Country Listing

Israel Table of Contents


Potential Causes of War

Israel made clear to the Arabs that certain actions, even if not overtly hostile or aimed at Israel, would trigger an Israeli preemptive attack. Israel announced various potential causes of war. Some causes, such as interference with Israeli freedom of navigation in the Strait of Tiran, were officially designated as such. In 1982 Sharon listed four actions that would lead to an attack: the attempt by an Arab country to acquire or manufacture an atomic bomb, the militarization of the Sinai Peninsula, the entry of the Iraqi army into Jordan, and the supply of sophisticated United States arms to Jordan. In 1988 the government of Israel continued to communicate potential causes to its Arab adversaries. Their tacit acquiescence in these unilateral Israeli demands constituted a system of unwritten but mutually understood agreements protecting the short-term status quo.

Since the establishment of Israel, the IDF has been obliged to deal with terrorist actions, cross-border raids, and artillery and missile barrages of the various Palestinian organizations under the loose leadership of the PLO. The IDF's approach in contending with PLO activity has combined extreme vigilance with prompt and damaging retaliatory measures, including punishment of Arab nations giving sanctuary to terrorists and guerrillas. The presence of innocent noncombatants was not accepted as a reason for withholding counterstrikes. Although striving to limit harm to uninvolved persons, the Israelis gave priority to the need to demonstrate that acts of terrorism would meet with quick retribution in painful and unpredictable forms.

Israeli strategists believed the periodic outbreak of war to be virtually inevitable and that once war broke out it was essential that it be brief and lead to decisive victory. The requirement of a rapid war followed from at least two factors. During full mobilization, virtually the entire Israeli population was engaged in the defense effort and the peacetime economy ground to a halt. Sustaining full mobilization for more than several weeks would prove disastrous to the economy, and stockpiling sufficient supplies for a long war would be difficult and very costly. Experience from past wars also showed Israel that prolonged hostilities invited superpower intervention. As a result, Israeli strategists stressed the need to create a clear margin of victory before a cease-fire was imposed from the outside. This concept was extended in the 1980s, when Israeli military leaders formulated the strategy of engaging in a "war of annihilation" in the event of a new round of all-out warfare. Israel's goal would be to destroy the Arab armies so completely as to preclude a military threat for ten years. Such a scenario might prove elusive, however, because destroyed equipment could be quickly replaced, and the Arab countries had sufficient manpower to rebuild shattered forces.

Data as of December 1988