The war over Israel’s existence has changed beyond recognition. For decades, the enemies of Israel lined up on its borders with tanks and planes, poised to attack. But times have changed, and so have the methods used by Israel’s adversaries. A new form of fighting has emerged on the battlefield: asymmetrical warfare.
Asymmetrical warfare is a conflict between two sides whose relative military power or whose strategy and tactics differ significantly. Examples can be seen in recent confrontations between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanon, Judea and Samaria, where this approach was used to circumvent the IDF’s technological and military superiority.
At the same time, Israel’s enemies exploited their own weakness and the limitations imposed on the stronger side, in this case the IDF. They did so by conducting media warfare aimed at depriving the IDF of the legitimacy to operate at its full potential in its quest to protect Israel and its citizens. Media and consciousness manipulations, based on the underlying sympathy extended to an underdog, significantly shortened the political timetables available for the IDF to operate.
The ongoing campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel, known as DLG, is conducted precisely with the same mind-set. The various manifestations of the delegitimization campaign reveal that Israel’s opponents have chosen to completely abandon direct confrontation, whether on the military battlefield or in the political arena. Instead they transferred their whole modus operandi, while adapting tools and tactics developed for the physical battlefield, to their comfort zone – the cognitive arena.
This change in strategy had caught Israel’s leadership off-guard for more than a decade. After years of thinking in terms of soldiers and bullets, the media ratings along with public diplomacy and civil outreach have become the new weapons of the day.
Over time it became clear that the asymmetrical warfare strategy failed to achieve goals through military confrontations.
An analysis of the socio-political situation in Israel led to the realization that its goals cannot be achieved in the political arena.
When coupled with the understanding that we are in an era where tolerance for the use of military force has ended, it became apparent that their approach needed to change. This came when they abandoned armed confrontations and instead developed a soft, indirect civil campaign which focused on public perception and the international arena, Israel’s two Achilles’ heels.
In order to beat such an elusive adversary, one must understand in depth how asymmetrical warfare works. The strategy behind it is based on a three-pronged approach.
The first is the need for a capacity to absorb setbacks and persevere. The second is deterrence, the ability to thwart an opponent into a specified area while taking away their advantages. The third is attrition, drawing out your opponent until they are forced to give up.
In the classic battlefield, the ability to absorb blows and survive was dependent on the tactics of concealment and camouflage, a blurring of the line between military and civilian and deceitful moves which diverted the opponent’s efforts. Learned from terrorist groups, the delegitimization campaign utilizes similar tactics.
For example, DLG use deceit extensively in their activities.
They proclaim that they are striving to achieve “legitimate” political goals against Israel through the promotion of public discourse and boycotts. The reality is that they do not accept Israel as the Jewish nation-state, and in fact constantly and continuously strive to end its existence. Masking their movement’s ultimate goal is fundamental, out of the understanding that openly admitting to it would mean permanently undermining the legitimacy of the movement.
The DLG campaign and BDS operate in the civic arena, through local civil society organizations, ostensibly acting on behalf of “equal rights and justice,” but even a slight familiarity with the DLG’s motivations reveal that their true agenda lies hiding in the shadows.
The perpetrators of the delegitimization campaign are well established in the Palestinian arena by proxy and through personal ties. They usually are the most active, and frequently the leaders, of local civil society organizations.
The Palestinian establishment and its representatives take an active role in managing the campaign and hide behind the liberal awakening occurring throughout Western society. In some cases, a direct connection lies between terrorist groups and DLG organizations.
A particularly successful form of camouflage is the adoption of the language of liberal values and in the movement’s essential abduction of the human rights discourse and infiltrating minority causes for one’s own needs.
DLG organizations realized that exploiting minorities’ discourse helps them get their message across to the public, without any in-depth examination of their cause (and rightly so, based on the superficiality of the discourse and the ignorance among most audiences). Under the cloak of freedom of speech and discourse on human rights they conduct their campaign, while demonstrating double standards, racist and often antisemitic tropes (although they are careful not to use blatant antisemitic expressions).
On the classic battlefield, a weaker belligerent will seek to extend the boundaries of the battle outside the conflict zone. External leverage such as receiving backing from a powerful country is used to deter and circumvent relative advantages of their enemies. Using the same rationale, DLG permeated its agenda into institutions and international bodies in which neither Israel nor the West has any relative advantage.
Examples of such can be seen in anti-Israel appeals to international institutions such as the United Nations, the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, Interpol, WHO, the International Telecommunication Organization and FIFA. The DLG movement is striving to recruit external leverage to consolidate its activities and ensure that their messages reverberate through ostensibly neutral organizations.
The same reasoning that led to the avoidance of direct contact with the IDF on the battlefield has been transferred to the political arena. Refocusing the battle surrounding the Palestinian narrative to the international arena is intended to avoid direct dialogue with Israel. The Palestinian leadership and DLG understand that they are almost guaranteed automatic support, mainly due to the large number of Muslim-majority countries which will vote in their favor, forcing Israel’s hand.
One of the salient characteristics of asymmetrical warfare is the deliberate targeting of the home front in order to lower morale of the public and exert pressure on decision- makers. DLG has implemented this very method toward its advantage, aiming to harm Israel’s strategic home front, Diaspora Jewry.
They manipulate the narrative surrounding trends developing among American Jewry and deepen inter-generational, inter-religious and inter-party fractures between the Diaspora and Israel. By using a message of “progressivism” built on falsehoods, they aim to widen the rift.
US Jewry has been and remains not only an integral part of our nation, but a strategic ally for Israel in the US. We have not, and will not, give up on enshrining our relationship with Jews abroad at any cost.
At the same time, DLG has correctly identified population groups that in the future will be a majority in American society, such as African Americans and Hispanics, and adopted a narrative of an oppressed alliance in the hope of creating solidarity and consolidating their ties with them. The same tactic is being implemented with America’s future decision-makers, in a desire to ultimately create pressure on the US establishment and its unquestioning support for Israel.
As in classic forms of conflict, here too attrition is used with the understanding that it will not reap immediate successes, but rather in the long-term. DLG is operating 24/7 across the globe in realms such as legal, culture, academia and more to castigate Israel as the arch enemy of human rights.
This requires Israel and its supporting network to be deployed broadly and to be ready to initiate or respond. The battlefield logistics require attention and resources from the State of Israel and from those standing alongside it.
It is important to note that the mere fact of having the issue on the public agenda is tantamount to a victory, because it redirects the narrative to Israel as a human rights abuser rather than a country simply trying to defend its citizens.
In conclusion, the delegitimization campaign is yet another stage in the evolution of the struggle against Israel, some would even say an expected stage, in light of the understanding that aggressive tactics are no longer regarded as legitimate tools in the war-weary West. The goal of DLG’s cognitive warfare is to create an alternative interpretation of reality, to inculcate the Palestinian narrative into audiences in the hope they will put pressure on their own politicians to cut ties with Israel.
Those who regard the DLG movement as a legitimate movement which represents freedom of expression are sorely mistaken, and have fallen victim to their deceitful ways.
The first step in removing the DLG menace is to identify and acknowledge it. For the past two years, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, under the guidance of Minister Gilad Erdan, has been leading the counteroffensive.
The ministry’s deep acquaintance with DLG – its founders, organizations, activities and sources – enables it to develop tools, capabilities and tactics specifically suited to this unique challenge. In the past Israel was called upon to adapt to new forms of warfare, in this arena too it has answered the call.
In asymmetrical battle, the weaker side assumes its determination is greater than that of its opponent. In the zero-sum game in which Israel finds itself, which is the struggle for the very existence of our home, Israel’s enemies are severely mistaken.
The writer is director-general of the Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry.