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How October 7 Should Change Israel’s National Security Calculus

An aerial view shows the bodies of victims of an attack following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip lying on the ground in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

The events of October 7 marked a total collapse of the basic principles of Israel’s national security doctrine. Three of the four basic components — deterrence, early warning, and defense — failed completely.

In view of this collapse, the State of Israel obviously cannot continue to base its security planning on the existing doctrine. So what is to be done with it? This will be a long conversation that will be held in depth after the war ends. This article presents several initial lines of thought on both the content of Israel’s security doctrine and the process of updating it.

Above all, the time has come to distinguish national security strategy from national security doctrine, and to stop once and for all the problematic preoccupation with the “security concept.

A national security strategy is the worldview of an administration that defines its basic assumptions underpinning national security. It connects the permanent, emerging, and changing elements of national existence. A national security doctrine is a document containing the fundamental principles and concepts that are to be applied to address military and security threats and challenges.

The foundations of Israel’s national security strategy were defined by David Ben-Gurion. There are five components: conventional qualitative advantage; perception of nuclear deterrence; special relationship with a superpower; technological and economic superiority; and national focus (statehood, majority democracy, the spirit of the Jewish people, and the connection between Israel and the Diaspora).

However, discussions about the ways national security strategy can and should change do not take place in Israel in an orderly manner, and new governments do not clearly define their strategies. The events of October 7 show that the absence of such discussions can lead to a period as long as 18 years (the time since the disengagement from Gaza in 2005) in which no profound changes occurred in the Israeli approach to national security, even though four prime ministers served during that time.

The fundamental questions regarding Israel’s national security strategy are:

The Iranian threat: Is Israel giving it too much weight?

There is no doubt that a scenario in which the Islamic regime in Iran is equipped with nuclear weapons would constitute an existential threat to Israel, and this must be prevented. But the path from this statement to a clear national strategy on the Iranian issue remains unclear.

Iran is advancing towards the nuclear threshold mainly through the accumulation of materièl, but there is still some distance between Iran and a bomb, and there are no signs that it has decided to produce one. What does this mean for Israeli strategy?

Also, Israel has not done everything in its power to prevent an Iranian bomb. It has not militarily attacked the Islamic Republic’s nuclear project. What does this say about its considerations in handling the Iranian nuclear issue?

In the Swords of Iron War, the “Iranian axis,” with the possible exception of Hezbollah, has proven to be a paper tiger with regard to its ability to conduct operations that will seriously harm Israel. What does this say about Israel’s attitude towards Iran regarding issues other than nuclear weapons?

And how should Israel weigh the Iranian regime’s perception of its own domestic threat or its reluctance to engage in an all-out conflict with Israel for its own strategic reasons?

The Palestinians

The Swords of Iron War opens the door for change on the Palestinian issue, if only because a new civil order will take shape in Gaza whose connection to the Palestinian Authority will be loose (at least in the early stages). Along with the reshaping of the Palestinian Authority after the eventual death of Mahmoud Abbas, the conclusion of the war will mark a great opportunity to restart and clarify Israeli strategy towards the Palestinians.

After two decades of postponing a conclusion and instead “managing” the conflict, the time has come for Israel to decide its vision for the Territories. Does it want to hold and annex part of them (the settlement blocs? Area C?) in order to realize the vision of the connection between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel? Does it want to control the territories with a Palestinian population (in Gaza? in the major cities and towns of Judea and Samaria?) or create the reality of another political entity while maintaining freedom of security action?

Independence from, versus dependence on, the United States

The Swords of Iron War has demonstrated Israel’s political and military dependence on the United States. Israel was revealed to be too dependent on Washington, which points to a series of planning and execution failures regarding decisions about the desirable extent of Israel’s independence. Economic and resource decisions led to the emergence of a strategic gap. Israel’s dependence is particularly problematic at a time when trends in the United States on matters concerning Israel are not necessarily in its favor.

To what extent is Israel willing to invest in security and economic independence? What is the depth of her basic commitment to the American axis in the world, and what price is she willing to pay for it? To what extent would it be wise for Israel to spread the risk and establish economic and perhaps also security relationships with other key powers? To what extent should Israel preserve the direct relationship with Russia in an effort to moderate its attitude (as is now occurring after a “bad start” by Moscow towards the Swords of Iron War)?

The changing attitude towards regional alliances

A follow-up to the issue of Israel’s dependence on the United States is the extent to which Israel is willing to risk being tied, economically and to a certain degree in terms of security, to a regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Is Israel ready to integrate into the region in a way that will create a dependency on it among its neighbors, for example in energy or investment in hi-tech and critical infrastructure?

Risk management or active design

Until October 7, Israel’s approach was based primarily on risk management and the maintenance of stability. It chose to preserve the rule of Hamas in Gaza, not to advance the overthrow of the Assad regime in Syria, and not to defeat the Hezbollah organization and fundamentally change the order in Lebanon. The Swords of Iron War represents a change in Israel’s approach in one of those arenas: It is now actively working to change the governing order in the Gaza Strip.

Does the move in the Gaza Strip signify a shift in overall Israeli strategy away from risk management and towards an initiative or design approach?

The use of force

After years of avoiding full activation of its most significant military tool, its maneuvering and offensive ground army, Israel is now using that tool to great effect in Gaza. This proves that offensive military power remains an essential component of Israel’s strategic toolbox. In light of the scale of the events of October 7, considerations of human life — the fate of the kidnapped civilians and risking of its soldiers — was given a lower precedence on the understanding that national strategic needs had to prevail over individual lives (though not always, and not in every way).

Will Israel’s national security strategy now be more flexible with regard to the use of military force, especially ground maneuvers?

These are only some of questions that should be asked at the level of the National Security Strategy. The answers to these questions will require deep thought, and the conclusion of the Swords of Iron War will represent an unrepeatable opportunity to consider them at the highest levels.

Israel’s National Security Doctrine needs an even more urgent rethink in light of the blows it received on October 7. The National Security Doctrine is the basic document of the security echelon, and in principle it should not be immediately affected by the worldview of an elected political echelon. It defines the basic conventions — i.e., the principles and concepts — involved with security and military challenges. The discussion that needs to take place after the war holds the potential for a profound change in the existing doctrine or perhaps a return to the basics after decades of de facto change.

The issues that need to be addressed as part of the discussion of these principles are:

The transfer of war to the opponent’s territory, which stems from the basic principle of a defensive strategy and an offensive approach. In the reality created by the Swords of Iron War, and in light of the strategic decisions that need to be made about Israel’s willingness to use force to shape the regional environment according to its needs, should Israel reinstate the concepts of preemptive war and the preemptive strike that were once at the heart of its security doctrine?
The principle of the “People’s Army.” Considering the extent of the military commitment manifested in the Swords of Iron War, the vast use of reserve units, and the (likely) need to increase the size of the regular army, might it be wise to reverse the decisions that led to the erosion of the components of the “People’s Army”? Don’t Israel’s updated security needs necessitate a renewed discussion of which populations serve and which do not? To what extent can that discussion be disconnected from its divisive political context and be held in the context of Israel’s security needs?

Another serious discussion will have to be about the basic elements of security doctrine: deterrence, early warning, defense, and decision. The events of October 7 and the ensuing war brought decisive decision back as the core achievement required by the security doctrine. Decades of shifts away from it, and the creation of alternatives like “deterrence campaigns” and defensive countermeasures, turned out to be less relevant to or effective against the types of enemies Israel faces.

The discussion of the basic elements of the security doctrine can go in several directions:

Reducing the basic elements to deterrence and decision only. In practice, these are the two components Israel must be able to bring to bear against its enemies.
Creating a ranking among the components: deterrence and decision as the core components, with the other components — early warning, defense, and possibly thwarting or prevention and participation in coalitions — serving as enablers of the core components.
Flexibility in the application of the components: that is, determining that while all the components are valid, they will vary according to enemy and context. Unlike the doctrine of recent decades, which showed a drift away from decision and towards other components, all the components would be applied according to need. In other words, against certain opponents, decision and deterrence would be at the core and the other components would enable them, while against other adversaries, the response would be based on prevention or thwarting and coalitions, with the others less relevant.

The national security policy document contains the principles of operation of the political-security echelons and expresses their assessment of the current national situation and required political directives. Updates should be derived from the revised National Security Strategy and the updated National Security Doctrine.

One way to promote an orderly process at the national security level is through binding legislation. This would entail legal definitions of structured processes for the development of national security documents, approval by the cabinet/ government, and their presentation and approval in the Knesset. These processes would give form to a substantial, structured, and continuous engagement in national security. Within this framework:

The National Security Strategy would be the basic document of the elected political echelon. On the establishment of a new government, the NSC would lead a process to structure a new strategy document. The cabinet would approve both the classified and public versions of the National Security Strategy document. The prime minister would bring the public document to the Knesset for approval as part of a political announcement up to six months from the date of the government’s establishment. The Knesset’s approval of the document would constitute a vote of confidence in the government.
The National Security Doctrine would be the basic document of the national security echelon. Once every five to seven years, the defense minister would guide the security apparatuses to update the document. At the end of the process, it would be confirmed by the cabinet and both the classified and public versions would be published.
The National Security Policy would be the document containing the operating principles of the political-security echelons for the upcoming year. It would be updated once a year in a process led by the NSC and would be approved by the government and the Knesset as a condition for approving the state budget.

As seen in the United States and other countries, the systematic and mandatory review of national security documents requires a public reexamination of the principles of national security. Even if it is carried out solely to fulfill a formal obligation and there is a gap between it and its implementation, it would be difficult for Israel’s decision-makers and security establishment to avoid addressing the key issues and still remain trapped in outdated concepts that can end up in a grave crisis, as occurred on October 7.

Col. (res.) Shay Shabtai is Deputy Director of the BESA Center and an expert in national security, strategic planning and strategic communication. He is a cyber security strategist and a consultant at leading companies in Israel. Col. Shabtai is about to finish his doctorate at Bar-Ilan University. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties

A Qatar 2022 logo is seen in front of the skyline of the West Bay in Doha. Photo: REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo

On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.

Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.

The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”

The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas. 

In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.

The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses. 

A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms. 

However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”

There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.

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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK

Antisemitic message graffitied on Hillel House of University of Leeds. Photo: Union of Jewish Students/X

The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.

“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”

The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”

“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.

Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.

“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”

Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”

Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.

“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”

The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.

Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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US House Committee Threatens Harvard University With Subpoena for Antisemitism Documents

Illustrative Harvard University students displaying a pro-Palestinian sign at their May 2022 graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Harvard University on Wednesday was given a “final warning” to fully cooperate with the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s investigation of antisemitism on its campus.

In January, Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) gave the school, which spent the fall semester under fire for allegedly ignoring rampant antisemitic harassment and intimidation, two weeks to deliver documents relevant to the committee’s investigation. Harvard never did, and now Rep. Foxx is threatening to subpoena the material she requested.

“The committee has sought to obtain information regarding Harvard’s response to the numerous incidents of antisemitism on its campus and steps taken to protect Jewish students, faculty and staff,” Foxx wrote in a letter to Harvard University interim president Alan Garber and Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker.

“Harvard’s responses have been grossly insufficient,” she continued. “If Harvard continues to fail to comply with the committee’s requests in a timely manner, the committee will proceed with compulsory process.”

Foxx has requested a trove of documents, including “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents” and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined during an investigation, “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is also investigating other top universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to determine whether administrators at those schools ignored antisemitic discrimination. The probes were announced after the committee grilled the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT about their plans to respond to rising anti-Jewish hate in their communities. During the hearing, Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn — both of whom have since resigned from their positions — as well as Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded lawmakers’ questions, infamously equivocating on whether calling for the genocide of Jews contravenes school rules.

For Harvard, America’s oldest institution of higher education and arguably its most prestigious, the presence of radical anti-Zionists on  campus has been a persistent issue. At the start of this academic year, a student and anti-Israel activist interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”

However, the broader public largely did not take notice until Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel. As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005.

For her part, Gay waited several days to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When she resigned at the beginning of the new year, she accused her critics of racism.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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