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09.04.2024 | א ניסן התשפד

Integrating Values into Israel’s National Security Strategy

Navigating the Complexities of Value Promotion in the Dynamic Reality of an Ongoing Conflict

national security strategy

While the confronting of threats is built into national security, the promotion of values is not generally an organic part of it. But in the current war, Israel must define its fundamental values: its commitment to human life with regard to the hostages; its position on the establishment of settlements in disputed territories; and its view on the price to be paid for peace. The injection of values into national security strategy should be based on deep, orderly discourse on the why, the what and the how. A broad consensus should be reached on how to combine these ideas with the principles of national security while dealing with both the inherent tensions they create ​​and the strategic and operative limitations they present. Such a discussion is substantively different from the belief-based skirmishes of the current national security discourse.

Protecting a country from threats, or, in the case of Israel, maintaining its existence, is the organic and self-evident essence of national security. It is clear, for example, that the existence of the State of Israel in the Middle East for years to come depends on its ability to eradicate Hamas after the October 7 massacre.

But national security is also a way to promote the values ​​of a state – especially in Israel, which bases its existence on the two values of being both Jewish and democratic. The values ​​that national security promotes are determined by the elected political echelon and are expressed in guidelines (the “directive”) given to the security echelon.

These values, about which there is now much public debate, extend the remit of national security beyond protection from threats. Three cases of such public discussion arising from the Iron Swords War are the struggle over how to return the hostages from Gaza, the movement pushing for the re-establishment of settlements in the Gaza Strip, and the call to take advantage of the eradication of Hamas to advance Israel’s relations in the region and promote peace through the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In practice, these statements express the beliefs of those who hold them, not a deep and professional national security analysis. Therefore, they are not of much use to national decision-makers as to what values to promote ​​within the framework of national security. They express an empty and pointless debate that wraps fundamental beliefs in a non-systemic security argument and are therefore not relevant to the government’s decisions.

So how should we discuss the values ​​national security should promote?

We need to separate the discussion into three levels:

Why? It is critical to clearly identify the value that is being promoted and determine how high it is in the hierarchy of values ​​that the State of Israel, in the eyes of the believer, must promote. For example, belief in the supremacy of the value of human life over all other considerations reflects belief in the assertion that the hostages must be released at any cost. Belief in the connection between the people of Israel and the complete biblical Land of Israel reflects belief in the need to settle all parts of the Land of Israel. The desire to maintain a quiet, comfortable, advanced and Western life and to reduce the bloodshed reflects belief in the pursuit of peace through the establishment of a Palestinian state. It is difficult to hold debates on this level because it is in the domain of belief, not realistic decisions.

What? The various ways these beliefs can be promoted must be defined. For example, the supremacy of the value of human life in the context of the hostages can be expressed in a deal, in bold actions for their release within the framework of the “Entebbe doctrine,” or in avoiding deals that surrender to terrorism in the current round in order to eliminate the logic of the other side holding hostages in the next ones. The belief in a Jewish presence in the entire biblical Land of Israel can be expressed in the establishment of settlements, but also in the military possession of territory, the establishment of “Garinei Nahal” (small settlements populated by soldiers), forestry and agriculture, or the establishment of nature reserves. The pursuit of a peaceful life and the reduction of bloodshed can manifest in the pursuit of regional peace agreements, the establishment of a Palestinian state, a separation and seclusion policy, or the development of economic-civil relations. At this level, a substantive debate on the different alternatives can begin.

How? The practical methods of implementation of the different alternatives must be defined. For instance, a deep commitment to human life can be promoted in a combined form of local swap agreements and military operations. Control over land can be divided between areas where there is a distinct advantage to civilian settlements and areas where it is more logical to establish control in other ways. The pursuit of a peaceful life and the reduction of bloodshed, which requires partners on the other side, can be promoted through various lines of cooperation with them.

The segmentation of belief into the three levels of Why, What and How is only the first step. The more essential need is to examine the broad considerations and decide if to promote these values in the first place. In this framework, several principles should be maintained:

When examining whether to promote certain values within the framework of national security, several key principles should be maintained:

  • Analyze tensions and similarities among variables: The differences between the values, the ways of realizing them, and the defensive requirements of national security must be carefully analyzed. These concepts should be mapped and prioritized to enable informed decision-making.
  • Conduct a realistic assessment of the situation: Tensions and connections must be presented in a way that corresponds with a professional and realistic assessment of the strategic and practical situation. Avoid wishful thinking and focus on promoting real discussion.
  • Make brave decisions and stick to them: If, after thorough discussion, the "what" and "how" of a value are identified and viable efforts are found to protect it, accept the decision and adhere to its implementation. Ambiguity should be a conscious choice, not an avoidance of difficult decisions.
  • Expect a mixture of policies: Promoting values within the framework of national security will always create a mix of policies. Rarely will the right and realistic choice be to "go all the way."
  • Analyze when reality has changed and an update is required: A dynamic strategic environment necessitates periodic re-evaluation of the chosen approaches. Changes in circumstances may require adjustments to the ways in which values are realized within the national security framework.
  • Maintain flexibility and deniability: Decision-makers must have maximum flexibility to make and implement their decisions. Unnecessary media discussions can damage deniability, an essential tool of national security.
  • Know when to stop and change course: Some values may remain unrealizable. Decision-makers must be prepared to stop and change course, even if they continue to hold those values personally.

A substantive discussion about which values should be realized within the framework of national security during this war is crucial for the existence of the state. This discussion must be carried out professionally and seriously in accordance with the principles outlined above, rather than becoming a pointless series of skirmishes over beliefs.


Originally published on BESA.