15/11/2012 07:08 GMT | Updated 15/11/2012 11:35 GMT

Operation Pillar Of Defense In Gaza: What Is The Biblical Meaning Behind The Name?

The Israel Defence Force has never been one to shy away from a dramatic, bombastic moniker for wars - and this year's "Operation Pillar of Defense" is no exception.

The name, which translates as 'Operation Pillar of Cloud' in Hebrew, uses Biblical symbolism primarily to appeal to Israelis.

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, seen from the Israel Gaza Border, southern Israel

This is nothing new. Dalia Gavriely-Nuri, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, has researched the propensity the IDF has for giving military offensives Biblical symbolism.

She writes in the Armed Forces And Society Journal: "The basic theoretical supposition is that military naming is a simple and useful mechanism that might be employed to blur undesired aspects—such as the human and economical costs—associated with the respective practices.

"By using names coming from nature and the Bible, the Israeli military... mediate Israeli public opinion toward controversial military operations as well as weaponry development."

The current operations to target Hamas leaders in Gaza has been named "Operation Pillar of Cloud" in Hebrew, but translated into English as "Operation Pillar of Defense" by the IDF.

The operation takes its name from the Old Testament Book Of Exodus, which tells the story of how Moses led the Jews from slavery out of Egypt.

The Book Of Exodus explains how God protected the Jews with a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night, to lead them through the desert and shield them from the Egyptian army.

The quote is from Exodus 13:21-22:

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Defence minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and head of Israel's Southern Command Tal Tousso

Biblical names have been used in almost 40% of Israeli military operations, according to Gavriely-Nuri.

She pinpoints Operation Wrath of God, a secret operation of "targeted killings" of those alleged to be involved in the hostage-taking and massacre of Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympics.

Gavriely-Nuri writes: "The Wrath of God designation turns the military operation into a kind of a divine punishment and soldiers into missioners committed to doing God’s will.

Aspects of the associated human decision making and human actions get lost along the way."

Biblical names are also given to more humanitarian operations, such as Operation Moses in 1984, which brought 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1984.

In a sixteen-day military operation carried out by the IDF in southern Lebanon was known as "Operation Grapes of Wrath" - a reference to the Book of Revalations.

Operations in Gaza have had names including Operation Noah's Ark - the targeting of a ship carrying 50 tons of weapons to the Gaza Strip - and Operation Days Of Penitence, an offensive in the towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia and Jabalia refugee camp, believed to be launching sites of Qassam rockets, resulting in the deaths of between 104 and 133 Palestinians and five Israelis.

The Biblical name refers to the days preceding the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

The most infamous Israeli operation in recent times was the bloody Operation Cast Lead bombing and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, resulting in at least 1,200 Palestinian and 13 Israeli deaths.

"Cast Lead" is believed to be a reference to the Jewish festival of Chanucah, the winter festival of lights. A game is played with a spinning top, known as a dreidel, traditionally made from cast lead.

A song about a dreidel made from cast lead is a traditional Jewish folk tune.