Following his appearance before the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee this week, the media quoted the head of military intelligence, Major-General Amos Yadlin as saying that "Israeli deterrence has been reinstated since the Second Lebanon War, and this is affecting the entire region, including Iran and Syria." This surprising declaration is blissful and encouraging, yet it arouses several question marks.
First, only a year ago, upon the unsuccessful conclusion of the Second Lebanon War, we were told that Israel's deterrent power had collapsed and we were facing no less than an existential threat. Is it indeed possible to return to the glory days after just one year?
Secondly, despite the rapid restoration of our deterrent power, Qassam rockets from Gaza (which, by all accounts, is part of the regional system) continue to land in the western Negev. If we examine the IDF's definition for deterrence, this should not be happening. The army defines deterrence as follows: "Action or process of threat that prevents the enemy from taking action for fear of its results. Deterrence creates a sense of a credible threat that cannot be addressed by any reasonable activity in the minds of enemy decision-makers. Realizing the threat, in their view, includes results they are unable to or do not wish to cope with."
Thirdly, we could expect reinstated deterrence to lead Iran to conduct itself a little differently on the nuclear front. Yet nonetheless, Monday evening Ahmadinejad again reiterated, immediately after the French foreign minister's war threat, that he has no intention to curb the nuclear project. It appears, therefore, that not only does Israeli deterrence fail to assist on this front, the same is true of western deterrence as well.
Finally, even with excellent intelligence agencies it is very difficult to estimate the level of deterrence created by a country; after all, deterrence is not a monolithic creature or tangible object that can be measured physically or quantitatively. Indeed, it is an abstract and elusive concept and an image that can take various forms in accordance with the circumstances.
If the Air Force operation that took place in Syrian skies, according to foreign media reports, as well as the quiet abduction of one of the men behind Gilad Shalit's abduction contributed to deterrence, the results of the Qassam strike on Zikim (frightened soldiers, and parents protesting outside the base) worked the other way. This is even truer for the unsuccessful war in the north.
Deterrence is not a pendulum
In addition, Israel's deterrent image in the eyes of Iran's president is not the same as the way it is perceived by Syria's president, and it of course looks different in Nasrallah's view. The same is true for Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, as well as all other terror elements in the Palestinian arena.
And of course, the leadership's perception of deterrence is not the same as it is perceived by activists on the ground, which is particularly acute when we're dealing with terrorist organizations whose members do not necessarily comply with their leadership's policy and instructions.
Yet most importantly, we must realize that deterrence is not a pendulum influenced only by special developments in the security-military sphere. On the contrary, we can say with certainty that Israeli deterrence was developed layer by layer, in a methodical and stable manner, over the country's 60 years of existence, and based on a series of no less important elements: Regime stability; leadership quality; national cohesion and determination; the regime's democratic character; complete individual freedom; absolute willingness to inquire and engage in self-examination; scientific abilities, thriving economy and superior technologies.
Other factors that contributed to our deterrence include the unfathomable (in Mideastern terms) gross national product, quality of life, cultural and sports achievement, strength of the connection with and support of the Jewish people, high-quality immigration waves, and exceptional achievements by security forces in the challenging struggle for the country's existence.
All of the above created Israel's image as a "villa in the jungle" (in Barak's words) and a regional power that one should avoid bumping into in a dark alley late at night.
Israeli deterrence was not reinstated in the past year. It is a magnificent, solid, and stable tower and even if it was wearing down at the edges here and there (and inevitably so) this does not undermine it stability or, heaven forbid, pulverize it.
Deterrence serves important national interests, and in order to address all of them it needs to be constantly nourished by renewed and ongoing action that must be undertaken in complete silence: We must let the enemies understand the open and secret meaning of developments and deeds on our part. Any explicit talk about it, may only serve to undermine it.
The writer is a retired brigadier-general and former high-ranking intelligence official, and a senior instructor in the National Security College