Israeli soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip
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As these lines are being written, the war is ongoing and may yet intensify. It is perhaps too early to posit conclusive lessons at this stage. Therefore, I would qualify all of the findings below by suggesting that they must be put to the test of systematic criticism – alongside many of our military and political realities – once the war was over. 

Initial Lessons From the October 2023 War. This war was launched by surprise, reminiscent of the Yom Kippur War surprise exactly 50 years and a day earlier. The intelligence services failed in the task of early warning, the first line of defense collapsed, the level of losses in the first stage was horrifying, many were taken prisoner, and it was a while before the IDF recuperated and fought back successfully. The main differences, however, are that in 1973 the IDF faced two large and well equipped armies, whereas now it faces a ragtag force without an air force or armor. 

In 2023, most of the dead and abducted are civilians murdered or taken from their homes. In this respect, the attack shook up the foundations of Israel’s defense doctrine. The sheer brutality of the Hamas attackers added to the loss of the sense of security among the public at large, since it turned out that across the fence we allowed the rise of a barbaric organization, more cruel than ISIS or al-Qaeda. 

At the same time, it should also be said that the IDF did recover in an impressive manner. The shift to a ground offensive aimed at destroying Hamas was conducted in a very orderly fashion and the army and navy used well the period of waiting, during which time the air force was intensively engaged in the Gaza Strip. Combined arms operations have peeled off Hamas defensive layers and the IDF now operates in the urban core of Gaza City, in preparation for taking over the Hamas command and control centers. The IDF will then need to decide when and how to extend its operations so as to eliminate Hamas also in the southern section of the Gaza Strip, and its mission is far from over. The pace is slow, but it enables the IDF to save the lives of its own soldiers while also facilitating the departure of massive numbers of civilians from the battle zones towards the southern part of the Strip. 

Initial Lessons From The October 2023 War
An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner
No longer.

The mood of the country has been transformed and so should the support for Israel abroad. Israel’s future leaders must restore to the tool kit of national security the understanding that wars of choice are legitimate. Israel must seriously weigh preventive action to push away the buildup of military capabilities which threaten it – not only in terms of the nuclear threat in all its manifestations, but also the removal of acute conventional threats. The “Begin Doctrine” (of preemptive strikes against nuclear targets first in Iraq in 1981, then in Syria in 2007, and beyond) should be applied also to organizations such as Hizbullah when they attempt to acquire tiebreaker technologies. A small country such as Israel, surrounded by many threats but possessing high technology, must occasionally embark on a preventive war. This was the one measure that could have prevented the catastrophe of October 7. But it would not have been seen as legitimate either at home or abroad. This must change. 

With the war still raging, it is thus possible – with a great degree of caution – to point out four missions for the military and political leadership after the war. These four should be carried forward based on broad national consensus:

  • legitimizing the option of a war of choice and preventive action;
    • expanding investment in innovative technology so as to improve Israel’s qualitative edge;
    • enhancing the defense budget and enlarging the IDF;
    • and thus, gaining the ability to assign much larger forces to the defense of the borders at all times and to fight simultaneously on more than one front.

Yaakov Amidror
Yaakov Amidror

Major General Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national security adviser (2011–2013) and in senior IDF positions. He is a distinguished fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s Gemunder Center and the Rosshandler Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, and has published three books on intelligence and military strategy.

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