top of page

The strategy to counter the Iranian octopus

Policy Paper


Prologue, About, and Acknowledgements

ATCHALTA (atchalta.com) is a non-partisan, Zionist think tank and action-oriented organization, aiming to be the guardian of Israel's national security and resilience. ATCHALTA's expertise lies in a unique knowledge development methodology based on Dr. Zvi Lanir's Strategic Surprise theory, enabling us to uncover blind spots and distorted perceptions of reality that could catch Israeli and Jewish leadership worldwide off guard.

The founder of ATCHALTA, Eran Shayshon, has experience leading several projects since 2007 related to Iran's pursuit of regional hegemony and the reassessment of Israel's national security doctrine, first as the head of the political-security domain and later as the CEO of the Reut Institute. Indeed, the work in this document is largely a continuation of several projects Eran was involved in at the Reut Institute.

In 2007, the Reut Institute submitted three memoranda to the Winograd Committee after the publication of the interim report of the committee, which was established to examine the failures of the Second Lebanon War. Reading these documents today paints them almost as prophetic in light of today's reality. Among other things, these documents argued that the Second Lebanon War exposed trends undermining Israel's national security doctrine, highlighted the formation of the Iranian proxy axis (the Moqawama Axis), and precisely described Iran's strategy to implode Israel. Even then, the documents stated that Israel is at a strategic inferiority against Iran and its proxies, and that its military power is irrelevant to the emerging threat. The memoranda called on the Winograd Committee to dedicate a chapter in its conclusions to the issue of Israel's national security doctrine and to recommend that the Israeli government establish a committee to update this doctrine. In a meeting with a very senior intelligence officer where the Reut Institute's interpretation of the Iranian strategy was presented, we were told that what we described "was not in the intelligence material," thereby ignoring the possibility that the Israeli stagnant mindset had led to a definition of intelligence collection priorities that overlooked the Iranian threat components Reut pointed out.


During the writing process, we consulted various experts from different fields, and we wish to thank them for their time, goodwill, and contribution to this document. It should be clarified that the ideas presented in this document reflect only ATCHALTA's position, and some of the people we met with disagreed with some of our conclusions and assumptions. We would like to thank several individuals who provided feedback on the first draft of this document, including Yossi Hollander, Dr. Carmit Padan, Eli Novershtern, Terry Newman, Colonel (Res.) Yuda Wagman, Gabriel Rosenberg, and Efrat Sofer. We also thank several individuals, including senior security officials, politicians, and media personnel, who provided us with feedback on the first draft but preferred that their names not be published. 


Finally, although we mentioned this in the text as well, we feel obliged to note that we were greatly influenced by the writings of Major General (Res.) Gershon HaCohen and Dr. Yagil Henkin; on economic issues, by the work of Dr. Shlomit Wagman-Rattner; and by the ideas of entrepreneur and historian Thomas Kaplan.

Executive Summary

Iran's commitment to total war against Israel is absolute, reflected in an effective and nearly flawless strategy, potentially creating the most severe existential threat to the State of Israel since its establishment. The Iranian strategy optimally leverages the advantage of the large territory from which Iran and its proxies operate, their demographic advantage in the region, their numerical advantage in the diplomatic arena, and the utilization of global social and geo-strategic trends.


In Israel, there is an almost complete overlap between the concept of national security and the military doctrine. Consequently, the State of Israel has chosen to invest in offensive military power at the expense of resilience. However, Iran and its proxies have identified the resilience of Israeli society as a weak point. The goal of the Iranian strategy is not to defeat the IDF militarily but to break the spirit of Israeli society until it collapses, similar to the collapse of white South Africa. Through its strategy, Iran denies the possibility of an Israeli ‘decisive victory’, and therefore, a central conclusion of this document is the need to change the existing balance between investment in offensive military power and investment in resilience and endurance. This necessary conclusion implies nothing less than a revolution in Israel's national security doctrine.


Israel is a state fleeing from the message, as Iran has already ushered Israel into an era of 'open war,' a reality where direct clashes and friction are increasing, and ceasefire periods are expected to shorten. The Iranian nuclear project constitutes an existential threat in itself and is also an important complementary component of the open war strategy. It is assumed that the military friction will rise to the point of the possibility of an all-out war with Iran once it becomes a nuclear threshold state. Israel is at a strategic conceptual inferiority and does not have an effective military option against the threat.


The prevailing perception among many in Israel is that the key to addressing the Iranian threat is regime change. However, the threshold for regime change is so high that Israel cannot rely solely on this alternative, which may prove to be nothing more than wishful thinking. Therefore, Israel's challenge is to rapidly adapt during the war to challenges from Iran and its proxies and to update its national security doctrine accordingly.


Delays in investigating the events of October 7 or reassessing the defense budget for the 'day after' could be destructive for the State of Israel. A thorough investigation and a renewed update of Israel's national security doctrine, translating it into resource-backed policy, must begin as early as possible. Such work will undoubtedly include a change in national priorities, emphasizing Israel's ability to withstand a prolonged military and political war of attrition.

While formulating a new national security doctrine against the Iranian threat will require several ideological decisions that Israel may find difficult to make at present, primarily the question of control over the Palestinians, Israel does not have the luxury of delay. Therefore, this document proposes a re-examination of several urgent dimensions of national security related to the Iranian threat and derives some operational goals from them.


Suggested Approach

In its strategy, Iran denies the possibility of an Israeli ‘decisive victory’, necessitating a change in the existing balance between investment in offensive military power and investment in resilience and endurance. While the emphasis on investment in offensive power is reflected in the military's building and equipping to achieve quick decisive victories over the enemy, investment in endurance should be expressed through fostering:

  1. Resilience and stamina of the economy and society to manage prolonged wars, for example, maintaining the production capacity and vitality of the economy, mental fortitude of the society, civil defense, and the functional continuity of state institutions.

  2. Soft power, which will allow Israel to maintain its international credit during prolonged wars and protect the very legitimacy of its existence.

 

Israel needs to add the principle of 'prevention' to its national security doctrine, focusing on thwarting the enemy's force buildup. This principle, more suitable for dealing with Iranian proxies, will restore balance to Israel's national security doctrine. This balance was disrupted with the addition of the 'defense' principle in 2007 based on the Meridor Committee's recommendation, as it created structural tension with the principles of early warning, deterrence, and decisive victory, and contributed to Israel's passive approach toward the enemy's force buildup.

Israel update strategy

Operative Goals

In light of the need to change the national security doctrine, as well as analyzing several weaknesses of Iran and its proxies, we derive several operational goals that will help Israel cope with the threat from Iran:

  • Preparing the Economy, Society, and Military for Prolonged Conflict: Israel needs to

operative goals

rethink its security, economic, political, and diplomatic preparations for a long period of instability and disruption. Israel's challenge is to maintain the production capacity and vitality of the economy, instill mental resilience in society, and ensure the functional continuity of state institutions, in a reality where periods of calm will shorten, and disruptions and disturbances will become integral parts. The practical implication is reallocating some resources intended for offensive power to bolster the Israeli resilience and endurance. We recommend that a dedicated governmental team or committee undertake an intensive learning process over a few months, after which they will present recommendations and principles for the desired approach.

  • Restoring Spatial Defense Doctrine of Frontline Communities: In the early years of the state, border communities successfully served as an integral part of Israel's first line of defense. For various reasons, this concept was abandoned over the years. It would make sense to readopt territorial defense, which has the potential to strengthen resilience by creating a broader overlap between the security task of the border community residents, their living space, and their livelihood. This approach will contribute to the ability to withstand prolonged wars and also provide an initial response to potential incursions by the Iranian proxy network, as seen on October 7.

  • Investment in Developing Soft Power: The war has demonstrated the necessity of upgrading the foreign affairs apparatus and adequately funding it to maintain Israel's international credit during prolonged wars, manage diplomatic and cognitive offensives against Iran, and mitigate the assault on Israel’s legitimacy and the accompanying antisemitism. Specifically, Israel needs to challenge the lenient attitude of the Western left towards Iran's serial human rights violations and the prevailing perception that it does not pose a threat to the West.

  • Economic Assault on Iran: The Iranian regime and its proxies collapse the economies wherever they operate to advance the struggle against Israel, thereby fueling social unrest against them. The economy is Iran's soft underbelly, and an economic assault on Iran, led by an international task force in cooperation with the U.S., might even undermine the regime's foundations, which many in Iran view as illegitimate due to its brutal repression.

  • Regional Alliance: Maintaining and developing a regional alliance has the potential to become a counterweight to the axis Iran created with its proxies. This regional alliance proved effective in the Iranian attack on April 14, 2024. Still, it is informal and defensive. There is potential to upgrade the regional alliance based on a normalization process with Saudi Arabia. However, the ability to expand and upgrade the alliance may depend on the outcomes of the war in Gaza and Israel's policy on the Palestinian issue.

  • Proxy Network: Israel should take the opportunity to establish, with regional alliance countries, a network of sub-state proxies to challenge Iran and each of its proxies. Among others, it is possible to strengthen the national Lebanese forces, Christians, Druze, and Sunnis, who are concerned about Hezbollah undermining the state's sovereignty and turning it into a failed state. Although Israel is ‘traumatized’ by its support of the Maronites in the First Lebanon War, times have changed, and supporting these forces against Hezbollah with training, weapons, money, and humanitarian and civilian aid is imperative. It is unlikely to establish a regional proxy network based on an ideological framework like Iran’s axis. Still, it is possible to create an effect of 'pressure across the board,' allowing for better handling of the multi-theater threat.


There is no magic solution to the challenge Iran poses to Israel, and the near future is expected to be filled with a long military and political war of attrition. However, updating the national security doctrine and implementing the goals we highlight in this document might shift the pressure onto Iran and its proxies until the storm passes, creating a reality that also holds many opportunities for the State of Israel.    


Introduction

Iran's vision for the eradication of Israel has been translated into an ambitious operational plan that has been steadily developed over recent decades. Despite Israel's military and technological superiority, Iran holds conceptual and strategic superiority, reflected in a military doctrine that has rendered Israel's advantages less relevant.[1]


In the hours and days following the massacre on October 7, the prevailing assessment in Israel was that Iran was behind it, accompanied by the fear that Hamas' pogrom was merely the opening salvo of an all-out war by Iran and its proxies against Israel. Consequently, the government considered launching a preemptive strike against Hezbollah. Although the updated assessment today is that Iran was not aware of the timing of the attack, there is no doubt that it is the primary instigator. If there was any disagreement between Hamas and Iran, it pertained only to the timing and circumstances of the attack.


The nature and scope of threats to Israel have dramatically changed in recent years, necessitating an updated comprehensive national security doctrine that includes a response to the Iranian challenge. Formulating a new national doctrine may require several fundamental decisions on sensitive issues, which are unlikely to be resolved under the current polarization in Israel. Israel cannot wait for the conditions to mature for resolving some of these issues.


Therefore, this document represents our attempt to propose at least a framework for discussion on how to deal with Iran and its proxies. The document will crystalize the nature of the threat, highlight the relevance gaps in Israel's national security doctrine, identify Iran's weak points, and finally propose a reframing of several dimensions in the national security doctrine, along with a derived strategy to address the threat.

 

The 'Open War' Threat and Iran's Ring of Fire Around Israel

Hamas and Iranian spokespersons use the term "open war" (حرب مفتوحة) to describe the military strategy of the Iran and its proxies. The purpose of this concept is a prolonged war of attrition at varying intensities, not aimed at a decisive military victory, but intended to exact a significant economic and social toll on Israel over time.


The Iranian strategy relies on the deployment of a network of proxies across the Middle East, creating a kinetic ring of fire around Israel. The relationships between Iran and these organizations vary from one theater to another, as does their degree of alignment with Iran. [2] Iran's limited control over its proxies allows for plausible deniability regarding their actions.


Iran has created a framework that gives new meaning to the Shiite identity in the Middle East, encompassing many diverse currents.[3] The principle of resistance – 'al-Muqawama' – has become a leading theological principle, and its broad interpretation has allowed Iran to forge alliances beyond the Shiite Crescent, notably with Sunni Palestinian organizations, primarily Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The clear vision of the struggle against Israel translates easily into specific goals for the current campaign in Gaza and the north: survival and continued leadership of the Islamic and Palestinian resistance ethos against Israel. Achieving these goals will mark the war as a significant milestone in realizing this vision.


Iranian innovation also extends to changes in the doctrine of military use of force.[4] The traditional security threats to Israel stemmed from challenges posed by conventional armies, whose doctrines were inspired by the characteristics of combat in World War II. Against these threats, Israel managed to create conceptual and operational superiority. Iranian innovation redefined methods of combat, the way forces are deployed, and the use of new weaponry. Iranian combat patterns rely on the use of swarms of UAVs and drones, large quantities of precision ballistic and cruise missiles, underground fortifications, and the use of human shields for defense as well as human 'waves,' for offence, as seen on October 7.


The Significance of the Iranian Nuclear Threat

The Iranian nuclear project is an existential threat to Israel in itself (which we will not expand on in this document). However, for the Iranians, it appears to be primarily an important complementary component of the 'open war' doctrine. The nuclear threat not only establishes Iran as an indisputable regional power center but also strengthens Iran's pursuit of regional hegemony and enhances the regime's influence in Tehran over countries and organizations in the Middle East. As Iran acquires nuclear weapons, its ability to freely operate its proxies will significantly increase, heightening threats to Israel's national security.


In recent months, Iran has been dropping hints that it has already become a threshold state, and possibly even more than that.[5] There is a very high likelihood that Iran is exploiting the international community's diverted attention towards Israel and Ukraine to break through to nuclear capability. Once Iran achieves nuclear weapons or becomes a threshold state, the intensity of conflict with Israel is expected to rise, potentially escalating into an all-out war from Iran.


The implications of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are numerous and severe. Beyond the direct threat to Israel's existence, such a situation could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and destabilize the region in a way that harms all countries in the area, including those striving for peace and stability. Israel and its regional and international partners must act decisively to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state and to maintain the regional balance of power.


Iran's Soft Power

To its military components, Iran adds a complementary use of global soft political power. Despite the sanctions regime imposed on it and the tendency in Israel to view Iran as an isolated country, it has, in recent years, become a political powerhouse. Iran leverages its regional and global influence to establish regional hegemony, isolate Israel, and undermine the existing world order. The alliances it creates and the expansion of its influence zones, even in Africa and Latin America, have helped it cope with the sanctions imposed on it over the years.


Iran in the International Arena 

Iran's inclusion in the BRICS is seen as part of a global move to undermine American hegemony, led by China and Russia. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, cooperation among these three countries has tightened and taken on significant military dimensions, despite existing tensions between them.

Iran is attempting to leverage its regional status to undermine the Abraham Accords. Iran leads the Axis of Moqawama in its competition for regional hegemony, primarily against the pro-Western Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, Iran has exerted political, economic, diplomatic, and military pressure to negate their achievements and prevent their expansion.

 

The third axis competing for regional hegemony, led by Turkey and Qatar and composed of entities aligned with the Sunni stream of political Islam associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, has become much more coordinated with Iran in recent years, particularly concerning support for Hamas.


Iran and the Western Left

Iran benefits from the support of civil society organizations in the West for the Palestinian cause on campuses and in academia, labor unions, the media, and even local councils in the West, although Iran's connection to these networks is only indirect.


Iran should have been a target of criticism from human rights organizations in the West, but in practice, it enjoys relative immunity from them. This silence can be explained by the connection between the progressive movement, identified with the banner of human rights, and Islamist organizations. The latter, for ideological reasons, focus their criticism on Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, the UAE, and Israel – countries that challenge Iran's aspiration for regional hegemony. Despite the hostility between Sunni and Shia, there is increasing ideological affinity and cooperation between Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. [6]


Furthermore, the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) during the Trump era was a formative experience for the American left, perceived as a violation of international norms and the original sin. The growing criticism of Israel during the war also fosters numerous expressions of sympathy for Iran.


All these factors lead to a tolerant attitude from the Western left towards Iran's systematic human rights violations. For example, progressive leaders in Congress do not perceive Iran as a threat to U.S. national security. Before the war, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, Chris Murphy, stated that he did not see Iran as a direct threat to the U.S., and that Iranian missiles are not aimed at Israel.[7] 


Implications

Israel has never had a formal, written national security doctrine. However, an analysis of the principles associated with such a doctrine reveals that these principles have become obsolete in the face of the Iranian threat.


Israel's National Security Doctrine is Irrelevant

The security doctrine of Iran and its proxies dismantles the core principles of Israel's national security doctrine:

  • Deterrence: The principle of deterrence is less effective against fundamentalist sub-state entities that sanctify death or against Iran, whose raison d'être includes the principle of exporting the Islamic revolution. The combination of ideology, the Iranians' self-perception as a historical power, and the aspiration to challenge the world order render the concept of deterrence, as we understand it, irrelevant. This misunderstanding has led to the Iranian concept of 'strategic patience' often being mistakenly interpreted in Israel as proof of Iranian deterrence.

  • Early Warning: The intelligence failure of October 7 is primarily a problem of cognitive fixation, which led to the misinterpretation of explicit signs of an impending attack. Additionally, it was a result of the overstretch of intelligence coverage. The geographical areas and theaters that Israeli intelligence needed to cover have never been so large and complex, challenging the allocation of intelligence attention. For example, the cessation of eavesdropping on Hamas communication devices a year before the massacre was likely done to redirect resources to other sectors perceived as more urgent.

  • Decisive Victory: The Iranian doctrine nullifies the Israeli approach to achieving a quick military decisive victory. Iran’s proxies’ strategy making classical Israeli military victory impossible due to underground fortifications, extensive geographical spread, and their decentralized organizational structure. The Iranian doctrine aims for prolonged wars, assuming that Israel cannot endure them over time due to the economic implications of long-term reserve mobilization, the erosion of Israel's international standing, and the polarization in society.

  • Defense: In hindsight, the attempt by the Meridor Committee in 2007 to update the national security doctrine and add the principle of defense contributed to Israel's addiction to buying quiet even while its enemies used this time to build their strength. As Dr. Yagil Henkin points out, the principle of defense is in structural tension and sometimes cancels out the other three pillars.[8] Defense was not supposed to eliminate the need for decisive victory, but it has seemingly done so. Furthermore, despite Israel providing its residents with the most advanced air defense systems in the world, in a more intense confrontation with Hezbollah or the entire Iranian proxy network, Israel could face economic collapse due to the cost of munitions and might not be able to provide adequate protection for its citizens.


Israel is at a Strategic Inferiority: It Currently has no Response 

The significance of Israel's conceptual disadvantage is that Israel does not even have the potential to decisively defeat its enemies: the IDF lacks the conventional capability to prevent missile fire from such a vast geographical area.


The Iranian strategy is nearly flawless and creates the most severe existential threat to the State of Israel since its establishment. This strategy optimally utilizes the advantages of the large area from which Israel's enemies operate, their demographic advantage in the region, their numerical advantage in the diplomatic arena, and global social and geo-strategic trends.


Israel has become more aggressive towards Iran in recent years and has imposed direct costs on it. However, it has not succeeded in causing the Iranians to reassess their regional policy. When the regime perceives the war against Israel as an integral part of the principle of exporting the revolution and thus as a reason for its existence, much more is needed to make the regime reconsider its path (see the issue of deterrence above).


Israel, with its campaign between the wars (known as MABAM) approach, and the international community, with the 2015 nuclear agreement, have only managed to slow down the pace of Iranian power-building and achieve tactical setbacks. The threshold that Israel needs to meet to influence the fundamental motivation of Iran is so high that it is doubtful whether this task is achievable.


A State Fleeing from the Message: Israel Has Already Entered an 'Open War'

In hindsight, Operation Cast Lead in 2009 can be identified as the point where Israel entered a chronic and escalating process of instability: the pogrom on October 7 was a milestone in the reality of open war. Iran sanctifies the instability that allows it to increase its regional influence and erode Israel's resilience. Ceasefire periods are expected to shorten, and the future, according to Iranian planning, is meant to be filled with increasing clashes and friction.

The possibilities for mediation are dwindling. Iran's limited control over its proxies makes attempts at mediation and negotiations on ceasefires much more complex. Such a mission may require the application of various means and pressures on each player in Iran's proxy network separately, according to the unique context in which they operate. For example, it seems that even a ceasefire in Gaza will not end the Houthi siege, which has become a focal point of international conflict.


Revisiting Acute Dimensions of the National Security Doctrine

Israel must develop a new approach and language, from which clear goals can be derived to confront the complex threat posed by Iran and its proxies. Ideally, this approach would be part of an updated, comprehensive national security doctrine. However, the type of national decisions required to formulate such a comprehensive doctrine may render this task impossible at present. Israel does not have the privilege to wait for the conditions to mature for such decisions. Therefore, it must urgently formulate a 'scaffold' of an updated national security doctrine to address the Iranian threat, acknowledging the tensions arising from Israel's inability to resolve fundamental national issues.


Main Principles of a New National Security Doctrine

The Israeli national security doctrine (which has never been formally defined) has created an almost complete overlap between the concept of national security and the doctrine of force employment. It was Ben-Gurion who resolved a basic national security dilemma by choosing to invest in offensive military power at the expense of resilience.[9]


However, Iran and its proxies identified Israel's resilience as the Achilles' heel of national security. A vivid expression of this was provided by Nasrallah in his famous "Spider Web" speech. From the Iranian perspective, the strategy of open war is intended to break Israeli resilience and endurance. Israel's preference for calm over direct confrontation with its enemies since the Second Lebanon War has played into the hands of Iran and its proxies.


Conclusion: Since the Iranian doctrine nullifies the IDF's ability to achieve decisive victory, the existing balance between investment in offensive military power and investment in resilience and endurance must be changed, and there needs to be a discussion on the extent and significance of this change. While the emphasis on investment in offensive military power is reflected in the military's building and equipping to achieve quick decisive victories over the enemy, investment in endurance should focus on fostering:

  1. Resilience, which is essentially the economy and society's ability to sustain long wars, including, for example, maintaining the production capacity and vitality of the economy, mental fortitude of society, and functional continuity of state institutions.

  2. Soft Political Power, which would enable Israel to lead complex diplomatic maneuvers, maintain Israel's diplomatic and political credit during long wars, build relationships with states and sub-state groups in the region, protect the legitimacy of the State of Israel, and conduct diplomatic, cognitive, and public offensives against its enemies.

Furthermore, we recommend adding another principle to the doctrine of force employment, 'prevention,'[10] which would balance the principle of defense with the other principles of the national security doctrine.


The interpretation of the principle of defense has focused on protecting the population and strategic infrastructure from external threats. Although Israel's air defense system, like the Iron Dome, has achieved impressive successes in protecting the home front, it has 'lulled' Israel regarding the enemy's buildup and created tension between the other principles of national security.


The principle of 'prevention,' on the other hand, means a commitment to preemptive strikes on the enemy's capabilities, infrastructure, and force-building efforts through military, political, economic, and cyber means. This approach is more suitable for dealing with Iranian proxies, which are sub-state entities, rather than states. By conducting targeted attacks on missile production systems, nuclear facilities, and logistical capabilities, Israel can significantly reduce the enemy's ability to cause long-term damage. This principle would force the enemy into a defensive posture and prevent them from developing the capabilities to harm Israel in the first place.

Operational Goals for Addressing the Iranian Threat

The following courses of action are based on the concept presented above and the identification of several weaknesses in the pan-Iranian system that Israel needs to exploit: Iran's political and civil repression and fragile economy, which hold potential for social unrest; the decentralized structure of the proxies, which also presents opportunities for Iran's unintended entanglements; the tension and hostility created by Iran's activities in the region, which create opportunities for new alliances; and the high potential to isolate Iran due to its serial human rights violations.


Here are several relevant topics for developing a response to the Iranian threat, along with some tensions, challenges, insights, and recommendations regarding them.


National Resilience: Preparing the Economy, Society, and Military for Prolonged Conflict

Israel needs to rethink its security, economic, political, and diplomatic preparations for a long period of instability and disruption.[11] We recommend establishing an independent inter-ministerial committee to examine the full implications of this challenge.

Israel's challenge is to cultivate social capital, which has been proven to be a critical component for a state's ability to cope with emergencies and crises. It is essential to foster mental resilience in society and ensure the functional continuity of state institutions in a reality where periods of calm will shorten, and disruptions and disturbances will become integral parts of life.

It is necessary to consider reallocating some resources intended for offensive military power to bolster the resilience of the economy. For example, with eighty million dollars, one could purchase an additional F-35 aircraft, which is unlikely to significantly change Israel's geo-strategic situation. Alternatively, these funds could be invested in building new systems that ensure the economy's full functionality even during prolonged emergencies, encouraging the civilian population to install passive defense measures (similar to the TAMA 38 framework) or in formal and informal education systems to mentally prepare society for a prolonged diplomatic siege.

Especially, the current reality demands maintaining social cohesion. The key to addressing the Iranian threat lies in the ability of Israeli society to demonstrate solidarity, citizenship, a pioneering spirit, and belief in the justness of its cause. Israel entered the conflict on the brink of a constitutional crisis and deep internal divide. The war blurred the polarization but only temporarily, and the divide is gradually returning to the forefront, focusing on the war's objectives and the issue of the hostages. The divide is once again shaking Israeli society, with the government's and public officials' conduct contributing to this.

Public trust in state institutions and political leaders has a decisive impact on the ability of social groups to show solidarity with each other during crises and emergencies.


Revitalization of the Spatial Defense Concept

In the early years of the state, reliance on frontline communities was an integral part of Israel's security doctrine. The role of the frontline communities was to serve as the first line of defense alongside the regular army, prior to the mobilization of the reserve forces. Spatial defense was also intended to assert state sovereignty and define its borders, serving as an 'intelligence sensor' capable of warning about suspicious changes in the area.


Over the years, the practice of spatial defense eroded, and frontline communities, once considered a security asset, became a burden. At the beginning of the current war, they were evacuated even before Hezbollah fired a single shot.


The logic behind revitalizing spatial defense in frontline communities is also based on the nature of the threat. The military doctrine of Iran and its proxies does not seek military victory but aims to break the Israeli spirit. The concept of spatial defense strengthens resilience by creating a broader alignment between the security tasks of the frontline residents, their living space, and their livelihood, making it more resilient in prolonged wars.[12]

Practically, the government should:

  • Integrate the residents of these communities into the local spatial defense system, including organization, armament, and training, to improve their ability to handle threats.

  • Strengthen the infrastructure of the frontline communities to ensure continuous and effective presence of residents and security forces.

  • Promote education and awareness among the residents about the importance of their participation in regional defense.

  • Coordination and cooperation mechanisms between security forces and community residents.

  • Provide economic incentives to citizens living in frontline areas.

  • Adapt legislation and regulations to support the operation of territorial defense.


Grooming Soft Power Capabilities

In an open war, the importance of the international arena sometimes surpasses that of the military campaign, yet so far, Israel has "not stepped onto the field." Complex diplomatic maneuvers have been managed for decades from the Prime Minister's Office, while the foreign affairs apparatus has weakened and atrophied over the years. The dominance of the Prime Minister's Office in leading foreign policy created a high correlation between the talent of each Prime Minister and Israel's diplomatic capital. However, changes in global power balances, social trends in the West, and the Iranian strategy that isolates Israel necessitate an upgrade of the foreign affairs apparatus, transforming it into a well-resourced 'diplomatic IDF' that adapts to central political-security challenges, including the ability to work with civil society organizations and Jewish communities.


Israel needs to develop the capability to lead complex diplomatic initiatives that support its military efforts. For example, Israel wasted the rare window of opportunity of global sympathy in the weeks following October 7 to advance initiatives that would undermine the logic of Iran and its proxies, such as dismantling UNRWA (which would effectively abolish the right of return) or creating international pressure on Egypt to temporarily open its border to accommodate refugees in Rafah.


In a time of "open and prolonged war," soft power is required to maintain Israel's international credit. Israel is currently in a situation where the war goals have not yet been achieved, but international credit is rapidly depleting, and tensions with diplomats from key countries like the USA, Egypt, and Jordan are surfacing.


Public Relations Offensive Against Iran: While Iran is a pariah state and a serial human rights violator, it is Israel that has seemingly lost favor in the Western public eye. Despite the high approval ratings Israel enjoys in American surveys, Islamist groups and the radical left have taken over the public discourse, marking Israel as the absolute evil, not Iran. A campaign to expose the true nature of the Tehran regime, revealing the inherent paradox of the left's actual support for Iran, is essential.


Commitment to Fighting Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism and Supporting Jewish Communities: This is critical and complements Israel's military maneuvers. The rise in antisemitism impacts Israel's ability to achieve its military objectives, and this issue should be on the agenda of national security practitioners. This could create synchronization between government bodies that currently operate in silos to weaken groups in the West that support Hamas and Iran. Such an understanding might also encourage diplomatic efforts and intelligence cooperation between Israel and pro-Israel groups, helping Jewish organizations worldwide in their fight against antisemitism.


Economic Assault on Iran

The central weak point of Iran is the unpopularity of the regime due to its repression and economic situation. One of the main factors driving social unrest is the economy, which is entirely focused on fulfilling the regime's ideology.[13] In recent years, Iranian citizens have experienced a significant decline in their standard of living,[14] contributing to widespread social protests since 2009. Paraphrasing Kissinger's famous quote about Israel, [15] the vast resources Iran spends on its regional presence during a deep economic crisis suggest that Iran has no domestic policy, only foreign policy.


The Revolutionary Guards act as the regime's Iron Dome against protests, and their loyalty is bought through a 'resistance economy' aimed at maximizing economic value for the 'guardians of the Moqawama,' inherently harming the national economy.[16] The Revolutionary Guards are actively involved in supervising and spying on citizens and opposition groups, and in suppressing civil unrest. This allows the Iranian regime to pursue unpopular and even provocative policies. The 'resistance economy' model has been replicated by Iran's proxies, creating chronic economic distortions and harming the economy wherever they operate.


As a result, a vicious cycle is created: the entities comprising the Axis of Moqawama collapse the local-state economy to advance the struggle against Israel, thus creating social unrest. At the same time, the social unrest locks Iran and the Moqawama organizations into a war against Israel to divert attention from everyday troubles.


The economy is the soft underbelly of Iran and its proxies. Indeed, unrest in Iran significantly increased when sanctions were imposed, exacerbating the economic crisis. However, most sanctions have now been lifted. Dr. Shlomit Wagman Rattner,[17] former head of the Anti-Money Laundering Authority, suggests establishing an international task force focusing on cooperation with the U.S. and regional countries, aimed at identifying and freezing Iranian assets within existing legal frameworks related to counter-terrorism financing and money laundering. This would include imposing global trade restrictions on Iranian oil, creating disincentives for such trade, tightening sanctions on Iran, and ensuring international organizations that have blacklisted Iran (primarily the Financial Action Task Force, FATF) enhance their operational measures against Iran. Additionally, disconnecting Iran from the SWIFT banking system should be pursued.


Regional Alliance (and the Palestinian Conundrum)

The interception of the Iranian missile attack on April 14, 2024, highlighted the importance of the regional alliance, as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, along with Jordan and the Gulf States, contributed to thwarting the attack. This action was enabled by the establishment of the "Middle East Air Defense Treaty Organization" (MEADTO), an informal U.S.-sponsored framework for intelligence and operational coordination. The background to the alliance is the shared perception of the Iranian threat to the region and NATO member states.[18]


Maintaining and developing the regional alliance has become a critical issue for Israel's national security. The alliance has the potential to become a counterbalance to the deployment of Iran and its proxies.


However, attempts to add dimensions beyond defense to the alliance may encounter a trap stemming from Israel's inability to resolve the post-war situation in Gaza: A permanent military presence in the Gaza Strip might create a more secure environment for Israel, but it could also leave Israel isolated in the confrontation against Iran and its proxies. On the other hand, transferring control of Gaza to a Palestinian entity might strengthen the alliance and normalization with Saudi Arabia but could also create strategic security challenges from Gaza.


While support for a Palestinian state is declining in Israel, it is rising in the international community. If Israel thought that the international community would show greater understanding of its concerns about Palestinian sovereignty after October 7, it finds that this position is leading to a collision course with some of its closest allies.


Israel's strategic dilemma arises from conflicting security interests: Israel aims to maintain its security interests in the region on its own and is determined to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, but it is also reluctant to control the Palestinians. At the same time, Israel must create a regional alliance with American and international support against Iran.


The decision regarding the Palestinian issue, sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and the future of Gaza is a central issue that we believe cannot be resolved at present. However, Israel is at a crossroads, and every action or inaction carries risk, which also impacts the ability to maintain a proactive regional coalition against Iran.


We believe that an agenda can be formulated that rejects the establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state, maintains security control over the Gaza Strip, and transfers civilian control there to a Palestinian entity. Such an agenda might enable normalization with Saudi Arabia and the preservation of the regional alliance. (See the concept of a renewed authority as the permanent status).


Establishing a Proxy Network for the Regional Alliance

American historian and businessman Dr. Thomas Kaplan proposed a strategy to counter Iran called "Strategic Proportionality," which includes a call to "reverse engineer" the concept of proxies: Israel or Saudi Arabia could develop proxy organizations within or on the borders of Iran. Iran has many ethnic and religious minorities hostile to the regime.[19]


The war that unfolded following the October 7 pogrom revealed that Iran's proxy axis is not as cohesive a system as it may have appeared before the war, but rather a network of players with significant autonomy and sometimes conflicting interests. Each of the proxy organizations in the Iranian network operates under a complex web of local and external constraints.


Israel might have the opportunity to establish a proxy network with the regional alliance countries to challenge Iran and each of its proxies. After the failure to cultivate Maronite allies before and during the First Lebanon War, Israel's policy in the Middle East became more restrained and passive. However, it may be time to change this approach. Israel should aim to strengthen, among others, the Christian forces in Lebanon, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen, and also the separatist minorities within Iran itself – the Kurds, Azeris, Turkmen, Baloch, and Arabs – through training, weapons, money, and humanitarian and civilian aid.


Israel will not be able to create a network with a regional consciousness or based on an ideological framework like the Axis of Resistance. However, if Iran's proxies are strongly challenged by local forces, an effect of 'pressure across the board' might be created, allowing for better handling of the multi-theater threat. This could heighten the tension between Iran's proxy organizations and the states in which they operate, strengthen their domestic rivals, and ultimately lead to Iranian "overstretch," turning its proxies from an asset into a liability.[20]

 The End.


[1] This was already stated in the memorandum submitted by the Reut Institute to the Winograd Committee after the publication of its interim report in April 2007.

[2] II The International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran’s Network of Influence in the Middle East, November 2019

[3] On the Shiite in Iraq read here: Yitzhak Nakash, The Shi'is of Iraq, Princeton University Press, 1994

[4] Gershon HaCohen, Makor Rishon, 5/4/2024.

[5] For example, Kamal Kharrazi, the advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader on foreign policy, said that Iran would have to change its nuclear doctrine if its existence were threatened. According to him, Iran has the capability to develop nuclear weapons (Asaf Rosenzweig, N12 Reporters' Telegram Group Chat, May 9, 2024). Ahmad Bakhshayesh Ardestani, a former member of the Majlis National Security Commission, who was elected to parliament in the recent March elections, said in an interview with Rouydad 24 that Iran's decision to risk attacking Israel in April was because it possesses nuclear weapons (from the Telegram channel "Third Lebanon War," May 11, 2024).

[6] An example of Iran's attempt to strengthen and arm the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan can be found here.

[7] Murphy also claimed that Hezbollah is a legitimate Lebanese player and stated that support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE only perpetuates the conflict. See the CSIS podcast, August 10, 2021.   

[8]  Makor Rishon, 26/4/2024, here.

[9]  Gershon HaCohen, Makor Rishon, 5/4/2024.

[10]  Dr. Yagil Henkin proposes canceling the principle of defense and replacing it with prevention. See his article in Makor Rishon, 26/4/2024. We suggest not canceling the principle of defense but rather adding the principle of prevention to it. This would create a balance between the principle of defense and the other principles.

[11]  Dr. Carmit Padan's, Israel Hayom, 17/3/14.

[12] Gershon HaCohen, "The Spatial Defense in the Frontline Communities – As Essential as Ever," Dado Center, 2018.

[13] Iran chooses to transfer the billions of dollars it generates from its oil industry to Moqawama organizations in the Middle East instead of improving the quality of life for Iranian citizens. The Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards are the carriers of the revolution across the Middle East, responsible for building and maintaining Iran's proxy network. Following its withdrawal from the nuclear program, Iran is facing sanctions that significantly impact its economy.

[14] Forbes magazine declared last year that the Iranian currency is the weakest in the world, and the World Bank labeled the last decade as Iran's 'lost decade.' Iran is a country rich in natural resources, with some of the world's largest gas and oil reserves. However, Israel has a much larger economy.  Ricky Maman, Makor Rishon, 19/4/2024

[15] U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the Nixon administration coined the phrase, "Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy."

[16] The characteristics of the resistance economy go beyond the scope of this document, but it is worth noting that they typically include dubious investments worldwide, illegal trade in digital currencies, a drug-based economy, and operations through front companies and money changers, leaving no clear record in the international economic system. All these activities are aimed at maximizing the economic profit of the revolution's gatekeepers. For instance, the Revolutionary Guards control large parts of the economy through networks of businesses and companies operating in infrastructure, construction, oil and gas industries, transportation, and telecommunications. The Revolutionary Guards run a parallel economy, winning (often fictitious) infrastructure tenders and capturing a significant economic share of Iran's economy, without any real competition.

[17] Shlomit Wagman Rattner, Globes, 1/5/2024.

[18] Eran Lerman, publication by the JISS, published on 2/5/2024.

[19] Alon Pinkas, Haaretz, 14/10/2021

[20 Gil Murciano, Haaretz, 17/4/2024.

Comentários


bottom of page