The IDF has formulated a series of doctrinal documents and operational concepts, but the “IDF strategy” document is exceptional because it is well connected to the daily activity of the IDF
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a Paratroopers Brigade officer who served as head of the operations division in the IDF’s Operations Directorate, wrote in his new book, Autobiography (Yedioth Books, 2018), that he recognized in the late 1990s that "what is really missing for the IDF is much more important – an official document that will describe holistically all that the army is capable of achieving in various war scenarios and how it thinks to do so." The IDF strategy document which the army published under the guidance of Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot in 2015 was a courageous attempt to fill that gap.
The document, short and concise – as is customary in the Golani Brigade in which Eisenkot served – was exceptional both in its publication to the general public and because it anchored principles and logic of action to one constitutive document. Such an attempt by the IDF to formulate a strategic operational doctrine has not been attempted since David Ben-Gurion established Israel’s security concept in the 1950s.
The document defined the responsibility of the army to ensure the national goals of the State of Israel, including preserving its existence, territorial integrity and the security of its citizens and residents. The work defined four pillars upon which military action to address these threats would rest. The first three, deterrence, warning and decisive action, were defined by Ben-Gurion, while the fourth, defense, was officially recognized for the first time in this document, as a result of the growing threat to Israel’s home front. The document stressed that, in accordance with Israel’s Basic Law: The Military, the IDF is subordinate to the political echelon, and the General Staff alone must maintain contact with it and conduct a strategic dialogue with it on the goals of any given campaign.
The paper included the strategic concept of "campaigns between wars" (CBW), a series of operations with a unified strategic logic, aimed at weakening and reducing the enemy’s strength and creating "optimal conditions for victory in a future war." The CBW concept includes both covert operations outside the borders of the state, based on precise intelligence, to harm the enemy’s efforts and initiatives, and "overt action to create deterrence," aimed at illustrating "the limits of Israel’s restraint."
A clear example of such an overt action is Operation House of Cards, the recent attack by the Israel Air Force against Iranian bases in Syria, in response to the rockets fired by Iranian forces at IDF posts in the Golan Heights.
In the preface to the document, the chief of staff wrote that it would be "a compass for the use and construction of force," and this is evident in the multi-year plan (Gideon Doctrine) in which the elite divisions were improved and the commando brigade was established, to strengthen the IDF’s maneuvering capabilities. Already when it was published, it was clear that this was a living and breathing document that would be updated in accordance with changes in the nature of the threats Israel faces, changes to the battlefield and the structure of the IDF. Accordingly, last month the IDF published the updated version, an "IDF Strategy 2.0" If you will.
The updated document, too emphasizes the importance of land maneuver capability, that has been neglected in recent years. According to the principles laid out in the document, the army will employ "integrated, immediate and simultaneous" strikes, "using two basic elements: an effort to maneuver with rapid, lethal and flexible capabilities that operate in a multi-arms combination, [and] a precision and wide-scale effort based on qualitative intelligence."
According to this approach, land maneuvers must be "quick and lethal to targets perceived by the enemy as valuable," as was the case in the Six Day War. The concept therefore sees importance in the use of "disproportionate force," as the chief of staff said when he was the head of the Northern Command, so that at the end of the conflict deterrence is created and the enemy is required to engage in rehabilitation at the expense of intensification and hostile offensive activity.
In his book, Maj.-Gen. Eiland, who was my father’s company commander in the Paratroopers (after whom my younger brother and I volunteered for the paratroopers), claimed that the next high-intensity confrontation will require the use of force similar to the bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War, in which Hezbollah headquarters were located. That air-strike demonstrated the IDF’s destructive potential, undermined Hezbollah’s legitimacy among the Lebanese population, strengthened deterrence and also caused increased involvement by the international community in efforts to achieve a cease-fire.
"Only a strategy that will cause a large number of [instances] of the Dahiya effect, and at the beginning of the war, will ensure that the next campaign is short and Israel victorious," he wrote.
It appears that IDF strategy follows the same lines of thought.
However, a military strategy document, no matter how comprehensive, must rely on a national security strategy formulated by a political echelon that defines the interests, objectives and vision of the state. Such a written concept, the kind published every year in the United States (and signed by the president), does not exist.
And what about a dialogue in which the political echelon and the General Staff define the goals of the various campaigns Israel is conducting? Is seems that when it comes to dealing with what is defined in the updated IDF strategy document as a Confrontation Complex against the Shi’ite axis: Iran, Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and the Shi’ite militias operating in Syria, such a dialogue does takes place, with good results.
On the other hand, in the Palestinian arena, with an emphasis on the Gaza Strip, such dialogue is lacking. Over the past two years, military commanders have warned that Israel must create economic incentives to improve living conditions in Gaza, and it appears that the political echelon has refused to listen. The army, which remained without a clear political directive except to prevent the fence from being breached, exercised great force, and rightly so. On the other hand, if the government had heed the army’s warnings, it would have been possible to avoid the scenario from arising in the first place.
Over the years, the IDF has formulated a series of doctrinal documents and operational concepts, but the "IDF strategy" document is exceptional because it is well connected to the daily activity of the IDF, both in the force buildup and the use of force in overt and covert operations. The chief of staff wrote in the preface to the original document, as well as in the updated version, that the army is not tested in formulating and updating strategy.
"The actual realization of the strategy in preparing the IDF for the challenges and its operation in various scenarios against emerging and existing threats are our supreme test," he wrote.
But without a comprehensive national security strategy formed by the government, the army will be operating in a vacuum.
The author is the founder and operator of the blog “In the Crosshairs” on military and security vision, strategy and practice.
(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", May 22, 2018)