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Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been engaged in a series of forever wars. After each war, the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet, and others in the intelligence and security community analyze what happened and summarize their findings in after-action, or “lessons learned,” reports. Former leaders from these institutions, many of whom retain close relations with their successors, also produce reports on what happened and identify takeaways for the future. Thus, in trying to make sense of what’s happening now, lessons these experts have distilled from their experiences provide a sound starting point. Over two decades as director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, I was fortunate to build connections with many of the current and former leaders of these institutions, both when they were in office and in further chapters of their careers. Thirty years ago, Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, was a student at HKS and has remained an alumnus we’re proud of. After more than a decade as a close colleague and senior fellow at the Belfer Center, Shai Feldman returned to Israel to become the director the Jaffee Center—which subsequently was renamed the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). His successor, Amos Yadlin, former head of Israel’s military intelligence, has been a member of the HKS extended family as a graduate of the school and frequent visitor. Many of the analysts who worked at INSS and at other sibling centers have also been valuable colleagues. After retiring from decades of service both in uniform and in the Israeli government, Ehud Barak joined us as a senior fellow and offered us his unique perspective on Israel’s security agenda. When he ended his service as Mossad director in 2016, Tamir Pardo also joined us as a senior fellow. What American readers of these reports may find most surprising is the candor in calling failures by their real names, and their readiness to accept responsibility rather than simply attempting to pin the blame on a few errant bad apples. Many of the most interesting insights from Israel’s earlier wars are to be found in reports that are not readily accessible. Thus, in this paper we have attempted to collect and review these efforts, and to summarize a number of key lessons in ways that will help policymakers and observers as Israel now faces the most serious challenge in its nearly eight decades of existence as a modern state. The report begins by presenting a brief summary of major takeaways—ours, as well as those of the experts—as context for the broader report. It then offers a timeline of each war, alongside a brief description of each. We conclude with a selection of quotations from Israeli military and security analysts, summarized under nine lessons for the future.


Allison, Graham, and Raphael Piliero. "Lessons from Israel’s Forever Wars." Belfer Center Applied History Project Discussion Paper Series, January 2024.