Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

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Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

Chapter 17

Deterrence and the Israel-Hezbollah War

Summer 2006

Shai Feldman

Israel is an interesting laboratory of deterrence theory. Since

the state’s establishment in 1948, its short history has provided

enough tests for almost every type of deterrence. Moreover, from

its very inception, the primary challenge of Israel’s national security

strategy was to find ways of addressing the basic quantitative

asymmetry characterizing the country’s relations with its

Arab environment. One such imperative was that the few make

every effort to avoid war with the many. And, central to the attempts

to avoid war was the pursuit of effective deterrence.

One way of celebrating Israel’s 61st anniversary is to note

that it has achieved robust general deterrence—Israel is widely

viewed as possessing the means to deter general threats to its

existence and survival. These means are seen as including the

development and deployment of every type of unconventional

weapon and the means to deliver them to any target in the

Middle East; the possession of the most advanced armed forces

in the region—the only ones considered to have fully implemented

the revolution in military affairs; the building of a national

economy with a gross domestic product far larger than

any of Israel’s neighbors; the possession of a scientific and

technological base that generates the most advanced militaryindustrial

sector in the region; and, last but not least, an alliance

with the only remaining superpower—the United States.

The result of Israel’s robust general deterrence is that none

of its adversaries can seriously contemplate the option of ending

the conflict by military means—that is, by either totally

defeating Israel Defense Forces (IDF) or by destroying Israel with

nuclear weapons or other means. The extent to which Iran’s

possible acquisition of nuclear weapons will invalidate this

proposition is a subject of considerable debate.

The most important consequence of such robust general deterrence

is the conclusion reached by Israel’s Arab neighbors

that it cannot be defeated militarily and that, therefore, in one

form or another, it must be accommodated politically. Thus,

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