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The Nature of War

Conflicting Paradigms and Israeli Military Effectiveness

Ron Tira, a former fighter pilot in the Israel Air Force, has over twenty years of experience in Israel Air Force intelligence and special operations. He served as a section head in the IAF Intelligence Wing (–Lamdan–), and is currently a reservist in the air force's Campaign Planning Department. A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Tira is a corporate lawyer and businessman. He is the author of Forming an Israeli Policy towards Syria (2000) and The Limitations of Standoff Firepower-Based Operations: On Standoff Warfare, Maneuver, and Decision (2007).

Any state at war attempts to steer the conflict to the point where it can demonstrate its relative advantage. Thus underlying each war is a struggle over its particular nature, and in a dynamic process each side attempts to shape a war paradigm that suits its own relative strengths, while the adversary attempts to impose its preferred paradigm on the conflict. Israel, for example, seemingly has an edge in military effectiveness, and has therefore always preferred short, decisive wars. Its enemies, however, have an overall advantage in stamina and ability to leverage the international system. They therefore strive to lengthen the war and bring Israel to the point of defeat through attrition of the Israeli political–civilian system.

In The Nature of War: Conflicting Paradigms and Israeli Military Effectiveness, Ron Tira examines the different aspects that characterize a war, from the center of gravity to be attacked to the elements constituting military decision, as they are manifested in 'simple' symmetrical wars; asymmetrical wars versus a state opponent; guerilla warfare; parallel warfare; and next generation warfare.

The author first surveys types of war and the circumstances whereby the classical doctrine of war is progressively less valid, and then devises additional analytical tools necessary to understand these more complex conflicts. The study examines the relevance of classical doctrine and applies these new tools and concepts to a range of historical examples, from the Second Punic War to World War II to some of Israel's main wars. The final case evaluated is the next generation of wars that Israel and other Western countries may find themselves fighting – wars against states that have adopted the guerilla paradigm.

Published in association with the Institute for National Security Studies, Israel

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-378-2
Hardback Price: £37.50 / $65.00
Release Date: November 2009
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-638-7
Paperback Price: £22.95 / $29.95
Release Date: May 2014
Page Extent / Format: 160 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Executive Summary

Introduction: The Erosion of Classical Military Doctrine

1 Doctrinal Background

2 “Simple” Symmetrical Wars

3 The Complex Asymmetrical War against a Regular
Opponent: The Picture becomes Multidimensional

4 Asymmetrical Wars against Non-State Opponents:
Same Theater of Operations, Different Objectives

5 Parallel War: One War with Two Non-Convergent

6 The Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead:
Parallel Wars against a Non-State Opponent

7 The Future War: Parallel War against a State Enemy that has Adjusted to Fighting against RMA and Adopted a Guerilla Paradigm

Conclusion: “Rock-Paper-Scissors”


Tira’s book is a most valuable contribution to the burgeoning literature on asymmetrical conflicts. These have become a major strategic challenge facing economically and technologically advanced countries, which often struggle to achieve victory against far weaker rivals that eschew direct military confrontation. Tira offers a keen analysis of various forms of asymmetry, vis-à-vis both state and non-state rivals, and illuminates them with well-chosen examples from military history. While his perspective is universal, his focus is on the Arab–Israeli conflict, whose various wars he analyzes very perceptively, down to Israel’s clash with Hezbollah in Lebanon 2006. This book offers decision-makers and students of war important lessons for the future.
Azar Gat, Ezer Weitzman Professor of National Security, Tel Aviv University

The Nature of War is a valuable, pioneering study of the essence of war. In this readable and engaging book, Ron Tira succeeds in analyzing the differences between different types of wars and formulating new, insightful criteria for understanding the wars of the past, and even more important – the wars of the future. Using examples from classical and modern warfare, the author expands the theoretical basis essential to academics, decision makers, and military planners.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council

This book begins with a dismissal of the Clausewitzian doctrine of war, other aspects of classical war theory, and of the ‘American way of war’ identified with the revolution in military affairs (RMA). RMA has clearly influenced Israel’s war planners (as has Clausewitz) in their preference for air power and briefer but punitive forays that successfully deliver military decision. But nations and their strategic planners do not always choose the pattern or outcome of wars. This book suggests that they can do more to influence these outcomes by drawing the proper lessons from war. The author’s assertion of Israeli particularism, ventures into the broader theoretical discussion of war, literal interpretations of ‘center of gravity,’ and sometimes unsupported assertions and characterizations of particular wars were frustrating to this reviewer. However, Tira peppers the work with some keen and useful, even brilliant insights about the intent of war-planners and the need to see situations ‘as a whole.’ If guerrilla or conventional warfare prevails in the future, then Tira urges further Israeli definition of war’s terms, nature, and swift assumption of control. Recommended to those in strategic, military, and conflict studies.

The 2006 Lebanon War (known as the Second Lebanon War in Israel) inspired the Israeli and other militaries to re-evaluate the assumptions on which they had based war-fighting doctrines and modernisation programmes. In The Nature of War, Ron Tira, a former Israeli Air Force pilot, argues that the ‘classical doctrine of war’ – which he says defines victory as a ‘military decision’ deriving from an ‘essential blow to the enemy’s capability of acting effectively’ (p. 6) – is becoming less relevant. While some readers may regard this definition as a straw man and feel that the author’s use of history is simplistic, his observation that achieving decisive military outcomes may be impossible in contemporary conflicts seems accurate enough. The author argues that victory may be best achieved through ‘denying the enemy the strategic freedom of action to fight, in upsetting the enemy’s war paradigm and imposing a different type of war, and in attacking centers of gravity different from those known to us from the ‘simple’ wars of the past’ (pp. 8–9). In the first part of the book, Tira looks at how the idea of decisive war, which he traces to the writings of Prussian war philosopher Carl von Clausewitz, influenced the development of Israeli, German and US military doctrines, noting that the applicability of the concept has always varied according to a country’s ‘relative strengths and weaknesses in comparison with the enemy’s and the circumstances of the particular conflict’ (p. 29). He goes on to argue that symmetrical wars, or wars in which both sides seek major battles to attack what they perceive as the enemy military’s centre of gravity, are generally consistent with classical doctrine as he defines it. Wars against regular opponents become more complex and asymmetrical, he says, when adversaries attempt to prolong the conflict and erode the domestic and international political support to sustain the war effort. In these wars, military actions ‘provide only the catalyst to move towards the political end state, but [do] not create it directly’ (p. 65). He also introduces the category of asymmetrical wars against non-state forces (Hizbullah, Hamas) and argues that rather than achieving victory through military decision, these forces seek to exhaust the ‘state’s civilian-political will to fight’ (p. 76).
... Tira’s analysis of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and of Israel’s 2008–9 operation against Hamas in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead), is perhaps the most valuable portion of the book. The author develops the idea of ‘parallel wars against nonstate opponents’, or wars in which the opponents attack each other’s strategies without direct military confrontation (p. 85). Ultimately, Tira argues, Israel and ‘similar nations’ are likely to face state-based enemies that ‘adopt a guerrilla paradigm’ to evade Western military capabilities (p. 109). In future, enemies are likely to weaken a state’s resolve ‘by undermining the trust and cohesion between the government, the civilians, and the military’ (p. 112). Enemy efforts are also likely to include attacks on the homefront, efforts to protract the conflict, and the use of decentralised networks of autonomous cells. To contend with this ‘guerrilla paradigm’, Tira emphasises strategic and operational manoeuvres that force the enemy to concentrate forces. He advocates attacking physical centres of gravity to reduce the enemy’s military capabilities and other assets in a way that constrains its freedom of action. He also advocates military operations designed to ‘undermine the enemy’s war paradigm’ such as manoeuvring to open a new theatre or expanding the existing theatre in an unexpected way (p. 117).
... Tira’s argument that land-forces manoeuvres can compel the enemy to expose itself, rendering it vulnerable to firepower, stands in contrast to much of the literature associated with the so-called ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ that came to dominate thinking in key portions of the Israeli Defense Force prior to the 2006 Lebanon War. The author argues that operations that rely too heavily on firepower can prolong wars and create opportunities for asymmetrical enemies, while ground approaches toward the enemy’s strategic centres of gravity create an acute threat that stand-off fire alone is incapable of producing (p. 119). He suggests that his argument extends beyond Israel’s strategic situation because of the proliferation of long-range, precision-strike capabilities and of chemical,
biological and even nuclear weapons, which creates an ‘asymmetry of vulnerability’ between industrialised democracies and less-developed countries that possess those capabilities. Although the author argues that the decisiveness of military action is waning, he also rejects the gradual escalation of military action and emphasises seizing and retaining the initiative. He contends that, ‘from
the moment a conflict breaks out, [a country] must take control of the conflict’s outline, redefine its geography and its intensity, and apply a maximum of force in a minimum amount of time in order to attain a decision, or at least to deny the enemy its strategic freedom to continue fighting’ (p. 128).
... While portions of his argument are compelling, especially his call for ‘versatile and varied military capabilities’ and his emphasis on ‘understanding a war in its distinctive context’, Tira’s observation that military force is becoming less decisive appears to contradict his advocacy of maximum force, and his exhortation that ‘the complexity of war compels us to contend with the broader picture’ seems inconsistent with his narrow focus on military operations (pp. 129–30). Still, this book will be of use to military officers and defence officials, and to anyone interested in Israeli interpretations of recent experiences in Southern Lebanon and Gaza and the way these are likely to shape Israeli doctrine and defence modernisation.

Tira (a veteran of Israel Air Force intelligence and special operations) draws on Israel’s recent experiences with war-making, as well as the broader history of 20th century warfare, in order to develop ideas that go beyond the classical Clausewitz doctrine of war towards a new theory of asymmetrical warfare that aims towards breaking the ‘enemy’s paradigm’ or the basic assumptions that the enemy’s plans rest on. He tests his theories against the cases of the 2006 Israel–Lebanon war and “Operation Cast Lead,” the 2009 assault on besieged Gaza. An example of what he means by breaking the enemy’s paradigm is found in this latter case, wherein he argues that ‘attacking the enemy’s combatants and weapons wherever they were, even in the basements of mosques, public buildings, and residential quarters’ – all within the limits of international law, he insists, contrary to the judgment of the Goldstone Report and large swathes of international opinion that saw the assault as an act of collective punishment aimed primarily at Gaza’s civilians – ‘represents a measure of breaking the enemy’s paradigm.’ Such a judgment appears to discount the moral level of war, emphasized by such fourth generation war theorists as William Lind, who commented during the assault that the enemy, Hamas, ‘will not only survive,’ (the only criteria needed to claim victory against an advanced state military, according to Israeli military theorist and historian Martin van Creveld), ‘but be strengthened by a worldwide flood of sympathy, which will translate in part into new recruits and more money.’
Reference & Research Book News

War is a very complicated business that takes place on different levels. At its highest level, it involves strategy, where military plans are tailored to achieve diplomatic objectives. At its lowest level, it involves tactics, where men and machines are organized and deployed to fight on the battlefield. In between these lies the operational level, which ties together strategy and tactics by prescribing a particular type of warfare, manoeuvre or attrition, conventional or unconventional and so forth. War may also be either ‘symmetrical’ – that is, between adversaries that are similar in nature (state versus state or non-state versus non-state), pursuing similar objectives with similar means – or ‘asymmetrical’ – that is, between adversaries that are either dissimilar in nature (e.g., state versus non-state), pursuing dissimilar objectives, using dissimilar means or some combination thereof.
... Ron Tira, a former Israel Air Force fighter pilot and intelligence officer, has produced an erudite volume that probes, as the title says, the nature of war. This challenging work, which analyzes every seemingly imaginable war scenario in terms of adversaries, objectives and means, is also filled with enlightening historical examples that make the dense, abstract discussions much more accessible to the unschooled than would otherwise be the case. These examples range from the ancient to the modern, from the Second Punic War to the Second World War. The author, naturally enough, makes special reference to Israel. With respect to the Jewish state’s two recent asymmetrical wars, the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the 2008–9 Operation Cast Lead, which probably had much to do with prompting his inquiry into the nature of war, Tira is highly critical of the conduct of the first, somewhat less critical of the conduct of the second. He believes that Israel came up short at every level of war in the Second Lebanon War, except perhaps in certain respects at the tactical level. In regard to Operation Cast Lead, while he thinks that the Jewish state performed very well at the tactical level, he also feels that it displayed shortcomings at both the operational and strategic levels. It is critical to rectify these operational- and strategic-level problems, he continues, because Israel is likely to face precisely the same kind of warfare – that is, massive rocket salvos fired against the Israeli home front, strict avoidance of large-scale battles fought against the Israel Defence Forces, hostile civilian populaces turned into giant human shields and so on – in any future conflict, whether the Jewish state’s opponents are states or non-state terrorist organizations.
... While it is certainly possible to take issue with some of Tira’s ruminations about the general nature of war or the specific conduct of Israel’s wars (e.g. he appears to underrate the Jewish state’s ability to reap benefits from wars of attrition), his volume is a thought-provoking one that ought to be given careful consideration by military officers and diplomats alike. It can also be read with profit by both academics and laymen with an interest in war or the Middle East.
Israel Affairs

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