Country Listing

Israel Table of Contents


Extensive Threat

Another premise was that every Arab country was at least a potential member of a unified pan-Arab coalition that could attack Israel--a concept sometimes referred to by Israeli strategic planners as the "extensive threat." To confront this extensive threat, the IDF aimed to have the capability to defend Israel not only against an attack by a single Arab adversary or an alliance of several Arab states, but also against the combined forces of all Arab countries. Israeli strategists felt that planning for such a worst-case scenario was prudent because Arab states had often rhetorically threatened such a combined attack. The concept of extensive threat also justified requests for greater military aid from the United States and protests against United States military support of moderate Arab states that, from the American perspective, posed no credible threat to Israel's security.

Some Israeli military leaders insisted that, despite the 1978 Camp David Accords, Egypt remained a major potential enemy in any future Arab-Israeli war. Moreover, some Israeli strategists worried about threats from outside the Arab world. In a 1981 speech, then Minister of Defense Sharon stated that "Israel's sphere of strategic and security interests must be broadened in the 1980s" to confront new adversaries in Africa and Asia, and cited Pakistan as one potential threat. Some strategists even envisioned Israeli clashes with Iran and India.

At the other end of the spectrum were those who felt that the concept of extensive threat exaggerated the danger to Israel. Some Israeli strategists argued in the late 1980s that the Arab-Israeli conflict was evolving into a bilateral contest between Israel and Syria to which other Arab actors were becoming peripheral. They considered that the IDF for pragmatic reasons should deploy its limited resources to counter the threat of a cross-border attack by Syria. Speaking in 1987, Minister of Defense Rabin stated that Egypt had placed itself "outside the circle of nations at war with Israel" and that the Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel had "significantly altered the Middle East balance of power in Israel's favor."

Demographic and geographic pressures arising from Israel's small size and concentrated population meant that a war fought within Israel would be extremely costly in terms of civilian casualties and damage to the economic infrastructure. Morale and, hence, future immigration would also suffer. It was therefore an ironclad rule of Israeli strategists to transfer military action to enemy territory, and no regular Arab troops have hit on Israeli soil since 1948. Because Israel could never defeat its Arab enemy permanently, no matter how many victories or "rounds" it won on the battlefield, and because in each full-scale war it incurred the risk, however minimal, of combat being conducted on its territory or even a defeat that would destroy the state, Israel's official policy was to avoid all-out war unless attacked. Deterrence therefore became the main pillar of Israel's national security doctrine.

Data as of December 1988