Potential for strategic turns | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The killing of soleimani and the Deal fo the Century

In the 13th International Conference of The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) was concluded with a conversation between the institute’s head, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, and Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, head of the IDF Operations Directorate. The two talked about the IDF’s force buildup, and about the challenges the army faces in the present and future.

Haliva was asked how the IDF copes with the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, given that the rate of IDF strikes in Syria has decreased and Iranians are moving their operations to countries where it’s more complex for the IDF to operate, Iraq and Lebanon.

"The Persians did invent chess, but I met quite a few Jews who learned how to deliver checkmate", replied Haliva, noting that the campaign-between-the-wars is far from over.

"The IDF has continued in the last year, with all the power and tools. Most of them are hidden from the eye… to prevent Iranian consolidation in the area", he said. But there are, he added, other interests and players to consider, including the Russians and the Americans.

In his view, "both the killing of [Gen. Qasem] Soleimani by the United States in early January, as well as the announcement of the "Deal of the Century" are two events with significant potential for strategic turns, and the IDF is preparing for it".

Yadlin, a former fighter pilot who took part in the strike that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and who served as the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, noted that in light of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran could “crawl” toward nuclear weapons production.

Asked whether the IDF is ready to deal with that threat, Haliva responded, "If necessary, we will know how to do it", but did not elaborate.

Yadlin noted that it might have been necessary to reexamine whether the perception that the US is leaving the Middle East and that Iran has the upper hand is still relevant, he stated, “[It is better] not to reverse this perception just yet", because it is remain to be seen whether the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Soleimani indicates a continuing American willingness to exert force in the area. It’s still too early to determine.

Haliva did most of his service in paratroopers. He was a platoon leader in the raid led by brigade commander Shaul Mofaz on the Hezbollah stronghold in village of Maydoun in Lebanon in 1988. The force, led by Haliva, who had just finished the officer’s course a month earlier, identified two terrorists hiding behind a bush.

"It ended with us shooting like crazy into the bush and killing them", he said years later. Although the successful raid was an important chapter in his military life, the high level of soldiery, and the boldness demonstrated by Hezbollah operatives also left a strong impression on him.

Later, he served in all the positions in the paratroopers, including commanding a battalion, the brigade training base (when he was my commander) and the entire brigade. He also commanded the IDF’s Officer Candidate School (Bahad 1).

"DON’T WANT to be heard, God forbid, as cocky. There will be prices, sometimes heavy prices. War is not a pleasant thing at all and both sides pay prices for it. But I say clearly, the land forces are now ready to carry out their tasks", Haliva replied to Yadlin’s question about the IDF’s land-force readiness.

Are there any gaps? Sure, He said. There always will be. The elephant in the room was the criticism made by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick about the "Gideon" multiyear plan, led by former IDF chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot. Haliva said the plan significantly improved the land forces, but there are still gaps in force readiness.

In this context, he added, the "Momentum" multiyear plan led by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi is supposed to bring significant reinforcement to land forces, with the aim of achieving a faster victory, at a lower cost of lives, in the next war.

How this settles with the recent decision to cancel the brigade exercises and to focus primarily on battalion and company exercises is unclear. Past experience shows that brigades which did not practice on the ground, as a maneuvering unit before fighting, achieved far from good results when battles occurred.

The transition government cannot pass a budget law, and without a clear budgetary framework, the "Momentum" multiyear plan could follow those written in Benny Gantz’s term as IDF chief of staff. The IDF, said Gantz in 2013, can give itself "a good grade in planning multiyear plans". The realization, as a result of the budget cuts that resulted from social protests, was a completely different story.

Haliva referred to a war game at the institute that dealt with an escalation scenario in the northern arena, mentioning that the manager of the game failed to motivate the various players, including Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, to escalate their response to a full-scale war. All parties strove to quickly close the escalation round and return to normal.

The reason, in his view, is that Israel’s enemies understand the power gaps between them, and the futility of war. In the event of a confrontation, Haliva said, "The result should be such that, at its end, the enemy has for many years distanced its desire to fight with us".

Yediot Aharonot commentator Shimrit Meir criticized this assessment on Twitter this week, stating, "We have a chronic tendency to assume that the other side wants to return to normal, a classic projection". We project our motives, perceptions and desires onto the other side, and it’s not at all sure that this is what the enemy wants and thinks.

Suffice it to recall IDF Military Intelligence Directorate statements during Operation Protective Edge about the upcoming end of the war, which were shattered every time Hamas chose to resume fighting and breach the ceasefire, in order to understand that in the next round of confrontation may be longer than expected.

One issue that the conversation hardly dealt with was the Palestinian issue. The IDF has been detecting an opportunity for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for some time. It seems that despite what the military estimates, Hamas continues to raise the flames in an attempt to extort additional concessions from Israel. The demolition balloons, rockets and terrorist penetration attempts are just negotiating tools.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", February 16, 2020)

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