The following speech was delivered by Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi/Jewish Home) at The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) 2018 Conference on Wednesday in Tel Aviv. Using a simple parable, Bennett illustrated precisely why solutions for Iranian sponsored terror have been unsuccessful and what must be done to solve the problem.
“There was once a good farmer, who tirelessly worked his fields. One day he was bitten by a mosquito. He scratched the bite and moved on. And then more mosquitos and more bites followed. So he decided to take action. He bought a mosquito-swatter. Whenever a mosquito came, he’d fight it. At times he won, and other times he was bitten.
Because the mosquitos persisted, he developed a special mosquito net. He surrounded his bed, and his room, and eventually his entire house, with it. Nonetheless, the mosquitos found holes and bit him and his family.
Our farmer and an innovative and high-tech oriented mind, so he turned to the technological industries. At his request, they developed a device which identified mosquitos in flight and intercepted them with a small missile.
But the mosquitos persisted.
The farmer sat on his balcony and wondered – what should I do?
One day his older and wise father came and said, ‘Son, why don’t you dry out the swamp next to us?'”
Bennett then applied his parable to the situation in the Middle East.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our farmer was a great tactician; however he lacked an overall strategy. For over 30 years Iran has been sending mosquitos our way. Once from a base in Lebanon. Once from a base in Gaza. Now she’s trying to build a base in Syria.”
“And for 30 years Israel has been careful about fighting the mosquitos, the messengers: fighting Hezbollah and Hamas.”
“Israel has paid a heavy price. Hundreds of soldiers have fallen in battles with the Iranian messengers. Many civilians have been killed by these messengers. In the war with Hezbollah during the 1980s and ’90s hundreds of soldiers fell. In the Second Lebanon War 121 soldiers, and 144 civilians, were killed.”
“And during this entire time, the sender in Tehran – the swamp creating the mosquitos – has been immune from paying a price. He sends the enemies to us but rests in Tehran free of concern.”
“Israel has advanced tactics against Iran’s messengers: we’ve equipped ourselves with advanced weapons, developed the amazing Iron Dome system which has saved many lives, used precision-guided munitions, established the EGOZ unit with its special operative methodologies, and more.”
“But while our tactic responses improved, we remained locked in a narrow strategy. The strategy says: fight the messenger. Fight whoever is shooting at you. To avoid a war in the north, we must broaden our strategic scope.
First, we must understand Iran’s plan. Iran’s strategy against Israel is that of an octopus strangle. What this means, is a constant strategic wrapping, tiring and strangling of Israel through proxies and messengers. It attempts to hurt our economy, our daily lives, and our patience – in order to break the Israeli public’s spirit.”
“Hasan Nasrallah (Secretary Genral of Hezbollah) explained it well in his ‘spider web’ speech. How exactly does Iran do this? The head of the octopus sits in Tehran and sends its tentacles to the areas on Israel’s periphery. One arm, as already stated, is the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Another arm is the Hamas in Gaza. Now Iran is trying to establish a third Arm in Syria using Iranian militias. We won’t let her do so.”
“The connection between the head of the octopus in Tehran and the various tentacles is not absolute. For example, Hamas is a Sunni organization and does not view itself as a complete subordinate of Tehran. The Iranian influence on Hamas depends on the people leading Hamas, their attitude towards Iran, the Iranian financial support, and other factors.”
“Recently the Iranian influence on Hamas has increased, as we witnessed in the recent visit of Saleh al-Arouri, a prominent Hamas leader, in Tehran. The head of the Iranian octopus has more of an influence on Hezbollah, but it too is not complete, as we will see.
“The Iranian chain of action has four components: the sender, the distributor, the host and the messenger.
So, in the Lebanese case, the sender is Iran; the distributor is the Quds Force; the host is Lebanon; and the messenger actively attacking Israel is Hezbollah.”
“In Gaza: the sender, again, is Iran; the distributor – the Quds Force; the host is Gaza; and the messenger Hamas.
In Syria: the sender and distributor are, as usual, Iran and the Quds Force; the host is Syria and the messengers are Iranian militias.”
“In the face of this octopus strategy, Israel has focused for 30 years on fighting the messengers. We have barely touched the hosts. We have not dealt at all with the distributor or sender.”
“During the 1990s, when we fought in Southern Lebanon, we fought Hezbollah. As a company commander, I led a series of missions to take out key Hezbollah leaders, and I saw a constant improvement in our abilities. Yet the framework always remained a fight against one arm of the octopus.”
“From the 1990s till the 2000s we specialized in hunting rocket launchers, while Hezbollah grew in sophistication over time. At first, Hezbollah launched missiles from open areas, and we did a good job destroying them.”
“In the second phase, Hezbollah hid the launchers in overgrown areas, which we nicknamed ‘nature reserves.’ This required us physically arriving at the site to destroy the launchers, like in the battles of Marun a-Ras, which was a battle with lots of friction and casualties.”
“In the third phase, Hezbollah did a good job of planting the rockets in homes, turning dozens of villages in South Lebanon to missile launching bases. The houses now have a kitchen, a living room, a parents’ room, a children’s bedroom and a rocket room. Hezbollah did this knowing Israel would not target civilian-populated areas. Today we can say: there is no surgical way to destroy rocket launchers within houses, without collateral damage. There is no tweezer technology.”
“I saw this at the start of the Second Lebanon War while commanding, once again, a search and destroy mission in the western parts of South Lebanon, not far from Debel. Our mission, to stop the firing of rockets into Israel, was impossible. Yes, we had successes, but could not stop the massive firing into Israel. Not because the IDF forces aren’t capable – but because you cannot arrive physically at each and every launch site.”
“The messenger, Hezbollah, is well embedded in the host, Lebanon. It’s very hard to hit the ‘needle’ – Hezbollah – in the haystack of Lebanon.”
“At the start of the Second Lebanon War, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and said: fight Hezbollah to destroy it, but don’t touch the State of Lebanon. In our terms, she said, ‘fight the messenger, not the host.’
“Olmert agreed without realizing this prevented us from decisively winning the war. Four years ago, as a cabinet member, I advanced a strategy aimed at holding the host responsible, and called it: Hezbollah = Lebanon. While the strategy has not been formally adopted, I can say it is the common wisdom and approach among those setting Israeli policy. The crux of this policy is holding states accountable. Lebanon, the host state, must be responsible for what the messenger, Hezbollah, does.”
“We will no longer agree to this artificial separation between Hezbollah and the State of Lebanon. Another war in Lebanon will lead to the Israeli home front suffering attacks it has not experienced since the War of Independence. Thousands of rockets on population systems in the north and center of the country; on power plants, airports, and other vital infrastructure. We must act to prevent the war or to drastically shorten it in the case that it erupts.
Therefore, Israel will view the launching of hundreds or thousands of rockets from Lebanon, as a declaration of war by the sovereign State of Lebanon, and will act against it and its institutions. Homes housing missiles and launch pads are a legitimate military target and will be destroyed.”
“This time, we will not restrain ourselves to only attacks Hezbollah. By doing so, we create a holding point. The biggest challenge when dealing with guerrilla organizations is their embedding in civilian populations. Trying to attack them is like trying to hold like liquid, which can’t be held.”
“The Hezbollah = Lebanon doctrine freezes the liquid, turning it solid and enabling us to grab it and deal with it.
This can be done when there is a strong connection between the host population and the messenger. Indeed, the connection between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah is extremely close. Hezbollah leans on the Shiite population in South Lebanon.Hezbollah is a central political force in Lebanon and a significant partner in the government. Hezbollah is the main military force in Lebanon, stronger than the Lebanese Army.”
“Nasrallah has two alliances: First, to Iran who arms, trains it, and is the driving force behind its very existence.
His second loyalty is to Lebanon and its citizens, especially the Shiites. Nasrallah built his reputation as the ‘defender of Lebanon’ during the era in which the IDF was in South Lebanon. Adopting the Hezbollah = Lebanon approach will turn Nasrallah from the ‘defender of Lebanon’ to the ‘destroyer of Lebanon,’ in the name of Iranian goals.”
“After the last war, Nasrallah said he would have acted differently had he known how firmly Israel will respond.
This time Nasrallah won’t be able to say he didn’t know. We’re saying it clearly, and we’re saying it now: attacking Israel from Lebanon, is a declaration of war by Lebanon against Israel. The Lebanese population lives a relatively good life. It’s unlikely they will accept the destruction of Lebanon for goals determined more than 1,000 kilometers away from their homes.”
“Just like the citizens of Iran don’t understand what their government wants in Syria, so too the citizens of Lebanon won’t understand why they need to fight Iran’s wars for it. The Hezbollah = Lebanon strategy turns Nasrallah’s strategy against him. His enormous investment in embedding thousands of rocket launchers in the villages of South Lebanon, now turns these villages into giant death traps. This strategy turns Nasrallah’s prized strategy, into a heavy burden. This strategy should also be adopted towards Hamas in Gaza and Iranian militias in Syria. This means: President Assad will bear responsibility for actions taking place in and from his territory. By adopting this strategy we will take a dramatic step forward. After dozens of years in a war against the messenger, we have created an equation with the host country.”
“But this is not enough.The deterrence needs to be built not only with the host but also in relation to the distributor and the sender.”
“We will call this the Octopus Doctrine. This doctrine will drastically reduce the likelihood of war, reduce it if it does happen, and help save lives. Look at this absurd: while the Iranian Ayatollahs send Qassem Suleimani to build militia after militia, while they feed their messengers with billions of dollars, train them and hurt our children and citizens, while they do this, they sit at home, safe and secure. The Persians invented the game of chess, and they are constantly dancing around our king, threatening it, while their king is far and out of harm’s way. In this situation they have no interest to stop. They have patience. Remember: the Octopus Doctrine is a long-term strategy. Sometimes the octopus strangles its pray, and at other times, when needed, it relaxes its hold. As long as the octopus is immune it will continue. In the long term, this a-symmetric situation benefits the octopus.”
“But the Iranian octopus has its weaknesses. For example, the Iranians are highly sensitive to their casualties. They suffer from collective PTSD following the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, during which over 250,000 Iranians died. During the war massive demonstrations were held throughout Iran protesting it, and many people dodged the draft. Since then, they are careful when it comes to their own lives. While Rouhani sends others to fight in Syria, he was quick to withdraw troops once Iranian casualties and coffins started returning home.”
“Let me say this: Rouhani will fight Israel until the last drop of Lebanese and Gazan blood. And this is true in other cases as well. In Yemen he operates the Houtis and in Syria he uses Hezbollah. The Iranians have turned the use of proxies and messengers to an art.”
“In light of the octopus strategy used by Iran, our strategy must mark, first and foremost, the Quds Forces and Iran as a target for continuous, multi-fronted attacks. I don’t necessarily mean armed conflict. The war must be conducted through diplomacy, intelligence, preemptive efforts, technological means, economic sanctions, and – if needed – other means.”
“A crucial part of this is preventing Iran’s nuclear aspirations at any cost. I back the Prime Minister’s policy of ‘nixing or fixing’ the deal. The deal as it is today is like driving on cruise control towards a cliff – the steering wheel must be turned or the brakes used. We are not headed to war. We want quiet and prosperity. But in order to achieve a long-term calm, we need a broader strategy.”
“In parallel, our strategy to our neighbors in Lebanon and Gaza must make it clear we want to disconnect them from our war with Iran. We tell them: we have no territorial claims from you. We have no interest in fighting you. But if you choose to be pawns in the Iranian scheme, to be an arm of the Iranian octopus against us, you will be hurt.
Our message to Iran: the era of your immunity while you send others and use your national resources to hurt Israel is over. A rocket from Lebanon will be treated like an Iranian rocket. We will not waste our resources and energy fighting in Lebanese towns while you recline your chair and watch.”
“We will also not sit idly and watch the accumulation of accurate missiles in Lebanon. Between 2006 and 2012 Hezbollah made a massive leap in the quantities of its rockets, and now has over 130,000. We will not allow it to make a qualitative leap.”
“This strategy means Iran, the Quds Force, and the host countries will pay a price. It is the best way to prevent a war, and reduce it if needed. There is no reason for us to bleed for 51 days in Gaza and 34 days in Lebanon.”
“The Octopus Doctrine will also make use of regional opportunities created over the past few years. Also, the United States and pragmatic Arab countries understand the octopus’ head is Iran; that the center of world terror is Iran. Based on this, we can create a regional coalition. This strategy requires Israel to make drastic changes regarding its policy, building and training of its armed forces, regional alliances and much more.”
“Some might suggest it’s a new and unneeded front. But the truth is this front has existed for 30 years, with only one side acting. Iran has constantly attacked us, while we have given it immunity. Iran’s destructive force against Israel is based mainly on Hezbollah. Since the end of the Second Lebanon War, they have placed over 130,000 rockets there, capable of severe damage. Additionally, Iran has missiles capable of hitting Israel. But compared to the 130,000 rockets Hezbollah has in Lebanon, they are not a big addition, and we have reasonable tools to deal with them. They don’t yet have nuclear capabilities, and we must keep it this way.”
“I believe adopting the Octopus Doctrine, the core of which is acting against the Quds Forces and Iran, while weakening Iran’s hold on Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, has the highest chances of preventing war, or shortening it if it breaks out.”
“Like that farmer of ours, it’s time to stop fighting mosquitos and dry the swamp.”