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)

Wisdom is in the timing | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

There’s a time to shut up and do, and a time to send a threatening message

From his appearances in the media, at conferences and even on social networks, the new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, seems to enjoy the position. There is hardly a day when he does not warn Israel’s enemies of its long arm. At the Makor Rishon conference, Bennett said that Israel should "move from containment to attack. "If we are determined we can remove Iran’s aggression forces from Syria", and warned Iran "Syria will become your Vietnam".

This is a nice sentiment, but the question is whether the minister is not too optimistic. Israel is waging a long, mostly secret, campaign against Iran to thwart its holdings in Syria, under which hundreds of special operations and air strikes were conducted.

Overall, the strategic achievement of these attacks seems to be the prevention and reduction of the Iranian forces (and its proxy Hezbollah) with certain weapons, with emphasis on precise missiles of wide range. As for the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, the effort is similar to an attempt to empty the sea with a spoon.

Former IDF spokesman Brig-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu recently commented on the first year of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, noting that it was characterized by great courage, because within "this complex reality, the IDF under Kochavi continues to carry out open and secret counter-operations to defend the borders and to reduce risks".

That is true, but one of the factors that makes this complex is Russia’s presence in Syria. The publication (which was not approved by any Israeli or Russian source) that the Russians recently launched fighter jets to thwart Israeli airstrikes, shows that the rope the Russians are releasing to Israel has shortened.

Another issue is the huddle. In general, other than those in which Iranian forces were attacked, senior officials of the Israeli political and military echelons have avoided taking direct responsibility for attacks and sending tensions to increase tensions. So why does the minister make unnecessary threats?

In Haaretz, Yaniv Kubovich reported that senior officials in the defense establishment criticized the minister’s statements against Israel’s enemies. Obviously, in light of the upcoming elections, Bennett (like others, including the prime minister) is required to strengthen his public image, but it is best to remember that not "everything goes".

In this context, the principle underlying the tense Shadow over Babylon (Dutton Books, 1993), written by David Mason, a decorated officer in the British Army Welsh Guards, seems to be very relevant. In the book, which takes place after the Gulf War, Ed Howard, who "was a commissioned officer in the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service" (page 24), is hired to plan and execute an assassination. "The target is Saddam Hussein" (page 149).

Howard assumes the mission was initiated by the British government, and it implements it through subcontractors to preserve its ability to deny its involvement.

Incidentally, at the beginning of the book, Mason wrote that there is an unwritten law whereby the leadership of the enemy is not harmed. However, he noted, there is a state that has never paid attention to this law and which has constantly persecuted individual people, in most cases terrorists, who have committed atrocities against its people, and that is Israel.

A striking example is the policy of Mason described the raid carried out by the Sayeret Matkal, the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, led by Moshe Ya’alon, to assassinate Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Abu Jihad, in Tunisia in 1988. In a fascinating episode about the operation on The kill List, the series created by military commentator Alon Ben David on Channel 13, Ya’alon said that the raid was "an operation in which you strike and withdraw without taking responsibility". Listening to Ya’alon may be problematic in the face of political reality, but the minister may at least read Mason’s book.

Bennett isn’t the only one talking too much. The investigative television program Uvda recently told the story of the botched Israeli covert operation carried out in the Khan Yunis in November 2018. That is another example of how Israel, in this case the IDF, is revealing unnecessary secrets.

Here, too, the reason is unclear. This is a great story about a Special Forces team that was captured in the heart of enemy territory, hit the terrorists and was rescued at the last minute, in what was not far from becoming a war. But it was better this time, as in publications about the Abu Jihad assassination, to wait about 30 years before telling most of the secrets.

This does not mean that one should always remain silent. Sometimes exposing security activity and sending a firm message by the senior political and military echelons may demonstrate the IDF’s capabilities to the enemy, and to deter him.

An example of this is the recent Commando drill in Cyprus. For more than two years the brigade units have been training on the island, the topography of which is similar to Lebanese mountainous terrain. The last exercise was the widest in scope so far.

BENNETT TWEETED about the exercise, stating that it was "complex and difficult and unfamiliar. That’s how you should practice. Hard is good. War is harder.” Such training is well known to Bennett, because after serving as a soldier in Sayeret Matkal he served as a team leader and company commander at the elite Maglan unit (and was considered a daring officer).

Media reports indicate that, like the minister, the commanders who participated in the training rated him as particularly successful. Lt.-Col. A., an ex-Sayeret Matkal officer who commands Egoz Unit, said in an interview posted on Israelhayom.com that the exercise allows "to train as close as possible to the war".

Maglan unit commander Lt.-Col. R., a Paratroopers officer, said in the interview that his soldiers required "meticulous planning to be prepared for any scenario, but also for high improvisation ability, to cope with the variables in the field".

Strengthening the ability to operate with a large force at the depth of enemy territory is essential for the next campaign, especially on a northern front.

Recently, a new edition of The Killing Zone (Maarachot, 2019) was published, in which Frederick Downs described his experiences as an US Army infantry platoon leader during the Vietnam War.

The introduction to the book was written by Maj.-Gen. Itay Virov, commander of the military colleges, who noted that the Vietnam War is now relevant to the IDF, due to the enemy’s pattern of action as a guerrilla army, similar to those in which the IDF fights today.

Virov did most of his service in Lebanon. In June 1999, as a Paratroopers battalion commander, he led an assault to eliminate the Hezbollah terrorist squad, and in the Second Lebanon War he commanded a reserve Paratroopers brigade.

He signed the introduction with a particularly accurate diagnosis of the type of campaigns Israel has fought in the last two decades in which there is no major decisive battle, such as the Egyptian Third Army Corps in 1973. In his view, "[In] a collection of tactical battles, the commanders’ determination and leadership, are the ones that have determined – and will determine – the outcome of the campaign".

It is important, then, to train the commanders in training that will simulate fighting as much as possible. And the enemy should also know that the IDF is preparing. Maybe that will deter them. If not, at least the troops will be ready.

and decide. Such a campaign will not last only one long day, but it is likely to begin with one – provided that it includes a determined operation of forces, in the air, on land and at sea.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", December 13, 2019)

75 years from that long day in Normandy – we still have something to learn | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The campaign has produced hundreds of history books and many films, but it has not yet been researched and told in full

This month marked the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy – a military campaign that marked more than anything else in public memory the expected defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. True, there were more decisive battles – and it is enough to mention Stalingrad and Operation Bagration on the eastern front – but it is doubtful whether there were any battles that had such a dramatic touch. The campaign has produced hundreds of history books and many films, but it has not yet been researched and told in full.

For some reason, the campaign is remembered as a one-day battle. This is reflected in the title of the famous book The Longest Day (Simon & Schuster, 1959) by historian and military correspondent Cornelius Ryan, as well as its film adaptation. But this is not the case. The campaign in northwest France was brutal and lasted for about three months, from D-Day until the liberation of Paris. Although Soviet propaganda scoffed at its Western allies and the war they fought, the campaign was certainly comparable with the eastern front. On D-Day itself, one day of extremely difficult fighting, there is no accurate data. The Germans suffered losses – dead and wounded – ranging from 4,000 to 9,000, while the Allies suffered about 4,500 dead and 6,000 wounded. True, many more were killed in the days of World War I, but even so, these are numbers that the mind does not grasp.

Ryan’s book takes its name from the assertion by German Field Marshal Irwin Rommel that the first 24 hours of the invasion "will be decisive… for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day." The teams from the British and US armies who planned the invasion in 1942 concluded that it needed more troops, more ships, more planes and more armaments than any other single military operation in history. The preparations took about two years and required the total enlistment of millions of people.

In June 1944, the most difficult decision was not whether to invade France, but when. The weather was less than optimal, and under such conditions, it was not at all clear whether it was worth invading. The heavy burden rested on the shoulders of one man: the commander of the Allied forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who finally decided: "I am quite positive we must give the order… I don’t like it, but there it is."

On the other side was the German army, which could be described as the best army in the history of war. These soldiers, even in numerical inferiority and under harsh conditions, caused heavy losses to the armies that fought against them in a ratio of one-to-three. The fact that an amphibious landing operation is considered the most complicated military operation there is, served the Germans as well.

DESPITE ALL the advanced technology, sophisticated fraud and inspiring leadership, the young and inexperienced soldiers determined – in their personal initiatives and immediate decisions – the fate of this complex operation. On the night between June 5 and June 6, 18,000 paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines in Normandy in order to isolate the area of operation from German reinforcements.

Some actions became famous, such as Operation Deadstick – the capture of two bridges by a Glider infantry company (equivalent to modern day infantry assault by helicopters) from the British 6th Airborne Division, under the command of Major John Howard. His company landed in three gliders near the bridges and then "everybody stormed the bridge. There was bedlam. The Germans were shocked and disorganized. Grenades came into their dugouts and communications trenches." The company completed its mission, seized the bridges intact and prevented the arrival of German armored forces to the coast.

Another is the attack that destroyed a battery of German 105mm howitzers at Brécourt Manor, firing onto the principal exits from Utah Beach. Fifteen paratroopers of Easy Company from the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (101st Airborne Division), led by Lieutenant Richard Winters, took down a superior German force and destroyed their guns. This was later described in the book Band of Brothers and its TV adaptation.

The heaviest fighting was that of the forces that landed from the sea – and no force was required for a more difficult challenge than the American forces at Omaha Beach. "They came ashore on Omaha beach, the slogging, unglamorous men the no one envied," Ryan wrote. "No battle ensigns flew for them, no horns or bugles sounded. But they had history on their side. They came from regiments that had bivouacked at places like Valley Forge, Stoney Creek, Antietam, Gettysburg, that had fought in the Argonne. They had crossed the beaches of North Africa, Sicily and Salerno. Now they had one more beach to cross." The historian would note that the beach was later called the "bloody Omaha."

The most difficult task in Omaha – the conquest of the outposts in the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc – was assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion. "Small-arms fire [came] on Lieutenant Colonel James A. Rader’s three Ranger companies as they began the assault to silence the massive coastal batteries which intelligence said menaced the American beaches on either side." The Rangers climbed on the cliffs and, under intense fire, they occupied the German positions. At the end of the day, only about 90 Rangers remained eligible for combat.

When the landing forces looked back at the end of the day, their eyes saw the spectacular view of the active beachhead, bought at a heavy price. The fighting was not over. Only in France would it last for another three months – during which the Allied forces lost their momentum, and General George Patton’s combat leadership was required to lead Operation Cobra to defeat the German army. Still, the successful landing at Normandy opened the western front against Germany, turning Germany’s defeat into a matter of time.

Seventy-five years after the battle that marked the end of Hitler, the battlefield on land – with all the capabilities and technological systems – has changed. However, there is still something to be learned from that battle in terms of planning, logistics, fraud and leading forces in battle. It is likely that Israel’s next confrontation – unlike the invasion of Normandy – will erupt in a time and place that the enemy will choose, whether it is Hamas or Hezbollah. But then, the IDF will have to surprise, dare and decide. Such a campaign will not last only one long day, but it is likely to begin with one – provided that it includes a determined operation of forces, in the air, on land and at sea.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", June 13, 2019)

The people and the U.S. are with the Golan | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

U.S recognition in the Golan Heights as "part of the State of Israel" is an important political achievement for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it is not certain that the way it was done will not escalate a reality that until now has been tacitly agreed upon

Recently, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah delivered a speech in which he responded to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

"The only option for the Syrians to return the Golan Heights, and the Lebanese to return the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar, and the only option for the Palestinians to accept their legitimate rights is resistance, resistance and resistance," Nasrallah said.

Beyond the border, in Syria and Lebanon, it is hard to believe that there will be tolerance for international recognition of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the Six-Day War (and managed to keep in its hands in 1973 and thereafter) as an Israeli sovereign territory. This could constitute a precedent for the possibility that additional areas will be recognized as such. Given that Hezbollah and other Shiite militias have established an operational infrastructure on the Syrian side of the border, as the IDF revealed last month (in a cognitive operation), Nasrallah’s declaration is a clear threat.

Last month, leaders of the Blue and White Party visited the northern part of Israel. Even though the four, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid were mainly focused in trying to recruit votes and supporters, its likely that the north is connected mainly to their experiences from the military service. The former chiefs of staff fought for many years across the border, some against the Syrians, all of them in Lebanon, in the raids of the Paratroopers (Ya’alon and Gantz) and Golani (Ashkenazi) brigades, and operations. Even Lapid, who was a military correspondent in Bamahane, spent (though not as a fighter) a considerable amount of time in his service in the outposts in Lebanon.

During the tour in the North, the four referred to threats by Hezbollah and Syria. In his press conference, Gantz stressed that there is an "Iranian front that sits on the border of the State of Israel, and we will know how to deal with any threat in any arena, as much as necessary." Lapid, for his part, pledged on behalf of the four, "We will never return the Golan Heights."

The person who took care of Lapid’s commitment was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past was among those who negotiated with the Syrians, in which he was asked to give up control of the Golan Heights. During Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last week, President Trump signed a presidential proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel. For Netanyahu, too, the North is connected to his personal military service as a soldier and commander in the Sayeret Matkal IDF elite unit.

גריר טוויטר.jpg

IN HIS book Autobiography, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland referred to the negotiations that Prime Minister Ehud Barak held in 1999 with then-Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and argued that Israel should not agree to a peace arrangement with Syria in which it relinquishes its control over the Golan Heights. Eiland, who like Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi, participated in raids in Lebanon (in one of them, as a paratrooper battalion commander, he took with him a stubborn platoon leader named Ofer Shelah, now number eight in Blue and White’s list), admitted that he had formulated his insights after his retirement. He noted that he had hoped that the negotiations between Israel and Syria would not grow into a peace agreement in which Israel would relinquish the territory.

In his view, Prime Minister Barak relied on wrong assumptions. First, if the Syrian army moved forces to the Golan Heights, Israel would know about this in real time, which is not necessarily true. Second, it is not at all certain that Israel would understand and correctly interpret the movement of Syrian forces aimed toward war (in 1973, for example, Israel did not understand this). Third, because of the time required for such a decision, the Syrians would be the first to arrive to the battlefield and gain the upper hand.

Another assumption is that an international monitoring mechanism that would enforce the agreement might indeed monitor tanks and cannons, but it would be less effective in detecting sophisticated surface-to-surface missiles with long range and accuracy, and anti-tank missiles, which are relatively easy to conceal but whose impact on the battle is significant.

It is hard to counter Eiland’s arguments – and since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria that undermined the stability of Bashar Assad’s regime, it became clear that other troubling scenarios might also materialize. Iran was allowed to establish military infrastructures in Syria and to act against Israel, which for its part is conducting a long and largely secret campaign to prevent it. As part of that campaign, according to foreign publications, the IAF recently attacked Iranian weapons depots near Aleppo.

WHY DO we need all this noise now? The Golan has been under Israeli control for more than 50 years and no state entity can take control of it without Israeli consent. Moreover, Trump’s statement, which appears to be a finger in the eye of the international community, has only motivated Western Europe, Russia, the Arab countries, Iran and Syria to act against it. The Syrians and their allies from Iran may also decide to "use terror and guerrilla attacks" from the Syrian side of the border, just as Nasrallah declared in his speech.

In the eyes of Israeli prime ministers, only one member of the international community is a heavyweight – the United States. This perception has not changed, and with good reason. American backing, even now, is a powerful credit. In an article on the subject in Israel Hayom, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Israel Ziv, who like Eiland served as a paratrooper officer and as the head of the Agaf HaMivtza’im (Operations Directorate), wrote that "Israel will be required to conduct an uncompromising legitimization battle, while increasing efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on the other side of the border. The American declaration on the Golan Heights will no doubt help these efforts."

Recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan is important, but the way it was done – not through the UN Security Council and without the broad consensus of the international community – is damaging. It is not certain that the tacit agreement to Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which was the American policy until now, would not have been more effective at this time.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", April 7, 2019)

 

Capability and daring in the IDF | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

To the extent possible, let ground forces operate across the border

Conclusions of the investigation into the death of Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, which occurred during a solitary navigational exercise of the Paratroopers Brigade Reconnaissance Battalion, were recently presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. The chief of staff wrote in the summary of the investigation, "The central expression of the responsibility of the IDF commanders [is] for the lives of their people [and] the professionalism and accuracy with which they must approach every small or large task, in routine or in war."

The media reported that the chief of staff would feel uncomfortable severely punishing those involved in the mishap, even though it resulted in the death of a soldier in a training accident, because he himself did most of his service in the Paratroopers Brigade. Apparently that was not the case, and he decided to dismiss the battalion commander and the entire chain of command that was subordinate to him. The brigade commander, Col. Yaki (Yaakov) Dolf, was not exempted, and a command reprimand was issued. It seems that the chief of staff decided to use the tragic training accident to send a message to the army.

In general, the working assumption that the dismissal of those responsible for failure will solve the problem, turns out to be a mistake. More than once, the failure is far more systemic than personal, and the army loses good commanders who should have continued to use their skills and lessons learned from a difficult lesson. This time, in light of the facts, it seems that there was no escape from this. But it’s better not to turn it into a routine. The chief of staff himself escaped from the sword of dismissal after a difficult operational incident, the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and it seems that the IDF only benefited from it.

Col. Dolf, did most of his service in the brigade since enlisting to the 890th Battalion in 1994. He was a company commander in Lebanon, the brigade’s executive officer in the Second Lebanon War, and led the 890th Battalion in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Dolf is considered a talented commander, and it’s possible that the command reprimand he suffered will not harm his promotion.

But it’s reasonable to assume that the chain of mishaps found by the investigative team – as a model for the manner in which things cannot be done, and especially Yosefi’s unnecessary death – will go with him. In such a case, the army would benefit from a commander who erred, learned from it, and will teach others. Despite the tragedy, training for paratroopers and combat units in general is designed to simulate war, and includes a dimension of risk and danger (which, needless to say, should be controlled as much as possible), because war is dangerous and risky.

In an article published in Maariv, veteran security commentator Alon Ben-David said the IDF’s senior command is hesitant to use ground forces. Although the elite units of the IDF are constantly operating in secret operations, these units are not the main part of the army, far from it. The actions they carry out are essential to Israel’s national security but do not affect the esprit de corps of the entire army.

AND VICE-VERSA. When only the Israel Air Force and Special Forces operate on the other side of the border, the message to ground forces is that their role amounts to ongoing security, policing in the West Bank and possibly, just possibly, to a limited ground maneuver in the next campaign.

"Imagine what a raid of the Commando Brigade on the Iranian airport in T4 in Syria would have done for the self-confidence of the IDF," wrote Ben-David. When he talked about such ideas with field commanders, they looked at him as if he was crazy. "The paratroopers, who knew how to steal an entire radar from Egypt 50 years ago, or to destroy dams and power stations, are now looking at Israel’s borders as if they were impassable."

Alongside realistic training, the raids – which have operational profit inherent in them – also serve force buildup, and instill a sense of capability and daring in commanders and soldiers. That’s not valid only for special operations, such as the raid on the Soviet radar in Egypt in 1969. The spirit built in these operations also affected the willingness to carry out high-risk moves such as crossing the Suez Canal in 1973.

The need to show courage on the ground is therefore very important to the army. But the strategic dimension should also be considered. It’s easier to be nostalgic and say the army used to be better. But the truth is that there was another reason for the raids. The IDF had no other means, such as precise guided munitions fired from the air, to carry out the mission. Today, when it has them, the dilemma is much more difficult. Moreover, the failure of such raids may have the opposite effect on the forces, and mainly on those who are supposed to approve them, at the senior military and political echelon.

In his article, Ben-David ignored the fact that the raids he proposed will almost certainly lead to an escalation. If the goal is to reach a direct confrontation with Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, then this makes sense. But if not, and Israel strives to harm Iranian forces in Syria without a large scale confrontation, then one must ask whether these proposals are a tail that wags the dog, without serving the strategic goal.

The southern front, on the other hand, in the Gaza Strip, is a completely different story. Israel is in a tense security situation against Hamas, and the intelligence assessment of 2019 is that the organization aspires to reach a confrontation with Israel. In such a situation, the IDF’s senior command may regard the ground raid of "regular" forces from the combat brigades as an opportunity, and not just as a tool in the toolbox that should be avoided.

The Paratroopers Brigade has been a right-wing marker in the IDF for its performance, boldness and determination since the 1950s. And its commanders, as well as the commanders of the other units in the 98th Paratroopers Division, should be as enthusiastic for action. It’s reasonable to assume that they will not be authorized to act in every front and under any conditions, but this aspiration is the soul of a fighting army.

Chief of Staff Kochavi alongside field-level officers like Dolf, must establish this spirit, and seek contact with the enemy across the border, on the ground, when necessary and possible. This is valuable, both in creating deterrence among the enemy and in instilling a sense of capability and daring for the operational forces and for the entire army.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", Marchs 14, 2019)

Gantz was an excellent commander, it doesn’t mean he’ll be a good politician | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Right-wing Politicians claimed that Benny Gantz, as commander and IDF'S Chief of staff, didn't strive for contact with the enemy and achieving victory. That's absurd, but military experience isn't necessarily the only experience necessary for those who want to serve as prime minister

Education Minister and leader of the New Right Party, Naftali Bennett, found the reason why Israel stopped winning battles against terrorist organizations. In a tweet, Bennett brought a quote from a profile published by Haaretz last week about the head of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz. In the article, authors Hilo Glazer and Nir Gontarz noted that when Gantz replaced Israel Ziv as commander of the 35th Paratroopers Brigade in 1995, he changed the brigade’s motto that was set by his predecessor. Ziv, a meticulous officer whose term as brigade commander was characterized by a series of operational successes in Lebanon (most of them under the command of officers like Yossi Bachar and Amir Baram), stated that "The aim of the paratrooper is to strive for contact with the enemy, to kill him and win the battle". Gantz, when he replaced him, deleted the word "kill" from that sentence. 

This is the root of the problem, according to the minister, a member of the cabinet and the former company commander in the Maglan unit (where he served under Maj-Gen. Tal Russo, a veteran of the Shaldag unit, the Israeli Air Force Special Forces, and the number two man on the Labor Party’s list). Bennett promised that when he became defense minister, he would fix this, and "Israel will start winning again". It sounds simple and sharp. But the facts are a bit different and should also be taken into consideration.

In an interview with the newspaper Bamahane, Gantz said that in 1978 he "joined the 50th Battalion, which was then called "Parachute Nahal" and was part of the paratroopers brigade and later became the 101st Battalion." Despite his combat background, which included returning from a course in the US Army Special Forces to command a paratrooper company in Beirut in 1982, serving as the second in command of the Shaldag unit and other duties, Gantz was not considered as the kind of officer who could be described as a "killer". That changed when the brigade commander, Shaul Mofaz, unexpectedly appointed him as the commander of the 890th Battalion. Years later, Gantz frequently mentioned that command as the most significant one in his military service. Most of the activity was in Lebanon and in preventing the infiltration of terrorist squads into Israel. In 1988, a terrorist squad penetrated just south of Manara. A force from the battalion and the battalion commander jumped to a spot and encountered terrorists. "We arrive at the area of the encounter, I see a fire exchange in front of me. I unload, I run to them, we shout 'Charge!'. We attack the terrorists, Yoni comes behind me… We kill the terrorists and when I turn around, see that the doctor is treating Yoni in the back. Very fast, was very, very fast. Combat that lasted seconds. Yoni was killed next to me. They shot at me, hit him", Gantz related in a film that noted the commemoration of his radio operator, Yoni Baranes.

As a brigade commander, Gantz was very different from Ziv, the centralized "Prussian" commander. He gave his subordinates plenty of room for action and backing. Some of them found it difficult to adjust, but the commanders of the battalions operating under him thought that this method worked well. On the operational aspect, although the word "kill" was omitted from the brigade motto, it is difficult to say that it was different from that of his predecessor. In 1996, for example, in a series of ambushes carried out by the 101st Battalion, commanded by Yossi Bachar, his soldiers killed five terrorists and returned without a scratch.

Even as chief of staff it was difficult to define him as a vegetarian. Gantz was the one who insisted on hitting Ahmed Jabari, the senior Hamas military wing leader, as part of the first strike that started Operation Pillar of Defense. In Operation Protective Edge, the IDF under his command exerted a great deal of force in Gaza. Gantz managed to remain aggressive despite his declared desire to seek a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his reluctance to educate soldiers with the desire to kill. At the tactical level, when fighting on the battlefield killing the enemy is usually part of the mission.

Even though all of this is known, Bennett chose to accuse him of cowardice and lack of motivation. Someone can still turn this into a slogan like "Stop apologizing, start killing". Very similar to the way that was described by the brigade commander Ziv at the time. But the latter was a combat commander, while the minister is required to see things in the broad, strategic sense. It is certainly simpler than taking responsibility for the government’s policy. For example, the IDF’s restraint in the Gaza Strip is a direct result of the decisions of the cabinet in which Bennett is a member. The Israeli government has no intention of embarking on a broad military operation that is aimed at the collapse of Hamas and the long-term takeover of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, as Tal Lev-Ram wrote in Maariv, determines the level of the flames, and when it wishes to escalate the situation. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland once said that the government decides to attack and see what happens. In contrast to what is happening on the northern front, in the south there is no clear policy, strategy or effort to shape the reality. There were those who recently claimed that Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi leads a more aggressive line against those who detonate explosive devices and fire flare-up balloons. This may be so, however, the IDF uses force in a measured manner.

The fact that Bennett, as well as others, raise populist and erroneous claims against Gantz is regrettable. However, its refutation does not answer the important questions. Gantz was a talented commander in the Paratroop Brigade and in other commands, but this does not indicate that he will be a successful prime minister or politician. The IDF chief of staff gains substantial experience in leadership and command by managing a large system and in organizational politics. Taking into account the economic, social, political and security aspects, the transfer from the military to state administration is not that simple. That being said, Gantz still has a long way to go.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", March 08, 2019)

Importance of IDF Ground Forces in new army appointments | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The indication of the importance of a field is measured by the resources allocated to it, and to the people who lead it

Recently, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to appoint Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick as commander of Ground Forces. This right step shows the importance the chief of staff sees in upgrading and strengthening those forces.

During the tenure of Gadi Eisenkot, there was a significant force buildup that improved its operational capability. But the claims raised by former IDF ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick prove that much more work is still needed in order to bridge the many gaps in the readiness of the Ground Forces.

The indication of the importance of a field is measured by the resources allocated to it, and to the people who lead it. The appointment of Strick, who commanded the Givati Brigade, the Galilee Division, the Home Front Command and the Northern Command, brings with it a possibility for change. But he will also have to come with the promises of authority, budgets, backing and support from the chief of staff.

Strick’s replacement in the Northern Command will be Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram (my battalion commander in the paratroopers, whom I highly respect). The Lebanese scene is familiar to him from long years of fighting. About 25 years ago, Baram led the Paratroopers Brigade anti-tank company in a complex operation near the Lebanese village of Kafra, during which the force directed attack helicopters that killed four Hezbollah operatives. A few years later, he was called in to command the brigade’s Reconnaissance Company, after its commander Eitan Balachsan was killed in a skirmish in southern Lebanon.

Baram rehabilitated the company and managed to lead its soldiers in a successful skirmish with terrorists, shortly before the IDF withdrew from Lebanon. During the Second Intifada, he commanded the 890th Battalion, and later commanded the Maglan Reconnaissance Unit, the Samaria Brigade, the 35th Paratroopers Brigade and two divisions. Baram, an old subordinate of the chief of staff since the time Kochavi was his company commander in the Paratroopers Brigade, is expected to be an important member of the General Staff. Unlike some senior members of the defense establishment, Baram is a firm believer in the ground maneuver.

"I love the Iron Dome system, but in the end, it will reach its limit. There comes a time at which each dome will need a hammer next to it, and then we will have to recall what we did in Defensive Shield," he once said. In the case of a campaign in Lebanon, Baram will be required to command a large-scale ground maneuver. Strick would be the one who would be required to close the gaps in competence and make sure the Ground Forces are capable and ready to carry it out.

Two other officers promoted in the round were Brig.-Gen. Itai Virob and Brig.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who will be appointed IDF attaché in the United States. Virob, who successfully commanded a reserve Paratroopers Brigade in the last days of the Second Lebanon War, as well as the Gaza Division, will replace Baram as commander of the military colleges.

Fuchs, who commanded the Nahal Brigade and replaced Virob at the Gaza Division, is a talented officer. However, it would have been better if the most senior defense representative to Israel’s strategic alliance would not be a general in his first position, however talented, who lacks experience in the General Staff echelon and in Israel’s strategic floor.

Sixteen years ago, journalist Avihai Becker (himself a former Golani Brigade company commander), published an article in "Haaretz" about Benny Gantz, the general who later became chief of staff, on his appointment as the commander of the Northern Command. "Somehow it happened that all those officers who used to gather around the conference table of Paratroopers Brigade commander Col. Shaul Mofaz, today head all the most sensitive and important sectors in the IDF," Becker wrote. 

He did not lack examples: The commander of the Judea and Samaria Division was Yitzhak "Jerry" Gershon, who was the commander of Battalion 202 in the brigade and fought under Mofaz in the raid on the Hezbollah stronghold in Maidun in 1988; the commander of the Galilee Division was Meir Kalifi, the brigade executive officer in the raid; Israel Ziv commanded the 50th Battalion at the same time; and Gantz himself commanded Battalion 890.

"It does not matter how you look at the phenomenon: The question arises as to how all military intelligence and professionalism stem from only one source – Mofaz’s Paratroopers Brigade," Becker wrote.

With the appointment of Kochavi as chief of staff, this question arose again, as three generals who served under him as battalion commanders are sitting around his General Staff table: Amir Baram, the Military Colleges commander; Aharon Haliva, head of the Operations Directorate; and Miki Edelstein, the IDF attaché in the United States. They will soon be joined by Itay Virob, who served as the commander of the brigade training base under Kochavi. (And it is not as if there are no more paratroopers in the General Staff, such as Herzi Halevi and Moti Baruch, who did not serve under him).

Worthy commanders were promoted to positions where they will be able to bring their advantages and experience to an optimal realization. But in order to prevent the danger in which the General Staff table will seat only commanders who think in the same way – because they all served in the same unit and went through a very similar career – preferably the next appointments will have room for those who grew up in the Armored Corps, Artillery and perhaps even Combat Engineering. 

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", February 21, 2019)