Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 5, Issue 1  /  

Israeli Policy, Strategy and the 2012 Eight-Day War

Israeli Policy, Strategy and the 2012 Eight-Day War Israeli Policy, Strategy and the 2012 Eight-Day War
To cite this article: Stahl, A.E., “Israeli Policy, Strategy and the 2012 Eight-Day War,” Infinity Journal, Volume 5, Issue 1, fall 2015, pages 22-29.

Image by Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



“War is political action. It arises from political conditions, it ends in political conditions.”[i]

“Is it wise to structure your military strategy based on a segment of your overall policy?”[ii]


From 14 – 21 November 2012, Israeli forces and Palestinian combatants fought a brief but intense and costly war, officially labeled Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’. Within this eight-day span, at least 1,600 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula, including long-range missiles aimed at Israel’s cultural and economic center, Tel Aviv. Jointness amongst Israel’s security apparatus led to dozens of targeted killings of senior leaders of various Palestinian organizations, as well as the destruction of more than 1,500 targets, including combatants’ operational control centers, weapons depots, and rocket launchers.[iii] This short war had a high intensity level mainly due to the amount of firepower employed by both sides in relatively urbanized areas. However, a low noncombatant casualty count emerged.[iv] This article is written from an Israeli perspective, and the aim of this analysis is to raise and subsequently answer five key questions: precisely how does Israel view Hamas in the Gaza Strip?[v] What was the policy during the war, and what was the strategy that was employed to achieve it? Was the policy actually realized? Lastly, what can others battling violent irregulars learn from the Israelis during this eight-day war?

An Unofficial Security Arrangement

The Government of Israel (GOI) does not have a ‘Hamas Policy’. Rather, Israel’s political and military behavior, specifically regarding Hamas in the Gaza Strip, is part of a larger ‘Gaza Policy’. That policy can be understood as containment, which in the world of action is maintained via suppression in its various forms. That is, since Hamas’s seizure of the Gaza Strip in the 2007 ‘Battle of Gaza’, Israel manages Hamas based on a segmented policy which, as will be shown, has both advantages and disadvantages. The GOI aimed for a political condition where a contained and controlled Hamas in the Gaza Strip would continue to exist, living side-by-side with Israel, with violence kept to a tolerable level. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the GOI accepted that Hamas was in power; resultantly, a type of unofficial security arrangement came into being. While officially Israel views Hamas as a terrorist organization, one would be remiss not to accept that a certain level of political utility exists between the two actors.

Two general perspectives are evident amongst Israeli security officials regarding how Israel views Hamas in Gaza.[vi] According to one perspective, the relationship is about creating the understanding that the Gaza Strip cannot exist as a viable independent state on its own. Hamas would thus need to recognize that it had to rely on Israel to survive; in turn, Israel would have to rely on Hamas, to an extent, for maintaining control of Gaza, which includes Hamas controlling the level of violence applied by other groups in the Strip. According to one former Israeli strategist and senior government official:

“Hamas is the only viable political entity that exists in the Gaza Strip that is capable of being responsible for Israeli interests. Now, if you will hit him too strongly and destroy him, you will find yourself without a reliable and responsible political adversary in the Strip. Actually, you are going to create chaos, a dangerous vacuum. Strategically, this is much worse for you.”

Hamas’s takeover of Gaza left Israel with two practical ways of dealing with the organization. First, Hamas would remain in control of the Gaza Strip in its entirety and it would have to behave as a responsible political actor, while at the same time, Israel had to be prepared to use force to deter them. Deterrence, especially with regards to competent and resourceful irregular combatants in Gaza, requires patience and resolve when seeking to gain a larger political condition. Importantly, Hamas had to be convinced that Israel was ready to swing its military instrument, if and when necessary. Violence would be applied if Hamas were to exert an intolerable level of violence against Israel, or if Hamas did not control the level of violence applied against Israel by other violent irregulars in Gaza.

The second practical method to deal with Hamas was with regards to assets. In order to deter Hamas, “they must be convinced they have something of value to lose.”[viii] This first perspective holds that only Israel could have provided these assets by allowing Hamas to be the main political power in the Gaza Strip. This meant that Israel was responsible for providing Hamas with some concrete effects, mainly political authority but also some independent economic capabilities that could be seized if necessary. If Hamas has no concrete assets, the organization is unlikely to be contained. The idea was to keep Hamas satisfied with what it had, and to keep it centered on its own political issues such as its own survival as the controlling authority in Gaza. Political authority is something that Hamas truly values, and Hamas is aware that it remains in control because of a mutual security interest with Israel. There is a rational inference in this relationship that, being the stronger power, Israel can change its mind and political control can be seized. If Hamas can be convinced that Israel is determined to take their authority away, then deterrence may be achieved. Successful deterrence ought to lead to comprehensive containment, or at the very least ‘good enough’ containment (i.e. policy). Essentially, this first perspective on Israel’s relationship with Hamas is about what ‘Israel gives’.

The second perspective is more about what ‘Hamas gains’. That is, the Israelis did not provide Hamas with assets. Rather, it gained the assets that it desired via the takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007: “Saying that we provided them with assets is not correct. In fact, we tried to make life harder for Hamas via blockades and destruction of smuggling tunnels, among other actions. The fact is that Hamas seized power and ended up with sufficient assets, which possibly acted as a deterrent because they now had something to lose – but Israel did not give it to them.”[ix] By way of a violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas immediately gained everything that came with that seizure – territory, various types of infrastructure, weaponry, and of course control of the Gazan population and the economy.

In point of fact, it appears that both perspectives are correct. The reason is that both are viewing the situation as a zero-sum game. That is, either Israel gives or Hamas gains. However, the unofficial security arrangement is far from zero-sum. For officials in intelligence the perspective is, most often, that Hamas gains. However, “from a more net assessment point of view, one is more likely to think, ‘what Hamas gained was a lot but they gained it because decisions made by Israel allowed them to gain.’”[x] If one does not view it as a zero-sum game, another scenario presents itself: as a result of the security arrangement, Hamas’s gains are, in a way, what Israel gives.

Plainly stated, there exists an understanding, albeit unofficial, between Israel and Hamas. Hamas desires relative quiet in order to continue strengthening its power. Israel aims for quiet borders so as to continue focusing on its own socio-economic development. Hamas needs Israel to stay in power in Gaza, and Israel prefers that Hamas maintains control over the Gaza Strip so long as it does so in accordance with Israel’s security desires. When Hamas – and other violent irregulars that Hamas is responsible for – stray from Israel’s desires, then Hamas is reminded of the unofficial security arrangement. At times, non-violent methods will do the trick. If these fail, the use of military force may be applied. By and large, since 2007, containment has been preserved.

Prior to the 50-day war in 2014 – Operation ‘Protective Edge’ – as well as Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ in 2012, the only other real exception, regarding containment, was the 2009 Gaza War (also known as Operation ‘Cast Lead’). In all of these wars, totaling less than 80 days of combat in eight years, Israel’s military aims have always been focused on applying armed force to reduce rocket fire and weapons smuggling. Those aims were in pursuit of the containment of the Gaza Strip. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted during ‘Protective Edge,’ the operation “would not halt until the rocket fire on Israel from Gaza ceased and quiet was restored.”[xi] Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, made a similar comment during an interview: “It ends when we are able to achieve our military objective, which is to restore a sustained period of quiet…”[xii]

However, regarding the 2008-2009 Gaza War, Israel added another political condition to the list. The additional aim was the alteration of the security agreement. That is, “the amendment to be made was to the level of violence that Israel was prepared to accept; it now needed to be decreased to an even lower level.”[xiii] Yet, even with a change in the security arrangement, Israel preferred that Hamas remained in control of Gaza. In order to do this, Hamas had to be jolted back in the direction that Israel desired. This was accomplished by the application of limited military force, aimed at combatants’ weaponry and infrastructure and also against the combatants themselves. This is precisely what occurred during Operation ‘Protective Edge’, albeit with an increase in targeted killing operations. Overall, even with the relatively minimal rocket fire emanating from Gaza and with the ongoing Israeli military operations against combatants in the Strip, there has been a steady ‘maintenance of the threat.’

Of no less importance, Israeli military operations in Gaza are not always aimed at Hamas, even when Hamas is publicly held responsible for certain attacks. Moreover, there have been instances when Hamas has openly taken responsibility for rocket fire despite the fact that another group perpetrated the attack.[xiv] For the purposes of maintaining the security arrangement, at times the only viable option is for Israel to hold the organization accountable and for Hamas to take responsibility. The main reason, of course, is politics – the distribution of power and the realm of influence. Hamas wants power so as to be the influential, controlling authority in Gaza, and Israel prefers that Hamas has ‘enough power’ so as to be ‘influential enough’. Once Israel and Hamas offer too much legitimacy to other combatants by acknowledging their role in attacks, Gazans may begin to question if Hamas is truly in control. This can be harmful for Israel. In the interests of national security, Israel often targets groups that threaten the security arrangement with Hamas and the Israelis utilize Hamas by transmitting intelligence (usually via Egypt) and allowing the organization to deal with the threats themselves.[xv] Such groups include, among others, the Salafist-jihadi Jaysh al-Islam and Jund Ansar Allah, both of which have been dealt violent blows by Hamas.[xvi] Even the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Gaza’s second largest and powerful Islamist organization, is, for the most part, kept in check by Hamas.

For the foreseeable future, it is in Israel’s interest to ensure that Hamas has ‘strong-enough’ control over the Gaza Strip. Both Israel and Hamas do not want the territory to fall into unwanted hands, as major Iraqi and Syrian cities have fallen to ISIS.[xvii] The damage that this has already done to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other territory is extensive, and as U.S. officials warned following the fall of Mosul, ISIS is an “extremely serious threat that could impact the entire region.”[xviii] The former Director of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, noted last summer with regards to Israel’s security interests with Hamas, “Hamas is the most bitter and efficient rival of ISIS… Hamas in Gaza is preferable to ISIS in Gaza.”[xix] Until a more viable solution becomes feasible, Israel’s unofficial security relationship with Hamas, an organization that Israel has dealt with for over two decades and knows intimately well, will need to stay in place just as it did during the eight-day war.

The War

This eight-day war was a violent flare-up of a protracted conflict reaching back more than 45 years.[xx] However, as this article is not a history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it must begin with a more ‘immediate’ cause for the outbreak of hostilities. From an Israeli security perspective, it is widely regarded that the most immediate cause stemmed from the firing of over 100 rockets into Israel within a 24-hour period (November 11-12, 2012), two days prior to the outbreak of the war.[xxi] A number of violent irregular Palestinian groups claimed responsibility, such as the PIJ. Unsurprisingly, and in part due to the security arrangement with Hamas, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak held Hamas responsible: “It is Hamas that will pay the price; a price that will be painful.”[xxii] Hamas was responsible for the firing of rockets; however, they were also responsible for the violent actions of other groups in Gaza, which it had failed to contain. That is, Hamas failed to behave as a responsible political actor and was thus held accountable more than other groups.

At the same time that Israel was holding Hamas responsible, Israeli forces were conducting military operations against other Palestinian combatant leaders, their infrastructure (such as smuggling tunnels, and so-called “terror tunnels”) and weapons depots.[xxiii] Those targeted included the PIJ and the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) – a type of union of armed Palestinian factions, among others. The Israelis announced the possibility of a ground invasion in order to halt the rocket attacks, and some eminent Israeli strategic thinkers made rational cases for an “armored push” into the Strip.[xxiv] At this point, no one knew how feasible an actual ground invasion into Gaza would be; the cost in blood and treasure to Israel may have far outweighed what the policy permitted. Nevertheless, there was a large call up of reserves and troops quickly amassed along the border. However, all that was known was that Israel was preparing to activate some plan of military action to deal with combatants in Gaza.

In an article published in the Jerusalem Post on 13 November, an Israeli military affairs correspondent pondered possible military responses to the rocket fire into Israel. One response, he wrote, is that the “air force could strike figures even higher up, such as Hamas’s military commander, Ahmed Jabari.”[xxv] That was a striking presage given that the Israelis killed Jabari the very next day when missiles slammed into his car in Gaza.[xxvi] Jabari was the highest-ranking Hamas leader to be killed since the 2008-2009 Gaza War, and apparently a figure long held to be “at the top of Israel’s most wanted list.”[xxvii] Hamas declared that the targeted killing (TK) was a declaration of war, and the organization vowed to retaliate by striking deep into Israeli territory.[xxviii] Over the following eight days, the Israelis overtly targeted more than 30 senior leaders belonging to at least five different organizations. Not since the 2000-2005 Israeli-Palestinian War had there been such a high focus on Israel targeting individual Palestinian combatants.

In point of fact, Ahmed Jabari makes for a prime example of how certain aspects of this inconvenient relationship works. The decision to eliminate a senior and popular official of the only organization in the Gaza Strip that has the ability to control the territory in the way Israel desires was a bold move. As has been noted, Jabari was “in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza.”[xxix] Yet, viewing Jabari as “in charge” is perhaps an over-simplistic description. On the one hand, as Hamas’s military chief, Jabari certainly assisted the Israelis by helping to keep Gaza under control. On the other hand, he was also one of the individuals responsible for the kidnapping of Israeli solider Gilad Shalit who spent five years in captivity; Jabari urged Hamas to continue kidnapping Israeli soldiers and he was intimately involved in weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip.[xxx] While assisting in the control of Gaza, Jabari also ‘crossed the line’ in terms of tolerable violence. There may be an unofficial security arrangement but that does not mean these two actors are allies.

Ultimately, it was Israel who was in charge of Israeli security regarding Gaza, and while Jabari might have played an important role in the security arrangement, he was clearly expendable. For all intents and purposes, the TK was a three-fold message to Hamas:

  1. Israel is ultimately in control;
  2. This is what happens when the security arrangement is strayed from and too much violence is applied against Israel, or when there is a failure to rein in other groups from doing the same;
  3. There will always be another Jabari to handle Israel’s security desires.

By day’s end, Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ was officially announced. Nearly 150 rockets were fired at Israel; Israeli forces continued military operations, attacking dozens of rocket launchers and Fajr-5 depots in an attempt to minimize possible long-range missile attacks on Tel Aviv.[xxxi]

Policy and Strategy

What was the policy? That is the question that must be asked before all others. Policy is dominant, it represents the “faculty instrument”, and all decisions regarding war and warfare flow from it.[xxxii] According to a former senior Israeli government official from the Office of the Prime Minister, Hamas’s sought political condition, via violence, was to strengthen its position and its hold on the Gaza Strip as the dominant political power.[xxxiii] Adding to the official’s statement, a senior IDF officer noted,

“Desiring to strengthen its position in and its hold on the Gaza Strip, Hamas managed to gain political conditions from the Israelis with the use of violence, and by that, I mean two specific points. First, there was the issue of extending the fishing limit off the coast of Gaza. Second, Hamas desired to narrow the width of Israel’s security perimeter along the Gaza border in order to allow Palestinian farmers the ability to cultivate more land. These were the two political conditions that Hamas made use of in order ‘to strengthen its position and its hold on the Gaza Strip as the dominant political power.’”[xxxiv]

As regards Israel’s policy during the war, a senior Israeli official stated, “We’ll continue the pressure and the attacks on Gaza until Hamas begs for a cease-fire [Emphasis added].”[xxxv] The military aims, which are always in pursuit of the political object were to “damage rocket-launching networks, deliver a ‘painful blow’ to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and protect the home front”, as well as to “cripple” as much combatant infrastructure in Gaza as was possible.[xxxvi] A cessation or severe reduction in hostilities, mainly rocket fire, was the political aim of the war; the operative word being ceasefire and not anything further that would damage Hamas’s standing too much in Gaza; a similar message was given to Hamas during the 2014 Israel-Gaza War (Operation “Protective Edge”), showing that the security arrangement had only slightly altered since 2012.[xxxvii]

While a ceasefire was the aim, so was keeping Hamas in power because for Israel the alternative was worse.[xxxviii] It has been purported that the purpose of the war was the restoration of Israeli deterrence. That is, “the main motive that led the Israeli government to initiate the operation” was “the erosion of Israeli deterrence” following the 2009 Gaza War.[xxxix] However, this is only partly correct. To deter the opponent is only one element, albeit a critical one, of Israeli policy and strategy. If Israel is successful at deterring an opponent, it is the outcome of that activity that can be understood as a political condition. One seeks to deter for some larger political aim. In other words, one may “achieve deterrence”, but for what exactly? The answer is policy. As then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted on the second day of the war, “…in the long run I believe that this operation will contribute to strengthening deterrence and reinstituting the calm in the South.”[xl] Further, as national security expert, Avner Golov wrote after the war, “Deterrence was a central aim of Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’, and its purpose – pacification of the south.”[xli] It has also been referred to as the restoration of peace to the southern communities.[xlii] The words are different but the meaning is the same, and the sought political condition was clear and understood by policymakers and the armed forces: a return to the status quo ante bellum.

What was the strategy employed in order to return to the status quo? One IDF officer noted, “Essentially ‘Pillar of Defense’ entailed a selective limited air campaign. In the end, a very small segment of the fighting forces were attacked. At best, it was ‘partial annihilation.’ Exhaustion seems closer to what actually occurred during the war.”[xliii] According to one senior level government official, Israel’s strategy was to counter Hamas “with just enough force, so as to keep the violence to an acceptable level, while at the same time trying to ensure that Hamas does not become too big a threat.”[xliv] This latter notion was followed up by a senior IDF officer who noted that the aim was to show them “you see, we can and we will act, and here is the price you will pay. As a reminder, you may pay an even higher price if we enter Gaza.””[xlv] Israeli forces did in fact operate in accordance with a strategy of exhaustion. Apart from statements by government officials, the aim to exhaust can be deduced by observing Israeli military behavior. From the outset of the war, the Israelis progressed with an unabating military offensive destroying weaponry and ‘command centers’, with occasional strikes against combatants; the result was a day-by-day erosion of their will to continue in combat. Reportedly, on the second day of fighting, Hamas began calling for a ceasefire. Also on the second day, Israel made it clear that “continuing the offensive” and not pursuing a truce was the aim.[xlvi] For example, by day three and four, nearly 500 combatant sites were hit, including medium and long-range rocket launching sites and storages in the Gaza Strip.[xlvii] Moreover, jointness between the air force, the army and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) led to four TK operations against high-ranking Hamas members.[xlviii] Israel’s non-stop offensive action intensified over the days.

At the same time, a balance in the application and in the use made of organized violence against Palestinian combatants had to be maintained; this was not a war solely against Hamas, despite rhetoric to the contrary. For example, the British Foreign Secretary openly, though incorrectly, held Hamas responsible for the violence with little to no mention of other groups.[xlix] Hamas might have been the main threat but it was not the only organization with the capabilities to strike cities in both the south and center of the country. The PIJ also possessed Iranian-supplied Fajr-5 missiles and it was the PIJ, not Hamas, who fired the first rockets at central Tel Aviv and its surrounding areas.[l] Unsurprisingly, Israeli forces were carrying out TKs against senior members of the PIJ as well.

Ultimately, and mainly via a “selective limited air campaign”, in eight days Israeli forces targeted “30 senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad” combatants; 19 high-level command centers; nearly 1000 underground rocket launchers; over 200 smuggling and “terror” tunnels; “42 operation rooms and bases owned by Hamas; 26 weapons manufacturing and storage facilities” and “dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites.”[li] Moreover, Israel eliminated over 100 combatants, including over 70 from Hamas, nearly 20 members of the PIJ, as well as members of the PRC, Fatah, the Army of Islam, the PFLP, and a “Salafist-jihadi network.”[lii] Their rocket launching sites and weapons depots were also struck. By the time the ceasefire came into effect Palestinian combatants’ weaponry and infrastructure were severely impaired; so much so that Hamas understood it was time to sue for a suspension of hostilities.

A win-win?

How can it be demonstrated that Israel ‘won the war’? One senior government official holds, “‘Pillar of Defense’ was the ‘smallest big operation’ specifically because in order to alter the equilibrium, we needed to have a big-enough operation so Hamas would use most of its power. In return, we used more force to show them that we are stronger, but also to demonstrate that we are both willing and able to use stronger amounts of force if necessary. In the end, we didn’t even have to invade on the ground.” It is also likely that the very threat of a ground invasion was influential. As Eado Hecht and Eitan Shamir noted, “It is correct that Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ in the Gaza Strip achieved policy aims without an IDF ground invasion, but the mere threat of a ground invasion and the public preparation of such an invasion by ground forces exerted great pressure on the enemy to end the conflict.”[liii] Moreover, and prior to the war in 2014, the government official continued by stating, “the fact that we were willing to use greater force truly convinced them. The proof lies in the amount of rocket fire since this operation. In terms of cost/benefit, specifically the relatively low cost to Israel, made this a near-perfect operation.”[liv] Hamas and other violent irregulars did suffer severe blows to both personnel and infrastructure. However, as was desired by both sides, Hamas remained the dominant power in Gaza. Ultimately, a severe reduction of rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip was obtained and combatants’ behavior was altered. These were the conditions that comprised Israel’s policy, and both were established via the application and use made of combat. That is how one can know who ‘won the war’ – the side that establishes its political purpose via military behavior. This is not to say that Hamas walked away with no gains of its own. The organization did obtain some conditions, but importantly they were conditions that did not trouble the Israelis.

“The result was a win-win, but a win-win was a victory for Israel. If you come out of the operation in a situation where Hamas is in control of Gaza but its security behavior is constrained, it’s a full Israeli victory because these are the two conditions desired by Israel. Yet, it can also be understood as a win-win because Hamas gained as well; they were strengthened, but this was something that Israel was content with. However, one additional political outcome for Hamas following the war was that Hamas ‘gained ground’ in Judea and Samaria. Today, there currently exists a stronger Hamas presence in the West Bank. The outcome of this result is something Israel is less content with.”[lv]


The main lesson that can be learned from this short war is about the benefit of basing one’s military strategy on a segment of one’s policy, rather than on a comprehensive policy approach. That is to say, looking at all aspects of policy and ultimately doing nothing of substance because a comprehensive approach is too complicated and ought to be avoided. Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ was based on a segmented policy, a larger ‘Gaza Policy’ to be exact, and that is perfectly acceptable. Had the Israelis attempted to deal with rocket fire from the Gaza Strip based on all aspects of its Gaza Policy, it is unlikely that they would have succeeded militarily. Simply put, there are too many constraints, making it far too complicated. The history of warfare provides ample evidence that one should only threaten or apply violent means to what is considered to be an overriding concern. Every war sensibly fought throughout history has applied violent means only to those policies that can be advanced by violent means. The use of organized violence has and will continue to trump everything else.

As stated, the lesson is only to threaten or apply violence to what is considered to be a significant concern. For one negative example, one can look to the U.S. and Syria in the summer of 2013. The U.S. was practicing ‘good enough’ strategy, as four U.S. Navy destroyers positioned themselves off the Syrian coastline – thus the threat of violence in pursuit of a stated political object. As President Obama stated, “The use of chemical weapons is a red line.”[lvi] In other words, one aspect of the U.S. administration’s stated policy vis-à-vis Syria’s civil war was ‘no chemical weapons’. Following the use of chemical weapons, Obama stated, “It is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations.”[lvii] In the end, and after chemical weapons were utilized, the U.S. took no action. For the U.S., the issue in Syria appears to have not been worth the [potential] cost of using military means when weighing it against the [potential] benefits. For the Americans, there were too many other policy considerations but arguably, that is due to a comprehensive policy approach. In the end, it was a mistake to threaten military behavior in pursuit of a political condition that apparently was never going to be enforced. The threat or application of violence can only be applied to that part of policy that will advance it.

An understanding of the consequences of threatening or applying violence for policy ends is also critical. For example, the decision to use violence may cause diplomatic problems to arise. However, those problems may be worth the cost. If a war against combatants in Gaza is necessary, Israel has clearly shown that it will go to war, placing other ‘political’ issues aside, including relations with other countries. Israel has shown that it is willing to pay the price because the benefits have, so far, outweighed the cost. That is how important a ‘contained Gaza’ is to Israel’s national security.


Who obtained the political object? As the Prussian military theorist August Otto Rühle von Lilienstern gleaned over 200 years ago: “War is… the means of states to assert their rights or wrongs, in other words, their political purposes against each other; and the realization of these political purposes is the true final purpose of war, not victory, peace, or conquest, unless these happen to fit the political intentions.” [Emphasis added][lviii] The use made of combat enabled the Israelis to reach their political objective: a quiet southern border, which implies an acceptable or tolerable level of violence (rocket fire) and not necessarily a full ceasefire, which rarely occurs.

Further, the war should not be interpreted simply as ‘Hamas versus Israel’. For Hamas, the war was partly about Israel and partly about dealing with the very real threats to its own power in Gaza from other combatant organizations.[lix] The war enabled them to achieve this aim, albeit to a limited extent. From the outset of the fighting, the Israelis aimed to use tactical means to gain a limited policy condition that, while not perfect, achieved both a condition and behavior they demanded, without producing conditions that would detract from their wider policy. Strategy does not have to be executed perfectly. It merely has to be ‘good enough’ strategy so as to outdo your opponent.


[i] Quoted in Spenser Wilkinson, War and Policy: Essays, (New York, Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1900), 3.
[ii] Quoted in interview with senior Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer, Tel Aviv, June 19, 2014.
[iii] Israeli government sources offering statistics on the exact number of rockets fired during the eight-day period of hostilities differ from one another. See “Rocket Attacks on Israel From Gaza,” Official blog of the Israel Defense Force, accessed June 4, 2014,; also see graph and statics in “Operation Pillar of Defense,” Israel Security Agency, December 2012, accessed June 4, 2014, (Hebrew).
[iv] One Israeli study, based on Palestinian sources, concluded that a total of 178 Palestinians (101 combatants, 60 noncombatants, and others that could not be verified) were killed. See, “Analysis of the Ratio between the Names of Terrorist Operatives Killed during Operation Pillar of Defense and Civilians Killed in Error,” The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, December 9, 2012: 1, accessed June 6, 2014, Another Israeli study, undertaken by B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, claims a Palestinian death toll of 168; 62 combatants and 87 noncombatants. The finding holds that the organization was unable to specify the deaths of 11 others. See “B’Tselem’s findings: Harm to civilians significantly higher in second half of Operation Pillar of Defense,” B’Tselem, May 8, 2013, accessed July 13, 2014, Israeli fatalities totaled six, with four soldiers and two noncombatants killed. Found in “Israel under fire-November 2012,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 22, 2012, accessed on July 13, 2014,
[v] Despite a growing Hamas presence in Judea-Samaria (i.e. West Bank), in East Jerusalem, and the organization’s political bureau in Syria, this article is specifically focusing on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which represents the main military threat to Israel.
[vi] Interview with senior IDF officer, June 19, 2014.
[vii] This is from an interview conducted with a senior official, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, Office of the Prime Minister, in Jerusalem, 2011.
[viii] Interview with former senior official, Ministry of Strategic Affairs, June 17, 2014.
[ix] Interview with senior Israeli government official, Tel Aviv, June 18, 2014.
[x] Interview with Colonel (Res) IDF Strategic Planning, Tel Aviv, June 19, 2014.
[xi] “IAF warplanes target meeting of senior terrorists in Gaza,” YNET, July 11, 2014, accessed July 12, 2014,
[xii] See “Israeli ambassador: Israel tries to minimize civilian deaths,” CBS Face the Nation, July 13, 2014, accessed July 14, 2014,
[xiii] Interview with Colonel (Res), IDF Strategic Planning, June 18, 2014.
[xiv] This information derives from all military and government interviewees that participated in this research between June and August of 2014.
[xv] Interview with IDF officer, June 19, 2014.
[xvi] “Radical Islam in Gaza,” International Crisis Group, Middle East Report No. 1 (2011), accessed on June 11, 2014,
[xvii] “Iraq crisis: Militants ‘seize Tikrit’ after taking Mosul,” BBC, June 11, 2014, accessed on June 11, 2014,
[xviii] Quoted in Dan Roberts, “White House calls on Iraq government to ‘step up to the plate’ over Mosul,” The Guardian, June 10, 2014, accessed on June 11, 2014,
[xix] Efraim Halevy, “Hamas in Gaza preferable to ISIS in Gaza,” YNET, July 4, 2014, accessed July 6, 2014,
[xx] The Hebrew name for the operation differs slightly from the English translation, which is “Operation Pillar of Cloud.”
[xxi] Yaakov Lappin and Toval Lazaroff, “Gazans pound South with more than 100 rockets. Three Sderot residents injured by barrage. PM: ‘We are prepared to intensify our response’. Barak blames Hamas for attacks,” Jerusalem Post, November 12, 2012, accessed June 8, 2014.
[xxii] Yaakov Lappin and Toval Lazaroff, “Gazans pound South with more than 100 rockets.”
[xxiii] According to Israeli security, a “terror tunnel” is a tunnel built by Palestinian combatants that allows them to move underground, hence undetected, with weapons for the specific purposes of carrying out attacks against Israelis or Israeli interests. In 2006, one of these tunnels allowed Hamas operatives to kill 2 IDF soldiers and kidnap IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. For more information including images and videos, see “IDF Soldiers Unveil Terror Tunnel in Gaza Once Again,” Israel Defense Forces, March 24, 2014, accessed June 17, 2014,
[xxiv] For one example, see Efraim Inbar and Max Singer, “Operation Pillar of Defense: In Support of a Ground Offensive, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Perspectives Paper No. 186, November 19, 2012, accessed on June 5, 2014,
[xxv] Yaakov Lappin, “From assassinations to ground offensives: What are Israel’s options in Gaza?,” Jerusalem Post, November 13, 2012, accessed June 6, 2014.
[xxvi] A video of the targeted killing of Hamas’ Ahmed Jabari was made public by the IDF. See “IDF Pinpoint strike on Ahmed Jabari, Head of Hamas Military Wing,” accessed June 5, 2014,
[xxvii] Joanna Paraszczuk, “Jabari: Long at the top of Israel’s most-wanted list,” Jeruaslem Post, November 15, 2012, accessed June 6, 2014.
[xxviii] Khaled Abu Toameh, “Hamas: This means war,” Jerusalem Post, November 15, 2012, accessed June 6, 2014.
[xxix] Aluf Benn, “Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza,” Haaretz, November 14, 2012, accessed June 4, 2014.
[xxx] Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Gili Cohen, Allison Kaplan Sommer, and News Agencies, “Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari killed by Israeli strike,” November 14, 2012, accessed June 11, 2014.
[xxxi] “Live Blog: Day 1 of Israel-Gaza conflict 2012,” Haaretz, November 14, 2012, accessed June 4, 2014
[xxxii] Quoted in Karl von Clausewitz, On War, translated by O.J. Mathijs Jolles (New York: Random House, 1943), 598.
[xxxiii] Interview with former senior Israeli government official in e-mail message to author, June 11, 2014.
[xxxiv] Ibid, interview with IDF Colonel (Res) ,Strategic Planning, June 19, 2014.
[xxxv] Quoted in Barak Ravid, “Israel won’t halt Gaza operation until Hamas begs for truce, say officials,” Haaretz, November 15, 2012, accessed June 4, 2014.
[xxxvi] “IAF hammers Hamas targets in Gaza offensive.” Also see “Operation Pillar of Defense – IDF updates,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, November 22, 2012, accessed on June 11, 2014,
[xxxvii] See analysis by Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, “The Middle Eastern paradox: If you want peace, prepare for war, YNET, July 10, 2014, accessed on July 10, 2014,
[xxxviii] Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, “Israel doesn’t want to topple Hamas, just rein it in,” November 18, 2012, accessed June 15, 2014.
[xxxix] Shlomo Brom, “After ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’,” Institute for National Security Studies Memo 123 (2012): 7, accessed June 16, 2014, ISBN: 978-965-7425-41-1. (Hebrew).
[xl] Yaakov Lapin and Tovah Lazaroff, “IAF hammers Hamas targets in Gaza offensive,” Jerusalem Post, November 15, 2012, accessed on June 10, 2014.
[xli] Avner Golov, “Israeli deterrence – goal achieved?” in “After ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’,” edited by Shlom Brom, 21.
[xlii] Rotem Pesso and Florit Shoihet, “It is important for all of us to succeed! Our success depends on the ability to maintain information superiority,” Israel Defense Force, November 15, 2012, accessed on June 17, 2014, (Hebrew).
[xliii] Ibid, interview with IDF officer, June 22, 2014, Tel Aviv.
[xliv] Ibid, interview with senior government official, Tel Aviv, June 18, 2014.
[xlv] Ibid, interview with IDF officer, June 22, 2014, Tel Aviv
[xlvi] “Day 2 of IDF’s Gaza offensive: Three killed in Kiryat Malakhi; rockets fired at Tel Aviv, Rishon,” Haaretz, November 16, 2012, accessed June 15, 2014.
[xlvii] “Operation Pillar of Defense – IDF updates,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
[xlviii] “Operation Pillar of Defense – IDF updates,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
[xlix] Anshel Pfeffe, “U.K. blames Hamas for Gaza escalation, urges end to rocket fire,” Haaretz, November 15, 2012, accessed June 25, 2014.
[l] Yaakov Lappin, “Islamic Jihad targets Tel Aviv as IAF pounds Gaza,” Jerusalem Post, November 16, 2012, accessed June 22, 2014.
[li] Statistics derived from “Pillar of Defense Summary,” Israel Defense Force, November 22, 2012, accessed June 24, 2014,
[lii] “Analysis of the Ratio between the Names of Terrorist Operatives Killed during Operation Pillar of Defense and Civilians Killed in Error,” 3, accessed June 22, 2014,
[liii] Eado Hecht and Eitan Shamir, “Preparing the next missed opportunity,” Campaigns Issue 454 (2014): 10, ISSN 0464-2147, accessed on June 25, 2014. (Hebrew).
[liv] Interview with senior Israeli government official, Tel Aviv, June 18, 2014.
[lv] Ibid, interview with IDF officer, Tel Aviv, June 19, 2014
[lvi] Quoted in Steve Linde and Noa Amouyal, “‘If we don’t intervene in Syria, the whole region is going down.’ Sens. McCain, Graham call for ‘decisive’ US action against the Assad regime,” Jerusalem Post, July 1, 2013, accessed July 1, 2014.
[lvii] Frederik Pleitgen and Tom Cohen, “‘War-weary’ Obama says Syria chemical attack requires response,” CNN, August 30, 2013, accessed June 30, 2014,
[lviii] Quoted in Beatrice Heuser, Reading Clausewitz, (Random House: UK, 2002): 45.
[lix] The war was also about Egypt’s closing of the border with Gaza, which caused serious damage to the Gazan economy ; though the Egypt-Gaza topic is beyond the parameters of this article.