An outsider observing the Israel Defense Forces' fighting during Operation Protective Edge will notice right away that brigade, battalion and company commanders make up a large proportion of the wounded and casualties. The Golani Brigade alone has lost a deputy battalion commander, and among its wounded are three platoon commanders and a brigade commander. Three officers are now vying to succeed the fallen commander. This is true not only in the regular army, but also – maybe even more so in light of their stronger connection to civilian life – among the reservists.
Even those who oppose the scope of the operation cannot ignore the obvious "IDF spirit" of it. This is the spirit that leads the IDF in its best moments. The battles of the 1948 War of Independence established the norm of "Corporals, retreat – the commanders will cover you!" During reprisal operations carried out by the paratroopers in the 1950s, the officers' command "Follow me!" became the guide for IDF fighters and commanders. For the first time, general ideas like professionalism, personal example, confronting obstacles, and the rule that "We don't go back until we get it done" became iron-clad rules of thumb.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, too, when reservists in the Paratroopers Brigade left for the Suez Canal Operation in APCs jam-packed with fighters – many more than orders allowed – this spirit prevailed and the army, bruised and battered from battles to stop the enemy's progress, sailed across the canal, and didn't stop until it won a military victory. This spirit of volunteerism has also typified other operations, like Entebbe and Protective Wall.
Over the years, more than one commentator has claimed that today's young people are not what they used to be, and that technological developments on the battlefield have turned commanders into people who sit in front of screens, running things from afar, attacking the enemy via remote control. An examination of the IDF's fighting in Gaza shows that this is entirely untrue. The war is being managed from close up, among houses and tunnel shafts and against a determined enemy who – unlike in previous operations – is not immediately retreating. IDF commanders are leading their people on the front line, because to in order to lead soldiers, to accurately and independently assess the situation, and to complete the mission, they have to be in front, where the war is taking place. This means that a brigade commander isn't the last of his force to go in, but that a commander's place is with his forces.
The IDF's warrior ethos, as an article by General (res.) Giora Rom put it, is a behavioral code comprising courage, selflessness, loyalty to society and to comrades, coolness under pressure, integrity, and willingness to accept any hardship. The group of Israelis who operate under this code isn't large. In every society, be it American, Swiss, or Chinese, the first men in – the fighters willing to take on any burden – have always been the minority. But from the moment you serve in the IDF, you're in it for life. Even if you have finished your service, every loss will hit close to home. You may not know the fallen personally, but you may have been in officers' training with his cousin, or served with his older brother. Not a very large group, not glamorous, always on the same hilltops – but fewer people each time.
Alongside the criticism from various officials about the "tunnel failure," the "failure" in the lack of armored equipment for the soldiers, and more, those who are doing the job – those who are still loyal to the warrior ethos – should be valued. Because we have someone to depend on.
(The article was published in "israelhayom", July 31, 2014)