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Defending Frontline Communities: The Day After

The October 7th pogrom is not just an indication of an intelligence failure but also highlights the need to reevaluate Israel's perception of national security. In light of the destruction of Kibbutzim in the Gaza Envelope and the evacuations of communities near the Gaza and Lebanon borders, it is imperative to re-examine the broad aspects of the defense strategy in communities along the Israeli frontline. 

As an urgent first response, it has been decided to empower the first response squads in near-border settlements and in Samaria who could serve as the first line of defense in a security event. However, the colossal failure on October 7th has eroded the trust of civilians in the Gaza Envelope and in the North, in a way that such ‘cosmetic’ changes cannot repair. Residents of frontline communities feel as if the State of Israel has breached its unwritten contract with them. 

In the early years of the state, frontline communities played a crucial role in the Israeli defense doctrine. Their responsibility was to serve as the initial line of defense against enemy military incursions, to affirm state sovereignty, and to help establish its borders. This approach strengthened the sense of obligation towards protecting homes, thereby enhancing resilience at both the community and national levels.

However, this doctrine has gradually diminished. While frontline communities were once viewed as a security asset, they have increasingly become a liability. Nowadays, these communities are often evacuated even before the commencement of a full-scale campaign, as exemplified by the current situation with communities along the Lebanese border. Retired General Gershon HaCohen identifies a primary factor for this shift: the rise of liberal democratic principles in state institutions. These principles, which emphasize the distinction between civilian and military roles, have taken precedence over socialist ideals that prioritize individual contributions to the collective effort.

The necessity to revise Israel's spatial defense doctrine in frontline communities arises from the changing nature of security threats. Iran and its proxies, including Hamas, have developed a military strategy not aimed at achieving military victory, but rather at undermining the Israeli spirit. They perceive the Israeli social fabric as vulnerable, believing that a prolonged conflict will lead to the disintegration of Israeli society. An updated spatial defense concept could enhance resilience by integrating the security responsibilities of residents in conflict zones with their living environments and livelihoods, thereby making them more resistant to the strains of prolonged warfare.

The updated spatial defense doctrine should represent a renewed social contract between the State and the residents of frontline communities. This contract should not only focus on the state's obligations to its citizens, as is commonly discussed, but also acknowledge that life in Israel necessitates a 'citizenship' mindset characterized by a pioneering spirit and a dedication to taking action beyond legal obligations. Thus, spatial defense transcends mere military strategy; it embodies contemporary Zionism, intertwining national security with national and communal resilience, local leadership, and individual volunteerism. By adopting this approach, it becomes possible to maintain social cohesion, strengthen national resilience, and counteract the strategies of the Iranian adversary.


(This newsletter draws many ideas and information from two Hebrew sources: Gershon HaCohen, the Spatial Defense in the frontier, available on the IDF website, and an article by Arnon Segal titled Ben Gurion's Legacy, featured on the "Makor Rishon" website.)


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