Why ISIS Fears Israel

Image: “Soldiers from the Bedouins Reconnaissance Battalion trained in southern Israel.” IDF photo, CC BY-NC 2.0.

A strategy of patient, vigilant deterrence works—and America should take note.

September-October 2016

A few months from now, a newly elected president will be thinking about how he—or she—will deal with ISIS. One can be sure that the president-elect will ask her/his national-security team to conduct a fundamental reassessment of the war against ISIS, Al Qaeda and the dozen related strains of Islamic jihadi terrorism. A serious review would begin with recognition of a brute fact: a decade and a half beyond the 9/11 attacks and President Bush’s declaration of a “War on Terrorism,” the United States undoubtedly faces more terrorists determined to do harm than when this effort began.

In anticipation of that review, the analytic community should be studying Israel’s playbook now. The United States is not Israel. Deterrence is not the only strand in Israel’s defense strategy. Not every strategy that works for Israel is appropriate for America. At this point in the fight against ISIS, it is hard to imagine a path back to a posture of containment and deterrence. But as America confronts the next ISIS, or indeed, the next dozen strains or mutations of this cancer, the United States is unlikely to have the resources and will to send even American drones and special-operations forces to every ungoverned space or valley ruled by a hostile terrorist group. Standing as they do on the front line confronting deadly threats 24/7, Israel offers what Eizenkot has called a “laboratory” of security. It is not too late to begin a debate about how lessons learned by Israel’s security community can enrich America’s conceptual arsenal for countering terrorism in what promises to be a very long war.

Graham T. Allison is director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Destined for War: America, China, and Thucydides’s Trap.

Image: “Soldiers from the Bedouins Reconnaissance Battalion trained in southern Israel.” IDF photo, CC BY-NC 2.0.