In a meeting I recently had with a senior defense official I was told that the most difficult problem facing us at the moment is setting priorities in handling the host of defense issues – i.e Hamastan in the south, Syria and Hizbullah in the north, and the Iranian threat that is increasingly taking shape in the outer circle.
As I see it, the first and foremost challenge facing our leadership today is preventing the outbreak of an unnecessary war in the north. It is the most urgent, because our conflict with the Palestinians is a prolonged process and lacks a practical solution in the coming years, whereas in the Iranian arena Israel does not play the first fiddle anyway.
This becomes even more potent vis-à-vis the weakening of the western axis, highlighted by the waning US activity in Iraq. Another important element is what has been depicted in some Arab countries and radical Islamic organizations as Israel's failure in the Second Lebanon War, alongside the formation of a Hamas state in the Gaza Strip and the ineffective measures adopted by the western axis against nuclear Iran.
All this requires an in-depth examination of Israel's national defense doctrine and the armed forces' operational doctrines.
Although the army is currently undergoing a process of learning and modification under the guidance of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, he is acting in accordance with a defense doctrine that is irrelevant, and therefore will not produce the required achievements even if he wins future violent conflicts.
The Second Lebanon War boosted among regional countries and organizations the strategic doctrine that "not losing equals winning." Such an outcome – the implication of which is a severe blow to the Israeli population through a minimal loss of resources in the battle against the IDF – is perceived by them as an important achievement in the overall struggle against Israel. Therefore, Hizbullah, who clearly did not chalk up a military victory in the last war, has entered the Islamic pantheon as a hero and a role model.
Nasrallah and his cronies are waiting for royalties on the Lebanon-Syria-Iran axis. Israel, which wasn't defeated militarily, failed in the last war to utilize its full force and realize its objectives, and in so doing detracted from its power of deterrence, which is what led to a new situation vis-à-vis the Syrians.
A war with Syria, which three years ago did not seem feasible, now seems possible. It is important to note: Israel has the military force to confront and defeat Syria. In my opinion, even the countries and organizations surrounding us do not believe they can defeat Israel and its army in battle.
Nonetheless, it is highly important that the citizens of Israel and its leadership understand that the next war, if it breaks out, will differ from past wars: The home front is likely to be the aggressor's key target rather than the battlefield.
Syria is fully aware of Israel's military might, and therefore its military objective would be to inflict a severe blow on the home front with minimal friction with the IDF.
Even if the IDF finds itself deep within Syrian territory in the wake of a military flare-up (and with Damascus destroyed) Tel Aviv would also suffer a heavy blow and this would not necessarily constitute an Israeli victory to be followed by significant diplomatic achievements. It is reasonable to assume that the talks that would follow such a flare-up would lead to the evacuation of territories and dialogue on the Golan Heights.
Therefore, our national leadership must currently designate all the required resources to the defense establishment in order to prepare for any eventuality, and in parallel, to do its utmost to prevent a confrontation from flaring up in the north. The possibility of painful concessions such as discussions on the status of the Golan Heights must be examined. This is on condition that the sensitive issue is put to the Israeli public discourse from a position of national strength.
A future agreement with Syria could create a situation whereby several countries surrounding Israel, including Lebanon, would enable us to confront the Palestinian threat on the one hand and the Iranian threat on the other from a much more convenient position than the complex strategic situation Israel is in today.
The writer is a retired major-general and the deputy commander of the northern front during the Second Lebanon War