‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’: Evolution of Israeli Hybrid Warfare

 By Dr. Manjari Singh

Hybrid conflict is not a new phenomenon; however, the concept regained greater momentum in the 21st century. The nature of warfare has completely changed from only being conventional to being a mix of conventional and unconventional, asymmetric and irregular actions. The vulnerability of the society in the era of globalisation, informatisation and technological advancement has increased owing to the omnipresence of hybrid threat.

The concept also involves state-centric, government-centric and region-centric responses to hybrid nature of threats. For instance, in the Israeli case, the security concerns demand for a full spectrum warfare operations popularly known as “rainbow of conflicts”. This includes a healthy mix of both low-intensity conflict (LIC) against its own Palestinian majority disputed territory, West Bank and Gaza and high-intensity conflict (HIC) against the contiguous states Syria, Lebanon and to extension against Iran. Initial focus being on LIC, the usage of mixed strategy was felt after the 2006 Lebanon war with Hezbollah wherein a mix of firepower and manoeuvre and both LIC and HIC were strengthened by the Israelis. Thus, a need for hybrid methods to fight future wars was stressed upon by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Similarly, Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea used hybrid tactics to its advantage. Hence, due to the constant evolution of hybrid means to warfare in terms of usage of tactics and strategies, there are several definitions available.

The widely accepted one is from the US Quadrennial Defence Review Report 2010 which defines the term as the one that “…may involve state adversaries that employ protracted forms of warfare, possibly using proxy forces to coerce or intimidate, or non-state actors using operational concepts and high-end capabilities traditionally associated with states”.[i] The report goes on to reflect that the term “has recently been used to capture the seemingly increased complexity of war, the multiplicity of actors involved, and the blurring between traditional categories of conflict. While the existence of innovative adversaries is not new, today’s hybrid approaches demand that the forces prepare for a range of conflicts”. Hybrid warfare as a concept first came into existence in 2005 and was first used during the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 commonly referred to as Lebanon war. The concept re-energised during the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine and Crimea.

In the Israeli context, the Jewish nation got its independence in 1948, however, owing to the complexities in its foundation and the fact that it was surrounded by adversaries; the founding fathers of Israel had pessimistic view regarding the sustainability of the state. Basic concerns being, the country is smaller both in terms of area as well as in population size; to draw a comparison, 2 million Israelis are surrounded by 400 million Arabs! To top it, it is a Jewish nation surrounded by majority Muslim countries. Hence, it was believed that long term survival of the state in such an environment would be difficult. It was realised that even to co-exist Israel was in need of a superior military strategy and a mix of strong standing and reserve armies. Thus, to address the issue of continuous supply of reserves at a short notice, conscription became mandatory.

Keeping these in mind, Israeli core military doctrine initially was framed with the following three strategic components in place: one, that the war cannot be fought on Israeli territory given the small size of the country thus greater loss and destruction, therefore, war is to take place only on adversary’s land; two, war needs to be brief so that economy does not topple down; and three, Israel should not take help of its external allies (thereby meaning the US and other allies) to fight the war for itself as constant support of the external powers will be needed to sustain in the region.[ii]

However, nothing is static! Israel’s policies towards its adversaries have evolved over a period of time. For example, during 1960s and 1970s, the Jewish nation’s core was surrounded by Arab adversaries and thus it decided to engage in friendly relations with its periphery countries like Iran and Turkey. But the tables have turned now! Owing to Arab “weakness” and subsequent peace treaties signed between Israel, Egypt and Jordan after the Yom Kippur war of 1973; the “core” has become “peaceful”. This peace is not ideological one but rather a co-existential one.

Thus, the biggest concern for Israel today is the periphery and more prominently, Iran. Once a “peripheral friend”, the Persian state has become a “mortal enemy” for the Jewish state. Iran’s call for “death to Israel” is of concern to Israel owing to the nuclear capability of the Persian state, Israel’s small size and distance factor, Iran’s proxy wars in the form of arming non-state actors like Hezbollah, advancement in technology and Iran’s missile development capabilities which have the potential to change the core of Israeli military doctrine of not having a war on its own territory. The fear being that these rockets and missiles can be bombed inside the state anytime.

These fears came true in the 2006 war that Israel fought with the non-state Hezbollah located in Lebanon. This required a change of security strategy and tactics and thus Israel sought to usage of hybrid warfare against the terrorist organisation. Until 2006 war, commonly referred to as Second Lebanon war, Israel was acquainted with fighting mainly Low Intensity Conflicts (LIC). This was because its adversary was situated in the core; LIC was used against threat from its Palestinian populated areas primarily in Gaza and West Bank. Thus, the exclusive focus was on LIC!

In this regard, the role of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, is noteworthy! To tackle internal threats and lower the intensity of soldier casualties the focus was placed on information gathering and dissemination and was also concentrated on stopping terrorist attacks using targeted assassinations, air strikes and raids against high-value targets, all enabled by coordination with the Israel Defence Force (IDF). This had resulted in significant cuts in defence spending on ground forces (both active and reserve), training, procurement and logistical readiness.

Lebanon war, however, brought in new dimensions of threat and thus called for a change in Israeli perception of nature of future warfare! The heavily armoured Hezbollah with sophisticated weapons including anti-tank guided missiles, Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPGs) (including RPG-29s), rockets, mortars, mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and man-portable air defence system (MANPADS) changed the whole dynamics of warfare for IDF. If this was not enough, Hezbollah had also occupied the prepared defensive positions in Lebanon’s difficult hilly terrain and urban areas. Caught in surprise, IDF first used its LIC tactics but soon realised that it would prove a failure and thus soon it was realised that a highly trained adversary like Hezbollah could only be defeated by the use of joint combined arms fire and manoeuvre and demanded integrated joint air ground-ISR capabilities used in conventional wars but at reduced scale.[iii]

In the aftermath of Lebanon war, the IDF underwent intense internal and external scrutiny and most importantly a drastic shift from LIC to HIC and “back to the basics” approach was emphasised upon which meant rigorous joint combined arms fire and manoeuvre training. This mix usage of conflicts strategy was termed as “rainbow of conflicts” in Israeli parlance.  Thus, the trajectory of warfare in Israeli context shifted from a focused LIC in a centralised small unit of area in Gaza and West Bank to a mix of LIC and HIC on a larger canvass like the one provided by Hezbollah in 2006 war. This evolution enabled Israel to enter the domain of hybrid warfare.



[i]Department of Defense (2010), “Quadrennial Defense Review Report”, United States of America, Available at: https://bit.ly/2kt5sj5, (Accessed on 26 August 2019).
[ii] Asher Susser (2019), “Israel’s Foreign Policy: Search for Security”, Lecture in Round Table Organised by Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), 2 May.
[iii] David E. Johnson (2010), “Military Capabilities for Hybrid War: Insights from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza”, RAND Corporation Report, Prepared for the United States Army, Available at: https://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/OP285.html, (Accessed on 26 August 2019).
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Dr. Manjari Singh is an Associate Fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and she obtained her doctorate from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi for her thesis on Sustainable Development in Jordan: A Study of Social, Economic and Environmental Dimensions. Dr. Singh is a Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) Fellow and is specializes in sustainable development and the Middle East. Her research papers have appeared in international journals such as Contemporary Review of the Middle East, Mediterranean Quarterly, and Migration and Development. She has co-authored Persian Gulf 2018: India’s Relations with the Region (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan) and has co-edited Islamic Movements in the Middle East: Ideologies, Practices and Political Participation (New Delhi: Knowledge World) and Challenges to National Security: Young Scholars Perspective (New Delhi: Pentagon Press)She also serves as Assistant Editor of Contemporary Review of the Middle East (Sage Publications) and Managing Editor of CLAWS Journal (KW Publishers).