Israel's Strategic Doctrine


Learned at the School of Danger

 (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 1:18): 

Israel's Evolving Strategic Doctrine

Dr. Eran Lerman

Room 004

Outline of the seminar

            The very survival of Israel as a state, and of the Jewish People – let alone the ability to sustain prosperity and democratic stability - in a highly hostile and volatile region has come to depend on the ability to craft a multi-faceted set of hard-edged policies, "learned [over time] at the school of danger". This can well be considered a unique chapter in the history of strategic responses to national security challenges. Still, for reasons which need to be discussed, this did not necessarily lead to the formulation of a coherent defense doctrine. Against the background of the meaning and the role of doctrines in general, the seminar will nevertheless seek to teach what exists almost only as an external intellectual construct (sort of "the biology of unicorns"?); namely, the evolving conceptual guidelines that can be described as ultimately constituting a defense doctrine.

By weaving together relevant historical and textual references, together with a close look at the changing strategic environment and the responses to these changes, the seminar will proceed from the understanding of Israel's predicament to an analysis of specific doctrinal choices (or the lack thereof) at points of decision in Israeli history.

The point of departure will be first of all Jabotinski's prophetic concept – the "Iron Wall" - and then  Ben Gurion's remarkable vision and foresight. The conceptual framework he introduced transformed the IDF of 1948, led to the success of the Sinai Campaign, and culminated (after the "Old Man" had already left) in the sweeping victory of the Six Day War. It will be read in all its components (often summarized, although BG himself did not use this language, as "Harta'ah, Hatra'ah and Hachra'ah", Deterrence, Early Warning and Decisive Victory) against the specific circumstances of Israel's birth in battle, and ongoing conflicts with her neighbors (mainly Egypt) as well as Cold War realities.

The recognition, tested in 1970 and 1973, of Israel as a frontier asset of the West, will serve as a basis and antecedent for the examination of further dimensions: defensive capabilities, alliance management (mainly with the US), and the rise of the technological factor. More current dilemmas, arising from the dramatic adjustment to a very different world, will be viewed as reflected new internal dynamics in Israeli society as well as changing intelligence assessments; new global and regional dynamics; institutional (and industrial) interests; and the constraints imposed limited resources and by new norms enshrined in the Laws of War. Ultimately, return to the political constraints which still stand in the way of recurrent attempts to formally re-write the 1953 vintage Israeli strategic doctrine.




Suggested reading

Efraim Inbar, Rabin and Israel's National Security (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center, 1999).

Benny Morris, 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press, 2008).

Michael Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Henry Kissinger, Crisis: The Anatomy of two Major Foreign Policy Crises (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004).

Yoav Ben-Horin and Barry Posen, Israel's Strategic Doctrine, 1981)

Eliot A. Cohen, Michael J. Eisenstadt and Andrew J. Bacevich, Knives, Tanks & Missiles: Israel's Security Revolution (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1998).

Ido Hecht's set of slides on Israeli doctrine (will be distributed).


Seminar Requirements

Active participation in class;

A short presentation or mid-course paper (25%). Papers will be presented individually, but in the context of a team effort which will be evaluated as a whole: still, there could be minor variation in grades between team members due to exceptionally impressive presentation or analysis

Final paper – "Doctrine in action", a case of application a specific episode (or aspect over time) of Israeli military history (70%)



Seminar sessions

  1. Strategy and Doctrine: a conceptual introduction



Dictionary definitions – Doctrine (Wiki, Meriam-Webster, other dictionaries); Military Doctrine; U.S. Presidential Doctrines.

Suggested reading: Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Obama Doctrine", The Atlantic, April 2016.


  1. A point of reference: national security doctrinal documents


[U.S.] National Security Strategy, May 2010

… and February 2015

The British:   

Today's Russia: federation/

Presentations:  4-5 cases (2 on the US, and otherwise  of any other country by  choice) of the key aspects of national doctrinal documents.




  1. De Profundis: The pre-state condition of Jewish National (in)Security




Ze'ev Jabotinsky, "The Iron Wall" (1923)


Richard Breitman, "Intelligence and the Holocaust" in David Bankier (ed.) Secret Intelligence and the Holocaust: Collected Essays from the Colloquium at the City University of New York (New York: Enigma, 2006), pp. 17-47.


Leonard Slater, The Pledge (Lincoln: Authors' Guild, 2000) p. 21-41.


Presentations – the building block of the Jewish military capacity, and their contributions to concepts and doctrines:

  1. Ha-Shomer
  2. The Jewish Legion (WWI) and Jabotinski
  3. The Hagana
  4. IZL and Lehi
  5. The Brigade


  1. At the knife's edge: The N.C. (No Choice –א.ב.  "ein briera") War, 1948
  2. : Martin Gilbert (narrator), "Israel: the Birth of a Nation" (History Channel ) on Youtube.



1, The first half of the war – from a siege to the offenseive

2. Ben Gurion's decision in May 1948: what drove his vision?

3. the role of the international community

4. The question of Israeli- Jordanian relations

  1. The second great seminar: Ben Gurion forges a doctrine (and an Army), 1953



Parts of the actual Ben Gurion Text will be translated and distributed in time


Yagil Hankin, "The Best Defense",


Gerald M. Steinberg: The Evolution of Israeli Military Strategy: Asymmetry, Vulnerability, Pre-emption and Deterrence (October 2011),


    1. Ben Gurion – political biography
    2. IDF weaknesses in the early 50s
    3. The emergence of a new core (and the role of Ariel Sharon)
    4. The concept of the IDF as the forge of a new nation


  1. First  Original Principle: Deterrence and its dilemmas


Moni Chorev, "Deterrence Campaigns": Lessons from IDF Operations in Gaza (BESA Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 115, March 2016) – available online

Sharad Joshi, "Israel's Nuclear Policy: A Cost-Benefit Analysis"'




1. Conventional deterrence: defining the parameters

2. 1967: failure of deterrence?

3. Foxbats over Dimona: why did the Russians trigger the crisis

4. Adjusting deterrence to Hizbullah and Hamas

  1. Second Original Principle: Decisive Outcome - Taking the war to the enemy


The Six day War 1967 Documentary [BBC] on Youtube

Additional reading:

David S. Robarge, "CIA Analysis of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War" at


1."Focus" and the achievement of air superiority

2.  The concept of "Decisive outcome" in the Sinai battle

3. The strategic dimension: why the delay on the Golan?

4. The doctrinal and psychological imprint


  1. Third Original Principle: Early warning and the reserve system – achievements and failures


Uri Bar-Joseph and Arie W. Kruglianski, "Intelligence Failure and the need for Cognitive Closure: On the Psychology of the Yom Kippur Surprise", Political Psychology 24:1, 2003, pp. 75-99. [Available online]


1.The Israeli Intelligence community – an outline

2. What Went Wrong? Basic aspects of the 1973 failure

3. The Agranat Commission and 1973 lessons learned

4. EW in other contexts (CT, CP)

  1. The First Additional Principle: No longer alone


Adam Garfinkle, "U.S. Decision Making in the Jordan Crisis: Correcting the Record", Political Science Quarterly, 100:1 (Spring 1985) pp. 117-138.

William Burr, ed., The National Security Archive: The October War and U.S. Policy (2003) – Summary and documents 46, 49-51, 53-56, 61 A and B, 63, 71 at 


  1. The French love story and its sad end
  2. The Israeli role in the Jordan Crisis of 1970
  3. The 1973 endgame (20-25 October) and Kissinger's role
  4. The evolution of the US aid package (a short survey)


  1. The Second Additional Principle: Defensive capacities in a changing world


Cohen, Eisenstadt and Bacevich, Knives, Tanks and Missiles, pp. 81-129.


  1. The defensive issue before 1973 and the problem of indecision
  2. The post-1979 meaning of the Golan
  3. The role of defence in the war against terror: the barrier ("wall")
  4. The role of defence vs. the Missile Threat – BMD and Iron Dome


  1.  The Third Additional Principle:  Technological solutions



"Israel Scence and Technology: Defense Industry",

Shuki Sadeh, "How Israel's Arms Manufacturers won the Gaza War", Ha'aretz, 12 August 2014.

Marcus Becker, "Factory and Lab: Israel's War Business", Spiegel online, 27 August 2014.


  1. De Gaulle's "gift" and the implications for Israel
  2. The short flight of the Lavi
  3. Israel's place in the cyber frontier
  4. Making the makers of success: Talpiot



  1.  The Begin Corrolary:  No  Enemy Nukes


Watch :

"Operation Opera – Israel Airstrike on Iraq Nuclear Reactor 1981"


Additional Reading:

            Gerald Steinberg, "The Begin Doctrine at 25", Jerusalem Post 6/4/2006


  1. Operation "Opera"
  2. Operation "Orchard" (according to foreign sources)
  3. Non-Kinetic options (Stuxnet?)
  4. The Post-JCPoA Iranian challenge



  1.  The Public Ethos : Still a People's Army?


Moshe Lissak, The Ethos of Security and the Myth of a Militarized Society, January 1998 (will be distributed)


  1. The draft: drawbacks and benefits
  2. The Haredi question
  3. Gender and service in the IDF
  4. The changing face of mid-level command and its political implications


 Where do we go from here? New landscape, new constraints


Shay Shabtai, "Israel's National Security Concept: New Basic Terms in the Military-Security Sphere", Strategic Assessment 13:2, August 2010 (available online).

Gilead Sher, "Wanted: An Israeli anti-'lawfare' strategy", www,


  1. Eisenkott's IDF Strategy document
  2. Tunnels: The underground "frontier"?
  3. The impact of "lawfare": The Goldstone Report and its implications
  4. The Azaria case: What made it important?



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