First published at New Left Project

A big day for Gadi Eisenkot, as he is sworn in as the new chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

Eisenkot has decades of experience enforcing Israeli rule in places that aren’t Israel, serving as an officer in the First Lebanon War and as a commander in the West Bank during the Second Intifada.  In the latter capacity he ‘was one of the leaders of the “mowing the grass” approach to defeat Palestinian terrorism’,[1] and Israel’s conscientious gardening in Gaza is testament to his lasting theoretical influence.

Following the Second Lebanon War, in which he participated as head of the IDF General Staff Operations Directorate, Eisenkot was associated with a further philosophical breakthrough in IDF strategy.  The war’s indecisive outcome provoked nation-wide anxiety in Israel and initiated a strategic debate within the IDF.  Along with his friend and fellow Golani Brigade alumnus Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni and former National Security Advisor Giora Eiland, Eisenkot was ‘one of the leading architects’ of what has become known as the ‘Dahiyeh doctrine’.[2]  A prominent Israeli journalist summarised the conceptual development as follows: whereas Israel had hitherto ‘attempted to cling to the distinction between “good Lebanese” and “bad Lebanese”’,

Israeli strategists’ new point of view is that Lebanon is an enemy…  In practical terms, the Palestinians in Gaza are all Khaled Mashaal, the Lebanese are all Nasrallah, and the Iranians are all Ahmadinejad…

[Currently,] Arab civilians grumble about being punished because of their leaders, while fearing their leaders more than they fear us.  We need to make the fear we sow among them greater.

The strategy’s name commemorates Dahiyeh, a poor suburb of Beirut whose residents were in 2006 fortunate enough to be the first witnesses to the theory’s procedural corollary, urban carpet bombing. ‘Massive IDF attacks… were carried out not against Hezbollah military targets’, Human Rights Watch observed, ‘but rather against entire neighbourhoods because they were seen as pro-Hezbollah’.[3] The result was ‘massive destruction of the area’.[4]  According to the former head of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs National Security Doctrine Department, Eisenkot ‘supported the destruction of Beirut’s Dahiya suburb’ and ‘called for attacking Lebanese infrastructure as an act of deterrence’.

In 2008 Eisenkot promised Lebanese villagers that this was not a one-off experience:

What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on… We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases… This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.

In the event, the pledge was redeemed elsewhere. With Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009), Israeli pilots put theory into practice across Gaza, inflicting ‘wanton’ destruction through ‘direct attacks on civilian objects as well as indiscriminate attacks’ that left ‘large areas of Gaza… razed to the ground’. An important doctrinal development saw white phosphorus, which has the peculiar characteristic upon contact with human flesh of burning through to the bone, ‘repeatedly fired indiscriminately over densely populated residential areas’. After the conflict, a UN inquiry concluded that Eisenkot’s promised strategy ‘appears to have been precisely what was put into practice’.

Eisenkot’s most recent achievement was 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, an operation he ‘planned and managed’ along with the IDF’s outgoing chief of staff Benny Gantz. The results certainly bore his stamp: 13% of Gaza’s housing stock was damaged or destroyed; 100,000 people were displaced; 274 of the territory’s 407 kindergartens were damaged and more than 2,100 people were killed, overwhelmingly civilians.

The Dahiyeh doctrine applied to Gaza’s Shejaiya neighbourhood (2014)

Israeli journalists have largely welcomed Eisenkot’s appointment, recognising that his extensive practical-theoretical experience will stand the IDF in good stead in the coming years. Among his challenges, they note, will be to fight ‘the next round’ in the context of IDF budget cuts and to ‘find a way to suppress a popular uprising [in the West Bank and East Jerusalem]… without igniting an armed intifada’.



[1] ‘Mowing the grass’ refers to Israel’s approach to ‘protracted intractable conflict with extremely hostile non-state entities’: ‘a patient military strategy of attrition’ combined with ‘occasional large-scale operations’ to establish ‘temporary deterrence’. (p. 68)

[2] The label threatens to obscure the doctrine’s deeper intellectual history, which has its roots in the pioneering praxis of Ghengis Khan and Attila the Hun.

[3] Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir quote Col. Gur Laish, head of the Campaign Planning Department of the Israeli Air Force, summarising Israel’s strategy in 2006: ‘a heavy assault against Hizballah—its military assets, the centre of the government and its deployment in Beirut, and its communal infrastructure in south Lebanon’. On this basis, they claim that ‘Israel’s strategy was neither attempting to target civilian infrastructure, nor planning to pressure the population to rise against Hizballah’. They proceed to note that ‘nearly 30,000 residential units were destroyed or extensively damaged’ in Lebanon, as were the ‘Shi’ite villages where Hizballah built strongholds’, but are not moved to consider what this says about the IDF’s and their definitions of ‘Hizballah infrastructure’. Here is what Amnesty International concluded:

Israeli government spokespeople have insisted that they were targeting Hizbullah positions and support facilities, and that damage to civilian infrastructure was incidental or resulted from Hizbullah using the civilian population as a “human shield”. However, the pattern and scope of the attacks, as well as the number of civilian casualties and the amount of damage sustained, makes the justification ring hollow. The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was deliberate and an integral part of the military strategy, rather than “collateral damage”—incidental damage to civilians or civilian property resulting from targeting military objectives. (p. 3)

The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem notes that Israeli military ‘interpretations of the term “military objective”’ have been sufficiently capacious to apply ‘even to patently civilian objects, which are prohibited targets’. (p. 41)

[4] Writing in 2010, Eisenkot insisted that since Israel had first distributed leaflets to civilians urging them to leave, its saturation bombing of south Lebanon had been ‘evidence of the IDF’s ethics’. ‘Hizbollah is the one turning the hundreds of villages and the Shiite regions in Lebanon into battlefields’, he continued; ‘I am convinced’ that the IDF’s strategy was ‘moral’ and ‘if we need to go to battle again, it will be proper to act on it again’. (pp. 37-38) Amnesty International cites one ‘particularly disturbing’ example of these leaflets, ‘which announced that “any vehicle of any kind travelling south of the Litani river will be bombarded, on suspicion of transporting rockets, military equipment and terrorists”’. ‘This’, Amnesty concluded, ‘flagrantly breaches the principle of distinction and the presumption of civilian status’. (p. 22) In any event, civilians who heeded the leaflets’ advice and evacuated came under attack as they fled (p. 23); the same fate met many in Gaza last year, where, as Eisenkot promised, much evidence was again provided of the IDF’s ethics.


  1. ‘In closed talks, Eizenkot clarified that in any potential conflict with Hezbollah, Israel will need to change the rules of the game and focus on destroying Lebanese infrastructure, symbols of sovereignty, centers of power and financial assets. He claims that Israel made a mistake in the Second Lebanon War by focusing on Hezbollah targets, rather than targeting Lebanon itself’.


  2. During Eizenkot’s tenure as Head of Northern Command, he demanded that his underlings create for him what the IDF lacked in the Second Lebanon War: Targets, targets and more targets.

    According to the doctrine, the Air Force will use its full firepower from the first minute of the fighting, while striking at more than a thousand targets every day. Hezbollah also understands this and therefore, warfare against it will not be graduated. Instead, Hezbollah will also use its full firepower in an effort to cause maximal damage to the Israeli home front, and mainly to the center of the country. That will be a test that the Israeli home front has never endured before, so the IDF will try to shorten the duration of fighting as much as possible. Despite the fact that reserve forces will be mobilized immediately at the start of the war, the IDF will strive to bring about an end to the combat without being dragged into an extensive ground operation that would entail long weeks of warfare.

    And so we have returned to Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon and Dan Halutz’s strategy of “searing the consciousness” of the enemy; this deterrence concept has now returned to the IDF mainstream, without statements or proclamations. Chief of Staff Benny Gantz implemented it for the first time in Operation Pillar of Defense, and Gadi Eizenkot, an officer who thinks before he shoots, will remain faithful to it if he will be appointed the next chief of staff. (January 2013)


  3. Gideon Levy, ‘Israel’s new national darling will one day stand trial‘, Ha’aretz (20 February, 2015):

    True, Gantz was a very good man (see how he gave 200 shekels ($50) to a beggar on his last day in the job), who did very bad things – look at what the IDF did under him, what violence and brutality his army demonstrated during his tenure. One day maybe he too will become a “gatekeeper” who will confess his actions and regret them; he has already hinted at the need to reach an agreement with the Palestinians – how moving.

    One day he too will need to be judged for his actions, in Jerusalem or in The Hague. Like the polite rapist, this courteous and charming general is responsible for grave acts – the IDF’s war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank.

    Operation Protective Edge is his, hundreds of innocent dead are notched into his rifle butt. “Black Friday” in Rafah is also Gantz’s black day; all the lies of the most moral army, including the “advance notices,” “warning shots” and “lack of intention” to harm civilians; the bombing of homes with their residents inside, the bombing of UNRWA schools and shelters, and the explicit intention of attacking the homes of Hamas activists, no matter who is there – the general of Protective Edge is responsible, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.


    This week Gantz’s replacement entered the position of IDF chief of staff to the sound of trumpets. Gadi Eisenkot, too, is painted as a good man, modest, honest and calm. He is the one who patented the horrifying “Dahiya doctrine” [targeting civilian infrastructure as a means of deterrence].


  4. […] JSW on Meet the IDF’s new Chief of… […]


  5. […] maintain their rule. Terror can have significant pedagogical value, as Israeli officials have long recognised, and while fear of international censure sets limits on the havoc Israel can profitably wreak, […]


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