Why the 'Netanyahu Doctrine' makes sense
October 1st, 2013
12:18 PM ET

Why the 'Netanyahu Doctrine' makes sense

By Einat Wilf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Einat Wilf is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and sat on its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged from his meeting Monday with President Barack Obama, he may have recognized in the president a fellow proponent of the Netanyahu Doctrine: to avoid the use of force, be ready to use it. After all, Obama had just reiterated that he won't take any options off the table on Iran, “including military.”

Of course, the Netanyahu Doctrine is nothing new – the ancient Romans described it as si vis pacem para bellum, “he who wants peace must prepare for war.” Hebrew wisdom extolled self-restraint as the highest form of heroism, and such ancient wisdom has also guided Netanyahu's policies, and not only on Iran. But while this doctrine did not originate with Netanyahu, the prime minister has become closely associated with its application in the region, despite facing significant criticism.

The doctrine is simple to formulate, yet nearly impossible to successfully implement because to be a success, three components must be in place: the capability to use force, projection of a true willingness to use it, and a deep desire to avoid doing so. No one, including the leader, knows what will actually happen at the critical moment of decision regarding the use of force, but the other side should be sufficiently concerned and unsure to consider the threat credible. When done right, the doctrine is a masterful tightrope walk over the twin abyss of Vietnam and Munich: Prepare for war too much and you risk instigating the very war you wish to avoid; prepare too little and you risk encouraging aggression through weakness and appeasement.

But the artful balancing act needed to reach a successful diplomatic outcome means this approach can be easily misunderstood. Some mistake it for bluster, others for bluff. But it is neitherBuilding the capacity to use force and conveying the willingness to use it can easily lead outsiders to mistakenly interpret such acts as the policies of reckless leaders itching for war. These were precisely the accusations leveled at both Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak by retired Israeli security officials, who rang the alarm bells convinced they could save the country from “trigger happy cowboys.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for example, has publicly hit out at Netanyahu and Barak for spending three billion dollars on “adventurous fantasies” and “military delusions” for operations that “will never be carried out.” Yet such investment serves not only to build the capability to use force, but also conveys a willingness to use it. The same is true for the massive recruitment of reserves, who stood ready to enter the Gaza Strip during operation Pillar of Defense, but who never had to because diplomacy allowed the desired outcome of relative calm.

When Netanyahu gave his now famous speech at the United Nations a year ago, memorably charting a red line to Iran's weapons nuclear program, many interpreted the speech as an Israeli attempt to entangle the United States in a war that would serve Israel's interest. But Netanyahu's goal was precisely the opposite. His speech was not about how to go to war – it was about how to avoid it. Netanyahu's message for the international community, and especially to the United States and its allies, was that a clear red line to Iran, backed by a credible military threat, was necessary for diplomacy to work.

The fact is that diplomacy alone was not going to achieve the aim of curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Diplomacy backed by force had a fighting chance. A year later, the results of Iran's elections and its recent “charm offensive” and offers of negotiations have proven this doctrine correct.

It is no accident that Netanyahu is at once considered Israel's most hawkish prime minister and yet has not actually taken the country to war. It is no accident that under his watch the number of Jews and Arabs killed as a result of violent conflict between has fallen noticeably under his watch. Too many make the mistake of judging Netanyahu by his hawkish rhetoric, and too few by the outcomes of his policies.

When implemented well, the outcome of the Netanyahu doctrine is peace, not war.

soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. Yuck

    She has been controlled by mass murders,liars,ego,cheats,wicked,greed,the power hungry politicians,the land has been contaminated by evil doers,not peaceful doers.its the peace makers that gets punished and thrown to prison all because of TRUTH.Now why is it that Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons??and any other countries near Israel will be a major threat even if the other countries will even think about building such a negative system.when will there be peace love and understanding in the middle east????the world is tired in watch war crimes and innocent children dying.what are we teaching out kids?i want my neices to travel around the world at peace just enjoying life...remember we only live once...time is golden and short....

    October 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Reply
    • David Stafford

      Genesis 27:36

      "And he (the father of the Palestinians) said, is not he rightly named Jacob (the father of the Israelites) in that he has supplanted me these two times...

      Psalms 90:9

      "We spend our lives as a tale that is told."

      October 3, 2013 at 1:25 am | Reply
  2. Yuck

    Peace,love,unity and respect with listening and understanding with no lies...just 100percent love....

    October 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  3. southernwonder

    islam is always ready and itching to fight with non-muslim societies, reason or no reason. netanyahoo doctrine makes full sense. best wishes.

    October 2, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  4. opposite of the ninny obama


    October 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  5. chaniyan

    Man has some balls. Wants the international community to keep applying pressure on Tehran while hiding behind the permanent veto from the said international community in the UN. Thirty UN Security Council resolutions on Israel vetoed by the US. And the Americans wonder why there is a target on the back of the USA. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Israel : Wolf in Wolf's clothing. Israel wants to keep treating the Palestinians like the American Indians from 150 years ago. Americans, of all people, should have more sympathy for the Palestinians. Not to mention the crapload of problems caused for us by our 'friend' in the Middle East.

    October 3, 2013 at 8:04 am | Reply
  6. joe d


    October 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  7. May

    I am attaching these last few words that were confirmed by a Muslim friend (Ali ) to be 100%
    Correct funny and sad but True

    Spread the word ….THE MUSLIMS ARE NOT HAPPY!
    They’re not happy in Gaza ..
    They’re not happy in Egypt ..
    They’re not happy in Libya ..
    They’re not happy in Morocco ..
    They’re not happy in Iran ..
    They’re not happy in Iraq ..
    They’re not happy in Yemen ..
    They’re not happy in Afghanistan ..
    They’re not happy in Pakistan ..
    They’re not happy in Syria ..
    They’re not happy in Lebanon ..


    They’re happy in Australia .
    They’re happy in Canada .
    They’re happy in England ..
    They’re happy in France ..
    They’re happy in Italy ..
    They’re happy in Germany ..
    They’re happy in Sweden ..
    They’re happy in the USA ..
    They’re happy in Norway ..
    They’re happy in Holland .
    They’re happy in Denmark .

    Basically, they’re happy in every country that is not Muslim
    and unhappy in every country that is!


    Not Islam.
    Not their leadership.
    Not themselves.


    AND THEN; They want to change those countries to be like….
    Brainwashed Low IQ people

    October 7, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
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