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Article

A Theory on the Involvement of Religion in National Security Policy Formulation and Implementation: The Case of Israel before and after the Religionization of Its Security Environment

Department of Political Studies, Bar-Ilan University; Ramat Gan 5290002, Israel
Religions 2020, 11(5), 227; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050227
Received: 4 March 2020 / Revised: 28 April 2020 / Accepted: 29 April 2020 / Published: 4 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and International Relations in the Middle East)

Abstract

:
This article offers, for the first time, a theoretical model of religion’s influence on the formulation and execution of national security policies. To build this model, it analyses the influence of religion on Israel’s national security policymaking—before and after Israel’s security environment went through a process of religionization beginning in the 1970s. The article proposes that religion’s effect on national security policymaking is comprised of three tiers that follow one another in the decision making sequence and, yet, are independent from one another: (1) operational beliefs embedded in the state’s security thinking on the relations between religion and security; (2) opportunities and constraints on the state’s freedom of action, due to the role religion plays in global, regional and domestic politics as well as bilateral relations; and (3) governmental utilization of religion to realize national security goals. At its conclusion, the article demonstrates that the model is applicable to other countries as well, using the case of France’s policies in the 21st century.

1. Introduction

The belief in a close connection between national security and religion is quickly becoming the new gospel of the International Relations discipline. However, so far, the growing body of literature on religion and national security has not yet provided us with any theory on how religion influences the formulation and implementation of national security strategy (Sieple et al. 2013; Shaw 2011; Lucius 2013; Seiple and Hoover 2004; Farr 2008; Thomas 2010; Hassner 2009, 2013, 2016; Rubin 2014; Bar-Maoz 2018). To advance the process of theorization, this article offers a model of how religion influences the formulation and execution of national security policies, using the case of Israel’s national security policies throughout its history.
On the issue of religion and national security, Israel is an ideal case to generalize from because it provides the researcher with a longer than average period of time in which policymakers strategized over religious matters. Israel’s decisionmakers incorporated thinking about religion into its national security doctrine from the very inception of the state in 1948, unlike many other countries which did not do so prior to the 21st century. The time period of the Israeli case is also conveniently demarcated halfway through, in the late 1970s, by the religionization of the country’s environment, enabling the detection of patterns of continuity or change in the way a country in pursuit of national security approaches religion, when its environment shifts from mostly secular to mostly religious. The process of theory development is also assisted by the greater than average number of connections existing in Israel between religion and national security—none of them so unique they are not found elsewhere, as the article’s last section shows.
On the other hand, the fact that the majority religion of Israel, Judaism, is both a nationality and a religion can be a potential problem when generalizing from the Israeli case to others. To circumvent this problem, the analysis in this article includes only national security policies having a clear “religious” undertone: policies that were guided by assumptions on religious matters, that signified a serious attempt to utilize religion for security objectives, or that pushed decisionmakers towards perceiving religious actors differently than secular actors. It therefore excludes, for example, the extension of the state’s protection to Jews everywhere—a basic principle of Israel’s security policy—because the relationship between Israel and the Jewish diasporas more closely resembles the relationships of other countries with their ethnic and national diasporas, rather than with their religious diasporas. With the exception of assisting in the protection of synagogues abroad, as they are a favorite target of anti-Semitic and Islamic attacks, Israel does not fund or support the religious lives of Jews abroad, unlike many countries that support the religious lives of diasporas of their own religion (Mandaville and Hamid 2018; Çitak 2010; Ahmed 2012). Excluding the nonreligious aspects of Israel’s “Jewish” national security policy enables the development of a model of the relation between religion and national security that can be applied to polities where there is no overlap between religion and nationality.
The article begins with an exploration of how young Israel understood the connection between religion and national security. Then it explores how, after the 1970s, Israel’s conflict with its environment transformed from a secular, nationalist inter-state conflict into a conflict between two religions, and how this transformation influenced the role religion plays in formulating Israel’s national security strategy today. From its comparison of the periods before and after the region’s religionization, the article constructs a model for the analysis of religion’s impact on the formulation and implementation of national security policies. The model proposes that religion’s effect on national security policymaking is comprised of three tiers: (1) operational beliefs embedded in the state’s security thinking on the relations between religion and security; (2) opportunities and constraints on the state’s freedom of action due the role religion plays in global regional and domestic politics, as well as bilateral relations, and (3) how the state utilizes religious actors, organizations, symbols and rhetoric in the instruments of national power, in order to achieve policy goals. At its conclusion, the article demonstrates that this model is applicable to other countries as well, using the case of France’s policies in the 21st century.
The proposed model relies upon the literature on national security formulation and implementation, such as the writings of Luttwak (1976), Gray (1982, 2016), Redd and Mintz (2013), Snow (2011), Drew and Snow (2006). It also relies upon the theories of foreign policy decision-making of Brecher et al. (1969), and of McGowan and Shapiro (1973). Because the article focuses on decisionmakers’ perceptions, in the section analyzing the Israeli approach, the terms used for places and events are the Israeli terms rather than the Arab or Palestinian terms (i.e., “Temple Mount” rather than “Haram al-Sharif”, the “Second Intifada” rather than the “Al-Aqsa Intifada”, the “territories” rather than the “occupied territories”, etc.) An exception is made when the perceptions of non-Israelis are discussed; there, the article uses their own terms. As for the term “religionization”, it is used in this article not in the narrow sense associated with it today in Israel, but, rather, in the broad academic meaning that denotes either “a broad range of phenomena in which the religious element expands in private and public lives” (Fischer 2015, p. 12 note 2), or any consistent expansion of the religious element—both meanings not naming the cause behind this expansion. In current Israeli discourse, on the other hand, “religionization” (in Hebrew, hadata) is synonymous with only one type of such expansion, that is, one caused by a deliberate attempt by religious groups to convert a secular lifestyle into a religious one, due to a series of reports in Israeli media in 2010 which popularized this little-known academic term to describe an eminent danger to Israel’s secular public space from intentional and organized pressures by domestic religious Jewish groups. Attempts by religious groups to enhance public piety are only one of three types of contributors to religionization, in Israel and in the world (Maniv and Benziman 2020, pp. 119–20); the other two are the organized use of religious symbols, tradition and heritage by religious or nonreligious actors to promote national interests, and “passive” contributors to greater personal or collective religiosity, such as faultline security events, like the 1967 War, that, as will be discussed later, had an extensive impact on the religiosity of Jews, Muslims and Christians around the world. Singling out one type of contributor to the exclusion of others is ill-advised, because in most cases of significant religionization of societies, states and regions, all three types come into play, as has been the case in the religionization of Israel’s security environment during the last four decades—which is used here to answer the article’s main question: What is the role of religion in the making of national security strategy, and does it change with the shifts in religion’s place in a country’s security environment?

2. Religion in Israel’s National Security Policy: The Early Years

Israeli decisionmakers have always been painfully aware that Israel’s security challenges are shaped, first and foremost, by the religious, ideological hostility characterizing its external environment. How much young Israel took into account religious factors, such as other countries’ religious affiliations and religious policies, can be seen in an analysis presented by Israel’s founding father and first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, to the Supreme Command of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on 2 July 1955:
Our situation in the world is this: there is one world bloc which seeks to destroy us, and that is the bloc of Arab nations. There is a second bloc that is not prepared to destroy us, but is prepared to assist the Arab nations in their war against us, and that is most of the Islamic nations. And there is a third bloc which has nothing against us, but for various reasons, does not want to recognize our existence. A nation like India … And there is a fourth bloc that acknowledges the State of Israel, but does not acknowledge the existence of the Jewish people—and this is the Communist bloc [due to its anti-religion policy]. And there is a fifth bloc that acknowledges the State of Israel, does not negate the existence of the Jewish people, although it does not care whether it exists or not, and that is all the rest.
At the same time, as this analysis shows, neither religious actors nor religious dogmas were considered threats to Israel’s security as much as the secular Arab nation-states were. As Ben-Gurion noted, “most of the Islamic nations” were not prepared to destroy Israel, and some were not even willing to help the Arab world to do so—a strategic difference between the Arab world and the Muslim world which young Israel concluded it would be expedient to exploit. This is the first of three operational beliefs on the link between religion and security held by early Israel’s leadership, which shaped the national security strategy Ben-Gurion formulated in the late 1940s and early 1950s to defeat Arab nationalism.

2.1. The First Operational Belief: Young Israel Assessed Religion as a Secondary Source for Both the Arab States and the Non-Arab Actors in the Middle East

Ben-Gurion and his contemporaries viewed the existence of a religious difference between Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Arabs as one source of the Arab ideological hostility to Israel, but not as the main source (see, for example, the Israeli strategist, Yigal Allon 1990, p. 284). While the Arab resistance to the Jewish Yeshuv in the 1920s and early 1930s had a pronounced religious idiom, the religious component in the Arab resistance to the idea of a Jewish state diminished as Arab nationalism was cemented into secular Arab nation-states during the late 1930s and the 1940s. The Israeli leadership was aware that religion was not at the center of the self-definition of Arab nationalism, which sought to unite the Arabs—Christian and Muslims, secular and religious—under the motto “Religion is for God and the homeland is for all of us” (Cohen 2003, p. 349; Litvak 1998, pp. 148–49). When the Arab states went to war with the soon-to-be-established Israeli state in late 1947, almost no Islamic movements chose to join them (Milton-Edwards 2006, p. 76). In the first two decades of Israel’s existence, the Arab world defined its conflict with Israel as a secular struggle between Pan-Arab nationalism and Zionism, using the terminology of leftist ideologies to portray Israel as “a bridgehead of western imperialism, designed to splinter Arab territorial integrity and prevent Arab unity” (Litvak 1998, p. 148).
As to the non-Arab Muslim countries of the region, young Israel judged their religious hostility as genuine but secondary to their strategic interests. In light of Ben-Gurion’s understanding that some non-Arab Muslim nations and religious minorities in the Middle East perceived Arab nationalism as a far more threatening phenomenon to their security than a Jewish state, he concluded that his enemy’s enemy could still be his ad hoc ally, despite its religious animosity. This conclusion evolved into the periphery doctrine, a major pillar of young Israel’s counter-campaign against the Arab threat. Under the doctrine, Israel fostered security cooperation with every non-Arab state and religious minority willing to cooperate with Israel: the secular Shah regime of Persian Iran, the anti-Islam Kemalist regime of Turkey, the Christian regime of Ethiopia, the Kurdish minority in Iraq and the Christians in Sudan (Freilich 2018, p. 257; Inbar 2008, p. 158). The only attempts by a religious minority to tie itself to the young Israel that the latter rejected were those of the Lebanese Maronite Christians—but not because of any ideological opposition. Israel evaluated them as too divided from within to be an effective ally, and was expecting Israel to do the work for them of expelling the Muslims from Lebanon. Furthermore, should Israel fail to do so, they would be the first to turn against it (Bialer 2006, p. 257).

2.2. The Second Operational Belief: Young Israel Saw Securing the Existence of a Jewish-Majority State a “Survival Interest” which Trampled Religious Linkage to Sacred Sites

Just as the leaders of young Israel considered the other side’s religiosity as secondary to the latter’s national interests, so did they consider the religion of their own country as secondary to their own national security considerations. Notably, they prioritized ensuring the survival of a Jewish-majority state over linkage to the sites in the Land of Israel that were sacred to Jews. In 1937, Ben-Gurion pressured the Zionist leadership to announce its agreement to the partition plan proposed by the British Peel Commission, even though it excluded from the Jewish part portions of the historical land of Israel, such as Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (not to mention the Transjordanian part of the land). This was because Ben-Gurion prioritized the immediate establishment of a sovereign Jewish state, which would provide shelter to European Jews already prosecuted by the Nazis. In his calculation, Israeli control over Jerusalem was improbable to begin with, due to the firm opposition of the Christian world, like the Islamic world, to the idea of Jewish control over sites sacred to other religions, which abound in Jerusalem (Sandler 2007, p. 353; Bialer 2006, pp. 34–38).
Similarly, in the later stages of the 1948 war, it was militarily possible to conquer Judea, Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem; however, the Israeli government voted against it—on the grounds that the security cost of controlling territories heavy populated by Arabs would damage the ability of the young state to defend itself and absorb immigration. Furthermore, the Jewish conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem with its holy sites would generate international pressure on Israel to withdraw from all of Jerusalem, including western Jerusalem, where Israel had established the seat of its government (Sandler 2007, p. 353). These assessments continued to inform the negative value subsequent Israeli governments placed on the option of conquering Judea, Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem until May 1967 (Bar-On 2018, p. 12).

2.3. The Third Operational Belief: The IDF Was Tasked with Infusing Israeli Youth with a Fighting Spirit by Educating Them in Jewish Heritage, including the Bible

The third religion-security belief of Ben-Gurion was that Jewish tradition could serve his strategy to counter the quantitative advantage of the Arab states by cultivating the qualitative advantages of Israel’s soldiers—their morale and fighting spirit. Ben-Gurion perceived that the IDF’s strong fighting spirit—the reason why Israel had emerged victorious from the War for Independence—was in decline because of another Israeli strategy of contending with the Arab states’ numerical advantage—bringing in masses of Jewish immigrants. “The new immigrants, who are a majority in the army and the nation, do not have the education and knowledge and understanding and enrooting and love for the Land” (Ben-Gurion 1981, p. 9). His solution was to entrust the IDF with the task of educating Israeli youth and immigrant soldiers in Zionist ideology, utilizing the Hebrew Bible to achieve this goal. Immigrant soldiers studied forty chapters of the Old Testament, which establish the connection between the Jews and the Land of Israel, and recount the heroic military deeds of Jewish Biblical figures (Ben-Gurion 1981, p. 10). At their induction ceremony, every recruit, immigrant or not, received a copy of the Hebrew Bible, along with a weapon (Cohen 2013, p. 114–15).
Together with the more substantial “secular” elements in his security doctrine, these three “religious” elements in Ben-Gurion’s security doctrine informed Israel’s security doctrine in the following decades. By the 1970s, they achieved far more than the goal Ben-Gurion had set, opening a new chapter in Israeli national security history, and in the involvement of religion in Israel’s security environment, as the next section demonstrates.

3. The Change: Israel’s Security Environment Began to Religionize after 1967

If, for young Israel, the adversary was a secular actor for whom the religious component in its resistance to Israel was secondary to the national component, the same cannot be said for Israel at the end of the 20th century. Since the late 1970s, Israel’s map of threats has turned decisively religious, with the Islamic faith becoming the main motivating factor of those waging an armed struggle against Israel.
This process has been a gradual one. It began in the 1980s, when Islamic actors joined the struggle against Israel for the first time since the War of Independence. Some of these actors were newly established, like Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine; some were newly Islamized, like Iran. In the 1990s, these Islamic actors surpassed the secular actors in the threat they posed to Israel’s security. Iran was developing weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles with Israel’s name on them and, in April 1993, the armed Islamic movements in Gaza imported the Iranian-Lebanese Shiite practice of suicide attacks to the Palestinian theater (Peri 1999, pp. 229–30; Iserovich 2005, pp. 282–89; Inbar 2008, p. 168). In the early 2000s, the religionization of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian political system was complete, and the Palestinian National Authority (PA) joined the Palestinian Islamic movements in cooperating with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. Israel now saw itself contending with a security alliance which all Israel’s enemies had joined and which enclosed Israel from all sides. After twenty years in which Israel had no longer feared a coordinated Arab attack on all its borders, the fear of a coordinated multifront attack returned—this time by a mostly Islamic enemy. This newly united enemy was dubbed by Israel in the early 2000s the “Radical Front”, rather than the “Islamic Front”, due to the inclusion in the front of Syria, Israel’s only enemy that did not then, and still does not now, self-identify as Islamic.
Religion, however, does play a part in Syria’s alliance with revolutionary Islamic actors in the Middle East. The religious affiliation between Shiite Iran and the Syrian Alawite (Shiite) regime which rules an otherwise predominantly Sunni population was one of the main reasons Syria formed a political alliance with Iran after the Islamic Revolution (Rabinovitch and Brun 2017, p. 25).
Israel’s new fear of an Islamic coordinated attack reached a peak during 2011–2013, the first years of the Arab Spring, and has decreased somewhat since then (Magen 2015, pp. 119–20). During the Arab Spring, the Islamic encirclement of Israel was seen as almost complete, as new Islamic actors joined old ones in launching attacks from Israel’s borders. New Jihadist groups joined Hezbollah on the Syrian border; in Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood government came to power and Salafi-Jihadist groups were established in the Sinai. The IDF’s 2013 assessment of how a future confrontation might begin envisioned a multifront confrontation: Islamist organizations, trying to penetrate the Golan Heights, Hezbollah firing rockets on all of Israel, jihadists in Sinai firing rockets on Eilat, and Hamas activists storming an Israeli checkpoint on the Gaza border (Freilich 2018, pp. 57, 68). In August 2013, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government was toppled by a military coup, and the new regime was as anxious as Israel to keep their peace agreement and eradicate the jihadists in Sinai. However, the preoccupation of Israel’s security system with religion’s role in shaping the environment in the Middle East remained, as is evident in the 2016 assessment of the chief of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, Herzi Halevi: “We are moving from a conflict of borders to a conflict of religions, especially inside Islam, between Sunna and Shia, but also between Radical Islam against Western culture” (Ofer 2016).
At the start of the 2020s, as the Syrian regime no longer poses a military threat to Israel due to nine years of civil war, all the actors working against Israel are religious. For 21st century Israeli decisionmakers, the strategic reference point is no longer the secular Arab countries, as it was until the 1970s. It is no longer a Palestinian nationalist movement, guided by a secular ideology and having no religious goals, as it was between the 1970s and the 2000s. It is revolutionary, radical Islamic actors, most of them nonstate.
This religionization of Israel’s map of threats is closely tied to the remarkable success of Ben-Gurion security doctrine—with its three “religious” key-points—in achieving its goals. Under the doctrine, Israel defeated every coordinated attack by the Arab countries and removed the historical part of Jerusalem, lslam’s third most sacred place, from Muslim custodianship in the 1967 War. The 1967 loss of Arab control over the parts of Jerusalem historically important to Muslims, especially the Al-Sharif compound, was a seminal event for modern Islam and Middle Eastern politics. In Muslim discourse, it is called the “Naksa”—the “failure” or the “disaster” in Arabic (Milton-Edwards 2006, p. 78). This humiliation of the Arab-Muslim world, together with dire social and economic conditions in the Arab states, constituted a catalyst of “disenchantment” of the Arab world from the secular ideologies of Pan-Arabism and Marxism during the 1970s (Hatina 1994, p. 14; Steinberg 2002, p. 128). Mati Steinberg’s description of the Islamization that followed in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s is true of the Islamization that took place in the entire Middle East: “While the generation of the 1950s found its way to nationalism after it despaired of Islam, some of the new generation of the 1970s paved a way for itself through a return to Islam, after it lost its taste for nationalism” (Steinberg 2002, p. 128).
The close connection between security events and individual religiosity was also evident on the Jewish side of the Israel-Arab conflict. The conquest, during the 1967 Six Day War, of the Old City of Jerusalem and biblical areas of Israel, including the Cave of the Patriarchs, Rachel’s Tomb and Joseph’s Tomb, brought about a national and religious revival for Jews in Israel and the world over (Sandler 2007, p. 354). The 1973 Yom Kippur War reinforced this religionization process. A crisis of faith in the secular ideology of socialist Zionism, which had dominated the state since its inception, was sparked by the failure of Israeli intelligence to get wind of the coming attack of the Egyptians and Syrians, the helplessness of the political and military leaderships during the first days of the war, and the high number of casualties at the end of the war. Many young Israelis began to search for meaning in alternative, spiritual ideologies, including those of Judaism and the Jewish settlement enterprise in the liberated territories, spearheaded by Israel’s national-religious community (Baumgart-Ochse 2014, p. 416).
The Jewish settlement enterprise in the territories was as much a result of the Yom Kippur War as of the Six Day War. It began in 1974, when the religious-national movement sought to strengthen the weakened national morale in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War and to prevent future withdrawals from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, like the withdrawals from parts of Sinai and the Golan Heights which Israel had agreed to under the 1973 ceasefire agreements (Peri 1999, p. 90; Baumgart-Ochse 2014, p. 416). The settlement enterprise has mostly attracted religious Jews and is guided by an ideology that is clearly religious and messianic in nature. This has provided additional vindication for the Arab world’s reinterpretation of its conflict with Israel as a conflict between religions, rather than nations.
How did the religionization of the Arabs and the Jews influence the manner in which Israeli national-security policymakers related to religion? This is what the next section will explore.

4. Religion in Israel’s Security Policy Post-Religionization

Overall, post-religionization, most of Israel’s operational presumptions on religion and security remained the same after the religionization of the Middle East, with the exception of the perception that Islamism is preferable to secular Palestinian nationalism. There are more similarities than differences between the approach of modern Israel towards its new religious enemies and that of young Israel to its old enemies, the Arab countries. Most major changes in the Israeli religion-security nexus took place in the realm of what Israeli policymakers believed Israel could achieve in its religionized environment.

4.1. Religion Is No Longer Considered a Secondary Source of the Enemy’s Hostility; However, Israel’s Approach to Deterring Islamic Actors Is Similar to Its Past Approach to Deterring Arab States

The most profound change in the Israeli assessment of the link between religion and national security occurred in the late 1980s, when Israel no longer viewed the growth of Islamism in the Gaza Strip as a positive development to its security. During the 1970s, Israeli authorities viewed favorably the growth of Islamism in the Palestinian street because they believed that it would block the PLO’s national influences, and that focusing on religious studies would reduce participation in hostile activities against Israel (Iserovich 2005, p. 252–53). Therefore, the Military Governorate in the territories did not try to hinder the growth of new Islamic organizations and even supported the establishment of the Islamic University in Hebron—which would become one of the strongest centers in the struggle against the peace process and recognition of Israel (Zelkovitz 2012, pp. 86–87). Even when, during the 1987 Intifada, one of these new organizations, the Gazan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, established an armed wing called Hamas to participate in anti-Israel violence, Israel deemed Hamas as preferable to the PLO. Only after Hamas published its charter in August 1988—which declared that Jihad against Israel “is the personal responsibility of every Muslim” until Israel is annihilated—did Israel cease viewing Islamism as preferable to the PLO’s nationalist agenda (Iserovich 2005, p. 263–64).
Once the Islamist Palestinian organizations were “reclassified” as security threats, however, Israel’s assessment of the best way to deter them was very similar to its prior assessment of how to deter the secular Arab countries. Both before and after the religionization of its enemies, Israel judged the other side as simultaneously motivated by a genuine ideological belief and rationale. During both periods, the enemies’ ideology against Israel was judged as fundamental, impossible to change through diplomacy or war and, thus, spelling a long, protracted conflict—an assumption some called “the first principle of Israeli national security doctrine” (Laish 2015, p. 8). Despite its fundamental ideology, the enemy was considered rational, and influenced by a myriad of political and social factors in its deliberations as to whether to escalate the armed struggle against Israel at a given time—factors which Israel aimed to manipulate in its deterrence efforts. For example, aware of the importance for Hezbollah of retaining the support of the Shi’i population of south Lebanon, Israel attacked South Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure during the Second Lebanon War, hoping it would pressure the Shi’i Lebanese to turn against Hezbollah, which would force it to stop the rocket fire on Israel (Montgomery et al. 2010, p. 549).
Just as young Israel understood that the ideological hostility of Arab countries was informed by many nonreligious sources, post-1970s Israel understood that the religionization of its enemies was closely related to social variables such as socio-economic poverty. Indicators of the growing religionization among previously secular Palestinian organizations were interpreted as reflecting both the authentic religionization of their leadership and lip service, designed to retain the support of an Islamizing population (for example, Zelkovitz 2012, p. 82, and Halevi 2017). The likelihood of the Palestinian population joining the armed Palestinian groups in the violence against Israel at a given time was perceived as influenced by social, political and personal factors, no less than by an individual’s level of religiosity (Ofer 2016; The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center 2017). This includes the decisions of many Palestinians to become suicide bombers during the Second Intifada. Israel’s security apparatus understood their decisions to be motivated by the combination of a religious desire to die a martyr in jihad, along with secular factors such as a wish to avenge the death of someone in the suicide terrorist’s immediate circle, humiliation suffered at the hands of Israeli forces, or the loss of hope in light of the harsh economic and social situation in the PA’s territories (Shay 2003, pp. 96–98). Consequently, Israel’s security agencies, including the IDF, habitually recommend that the political leadership maximize the separation between Palestinian terrorism and the Palestinian population and allow the Palestinian population to carry on with a life as “regular” as possible—even during times of military clashes—in order to eliminate the social and economic reasons behind grassroots recruitment of terrorists (see, for example, Eisenkot 2018).
As a result of the new reality of the 21st century, there has been a slight change in the traditional Israeli assessment that engaging with the religious ideology behind the enemy’s hostility to Israel is futile at best and will backfire, at worst. Traditionally, Israeli diplomacy toward the Arab and Muslim world did not deal with “religious apologetics”, and Israel’s psychological warfare almost never referred to matters of religion (Ferber-Goldstein 2003; Schleifer 2010). In the late 2000s, two circumstances arose simultaneously and engendered change. Social media allowed Israeli diplomacy to engage directly with the Arab world without the mediation of the Arab media, which do not interview Israelis, and a regional divide of the Shi’i-Sunni camps created a receptivity in the Muslim world for Israeli utilization of Islamic ideas to delegitimize Iran and Hamas (Israel Government Press Office 2016; The Institute for National Security Studies 2019). After the Arabic-speaking spokespersons of Israel’s prime minister and the IDF opened social media accounts in the early 2010s, they frequently used Islamic theology and discourse to serve Israel’s strategic aims. For example, they quoted Saudi religious scholars, who banned demonstrations and sit-ins as against Islamic values, to persuade Gaza residents not to participate in the “March of Return” demonstrations that Hamas organized during 2018 on the Gaza border (Sones 2018).
Another 21st century change in the Israeli perception of which actions would bring about dividends led to the revival of young Israel’s periphery doctrine. This doctrine was abandoned from the 1960s–2000s, because it did not bring many dividends (Freilich 2018, p. 275). However, when in the early 2000s, the Israeli leadership identified growing alarm in Sunni Arab countries from the growth in power and popularity of Iran and political Islam, it returned to Ben-Gurion’s view that Israel could benefit from establishing security cooperation with Muslim actors who, while officially denouncing Israel, share the same existential threat. Israel’s decision to establish close liaisons with the security bodies of Arab countries was not without internal opposition. Some in the Israeli security apparatus thought it was too risky to share sensitive information on the inner workings of Israeli intelligence with Israel’s former enemies, with whom diplomatic relations, if they existed at all, did not go beyond a “cold peace”. However, Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad at the time, saw this alliance as essential for countering the combined force of the Radical Front, and convinced the political leadership to accept his position (Bergman 2018, pp. 579–80, 607, 625). Israel’s new alliances with “moderate Arab states”—a term that had not appeared in Israeli security discourse prior to this development—thoroughly transformed Israel’s freedom of action in fighting the Radical Front (Voller 2015, p. 527). This became quickly evident at the onset of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, when the Arab world stood alongside Israel in blaming Hezbollah and Iran for the outbreak of the violence—an unprecedented event, and the first time in Israel’s history in which it belonged to one of the regional camps (Susser 2007, p. 190).

4.2. Israel’s Willingness to Give up Territories and Holy Sites to Ensure the Existence of a Jewish-Majority State Remained, but Was Delimited by the Religionization of the Jewish Population

Giving up potential control over a sacred site, as young Israel did, is different from giving up actual control over a sacred site. After Israel conquered the territories in 1967, it showed less readiness to give up the conquered sacred sites in order to secure the existence of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. This pattern conforms with the bias known in the field of psychology and behavioral economics as “the endowment effect”, in which people evaluate things in their possession as more valuable than things of similar value which are not in their possession (Kahneman et al. 1991).
This willingness did not disappear altogether. Its main post-1967 expression was in Israel’s decision not to exercise full sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The Levi Eshkol government annexed eastern parts of Jerusalem within less than three weeks after their conquest—which it did not do for the rest of the territories. However, despite the fact the Temple Mount is unparalleled in sacredness in the Jewish faith, Eshkol’s government chose not to impose its sovereignty on the Mount in practice, and did not to grant Jews access equal to that of the Muslims; it restricted the visiting times of Jews and all non-Muslims, and even forbade them from worshipping there at all (Sandler 2018, p. 116). Israel chose to leave the administration of the compound in the hands of the Muslims, to the Waqf and Jordan, even though, after 1967, Jordan’s sovereignty ended at the Jordan River, far from Jerusalem (Biger et al. 2009, p. 17). Behind this decision, pushed forward by the defense minister at the time, Moshe Dayan, was the long-held belief of Israel’s security establishment, inherited from Ben-Gurion’s era, that if an Israeli desecration—real or intentional—of the sanctity of Islam, would have tremendous power to “inflame the entire Middle East” (as usually referred to in the discourse of Israel’s security circles), then an Israeli desecration of the sanctity of the Haram-al Sharif would inflame the whole world. Not only would the entire Muslim world join the protest against Israel, but the Christian world would as well, including Israel’s closest ally, the US (Ramon 1997, pp. 4–8; Reiter 2016, pp. 17–18, 64, 105–6).
Ever since, all Israeli governments have exhibited the same willingness to limit Israeli control over the Temple Mount in order to prevent anti-Israel terror, especially after it became clear during the 1990s that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict had turned into a religious one, at the heart of which stood the claims of both sides to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. As a result, the Israeli governments of the 2000s imposed even greater restrictions on the Israeli presence on the Temple Mount. When the Second Intifada broke out after a visit of MP Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount, the government of Ehud Barak, and then of Sharon himself, allowed the Waqf to close the Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors for two years. When Sharon opened the Mount again to non-Muslims in August 2003, he placed their visits under even harsher restrictions. Visiting hours for non-Muslims were reduced to only four hours a day, and never during times of prayer in the Mount’s mosques. Jews were no longer permitted to enter the mosques or visit the Mount on Sabbaths or holidays, nor to bear Jewish ritual articles during the visit. Visits to the Mount by those having a religious Jewish appearance were limited to supervised groups accompanied by Waqf guards and Israeli police (Spector Ben-ari 2014, pp. 7–8; Reiter 2016, p. 73). Not only did no subsequent government attempt to lift Sharon’s harsher, added restrictions, but in 2015, for the first time, Israel formally affirmed that its official policy was that non-Muslims, and Jews in particular, were not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, but only to visit (Tatarsky 2015, p. 3).
While the growing religionization of the Palestinian side in the Israeli–Arab conflict has increased the motivation of the Israeli leadership to limit Israel’s presence on the Temple Mount, Israel’s own growing religionization has decreased the efficacy of such a measure to prevent outbreaks of terror around the Temple Mount. A three-month wave of terror attacks in 2014, and a six-month wave that followed in 2015 occurred, inter alia, because of the latest development in the conflict’s religionization on the Israeli side: a change in the position of the national-religious sector regarding visits of Jews in the Temple Mount. Until the 2010s, the Israeli rabbinical establishment, both national-religious and ultra-orthodox, supported the governmental policy of restricting Jews from entering the Temple Mount on the basis of Jewish religious law. In modern times, there is uncertainty as to the location of the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount—an area so sacred that only the High Priest of the Temple was permitted to enter it, and then only once a year, on Yom Kippur. Because of this uncertainty, and because most Jews do not strictly observe the rules of purification required by Jewish law when visiting the Temple Mount, the religious establishment maintained a position largely prohibiting Jews from visiting there at all. This hampered criticism by the Israeli right that Israel’s Temple Mount policy desecrated its sovereignty over Jerusalem and the natural right of Jews to exercise their religious beliefs (Biger et al. 2009, p. 17).
The right’s ability to push against this policy was particularly limited because of the support of the national-religious party for the policy restricting Jewish visits to Temple Mount. The national-religious community and the right have been political allies since the Six Days War, when the national-religious public began voting for the right as a bloc, and the national-religious party transferred its political allegiance from leftist Labor, the traditional ruling party, to the right-wing Likud (for more on the political transformation of the national-religious community after 1967, see Elman 2008, p. 90). However, during the late 2000s, many among Israel’s national-religious orthodoxy withdrew their opposition to Jews visiting the Temple Mount. This change in the position of the national-religious community is attributable partly to the rise of the Al-Aqsa narrative in the Palestinian resistance discourse and the Temple Mount becoming a focus of violent riots, and partly because of the years-long lobbying of “Temple movements”, organizations of national-religious activists dedicated to the re-establishment of a Jewish temple in the Temple Mount (Reiter 2016, pp. 57–61). As a result, in the early 2010s, there was a marked increase in the number of national-religious Israelis visiting the Temple Mount, accompanied by a similar increase of non-religious right-wing political figures, ministers, Knesset members, who went so far as to visit even parts of the Dome of the Rock, which Temple movement activists previously refrained from approaching, because it is believed to be the location of the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple. In the Knesset plenum, these politicians have proposed resolutions changing the status quo of the Temple Mount to permit worship and equal access for all religions. In 2013, the Knesset’s Interior Committee, headed by Likud MK Miri Regev, dealt at length with the possibility of permitting full access to the Temple Mount to Jews. All this led to great unrest in the Muslim world and to the outbreak of extreme acts of terror around the issue of the Temple Mount in 2014–2015, hampering the governments’ efforts to prevent Islamic insurgency over Jerusalem (Reiter 2016, pp. 74–77).
The political pressure of the alliance between the Likud and the national-religious sector did not deter Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government in its efforts to preserve the status quo in Jerusalem. Did it influence Israel national security policy elsewhere? It is impossible to form a coalition in Israel’s multiparty political system without at least one Jewish religious party. This political reality has great influence on Israel’s domestic religion policy, but less impact on its national security policy. The religious parties have prevented some withdrawals from the 1967-acquired sacred sites. The pressure of the ultra-orthodox and national-religious sectors made Rabin’s leftist government insist, during the Oslo negotiations, on retaining an Israeli presence at Joseph’s Tomb and Rachel’s Tomb and, in 2003, made Sharon’s rightist government alter the original route of the security fence to include Rachel’s Tomb inside Israel (Lehrs 2012, pp. 236–37, 241). It is said that the political pressure of the religious parties and voters has contributed to Netanyahu’s firm opposition to turning over any parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians—unlike Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, who offered concessions on Jerusalem in their negotiations with the Palestinians (Lehrs 2013, pp. 73–75; Caspit 2017, p. 113).
On the other hand, Israeli prime ministers know that the religious sector will agree to compromises on sites less important than the Temple Mount. One example is the message the Israeli Chief Rabbis conveyed to Prime Minister Barak on the eve of the 2000 Camp David Summit, when they hinted that, unlike their firm opposition to Israel conceding sovereignty over the Temple Mount, they would not oppose transferring control of Rachel’s Tomb, Joseph’s Tomb or even the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Palestinians, if access to Jews, worship and security at these sites were maintained (Lehrs 2012, p. 240). Another example is the fact that since Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew the IDF from Joseph’s Tomb at the beginning of the Second Intifada, none of the religious parties have made its return a central issue in their negotiations with the ruling parties.
To conclude the discussion on the impact of “religious” political pressure on the formulation of Israeli national security policies, one should note that Israel’s security policy was not delimited by Jewish Halacha (law), which prohibits giving up Israeli control over parts of Israel that were included in the ancient Kingdom of Israel. All four of the Israeli prime ministers who parted with territories acquired in the Six Day War had at least one religious party in their coalition government: Menachem Begin who conceded the Sinai in 1979, Yitzhak Rabin who conceded parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank in the Oslo agreements, Netanyahu who conceded parts of Hebron in 1997, and Ariel Sharon who conceded all of Gaza Strip in 2005. Begin, Netanyahu and Sharon were also right-wing and, thus, relied on a large religious constituency. However, the ultra-orthodox parties have not acted politically on this theological law, as was seen in the lack of firm objection by the Shas party (the Sephardic ultra-orthodox party) in the Oslo agreement and the Hebron agreement (Elman 2008, pp. 82, 86; Sandler 2018, p. 134; Caspit 2017, p. 131). The national-religious parties, which do act politically on it, have been unable to stop prime ministers from conceding territories even while being part of their coalitions. They have, however, sometimes managed to convince prime ministers to reject external pressures to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the territories (Elman 2008, pp. 90–91; Sandler 2018, p. 137; Rynhold and Waxman 2008).

4.3. New Dynamics of Religion-Security in Israel Post-Religionization

The discussion so far has demonstrated the high level of continuity in the role religion played in Israeli strategy before and after the Middle East’s religionization. Now it is time to explore four new dynamics of this role as a consequence of Israel’s changed religio-political realities, besides those already mentioned, which developed, such as Israel’s 21st century alliance with the Sunni countries that was the result of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and the development of a “war of religion” between the Sunnis and the Shi’is in the 21st century.
The first new dynamic is the Evangelist revival in the US after the 1967 war, which enabled Israel to upgrade its bilateral relations with the world’s greatest power into a “special relationship”. It is commonly assumed that Israel had “special relations” and a strategic partnership with the US since President Truman’s recognition of the new state of Israel in 1948; however, only from the administration of Lyndon Johnson did the United States and Israel begin to form a security alliance, which developed into patron-client relations in the 1970s, and assumed the form of a “special relationship” in the 1980s (Itamar Rabinovitch’s preface to Johnson 2008; Freilich 2018, p. 289).
While it was the convergence of “cold” national security interests that led to the formation of the US-Israel security alliance, there were three religious elements in American political culture that elevated this security alliance to the level of a special relationship (Mead 2008). The first religious element is the major role of Hebrew history and thought in American civil religion from its outset. Many 18th century Americans supported the idea of the return of the Jews to Judea, even before there were many Jews in the United States, or even in the Land of Israel. The second element was the formation of a liberal democratic Judeo-Christian identity in the United States in the 1950s, with the growth of its highly influential middle-class Jewish population which voted for the Democrats, and which emphasized the liberal democratic character shared by Israel and the US, in contrast to the Soviet Union. The third religious element was added after the Jewish conquest of Jerusalem during the 1967 war, which the American Evangelists interpreted as a sign that the End-Time was approaching. Thereafter, the Evangelicals experienced a process of religious revivalism, which found expression in an increased political involvement in the Republican party, among other things, and created a pro-Israel key constituency in the Republican party as well. This cross-party, nearly unconditional US support for Israeli security policy, which arose in the 1980s, continues to this day. Both the Islamization of Iran and its duel hostility towards the US and Israel, and the 9.11 attacks by Al Qaeda, strengthened the American sense of a shared identity and security predicament with Israel (Cohen-Kidron 2013, p. 5).
The formation of the Israeli–American special relationship has been one of the most profound new dynamics in Israel’s post-religionization era, greatly enhancing its diplomatic, military and economic resources, and Israel’s freedom of action to pursue its security policies. The benefits for Israel from this special relationship went beyond the substantial security aid and diplomatic support the US has been providing Israel since the 1980s. Israel’s status in the world has risen due to the power to influence US policy attributed to American Jews. This enhanced Israel’s ability to influence foreign nations, including the Muslim ones with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations, but who seek to court the US (Medem-Friedman 2018, pp. 212–14; Cohen-Kidron 2013, p. 5).
The second new dynamic in the post-religionization era was the elevation of the war on Islamic terror and extremism to the top of the West’s agenda in the early 2000s. This development significantly improved the international support and cooperation Israel received for its counterterrorism policies, separate from the influence of Israel’s special relationship with the US, the country leading this war on terror. Here, the fact that Palestinian terrorism in the 2000s waves the banner of a religious struggle, combined with its strong cultural animosity toward non-Muslims, played in Israel’s favor. Israel felt immediately the impact of the 9/11 terror attacks, after which complaints from the international community against Israel’s counterterrorism actions ceased in one fell swoop, and the former began to respond to Israel’s requests, such as stopping the flow of Islamic charitable funds from the entire Islamic world to Islamic terror organizations (Bergman 2018, p. 514). This pattern of increased international support for Israel’s counterterrorism policies has continued ever since (Esposito 2007, p. 134; Sher and Yogev 2014, pp. 189–90).
The third new dynamic was the regional rise in the number, popularity and resources of jihadist networks following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. This development eliminated some action alternatives from Israel’s pool of alternatives, such as toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza in the 2010s. Israel’s security establishment assessed that such an action would be followed by what had occurred in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and in Syria with the outbreak of the civil war—the power vacuum left by Hamas would pull in jihadist elements even more radical than Hamas, such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Salafi jihadist organizations which have grown in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula since 2006. Consequently, Prime Minister Netanyahu removed this action from Israel’s pool of alternatives, despite domestic political pressure from right-wing members of his security cabinet, including the head of the religious-national party, not to do so (Rabinovitch and Brun 2017, pp. 93–94; Dekel 2014, pp. 13–14).
The fourth and final permanent new dynamic is the adoption of “religious warfare” by Israel’s enemies, and especially by Palestinian terror. The appearance of Palestinian religious warfare greatly delimited Israeli military strategy in the territories, created new challenges to the work of Mossad and the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), and frequently constituted a diplomatic landmine for Israel. Israel’s security system had to undergo a long process of learning how to contend with this “religious warfare”. First, Israel’s security agencies found it more difficult to infiltrate religion-motivated terror groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (Peri 1999, p. 231; Amidror 2002, p. 126; Byman 2011, pp. 339–40; Bergman 2018, pp. 579–80). Second, when Palestinian clergy participated in the struggle against Israel, it had to be more cautious in countering them. For example, Israel postponed the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin, Hamas’ founder and its religious leader, several times during the Second Intifada, fearing that the assassination of a religious figure would cause more Palestinians to join the uprising (Byman 2011, p. 831).
Third, when Jewish sacred sites in the 1967 territories became constant targets of Palestinian terror, larger security forces were required to guard them, especially during Jewish holy times, when the greater numbers of Jewish celebrants increased friction with the Palestinian populations in the areas (Bergman 2018, p. 523; State of Israel 2015, pp. 51–52; Lehrs 2012, p. 242). As to non-Jewish sacred sites, the abundance of churches and mosques in the territories constituted a special challenge for Israel in the Second Intifada and onward, because Palestinian terrorists frequently used them for military purposes. The terrorists knew that the IDF would not enter them, and that the entry of the ISA into mosques required the authorization of the minister of security. In most instances, this was not given, as the entry of Israeli security forces into a house of prayer—in uniform or in plainclothes—could ignite a conflagration (Peri 1999, p. 165). This strategy of the enemy dragged Israel into several international entanglements during the Second Intifada and Operation Cast Lead when, for the first time, Israel bombed mosques in the Gaza Strip from which Hamas was launching rockets into Israel. These diplomatic international entanglements pressured the Israeli government to make concessions to the Palestinians that it would not have made initially, and forced the IDF to change its military strategy in order to reduce the possibility of similar diplomatic crises (Harel and Issacharoff 2004, pp. 248–49; Shalom 2009, p. 84; State of Israel 2009, pp. 56–61, 88–89, 144–45; State of Israel 2015, p. 167).
Finally, it should be noted that there has been a decrease in the IDF’s use of the Old Testament as a means of imbuing a fighting spirit, but not for religious reasons. In the years following the first two decades of Israel’s existence, the majority of IDF recruits have been native-born Israelis who are emotionally connected to the State of Israel and indoctrinated from childhood with stories of IDF heroism garnered from the state’s modern military history. The IDF no longer needs the world of the Bible and ancient Jewish history to cultivate Israeli soldiers’ readiness to fight.

4.4. In Summary of Religion’s Involvement in Shaping Israel’s National Security Policy Post-Religionization

When surveying religion’s involvement in shaping Israel’s security policy post-religionization, we find many changes, but many continuities as well. As to its operational beliefs, Israel moved from perceiving Palestinian Islamic actors as preferable to secular Palestinian actors to considering them the most dangerous group in the Palestinian camp.
At the same time, Israel’s deterrence policy toward Islamic actors continues to be the overall approach of the Israeli policy towards secular actors: assuming the rationality of the other side and focusing on the manipulation of social and political elements. Israel’s readiness to relinquish control over sacred sites for the sake of a more secure state also remains, and is most evident in the self-imposed restrictions on visits by Jews to the Temple Mount which Israel adopted post-1967. However, such exercises of caution have been gnawed away at since the rise of religionization and nationalistic tendencies in the Israeli public. The influence of internal religious groups on security policies certainly grew after 1967, but this influence shaped only the margins of the Israeli security policy, and mostly in regard to the territories’ sacred sites.
The most profound changes are found in the realm of what Israel believed could be achieved in light of changing religious circumstances. On the one hand, the adoption of “religious warfare” by Israel’s enemies and the regional rise of jihadism in the Middle East after the US invasion of Iraq constituted a constant limiting factor to Israel’s freedom of action. It also became far more difficult to prevent violence on the Temple Mount, due to the increased volatility of the issue of Jerusalem among Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike. Consequently, Israel placed even greater emphasis on preventing religious insurgency among the Palestinians in the territories by, for instance, easing travel and trade restrictions for Palestinians living under the PA during Muslim holidays, enabling them to visit their families, go on outings and visit the Al-Aqsa mosque (Kelner et al. 2014). On the other hand, Israel enjoyed greater international cooperation due to the religious-political transformation of the American Evangelists after 1967, the 2000s global war on Islamic terror and the “war of religion” between the Shi’i and Sunni camps. Regarding the latter regional change, Israel responded by following its pre-religionization principle of cooperating with actors who may object ideologically to Israel but see a greater threat in a shared enemy, demonstrating once again the impact of habit on the formation of national security policy.

5. What Can We Learn from the History of Religion in Israel’s National-Security Making? A Model of Religion in National Security Policies

From a review of how religion was involved in shaping Israel’s security policies before and after the religionization of the state’s regional and global environment, religion’s effect on national-security making can be perceived as having three tiers: (1) enduring operational beliefs on the link between the state’s security and religious factors; (2) religion’s influence on the ever-changing conditions of choice; and (3) the utilization of religion for the realization of national-security goals.

5.1. First Tier: Enduring Operational Beliefs

The first tier is the operational presumptions embedded in the state’s security thinking on the relations between religion and security. Which national interests are dictated by the religious identity of the state? How does religion influence the enemy’s behavior? Which relations between religion and state most secure the state or the regime? The answers decisionmakers of the same country give to these questions are relatively similar over time, for two reasons. First, they are informed by the state’s political ideology and religious history. Second, they are internalized by states’ organs that have high organizational memories, such as the security apparatus and the diplomatic service, which recommend them to changing heads of states.
These relatively enduring operational perceptions determine how decisionmakers assess security situations which have religious characteristics, such as those involving sacred sites or actors with different religious agendas. If those situations involve an actor capable of endangering an interest derived from the regime’s particular religious identity or jeopardizing the equilibrium between different religious groups in the state, they would be interpreted as a threat to national security. Most actors posing a “religion threat” to the security of the regime operate under an agenda of religion, as in the case of Islamist terrorism on Israel. Yet it can also come from actors with a secular ideology, who have a position on religion or from certain religious groups. For example, far-right ideologies, targeting Jews and Muslims, can cause an outbreak of inter-religious hostilities in the country. Hence the need to talk of a religion threat to national security, rather than a religious threat to national security.

5.2. Second Tier: Conditions of Choice

The second tier is the delimitations placed on a government’s action alternatives by the opportunities and restrictions religion poses in both the state’s external environment and domestic politics. Decisionmakers’ freedom of choice is determined, inter alia, by the role religion plays in global politics (e.g., Israel’s enhanced freedom of action after the war on Islamic terror became the main frame for talking about religion in international politics); the role religion plays in regional politics (e.g., the greater security cooperation with Arab countries after the consolidation of the Middle East into two rival camps around the Shi’i-Sunni divide), and by bilateral relations based on religious affinity and the existence of each other’s religious diasporas (e.g., the special relationship between Israel and the US). Decisionmakers’ options are further delimited by domestic politics pressures that include uniformity of public opinion on religious issues and lobbying by religious actors. In the Israeli case, religious lobbying was found to be influential only on the margins of policies. The same can be said in the French case, to be discussed later.

5.3. Third Tier: Utilization

The third tier is governmental utilization of religion to achieve national security goals. This utilization of religion for security objectives is common, multifaceted and present in the four classic instruments of national power. Israel’s use of Islamic messaging to delegitimize Hamas is an example of utilization in the informational instrument. The utilization, to be discussed below, of Hamas’s religious objection to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine by Olmert is an example of religion in the diplomatic instrument. Examples of utilization of religion in the military instrument include Ben-Gurion’s use of the Bible to enhance the fighting spirit of immigrants soldiers, and the IDF’s tactic of deliberately launching an aerial bombing operation on the Sabbath, in order to surprise the enemy, who knows that, except for emergencies, the IDF refrains from acting on the Sabbath, a holy day for the Jewish public and orthodox Jewish soldiers (Hassner 2016, pp. 35, 173 note 8; Shelah 2015, p. 96). As for the economic instrument, Israel does not seem to utilize religion there (nor does France), but other countries do. For example, the US conditioned foreign aid or trade agreements on increasing religious freedom and, since 1984, every Republican president has withheld USAID funding from any overseas family planning organization offering or providing information about abortions, including the UN Population Fund (Lucius 2013, pp. 63–66; Rankin 2017). Along with religion’s utilization in the four instruments, there is also a fifth type of utilization—the reorganization of state–religion relations for national security purposes. This utilization is absent in the Israeli case, but exists in the French case.

5.4. The Three Tiers Are Independent from One Another

The three tiers follow one another in the decision making sequence, from identifying a situation, assessing its implications to the national interests, evaluating action alternatives, choosing the most beneficial alternative, and executing this choice (Rosenberg 1995; Brecher et al. 1969; Redd and Mintz 2013). A decisionmaker’s perceptions of the link between their state’s security and religion shape how they assess the situation and its implications for the state’s security. Then, religion’s role in global, regional and internal politics influences how they evaluate the options open to them, and their choice of the most beneficial action. Finally, the action chosen sometimes requires decisionmakers themselves to utilize religion for its execution. When national policymakers identify a religion threat (the first tier), they are more sensitive to information on the religious conditions of choice in their environment (the second tier) and they utilize religion more in their attempts to counter the threat (the third tier).
Yet, each of the three tiers is independent. Religion factors can be involved in only one tier of the process and not in the others. While governmental utilization of religion is frequently shaped by the long-term perceptions of the first tier, and by the domestic and regional circumstances of the second tier, it can also be taken in a completely utilitarian manner. A case in point is Olmert’s insistence that the Quartet, on the Middle East, would make Hamas’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state one of three conditions for recognition of a Hamas-led Palestinian government. Knowing that Hamas would not agree to this condition, Olmert used Hamas’s ideological-religious position to deny the Hamas regime in the Strip international recognition and support (Esposito 2007, p. 134).
Lastly, there is feedback from the third tier to the first tier of the model, meaning that the actions a state takes in the sphere of religion for national security objectives have the power to reshape the state’s environment so much so, that the state’s policymakers must change their beliefs on the religion-security nexus (the first tier) and on what is possible for them to achieve in the new security environment (the second tier). Feedback that irrevocably changed modern politics can be observed in American national security policy. In the 1980s, during the Cold War, American national security policy led US decisionmakers to coordinate a successful campaign with Pakistan, to propel Muslims worldwide to wage jihad against the Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This American utilization of Islam succeeded in achieving its goal; the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and then collapsed. Radicalized Islam, however, retained its expertise and prestige to threaten superpowers, and become a real security threat to the US itself, when the armed Islamic radicals of the 1990s turned on and attacked the only remaining superpower—the US. This development, which became most evident in the 9.11 attacks, required the American policymakers of the 21st century to rethink their presumptions on the link between American security on the one hand, and Islam and religious freedom on the other—the first tier (Ahmed 2012, pp. 279–89; Shaw 2011, pp. 1–3, 27–30; Bar and Minzili 2006, p. 1).
This feedback loop between national security actions that utilize religion (the third tier) and the beliefs of later decisionmakers pertaining to the relations between religion and security (the first tier) is part of a wider feedback between national security actions and the religious sphere. All national-security measures, even those that do not utilize religion, have the power to reshape the role religion plays in the target environment—which, in turn, shapes the security situation of future policymakers of the acting state. For example, the success of the mostly secular security doctrine of young Israel contributed to the religionization of the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s, which, later on, transformed Israel’s security predicament and options. Similarly, the American attempts in the 2000s to counter the new threat of Islamic terror by a military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, an action that did not utilize religion for its most part, enflamed an even wider wave of religious extremism in the Middle East and reshaped the regional religious politics into a battle between two rival “religious” camps—Shi’a and Sunna—which changed the security calculations of later American administrations (Bar and Minzili 2006, p. 1). Although the influence of national security policies on the religious field is not much explored in the scholarship, this influence is as present, significant and multifaceted as the influence of the religious field on national security policymaking explored in this article.

6. Applying the Model to France

The three-tier model is applicable to any polity, as this section will demonstrate, using the case of France’s counterterrorism policies in the 21st century.

6.1. The First Tier of Religion’s Impact on France’s Counterterrorism Policy

The story of France’s national security policy in the 21st century is the story of France’s counter Islamic terrorism policy, as fighting Islamic radicalization has become the main preoccupation of the French national security establishment since the mid-1990s. What caused this change in France’s security agenda is a question that can be answered by the first tier of religion’s involvement in making national security policies: the beliefs embedded in the state’s security thinking on the relations between religion and security caused the French authorities from the 1990s onwards to interpret a security situation involving Muslim actors as a real threat to the political ideology of the state.
When, in the mid-1990s, an Algerian group called the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) orchestrated a series of attacks in the heart of France—in retaliation for French involvement in the Algerian civil war between the secular military regime and local Islamist movements—the French authorities and public responded with unprecedented alarm. The GIA attacks were not the first attacks by an Islamic actor on French soil, preceded as they were by the 1980s attacks by Iran and Hezbollah. But unlike Iran and Hezbollah, the North African GIA recruited accomplices among France’s own citizens of North African origin—and this domestic group was flagged in 1989 as endangering the political ideology of France due to its Muslim religiosity. During the 1980s, many of the second and third generations of the 1960s and 1970s North African immigration turned to Islam as an alternative source of social identity after becoming disillusioned with their chances of ever integrating into French society (Bowen 2007, p. 83; Bowen 2009, p. 442). Their demand for the right to publicly practice, celebrate and dress in accordance with their religion, which was covered by the media in what became known as the veil affair of 1989, was portrayed by the media as challenging France’s political ideology, Republicanism, which places secularism (laïcité) at the heart of the public sphere as an instrument of domestic security seeking to prevent the return of the religious violence that preceded the birth of modern France in the French Revolution of 1987. Thus, Republicanism demands that any religious attachments should be removed to the private sphere, lest they risk destabilizing the homogeneous political community (Beyler 2006; Roy 2007, p. x; Maussen 2009, p. 44). With national media and discourse playing up the connections between young girls wearing headscarves in schools and the broader “Islamic threat”, the idea that Muslim religiosity stood at odds with France’s political ideology spread from the fringes of the political system into its center.
This securitization of Muslim religiosity as a threat to Republicanism was why, when members of this group assisted GIA in 1995, the French authorities saw France as attacked by a unified ideological threat to its identity from the religion of Islam itself, rather than from Islamic terrorism. This securitization of Islam was shaped not only by the republican narrative of “secularism as an instrument of domestic security and national cohesion”, but also by another narrative inherited from France’s religious history, this time from the French administration of Muslim lands of North Africa: the narrative of the religion of Islam as unified, exceptional to all other religions, and inherently belligerent and irreconcilable with the principle of secularism. As the literature noted, this perception, which guided much of France’s policy towards its North African colonies, continued to influence the French political elites long after France de-colonized, leading modern French policymakers to see all North African decedents as unified in violent opposition to France’s principle of secularism (Cesari 2007, p. 37; Maussen 2009, p. 253; Bowen 2010, p. 33).
France’s counterterrorism policy in the three decades to come was significantly shaped by this particular understanding of the nature of the threat facing France. The construction of Islamic identity as a threat to the secularist “soul” of the republic made nation-affirming strategies an inseparable part of the French counterterrorism policies, such as banning the wearing of the Islamic veil and the burka (in 2004 and 2010, respectively), in an attempt to place the concept of laïcité in the forefront of the collective identity. France defined “radicalism” as including only “Islamic radicalism” and deemed radical even signs associated with the process of growing Islamic religiosity that are not necessarily jihadist or violent, such as “abruptly changing their eating habits”, “no longer watching television or going to the movies because of images that are forbidden to them” or “changing their attire, especially women, with clothes that conceal the body” (Giambrone 2015; National Consultative Commission on Human Rights 2017, p. 8).
Additionally, the ideological commitment of the French political elite to the assimilationist model of republicanism led them to reject potential domestic inducements for turning to terror, such as the growth of inequalities between the native French and the North African decedents, arguing instead that Islamic terrorism is a phenomenon imported from outside France, which only French criminals enlist in (Dück and Lucke 2019, pp. 22–25). As a result, French counterterrorism policy did not include efforts to improve the socio-economic circumstances leading young French of North African origin living in the suburbs to radicalize, but instead placed a heavy emphasis on military counterterrorism operations outside France’s borders, from the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean, to the Sahel region, Iraq and Syria (Samaan and Jacobs 2018, p. 10; de Villepin 2006, p. 6). The perception of French Islamic terrorists as nothing more than criminals also caused French policymakers to reject, up until 2014, the “soft” counterradicalization measures most Western European countries adopted after the 2004 Madrid and the 2005 London attacks, such as interventions, phone hotlines, dialogues and workshops with Muslim communities, vocational training, counseling and exit programs. This rejection was also informed by the inability of the state to engage with theological matters or religious communities, both legally and psychologically, due to its entrenched policy of laïcité (Hellmuth 2015, pp. 982–87; Ragazzi 2014, pp. 5–10).
Beside “secularism as a domestic security instrument” and “Islam as unified, exceptional, belligerent”, a third operational belief on religion that has been found to be influential in shaping French counterterrorism policy over the years is associated with a past strategy of regulating religion, the strategy of Gallicanism. Gallicanism dates from the establishment of the Gallican Church (1682–790), and maintains that the best way to “neutralize” the destructive force of religions is through an official state-recognition of “organized religions” (le culte), which are closely regulated and required to select a single “privileged interlocutor” from each religion to represent them vis-à-vis the state (Caeiro 2016, p. 72). As this strategy succeeded in establishing a national form of Catholicism in France in the 17–18th centuries and the incorporation of the Jews into the state in the early 19th century, French policymakers of the 21st century were united in the belief that the best way to counter the threat posed by Islam was to domesticate it along the same lines. All French governments from the 1990s to the present adopted the policy objective of creating Islam de France (French Islam), an Islam compatible with France’s republican norms, values and institutions and free from external influences. To that end, they adopted several religion-domestication measures, such as encouraging the creation of a representative body for French Muslims to serve as a privileged interlocutor of Muslims vis-à-vis the state, and encouraging the opening of imam training programs in France, so that imams preaching in France would preach a civic-minded form of Islam (Laurence and Vaisse 2006, p. 157; Laurence 2012, p. 121; Çitak 2010, p. 623; Husson 2007, p. 16).
It can be seen that the operational beliefs on religion embedded in France’s political and security thinking were an enduring and significant influence on French national security policy. They greatly influenced the French understanding of a security situation involving religion as a national security threat, as well as the French understanding of the best response to this newly identified “religion threat”. All the patterns mentioned here transcended any political differences that existed between the French governments of the 21st century, and the organizational memory of the Ministry of Interior—the body regulating religion in France—played a special role in the continuous turn to Gallicanism as the best security solution to the French security predicament. The influence of operational beliefs on religion, however, does not cover the entire story of religion’s impact on French national security making. France’s counterterrorism strategy was also delimited by the role religion played in global, regional and domestic politics, but as this delimitation was more ad-hoc and on a lesser scale, it should be referred to as an independent tier.

6.2. The Second Tier of Religion’s Impact on France’s Counterterrorism Policy

Did religion’s place in France’s political competition delimit which policy national security decisionmakers could adopt? It did. The anti-Muslim party, the Front National (FN), began posing a real political challenge to the traditional governing parties after it came second in the first round of France’s 2002 presidential elections, as more and more of the French public had adopted the FN’s claim that Islamic identity was a direct threat to French identity. The tight inter-elite competition compelled French decisionmakers at times toward or away from certain counterterrorism policies that were more aligned with the FN’s worldview, when it seemed that the public supported that worldview. For example, after President Jacques Chirac won the second round of the 2002 election, his center-right government adopted a far more negative position against signs of Islamic worship and communalism, such as headscarves, out of the fear that the FN would repeat its 2002 victories in the spring regional election of 2004 (Kuru 2009, p. 129; Bowen 2007, pp. 242–43). In another case, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy moved away from his intention to modify Article 2 of the Law of 1905, to allow the state to fund mosques and other houses of worship, after almost all sectors of the French population declared their opposition, as such a modification would reduce France’s Laïcité, which is the best weapon against Islamic communalism (Peter 2008, p. 101; Bowen 2007, pp. 60–61). This illustrates that, as in Israel, the pressure of unified French public opinion on religious matters was found to delimit which counterterrorism measures decisionmakers were able to adopt, although it did not seem to influence the heart of French strategy.
What of policy opportunities and constraints coming from religion’s role in the international arena? In addition to worsening an already existing religion threat, the global religious phenomenon of the rise of jihadism and Islamism during the 21st century also delimited France’s freedom of action in pursuing external measures against Islamic terrorism. For example, the rise to power of an Islamist government in Tunis during the Arab Spring halted security cooperation with the country for a few years, since France’s secularist identity made President Francois Hollande’s government reluctant to cooperate with an Islamist government—a reluctance that was not shared at the time by other European countries, such as Germany (Krüger and Ratka 2015, pp. 49–54). This illustrates the interaction between the first and the second tiers.
On the other hand, for France, as for Israel, the external religious phenomena of the global war on terrorism and the Middle Eastern “war of religion” between Shi’i Iran and Sunni Arab countries enhanced the policymakers’ freedom of action, as it generated significantly greater external support for France to fight against jihadist terrorism. For example, after the launch of the global war on terrorism, France enjoyed greater security cooperation from other European countries which, before 9.11, all too often responded indifferently to its frequent requests for international cooperation in the fight against Islamic terrorism (Cettina 2003, p. 92). Additionally, the deterioration of relations between the Sunni Gulf countries and the US, due to the latter’s Middle East policy that tipped the scales of power toward Iran, allowed France to fill the vacuum and to foster exceptionally close relations with the Sunni Gulf countries, which helped in the pursuit of French interests in the region, including counterterrorism interests (Barnes-Dacey 2015; Chacker 2018; Samaan 2018).
Thus, after the factors of the first tier shaped the French understanding of the nature of the threat it was dealing with and the best strategy to counter it, the factors of the second tier—religion’s role in international, regional and domestic politics—delimitated France’s implementation of this strategy.

6.3. The Third Tier of Religion’s Impact on France’s Counterterrorism Policy

Further to strategy implementation, the remaining part of religion’s impact on French national security policy is the government’s utilization of religion for the sake of counterterrorism objectives.
Like Israel, the French governments utilized religion in the diplomatic, military and informational instruments. In the military instrument, for example, the French military and police tried to recruit youths of North African origin, because familiarity with Muslim culture and the Arabic language was necessary for the success of counterterrorism missions in the 21st century (Bertossi 2014, p. 84). In the diplomatic instrument, we have President Hollande holding the first official meeting of his 2013 visit to Mali in the ancient Djingareyber mosque in Timbuktu, six days after French forces liberated the city from Al-Qaeda forces, in order to reinforce the image of France as the savior of Mali’s cultural heritage, rather than a neo-colonizing force (Associated Press 2013). This utilization is an example of a utilitarian utilization of religion, as secularist France does not usually mix religion and state affairs. In the informational instrument, during the 2000s, French leadership propagated the message that, rather than a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, there was a clash between states and “extremists” who “hijack Islam’s humanist tradition and pervert the religion for the goals and causes that the criminals claim to be serving”, in the words of the French 2006 white paper (de Villepin 2006, p. 114; Bosco 2014, pp. 42, 72–73; Fragnon 2019; Dück and Lucke 2019, pp. 15–16). These are just a few examples of France’s utilization of religion in these three instruments.
In addition, France exhibited a type of utilization of religion that is missing from the Israeli case—the reorganization of religion–state relations for national security goals. For example, banning the wearing of the Islamic veil in schools and the burka anywhere in public. The reorganization of religion–state relations for national security goals is a common enough practice among countries and it is done for a variety of reasons. Saddam Hussein secularized Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War in order to win the ideological battle against newly-Islamized Iran, despite domestic pressures inside Iraq for Islamization (Baram 2011, pp. 5–7), whereas General Zia ul Haq religionized Pakistan in the early 1980s, in order to create more religious-oriented students who would join the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan (Ahmed 2012, p. 286). Israel, on the other hand, has not opted for this practice in its fight against Islamic terror, as one of its operational beliefs on religion is that any change in the existing religious status quo regarding Islam is bound to cause further violence against the state, thus illustrating the connection between the first and the third tiers. Another example of this connection is the fact that secularist France utilized religion less than Israel did. For example, unlike the utilization of Islamic ideas by the Israeli diplomacy apparatus in the 2010s, or the German campaign explaining to the public Islamic terms, such as jihad or Khilafa, France ruled out the use of religious ideas or themes, or engaging with the religious worldviews of jihadi terrorists, in its informational campaigns (Mielcarek 2015; Said and Fouad 2018, p. 7; Hughes 2019, pp. 61–63).
Finally, there has been feedback between France’s utilization of religion (third tier) and the French understanding of the nature of the threat (first tier). The French reorganization of religion–state relations in the form of banning Islamic female wear, along with France’s harsh nonreligious counterterrorism measures, fed the radicalization of the Islamic milieu in France. As more and more youths of North African origin became radicalized and joined Islamic terror groups, French policymakers had to change their long-standing objection to soft deradicalization measures as “inappropriate”, when it became evident that hard deradicalization measures were insufficient to prevent radicalization.
All in all, it can be seen that religion’s involvement in shaping France’s national security policies can also be analyzed through the operational beliefs-conditions of choice-utilization model offered by this article. There is every reason to believe that this model fits other polities as well, but it must be empirically tested.

7. Conclusions

This article offered a three-tier model of the involvement of religion in national security making, based on the case of Israel before and after the religionization of its environment in the late 1970s-early 1980s. This model was found to apply to France as well, which presented a type of governmental utilization of religion for national security goals absent from the Israeli case—the reorganization of religion–state relations for national security goals. A further example, the American case, provided a utilization of religion in the economic instrument absent from both the Israeli and the French cases. The model can only grow and benefit by application to other countries, where it should reveal common governmental practices absent in the Israeli, French and US cases.
If “God is in the details”, then so is religion’s involvement in making national security policies. The same mechanisms of religion’s influence on policy exist in all countries: the way the religious demographics of the state and its religious identity inform national interests, the presumptions of political and security decisionmakers about the link between religion and security, and religion’s role in shaping international, regional and domestic politics. However, their expressions completely depend on the local context. Thus, religion’s involvement in national security making cannot be inferred from a single case to all others, or from one “era of religion” to another. Nor can it be divined from the current state of knowledge. The existing scholarship is, as yet, unable to answer basic questions such as: What circumstances lead states to utilize religion for security objectives? In which states do internal religious politics have a greater influence on shaping security policy? What kinds of states make the broadest use of religion to achieve security goals? Are there geographic differences in the involvement of religion in determining security policy? These topical questions can only be answered by systematic compilation and comparison of in-depth analyses of multiple case-studies along the various religious factors identified in this article.

Funding

This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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Bar-Maoz, M. A Theory on the Involvement of Religion in National Security Policy Formulation and Implementation: The Case of Israel before and after the Religionization of Its Security Environment. Religions 2020, 11, 227. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050227

AMA Style

Bar-Maoz M. A Theory on the Involvement of Religion in National Security Policy Formulation and Implementation: The Case of Israel before and after the Religionization of Its Security Environment. Religions. 2020; 11(5):227. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050227

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Bar-Maoz, Moria. 2020. "A Theory on the Involvement of Religion in National Security Policy Formulation and Implementation: The Case of Israel before and after the Religionization of Its Security Environment" Religions 11, no. 5: 227. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11050227

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