Operation “Shield and Arrow”: Israel’s deterrence does not work Dr. Liraz Margalit

Operation “Shield and Arrow”: Israel’s deterrence does not work Dr. Liraz Margalit
Operation “Shield and Arrow”: Israel’s deterrence does not work Dr. Liraz Margalit

At this time, it is important that the IDF General Headquarters pull out the “textbook” on deterrence from the dusty shelf. It seems we have forgotten the essence of the concept.
The concept underlying the doctrine of deterrence is that it is achieved when it is not put to the test. Deterrence consists of two parts: impressive military capabilities – of which we have plenty; and a sign to the other side that you are not afraid of using force. During the event that is now known as Operation Shield and Arrow, Israel killed five senior members of the Islamic Jihad, in strikes that came about a week after more than a hundred rockets were fired into Israeli territory.

Killed by a rocket hit in the streets; Direct damage to the building on Sderot
Commander of the Home Front Command in Rehovot: “The shelter was not in use and became a warehouse”
“Thinking of leaving the city”: A resident of Sderot whose house was hit by a rocket recalls the moments of horror

Since the attack that started the operation, Israel has been waiting for a response, which came only after more than 30 hours, during which the routine of life in the Gaza Strip was completely disrupted. There were no schools in the localities of the area, shelters were opened in cities around the Gaza Strip up to Be’er Sheva, and because of the hysteria – also in Central and Sharon (although a representative of the Home Front Command made it clear that “these are not our instructions”). The various television channels of course joined the celebration. Commentators, senior officials, experts and former military personnel frequented the studios around the clock, trying to assess the strength of the reaction of the terrorist organizations in the Strip – and when it would arrive.

We must admit the truth: the tactical successes in the operational actions of the last few days are not a deterrent. All the actions that Israel takes send a clear message to the other side – of great concern.

In fact, Hamas and Islamic Jihad acted wisely by “draining” us for a whole day without responding. For them, it was a no less genius decision. It’s not clear if it was intentional, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. The decision not to react on the other side – if it was made deliberately – is not related to the opponent’s fighting abilities, but to his ability to shape our consciousness. Psychological warfare at its best.

The US Department of Defense defines psychological warfare as “the planned use of propaganda and other psychological operations, the main purpose of which is to influence the opinions, feelings, attitude and behavior of the enemy, in a way that helps achieve a national goal”. To target your messages to the other party accurately, you need to understand who your audience is and what activates them.

In fact, the other side knows exactly what activates the audience in Israel, and he never stops taking advantage of his knowledge. He is the one who dictates the rules of the game almost completely, when with us at least a quarter of the country is paralyzed and the rest are busy creating scenarios.

Everyone knows there will be another campaign, the only question is when. But a more difficult question concerns the deterrence equation – how much does it take to hit the enemy for deterrence to occur. How much does it take to hit the enemy to bring peace for two or three years? Mitut Hamas, or in military parlance a decision, is not possible at this time. Israel has no desire or real interest in collapsing Hamas. She wants him on a leash. Therefore, Israel also does everything in its power to take the organization out of the game; This is despite the fact that this approach does not in the least change the balance of power and gives Hamas an exemption from responsibility. But let’s assume that the scenario of Hamas joining the campaign were to materialize – Israel would have no choice but to launch a wider attack, which would also include damage to its officials and facilities.

Such a campaign will be designed according to the following logical logic: the more crippled we are, the more Hamas will think twice or even three times before daring to enter into another round with Israel. Policy thinkers have already accepted the idea of ​​rounds, according to which the duration of the quiet period between rounds should be extended, while we raise the “price” or the costs we charge the other side in each round.


But this is only an illusion. We are trying to impose a rational interpretation on an irrational enemy. The logic according to which the harder Hamas is beaten, the longer it will remain silent – does not stand the test of reality. Operation Moked in the Six Day War – the opening operation of the war – was one of the IDF’s most successful, which was supposed to result in the most effective deterrence. However, in retrospect, it was enough for six years, after which one of the most difficult wars Israel has ever known broke out. On the other hand, after the Lebanon War The second, in which seemingly all possible mistakes were made, a significant deterrence was achieved against Hezbollah in Lebanon.


The conclusion is that if in the classical campaign deterrence was achieved with a clear image of victory, with the raising of the flag in enemy territory, then in our time deterrence is achieved through a war on consciousness. Those who influence the discourse – influence what will be burned into the mind. The enemy’s victory over consciousness is achieved by the very fact that all the media in Israel are busy interpreting and analyzing the behavior of Hamas.

game theory

That is why our decision makers need to understand that deterrence will not be achieved with threats and speeches. So how can the same long-awaited deterrence be achieved?
Let’s do a mental exercise with the help of game theory: to achieve deterrence, you need to remove the decision-making from the human factor and create an automatic system with predictable and known results in advance.

Think of an automatic system based on artificial intelligence, which produces by itself the considerations that determine when to react and with what intensity. Thus, using machine learning – for each action of the other party, a price tag will be calculated.

Why does such a system have the power to shape consciousness? Because when there is a human factor in the middle who decides, the state – and in our case Israel – is seen as cruel and inhumane. With the help of an automatic “price tag mechanism”, without any of our intervention, we actually remove the responsibility from ourselves, transfer it to the other party and at the same time free ourselves from considerations of legitimacy.

The artificial intelligence will be based on past data, will weigh data such as the situation in the international arena, the morale of the forces, the weather, internal and external pressure – and will determine what action is required to achieve the most effective deterrence. This is a learning system that will update its response based on any additional event; And it will be effective, because on the other side they will not be able to guess what the machine’s conclusion is, and this will only strengthen the deterrence.

Today, Hamas is well aware of the considerations that guide Israel. He knows she won’t break the tools, as she has limitations on using the Force. US President Donald Trump, who was an ardent supporter of Israel, has changed; there is no stable government; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his back against the wall and Hamas has the upper hand.

In a state of affairs where the automatic system chooses for itself the appropriate price tag, all responsibility for shooting innocents will pass to the other side. True, this is just a thought exercise, but it sheds light on the problematic nature of our deterrence policy today.

The author is a behavioral researcher in the digital age, Reichman University, Herzliya



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