Israel’s Way of War

Israel’s Way of War

A Strategic and Operational Analysis, 1948-2014

Ehud Eilam

McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2016, 208 pages

Book Review published on: April 7, 2017

Written by Ehud Eilam, Israel’s Way of War represents his personal view on Israel’s strategic outlook in relation to its relatively hostile neighborhood. His views were shaped by his experience working with Israel’s Ministry of Defense and through his advanced civil schooling. It covers the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) conduct in low-intensity, high-intensity, and hybrid wars; their national policy in the interwar years; and operational comparisons with other nations like the United States and the United Kingdom.

The book focuses on how the IDF and the nation’s national and military policy evolve from conflict to conflict and how it adapts in the midst of combat in response to shifts in international politics as they affect the Middle East. Early in Israel’s young existence, when the nation was considerably smaller than today, high-intensity war with its neighbors was an existential threat. If Israel was caught unprepared, the Arab nations could have reached its population centers, namely Tel Aviv, and put an end to the state in its infancy. This forced Israel to take a preemptive war policy to all threats of high-intensity conflict by attacking the threat first, quickly and decisively, in the enemy’s territory. Not only would the enemy force be weakened in the interim, but Israel would also be able to add captured lands to its own, adding strategic depth and reducing the risk associated with possible battlefield losses in the future.

The opinions of the author are shared among many other scholars who study the dynamics of Middle East relationships. As a result, this book does not necessarily bring any new strategic insight into how Israel executes its national strategy that a reader could not also have found in other publications. What it does offer, however, is numerous examples of related and incidental events and thinking patterns that led Israel’s civilian and military leaders to take the courses of action that they did. The way they prepare for high-intensity war while simultaneously executing low-intensity border conflicts shapes the way the IDF develops its strategic and operational readiness.

For example, the book take notes of a uniquely IDF condition that is not found in other contemporary militaries. Requirements for young Israelis to fulfill their necessary service within the regular army is of significantly shorter duration than their subsequent time in the reserves. As a result, the number of regular army soldiers that have conducted combined-arms maneuver operations in a high-intensity conflict are miniscule, but the IDF reserve force consists of numerous veterans that took part in the last big conflict. Therefore, the author notes, the IDF has historically placed more faith in the reserves than in the regulars to safeguard the nation should high-intensity conflict arise. Eilam points out that the heavy reliance on the reserves to win the nation’s high-intensity wars means the Israeli Ministry of Defense focuses on trying to create decisive action as soon as possible, sometimes through preemptive warfare, in order to bring a swift conclusion to the conflict. This is because, whereas in other countries where the reserves compose only a small percentage of the population, Israel’s army reserves compose a significant portion of the population. If there were a protracted war that required the reservists to stay active for a long period of time then Israel would detrimentally weaken its economy as many of their people would be manning fighting positions, howitzers, and tanks, and not working in the industrial and service sectors.

The information presented in this book is of value to the reader; the way it is presented, however, makes reading unpleasant. It appears that the author reiterates important points to keep the reader in the right mindset as new topics are introduced, and in some instances he repeats the same phrases and terms throughout a section, creating an insufferable amount of repetition and redundancy. Nine out of ten paragraphs making up the section titled “The 1956 War—Operational Aspects,” contain the phrase “the 1956 war,” and a total of fifteen instances appear throughout two and one-half pages worth of discussion. This makes the writing appear disjointed instead of a continuous chain of thought, and many readers may find it difficult to stay engaged.

Valuable information can be found if the reader can get past the repetition in the writing. As stated, much of what is presented in this book can be found in other writings; however, this book has consolidated many of those observations, anecdotes, and postulations into a single, two-hundred page source. A person who studies Middle East conflict may already have read some of the numerous publications that cover the same topics in greater detail, but a person who is unfamiliar with the conduct of Israeli national strategy and its preparation and conduct of military operations will gain a wealth of knowledge from this one source. As a result, I would recommend Israel’s Way of War by Ehud Eilam to individuals who are not familiar with the topic, but want to become broadly educated in its facets in a limited amount of time.

Book Review written by: Capt. Colin Marcum, U.S. Army, Fort Bliss, Texas