. Subsequently, the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), conducting terrorist attacks from Lebanon, forced IDF to change its warfare into anti-terrorist operations. Albeit that the Israeli invasions of South-Lebanon, of 1978 and 1982, were conventional operations to neutralize PLO-strongholds. The vacuum of IDF’s withdrawal from South-Lebanon in 2000, brought another terrorist organization into power in that region, Hezbollah, armed with rockets. This resulted in a conflict with Israel in 2006. Likewise, after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas came to power in that area in 2006. IDF clashed with this terrorist entity, which also attacked Israel with rockets (and terrorist attacks), in a conflict in 2014. Similarly, already for decades, a third terrorist entity, actually not one but in multiple forms, has been conducting terrorist attacks from Samaria and Judea and in Israel proper. Thus, since the 1970s, IDF has been conducting anti-terrorist warfare against Palestinian organizations on three fronts: Lebanon, Gaza and Samaria/Judea.

A more recent threat comes from Israeli-Arabs, who, in addition to being affiliated with the aforementioned Palestinian terrorist organizations, in 2021 have carried out lethal riots against Israeli Jews, in mixed Jewish-Arab cities. In this case it is the question whether IDF or the Israeli Police should carry out operations against this threat, or the yet to be established National Guard. Furthermore, IDF is already in (limited) warfare with Iran, by regularly attacking sites of Iranian military installations in Syria. Just like the Palestinians do, Iran too makes use of the failed states of Lebanon and Syria, to create its own military build-up in these countries. Furthermore, there is the threat of cyber warfare, with which adversaries (most likely Iran, but Russia and China are also forerunners in this field) can bring down management systems, for instance of electricity plants and government agencies. Lastly, there is the threat of nuclear warfare, if Iran is not prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel has already stated that, if need be, IDF will attack Iran’s nuclear sites, to destroy its (development of) nuclear arms. Israel will do so, also if the USA would not participate in such an operation.

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Current political-security developments

What about friendly states abroad, partners in the Middle East and peace-treaties with neighbours? To make a long story short, the Government of Israel and IDF should not count on (prolongation of) these constructive relationships in case of an Arab war against Israel.

Friends? The so-called friends, the USA and Europe in particular, are continuously criticising Israel, especially on ‘settlements’ in the ‘West Bank’ and on the judicial overhaul plans. From what do they think they have the right to interfere into the internal affairs of another state? What if Israel criticizes the USA for Trump’s attack on the Capitol, or Europe on its problems with asylum seekers? Is that also permissible for them? And what about the American-Jewish organizations? Instead of admonishing Israel, they had better make Aliyah to Israel, where a Jew belongs. But they are not willing to abandon their luxury lives in the USA.

Partners? The same applies to Israel’s ‘partners’ in the Middle East; the reliability of these relationships is also questionable. Since decades ago, Israel holds peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. And more recently, it was a favourable development that Israel concluded the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Initially, it looked like these Accords could develop into a stronghold against Iran. Likewise, Israel cherished the hope that it could conclude some sort of peace-arrangement with Saudi-Arabia, until recently also an opponent of Iran. However, in the last months this positive picture has changed for the bad. Saudi-Arabia has made a rapprochement with Iran, their conflicting interests are – at least for the moment – put aside. Subsequently, Saudi-Arabia has also restored its ties with Hamas, by hosting a top Hamas delegation. Hence, Israel can forget about a settlement with Saudi-Arabia. But Israel’s partners in the Abraham Accords too have changed course.

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Syria. Since the civil war in Syria started in 2011, Iran has been a major ally of Syria, together with Russia. But other Arab states kept a distance from Damascus. However, recently, Syria has been welcomed back into the Middle-East, by re-establishing ties with Saudi-Arabia and other states in the region. New is a chain of diplomatic contacts, testifying Syria’s return in the Arab world. Last week Jordan hosted a meeting with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Egypt, to build on contacts that these countries made with the Syrian government. Furthermore, the Syrian foreign minister was hosted in Saudi Arabia, the first such visit in more than a decade. The Syrian top diplomat recently also exchanged visits with the UAE and Egypt.

Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has also made a come-back in the Arab world. As said, Saudi-Arabia has re-established ties with Iran, by resuming diplomatic relations. The UAE and Kuwait have restored diplomatic relations with Iran over the past few months, as well. And Iran is interested to do the same with Bahrain. Jordan too has agreed to hold a meeting with Iran to discuss ways to improve their bilateral relations. That is all bad news for Israel’s efforts to isolate the belligerent Iran. An economically and militarily stronger growing Iran finances the terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad (Gaza), Hezbollah (Lebanon), as well as pro-Iranian militias in Syria, and the Assad regime in Syria itself. Consequently, Iran and its proxies form a direct threat to Israel.

Given the aforementioned, it is clear that the Abraham Accords will not develop into a regional security cooperation against Iran, as Israel had hoped. Likewise, the peace-treaties with Jordan and Egypt will hold, as long as these states consider it useful. Treaties live by compliance of the signatories. Russia – befriended with Iran and Syria – in its war against Ukraine, has violated all treaties with Kiev, as well as the Law of Armed Conflict (tortures, executions, attacking civilian targets, etc.), and has cancelled arms control treaties with the USA and NATO. Considering the obvious vulnerability of treaties, Israel has to take into account that any (peace) treaty or another form of partnership with states in the Middle East can easily be violated or cancelled.

Future threats and warfare

As I mentioned in my previous blog, around Pesach 2023, Israel has experienced a new phenomenon; Palestinian missile attacks from Gaza, South-Lebanon and Syria; all these groupings operating with the support of Iran. The combined missile attacks from three directions were clearly aimed at exploiting Israel’s internal political strife on the judicial overhaul, assuming that this has also affected the combat readiness of IDF. As Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has stated, given the current security developments, Israel has to prepare for a multifront war: externally against missile attacks from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, internally against terrorist attacks from Samaria and Judea, and also from Arabs in Israel proper. Given the come-back of Iran and Syria into the Arab world, in addition to the aforementioned multifront attacks, a conventional conflict with Iran and/or Syria should also not be excluded. The question is if IDF can repel such a multitude of offensives, if they are carried out at the same time?

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A secure future. On first sight, the aforementioned enumeration of warfare, threats and security challenges for Israel and IDF, draws a gloomy picture for the future. Furthermore, we are not to count on ‘friends’ nor on ‘partners’. When push comes to shove, they will turn out to be unreliable. Nevertheless, the (security) future of Israel is not bleak. Israel and IDF do not stand alone. Against all odds, Israel was not annihilated in the wars of 1948 and 1973. IDF gained victory because we have a Guardian in Heaven that protects us. No doubt the terrorist attacks will continue as well as missile attacks and possibly conflicts with Arab states as well. However, we may trust that Hashem will continue to secure Israel, with IDF as His instrument. That makes the future bright and secure for us. Am Yisrael Chai!


About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel Royal Netherlands Army (retired) Dr Mordechai de Haas holds a PhD on Russian security policy. He was an Affiliated Professor and Research Fellow on Russian security policy towards the Middle East at the National Security Studies Centre of Haifa University. Previously, he was a Full Professor of Public Policy in Kazakhstan. In 1980 he served with UNIFIL in Lebanon, as a conscript of the Dutch army. As an officer he held positions at Army Staff, the Royal Netherlands Military Academy, NATO School and the Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael'. At Defence Staff he was the editor of the first Netherlands Defence Doctrine.
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