Israeli Military, Facing Multiple Crises, Seeks ‘Decisive Victory’

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy

A new analysis by Jean-Loup Samaan explores the armed force’s struggle to change the way it fights and to redefine battlefield victory. 

Israel’s military readiness is in question: An estimated thousands of reservists are protesting the government’s push to reform the judiciary, and members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition are sparring over a draft exemption for yeshiva students. “Many people say this is the most serious crisis in the country’s history,” a former military intelligence director warns. 

These risks to military cohesion are compounded by months of tensions with Hezbollah over increasing violence in the West Bank, and Iran’s development of a drone that can put Israeli nuclear facilities in its sights. A new article in Middle East Policy examines how the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been struggling for the past four years to counter such external, asymmetric threats through a new doctrinal concept aimed at changing the way the country fights and redefining battlefield victory. 

“The idea of a conventional war against Arab states mobilizing tanks and planes across the territories of the Middle East is now considered a relic,” argues Jean-Loup Samaan. Major improvements among nonstate opponents, especially Hamas, and the potential for Israel to face multiple fronts simultaneously forced the IDF’s chief of staff to press for a major overhaul in training, weapons development, civil-military relations, and interoperability among the armed services. 

The new concept unveiled in 2020, Decisive Victory, “involves swift offensive operations relying on the use of smaller units supported by massive firepower,” Samaan explains, aimed at concentrating the offensive on key fronts before Israel is overwhelmed by rocket attacks. 

Hezbollah is estimated to possess 130,000 rockets, and Hamas was able to fire about 4,300 at Israeli targets during an 11-day confrontation in 2021. The accuracy and operational tempo of these nonstate groups have steadily improved, and experts predict improvements in precision guidance. 

Decisive Victory has also been “been shaped by growing concerns over the prospects of horizontal escalation—that is, the opening of multiple fronts at the same time,” says Samaan, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Middle East Security Initiative. 

Though the Netanyahu government has come to accept the new way of war, some officials remain skeptical. One former IDF officer called the initiative a “PR stunt, no more.” Samaan shows in his article that Decisive Victory requires “a comprehensive assessment of the enemy’s capabilities” so that military forces can act before they are overwhelmed. But collecting such full-spectrum intelligence is a tall order. 

Just as important, Israel’s domestic turmoil has thrown into question not just military cohesion but how to pay for these new capabilities, as well. The four-year plan underpinning the reforms necessary for Decisive Victory is estimated to cost $1.25 billion per year—a heavy lift, given that spending on defense decreased between 2021 and 2022.  

But Samaan identifies what may be the biggest issue facing Decisive Victory: “The IDF would determine when an operation starts and when it ends.” However, recent wars with Hamas have not begun this way, and the Israeli military or civilian leadership will not likely be able to achieve clear battlefield results. 

The debate “illustrates the broader trends in the evolving struggle against nonstate actors,” Samaan concludes, and “puts into perspective fundamental questions about training and procurement that may soon be faced in other regions.” 


Among the major takeaways readers can find in Samaan’s Middle East Policy article, “‘Decisive Victory’ and Israel’s Quest for a New Military Strategy”: 

  • In 2020, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, chief of the General Staff, announced “Decisive Victory,” a strategic concept changing the way Israel fights and redefining battlefield victory. 

    • The evolution of nonstate, irregular threats like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the potential of facing multiple fronts, drove the change. 

    • While the Israel Defense Forces had succeeded in some areas, such as missile defense through the Iron Dome system, the inability to declare victory inspired the new approach.  

    • Decisive Victory is intended to reform training, interoperability among the services, weapons procurement, and civil-military relations. 

  • Israel’s interest in reforming its operational capabilities reflects changes in regional threats.  

    • The recent history of asymmetric warfare, short-term high-intensity confrontations, and the proliferation of precision-guided munitions offer a picture of what future wars could look like. 

  • Decisive Victory focuses on two primary objectives: a quick end to a potential conflict and the use of overwhelming force to destroy enemy capabilities. 

    • This generally requires comprehensive intelligence and the ability to swiftly mobilize high-intensity assets against the opposition’s military power. 

  • The newest four-year plan (2020–24) emphasizes:  

    • “momentum,” based on the reorganization of the IDF’s leadership 

    • operational structures to emphasize rapid coordination and deployment, as well as unit autonomy. 

  • Despite early political opposition, Decisive Victory was embraced by the Netanyahu, Bennett, and Lapid administrations due to its emphasis on winning. 

  • Despite this, the strategic concept still faces skepticism: 

    • The projected budget of $1.25 billion per year faces domestic and international political challenges. 

    • The emphasis on winning has sparked concern among some military experts. 

    • It may not be possible to develop a comprehensive intelligence assessment of enemy capabilities, such as the positions of rocket launchers and the locations of tunnels. 


You can read Jean-Loup Samaan’s article, “‘Decisive Victory’ and Israel’s Quest for a New Military Strategy,” in the Fall 2023 issue of Middle East Policy, forthcoming in September. 

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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