The Gaza campaign: Analysis // Ben FrankelBack to Ben Gurion? Israel at the gates of Gaza

Published 13 January 2009

The strategy Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak is pursuing in Gaza harks back to an earlier Israeli approach — the unalloyed realism of David Ben Gurion; this approach has served Israel well; alternative approaches have not

This analysis was written on 5 January 2009. Israel has completed the first two phases of the war — the initial air assault, from 27 December 2008 until 3 January 2009, and insertion of ground forces on 3 January. As it now prepares for the third phase — which may yet be aborted if a cease fire agreement is reached — an analysis of the strategic thinking behind Israel’s current campaign would be helpful.

Note that we have kept the figures cited in the original draft (written 5 January), but updated these numbers to reflect the current state of the campaign (13 January). The updates are given in italics and square brackets.  

The Israeli attack on Hamas, now in its ninth day, signals a return by Israel to a strategic approach which has served the country well. Another way to say this is that when Israel deviated from this approach, the country did not fare well.

To explain this, we may use a two-by-two matrix, depicting a country’s national security goals and means:




National security goals











— Lebanon unilateral withdrawal, 2000

— Gaza unilateral disengagement, 2005


— Lebanon, 2006


Extreme — if necessary


— 1948 - 1967

— Gaza, 2008

— Occupied territories:

* 1967-93, 2002-present (West Bank)

* 1967-2005 (Gaza Strip)

— Lebanon, 1982

A country may have modest or ambitious foreign policy goals, and may choose to employ moderate or extreme measures to achieve these goals. The short history of Israel offers examples of these four ends-means combinations.