How would you define what ISIS is? You might be tempted to say “terrorist group.” But ISIS is more than just a terrorist group. Like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, ISIS controls territory and governs civilians. Policymakers, scholars, and analysts have fallen back on old, worn-out terms to describe these organizations. And although the organizations that threaten Israel and the United States have evolved, the terminology that we use to describe them is mired in the past.

Gil Avriel has coined a new word to describe these groups: “civilitary.” At a talk at Harvard Law School on October 26, Avriel, the legal advisor for the Israeli National Security Council, explained his theory to a packed room. Avriel explained how radical Islamic groups have formed in civilian areas and have placed non-combatants directly at risk. Israel’s efforts to fight Hamas in Gaza are no different than the United States’s efforts to fight ISIS, Niger’s efforts to fight Boko Haram, and Egypt’s efforts to fight extremists in the Sinai Peninsula. Avriel illustrated this point by showing how Hamas stations its fighters within the vicinity of schools and hospitals in Gaza—and compared it to statements by world leaders about the behavior of ISIS and Boko Haram.

Gil Avriel speaking at Harvard Law School on Civilitary Theory
Gil Avriel speaking at Harvard Law School on Civilitary Theory

According to Avriel, “Civilitary Theory” aims to explain how each of these non-state groups function. It also updates our vocabulary to ensure that national security strategists will be able to fight these new threats as effectively as possible.

The goal of the event was to introduce a novel perspective by a high-ranking Israeli government official on how modern-day terrorist groups function. The event was a success, and was followed by a lively Q&A about the implications of Avriel’s provocative theory.

You can read more about Avriel’s theory in his recent article in the Harvard National Security Law Journal, titled “Terrorism 2.0: The Rise of the Civilitary Battlefield.” Avriel’s talk was co-sponsored by CAMERA on Campus and the Harvard National Security & Law Association. The event was hosted by HLS Alliance for Israel, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and promoting dialogue on the most pressing issues facing the Jewish State.

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