The ‘Gantz Doctrine’ declares war on Palestinian society itself

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz (Twitter)

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  August 23, 2022

The recent assault on Gaza and raids on Palestinian NGOs reflect an emerging Israeli policy of preemption, or what might be tentatively called the ‘Gantz Doctrine’.

Last week marked another nadir in Israel’s assault on Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations, as seven organizational offices were raided in pre-dawn operations, confiscating and trashing equipment and sealing the entry doors shut with iron plates. This came on the back the Israeli onslaught on Gaza in early August, as well as Israel’s escalation of killings and targeted assassinations of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The organizations that were raided on August 18 included Al-Haq, thought to be one of the prime targets of the concerted Israeli campaign designating these organizations as “terrorist,” notably without a shred of proof (the EU and the UN could not get that proof even when they specifically asked for it).

Al-Haq is a respected human rights organization specializing in human rights law and violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Al-Haq means “the truth”), and is cooperating with the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Israeli violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity – violations which specifically include the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is heading this assault. Gantz has made no secret of his part in the Gaza attacks – in fact, he boasted of returning Gaza to the “stone age” when he ran for political office in 2019.

The Israeli army’s recent operation to close down the the seven civil society organizations doesn’t have a name, but maybe they should call it “Operation Pre-dawn,” to go with the recent three-day onslaught on Gaza called “Operation Breaking Dawn”. Alas, pre-dawn raids are a daily occurrence for the Israeli occupation army.  

From Dahiya to ‘Gantz Doctrine’

But Breaking Dawn, as well as the recent closures, are indicative of a newly emerging Israeli policy of preemption, in what might be tentatively called a “Gantz Doctrine.” This is embodied in what Gantz said in the wake of the “Operation Breaking Dawn”:

In the future, if necessary, we will carry out preemptive strikes to protect the citizens of Israel, its sovereignty and infrastructure. This holds true to every front, from Tehran to Khan Yunis.

And if Tehran can be attacked (pre-emptively!), then who will protect Al-Haq? The ICC?

Gantz’s proclamation seems to echo the Dahiya Doctrine of former army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, from 2008 when he was Head of Northern Command:

In every village from which they will fire at Israel, we will use disproportionate force and inflict enormous damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.

It came to be called the Dahiya Docrtine, named after the quarter in Beirut which housed families of many Hezbollah members, which Israel levelled in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Incidentally, Eisenkot has just joined the Gantz-Sa’ar center-right National Unity party, boosting it with another two seats in recent election polls. The Dahiya Doctrine has been instrumental in forming the policy on Gaza, as the UN fact-finding mission of 2009 (‘Goldstone report‘) noted. So now, Gantz is taking Dahiya anywhere, including to Tehran, and the added twist is the “preemptive” aspect.

There are various cases of preemptive strikes which should serve as a warning. The 1967 war was one, where Israel fabricated a story about an Egyptian first strike — but many may not remember that. If we need something closer to younger people’s living memory, we could look at the Iraq war. Israel was pressing hard for the US to invade Iraq, a goal for which Netanyahu was a personal and most ardent advocate. But Israel knew that Saddam didn’t have WMD’s. In the words of the late minister Yossi Sarid, who was also member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, it was “an old wives’ tale,”, but Israel didn’t want to “spoil” it for Bush—which he says “it should have”. Israel managed to persuade the US that its belief that Iraq might have WMD’s is as strong as evidence. And we all know how that went. It wasn’t Tehran, but it certainly was Baghdad.

In some senses, the development inherent in Gantz’s “doctrine” has remained consistent with the time-tested Zionist strategy of taking an expansionist step, seeing how hot the water is, staying there if possible, and then expanding further. Thus, in Breaking Dawn, Israel took another step to alter the definition of what “self-defense” means: it didn’t even pretend to be retaliating against Islamic Jihad rockets (which weren’t fired from Gaza). It simply went ahead and attacked Gaza, several days after it had arrested West Bank leader Bassam al-Saadi.

Israeli leaders and professional apologists can’t seem to get their Hasbara right about this one: they tell us that there was an alleged plan by Islamic Jihad to target an Israeli bus across the fence, and they say they have “good intelligence,” but they can’t say if the target would have been soldiers, or workers, or maybe children – the press goes with “bus full of children,” since that makes the best headline. And why take a chance? Why not just bomb them on the basis of this “good information”?

But this Israeli flip-flopping about the reason for the attack was deliberate, because it aimed to establish a precedent that would allow Israel to act on a thin pretext in carrying out its violations. It did so the first time by enacting a “pre-emptive strike” based on dubious information, but this time it replaced its hackneyed claim to be “defending itself” with a newer, more capacious pretext: it was protecting itself against an alleged potential threat, unclear though it may be.

Thus, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides confirmed that “the United States firmly believes that Israel has a right to protect itself.” This is a relatively new development.

Now of course, the mantra of Israel’s right to “defend ” itself is well established, especially at the opening of every Gaza onslaught. But now, it has morphed into its right to preemptively “protect” itself. This reformulation allows Israel greater room to maneuver within the context of its counterinsurgency strategies, giving it license to achieve the kind of deterrence intended in the Dahiya Doctrine, but with an expanded and more ample scope. Never mind that the general idea of “defense” against a besieged and occupied population is without a sound basis in international law, as Noura Erekat explained as early back as 2012.

Israel’s newfangled right to “protect itself” is an affirmation of the idea of a preemptive strike on the basis of alleged information — and notably, without a cabinet decision on the matter. An assault on Gaza killing nearly 50 people, a third of whom are children, does not even need to be considered an act of war for Israeli purposes — just a routine, preemptive operation. The Cabinet will just be “updated,” and it will say yes, without putting it to a vote.

An emerging pattern

And now, Gantz’s new doctrine isn’t limited to the pretext for Operation Breaking Dawn. Israel is now applying its “right to protect itself” against Palestinian civil society organizations. We have no evidence whatsoever that these organizations are in any way connected to “terror.” Israel is apparently unable to produce such evidence when specifically asked to do so by leading world actors. It is simply telling us “believe us, we know.” Or maybe what it’s really saying is: “watch us do this as you do nothing, because the US says we have the right to protect ourselves.” What we notice here is an emerging pattern now that Breaking Dawn has set a precedent.

A robust Palestinian civil society is threatening for Israel, since such a society would be harder to control. Certainly, the looming threat of legal accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and by a world legal body no less, is serious.

Indeed, if the culprit is not held to account, what in the world would make it stop?

The late Israeli minister Shulamit Aloni cited Golda Meir for having said that, after the Eichmann trial, “after everyone knows what they did to us, we can do anything and nobody has the right to criticize us and tell us what to do”.

So maybe Tom Nides could just cite Golda Meir (whom Biden adores), and tell us “Israel can do anything”. And even if the whole world watches and sees what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, it will just be silent, because you can’t criticize Israel or tell it what to do.   

Now watch how the US cannot even criticize Israel on this latest assault on Palestinian civil society. It is ten months since the Biden Administration received the “evidence” requested of Israel establishing that the six organizations are connected to “terrorism.” It wasn’t convinced at all, and in April the State Department briefed that it wasn’t closer to a verdict, and was simply still “reviewing” that information. It has therefore been in a “perpetual state of limbo”, as AP’s Matt Lee said to Spokesperson Ned Price four days ago at the press briefing. And now? Price says that the Administration’s position about those organizations hasn’t changed (that is, they don’t believe the Israeli accusations but won’t say it out loud), and yet they won’t criticize Israel on the raids. How do you square that impossible circle? Price’s attempt to explain it away is laughable:

I think the fact is that our Israeli partners … took an action..to designate these organizations as so-called ‘terrorist organizations’ … What we’ve seen publicly, what they’ve conveyed privately in recent hours, is that there’s an appropriate basis for the actions that they have taken. It will be a matter of urgency for us to review the basis for that information.”

Price almost seems to allude that Israel’s actions are self-justifying in and of themselves— they took those actions, so they must be right. Of course, all this confirms is that Israel, as per Golda Meir, can do whatever it wants. Ned Price’s verbal gymnastics are evidence enough.

This kind of American indifference indicates that there is no serious ground for the “Gantz Doctrine” to be opposed. Israel can now act “preemptively” on the basis of dubious information, conducting assaults on Palestinian civil society, and the US will have to observe in silence. Yet whereas the Dahiya Doctrine was exclusively a military strategy for the establishment of deterrence, the Gantz Doctrine has extended the battle to include Palestinian society itself — typical of regimes of colonial domination that view the “native” society as a potential “insurgent.” It is a war that does not adhere to the battlefield, instead launching an all-out colonial assault on Palestinian society.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark