Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The unit has a tradition during which the soldiers are required, in a kind of courage test, to jump from a moving jeep without a helmet into thorny bushes

Recently, a series of mishaps were uncovered in the elite Maglan unit, which is part of the IDF’s new commando brigade. It turns out that the unit has a tradition, which is not part of the official training program, during which the soldiers are required, in a kind of courage test, to jump from a moving jeep without a helmet into thorny bushes. One of the soldiers who tried to accomplish the test was seriously injured in the back and may suffer disability for the rest of his life. In another case, a soldier from the unit was injured during hand-to-hand combat training (Krav Maga).

I did not serve in Maglan or one of the other units in the brigade, but the service in the paratroopers and later in reserve in an elite paratroopers brigade in the 98th Paratroopers Division has brought me together with many who served as soldiers and commanders in the unit and gave me some insights into the experience, training and operational activities of Maglan and similar units.

Since their founding, elite units like Maglan have developed such traditions to prove what seems to be clear in advance, that they are the boldest and toughest in the military. Ehud Barak’s acceptance test for Sayeret Matkal, for example, included an exam of his ability to read a map and what was defined as the ultimate test of courage – jumping from a jeep during a drive at 50 kilometers per hour. A moment before Barak (who for his courage as commander in the unit was later decorated with five citations for bravery) jumped; the driver grabbed him and stopped the vehicle. It turns out that the unit knew even then to stop in time and the test only examined whether Barak would be ready to jump.

In these units, in which high-quality personnel serve, there is a different discipline than the one practiced in the “big army.” The soldiers are educated to be self-disciplined and to take charge. The reason why commanders don’t deal with issues such as proper military appearance and dry orders is based on the perception that with such good men it is possible to deal mainly with operational activity and preparing for war, and rely on them to know to uphold those orders on themselves. Most of the time that approach proves itself, and the IDF manages to produce a great deal from its elite units, even though the soldiers are relatively young and the training period is short compared with what is customary in various Western armies. During the Second Lebanon War, for example, a Maglan unit carried out “Operation Beach Boys,” considered one of the most successful special operations in the war, in which 150 targets were destroyed, including 40 rocket launchers, in the western sector of southern Lebanon. The US military would have carried out such a raid with a much more experienced force, Delta force or the Green Berets, whose soldiers would not be 19 or 20 years old as in the IDF, but at least 25.

Nevertheless, there are those who sometimes exploit this lack of supervision by the commanders in these units in order to create such invalid traditions as that courage test. It is good that the IDF decided to conduct a thorough investigation, headed by Brig.-Gen. Itai Virob, who commanded a reserve Paratroopers brigade during the fighting in Lebanon in 2006, but one must make sure not to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” The commando brigade is still, despite the mileage it has made in exercises in Israel and abroad, as well as operational activity carried out by its units separately (two months ago, for example, a team from a Maglan unit killed eight Hamas operatives on the Gaza perimeter fence under construction). The brigade commander, Col. Avi Blut, a paratrooper who commanded Maglan and is about to serve as the military secretary of the prime minister, is constantly working on the force buildup processes that would unite these units from “a mass of units that have no common ground,” as MK Ofer Shelah, a former paratroop company commander, once defined them, to one brigade.

In the next confrontation, the IDF will need to have a high-quality, flexible and available force capable of operating quickly in order to attack Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon or other targets. The transformation of the commando brigade into such a force is the challenge of its commanders, and will continue to be such a challenge for Blut’s replacement, Col. Kobi Heller, who did most of his service in the Golani Brigade and commanded the Duvdevan unit during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The conclusions of the examination committee led by Brig.-Gen. Virob, which will certainly lead to the tightening of supervision and control in the area of safety and discipline, should not harm the spirit of these units, since it is a critical component of their creative, daring and combative nature.

And a word about the unacceptable norm of courage tests such as the one colloquially known as “beheading” that have become common here. I know the current commander of Maglan; we served together in the same paratroopers company, where he was a squad leader and I was a young recruit. After I was discharged, I heard that he had taken command of a company whose commander had been wounded in the Second Lebanon War and that he was considered a well-respected company commander. That did not surprise me; he was always an excellent man and an excellent commander.

For the last three months, he has been in charge of the unit and is responsible for everything that happens there. Responsible, but not necessarily guilty. It is not at all certain that in this short period he was able to recognize every procedure and folly that occurs in it. This also applies to the brigade commander, who is much higher in the chain of command. The assumption that the dismissal of those responsible for failure will solve the problem turns out, more often than not, 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 event. They will know how to deal with malfunctions and return the unit to proper working tracks.

The writer is founder and operator of the blog "In the Crosshairs" on military, security, strategy vision and practice.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", August 09, 2018)

מודעות פרסומת

IDF promotes officers who think outside the box, but still follow the line | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

In the end, the argument that the IDF promotes colorless rule-abiding commanders is simply not true

In the two rounds of appointments of generals to positions in the General Staff and of division commanders that Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot carried out in the recent year, there was criticism that the IDF preferred officers who sanctify discipline and obey orders at the expense of courage and creativity, and who showed no flexibility in punishing daring officers with creative thinking. Some also claimed that in the promotion of certain officers who did not command brigades and divisions in Lebanon and Gaza, the IDF lost exactly those commanders who think outside the box.

Another claim made is that the IDF does not promote officers from religious Zionism to key positions. These claims were reinforced by the decision of the chief of staff not to appoint Brig.-Gen. Ofer Winter as commander of the division. Winter did most of his service at the head of the column, at the front, and was considered a daring and creative commander. He enlisted in Sayeret Matkal, IDF’s elite unit; after the officers’ course, he moved to the Maglan unit (where he served with Minister Naftali Bennett) and served as a company commander in Lebanon. Winter commanded a battalion in the Givati Brigade in a series of operations in Gaza (he was decorated with a citation and the battalion was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for the first time in the IDF).

During Operation Protective Edge, Winter was the commander of the Givati Brigade. At the end of the campaign, a force from the brigade had an encounter with Hamas terrorists in the outskirts of Rafah that cost the lives of two officers and a soldier. The terrorists kidnapped Hadar Goldin’s body and escaped by tunnel. In order to thwart the abduction, Winter (according to the records of the communications network published on the Mako website) ordered "Hannibal Procedure" which was aggressive. The decision was justified, but there was also harsh criticism of the massive fire that he ordered to use, from which many Palestinian civilians who were not involved in terrorism were killed.

For some reason, the majority of those who rose for Winter’s defense chose to ignore the fact that during the period in which he served as the Givati brigade commander, the brigade had a series of disturbing incidents, including the irregularities and mishaps in the Tzabar Battalion, that its commander was Convicted and demoted for sexual misconduct towards a subordinate). Winter, as was published in Walla! Website, was questioned by the MPCID on suspicion of obstructing proceedings in the affair, because the deputy battalion commander came to him with the story only to be rejected and dismissed him from the brigade. In the end, as reported in Haaretz, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz rebuked Winter and wrote him a note in his personal file. It is also reasonable that the IDF commanders did not like the fact that Winter, according to an article published in al-Monitor by Ben Caspit, was apparently the officer who, without permission, informed his comrades-in-arms, Minister Bennett, about the tunnels at the beginning of “Protective edge”. It seems therefore that the decision not to promote him was motivated by practical motives. 

"An officer who sends his subordinates a message that it is possible to violate the laws because the goal justifies it, will create a bad atmosphere in which his subordinates will take the law into their own hands," wrote Itamar Kremer, an ex- Givati officer who serves in reserve as a battalion deputy commander. That message remains true. The claims that the IDF prevents the promotion of religious officers are wrong. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, who joined the paratroopers in 1974, testified that he was "the only religious platoon leader, the only religious company commander," but since then times have changed. Although there will always be a personal dimension to the considerations for which officers are promoted, the impressive presence of religious officers at every level of command in the IDF proves more than anything that the military does not check what does its field commanders have under the helmet and promotes on the basis of skills and abilities as much as possible.

In the end, the argument that the IDF promotes colorless rule-abiding commanders is simply not true. The current General Staff members are experienced, opinionated and highly professional. Two of its members were my battalion commanders in the Paratroopers and I can testify that they are among the best and most experienced. The units they commanded were always better because of them and they left behind battalions, brigades, and divisions much more prepared for war. 

Among those officers who speak their mind and combine courage and ingenuity while obeying rules and orders are:

• Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman, an armored officer who also commanded the Northern Corps and now heads the Intelligence directorate.

• Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, a Paratrooper officer who served as a company commander during the years the IDF fought in Lebanon, and later as the commander of Sayeret Matkal and now commands the Southern Command. Halevi, by the way, comes from a religious background. 

• A key figure in the General Staff is Air Force commander, Maj.-Gen. Norkin, who was the Head of the IAF Operations Department in the second Lebanon War (2006). 

• Generals Nitzan Alon and Nadav Padan, both ex-Sayeret Matkal officers.

• Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, who spent most of his career in the paratroopers and led the 890 battalion in counter-terrorism operations during the Second Intifada. 

• Baram’s brigade commander in those operations (who was also his company commander when he joined the paratroopers’ anti-tank company), was Aviv Kochavi, now deputy Chief of Staff and a prominent candidate to replace Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot in January. 

• Another prominent candidate is Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, also a paratroopers officer who commanded the Nahal Brigade in Operation Defensive Shield. 

General Baram once described Chief of Staff Eizenkot and his deputy Kochavi as commanders who "look for a different direction and would be happy if you challenged them." The IDF knows how to hold on to its creative commanders, even if there were failures during their service, and to promote them. The military is not looking for yes-men, but initiative and courage cannot come at the expense of proper conduct. 

The writer is founder and operator of the blog "In the Crosshairs" on military, security, strategy vision and practice.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", June 18, 2018)

IDF Strategy 2.0 | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

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.

תיעוד תקיפת סוללת נמ בסוריה צילום דובר צהל1

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)

The IDF’s Cognitive Effort: Supplementing the Kinetic Effort | by Gabi Siboni & Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The IDF has intensified its cognitive-related activity recently and engaged in a significant buildup process in this realm. This has included developing a cognitive operations doctrine and engaging in developing technological tools, training human resources, and building organizational frameworks supporting the doctrine. The use of overt capabilities by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit enables direct discourse with many target audiences in enemy states on the social media, as well as with terrorist elements. This is effected using the various capabilities developed in the IDF designed to create legitimacy in international target audiences, influence the enemy, and even maintain deterrence. The current development of technology in the social media, whether overt or covert, constitutes a strategic asset for Israel alongside traditional kinetic assets.

In late January 2018, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manlis published an article in the Arab media, warning Lebanon’s citizens of “Hezbollah’s hooligan-like behavior, the establishment of terror infrastructures and plants for manufacturing weapon systems under the very eyes of the Lebanese government, and the undisturbed military deployment within the civilian population.” Manlis added that Lebanon’s citizens had better not “let Iran and Hezbollah exploit the naiveté of Lebanon’s leaders and establish plants to produce precision missiles, as they have lately attempted.” The IDF is fully prepared for any eventuality, and “as we proved in previous years – and those who need to know are aware of this – our security red lines are clear-cut, and we prove this every week.”

Manlis’s article provided a glimpse into a range of IDF overt and covert activities in the realm of cognitive operations, with the aim of delivering messages to target audiences in Lebanon, the region, and the world at large: namely, that buildup efforts by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are clear to Israel, that Israel has the ability to act against them, and that therefore Lebanon’s citizens would be better off not to sanction these efforts, as they designate the civilian population as human shields in a future campaign.

The IDF engages in additional cognitive-related efforts vis-à-vis Hezbollah in Lebanon. Avihai Edree, in charge of the social media in the Arab world in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, conducts a heated online discussion in order to confront Hezbollah with various target audiences in Lebanon. In advance of Lebanon’s forthcoming elections, scheduled for May 2018, the Lebanese news website IMLebanon published an article reviewing IDF activity in the Lebanese social media. Under the headline “Whom Are You Laughing At?” Edree addresses Nasrallah directly, “Who commanded you to send youths to die in Lebanon? What interest did you have to be dragged in to a war that Lebanon has no part in, if not just the interest of Iran?” Confronting Nasrallah further, he charges, “Why did you, along with the Iranians, assassinate Badreddine?” It is hard to assess the impact of this activity on Hezbollah, but it appears that this activity has resonated in the Lebanese press and has potential for influence in the long term.

The IDF has recently intensified its cognitive-related activity and has engaged in a significant buildup process in this area. This has included developing a cognitive operations doctrine and engaging in developing technological tools, training human resources, and building organizational frameworks supporting the doctrine. In addition, the cognitive realm has been incorporated into IDF exercises. To be sure, the importance of the effort is not new and has long featured in the annals of war. “The importance of suppressing the fighting spirit of the adversary is no less important than the actual killing of its soldiers,” declared Carl von Clausewitz, emphasizing that the kinetic activity in the battlefield must be combined with activity designed to influence the enemy’s mindset.

Technological development enables a wide range of focused means of influence vis-à-vis various target audiences, and in effect creates another combat arena beyond the classic kinetic combat arenas. Armies and states find themselves having to contend with enemy efforts of influence that utilize the technological realm and social media in order gain achievements without resorting to the use of kinetic means or employ both types of tools together. This phenomenon requires armies and states to work both on the defensive plane, in order to counter enemy efforts, as well as on the proactive and offensive plane, in order to achieve objectives by influencing enemy target audiences, including decision makers, commanders, combatants, and domestic and world public opinion.

Cognitive efforts can be divided into three categories: (1) Covert efforts, whereby the attacked target is not aware that an effort to influence it is underway. In such operations, the messages are conveyed in a way preventing the target audience from identifying that it is subject to an influencing operation. An example might be messages transmitted by disguised elements. (2) Undercover efforts (also termed “operations under a false flag”), whose target, whether an organization, public, or country, is aware of the activity against it, but those behind it hide behind a false identity. An example is the campaign for the election of the Governor of Florida in 1994. Activists of Democratic candidate Lawton Chiles telephoned about 70,000 elderly voters, identified themselves as representing Republican candidate Jeb Bush, and told them that he intends to cut national insurance and medical aid to the elderly, subjects of critical importance to them. (3) Overt efforts, such as the messages in the article by the IDF Spokesperson to Lebanon, or IDF activity on the social media in Lebanon.

The common denominator of all types of cognitive efforts is that most of the activity takes place in the overt realm, conveying messages to the target audiences in the classic media (the press, television and radio) and via the internet, the social media, forums, blogs, and website advertisements. The overt effort bears with it most of the ability to influence and change public opinion, with respect to a large public or at the decision making level. The activity in the overt realm necessitates certain skills, primarily an understanding of mass psychology and the ability to analyze target audiences. In this context, the development of operational capabilities in armies in general and in the IDF in particular can benefit from the civilian world. Campaigns to influence various target audiences are the bread and butter of every advertising and public relations office marketing products or campaigning for politicians.

In the IDF, as in other armies, an ongoing debate concerns who should lead the influence operations. There is a traditional tendency, stemming from the “soft” nature of these operations and the closeness to psychological warfare, to associate them with the intelligence operations sphere. This is partly due to the fact that in the past these operations had to be based on focused intelligence; thus, the activity was directed to the covert intelligence field. However, in view of the fact that most of the operations take place in the overt realm and the skills needed involve activities in the public realm vis-à-vis various target audiences, it would be best for the IDF if those specializing in the field led these operations. Moreover, developments in recent years and the transfer of the operational arena to the overt realm necessitate building capabilities on a large scale, tapping all the operational capabilities of armies in general and of the IDF in particular for operating in the overt media.

The use of overt capabilities by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit enables direct discourse with many target audiences in enemy states on the social media, as well as with terrorist elements. This is effected using the various capabilities developed in recent years in the IDF, designed to create legitimacy in international target audiences, influence the enemy, and even maintain deterrence. The current development of technology in the social media, whether overt or covert, constitutes a strategic asset for Israel alongside traditional kinetic assets. There is considerable potential for activity in the overt sphere, including in the operational context, while in tandem maneuver and fire operations in the physical realm are intensified.

The cognitive battle consists of three efforts: preliminary (before the confrontation), concurrent (during), and following the confrontation and complements the principal campaign in the physical realm. The cognitive battle for the must be guided by an overall principle that incorporates all the relevant entities and authorities in the country, including the army, defense entities, and legal, financial, and diplomatic elements; it requires ongoing tasking of intelligence, both gathering and assessment. It is necessary to develop tools and capabilities for operating in the cognitive field, including responses to existing threats, ability to interdict evolving threats, and ultimately proactive attack capability to achieve objectives vis-à-vis various relevant target audiences. Therefore, IDF activity in the social networks used by the enemy bears considerable operational potential for Israel.

Dr. Col. (res) Gabi Siboni, former Commanded of Sayeret Golani and head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Gal Perl Finkel is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the INSS.

(The article was originally published  as an "INSS Insight" No. 1028, March 1, 2018)

Israel defines redlines for Iran in Lebanon | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Those who define redlines should be prepared to act when these lines are crossed

The escalated events over the weekend in the North exceeded several levels that has until now been the norm.

Firstly, it is a clear Iranian provocation. This is not a force that is supported and operated remotely by Iran, such as Hezbollah, but rather a clear and visible clash between Israeli and Iranian forces in which Iranian soldiers may have been killed. Second, the Israeli response is consistent with the doctrine recently presented by Minister Naftali Bennett, according to which Israel must act directly against Iran and not only against its proxies, including Hezbollah.

But the weekend of action does not stand in a vacuum, but rather joins a broader context of messages and moves, Israelis and Iranians alike, on the northern front.

Recently, Israel has been conducting an effort to deter Iran and the Hezbollah attempts to construct infrastructure for the manufacture of precision rockets in southern Lebanon. Indeed, missiles with heavy warheads and high accuracy are already in Hezbollah’s arsenal, in large numbers, and they also have significant range. But so far, the organization has been able to acquire them mainly through smuggling and arms shipments from Syria and Iran, and it seems there is a trend to cut out the middle man, or at least shorten the way.

As part of the effort, the IDF constantly presents high readiness for battle by exposing various exercises, including drills and publication of the acquisition of new weapons and capabilities. In addition, the IDF spokesperson, Brig.- Gen. Ronen Manelis, published an article in Arab media in which he warned the citizens of Lebanon that “Iran is playing with their security and future”. In the article, Manelis, a former intelligence officer, stated that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are turning Lebanon into “one large missile factory”. This is no longer an issue of transferring arms, money, or counsel, he said. Iran has de facto opened a new branch, “the Lebanon branch – Iran is here”.

Israel identified the Iranian effort to establish missile manufacturing infrastructure in Lebanon some time ago, and sent threatening messages to Hezbollah. In addition to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the time, during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to warn that Israel would not allow Iran to establish itself in Syria and would not accept the existence of precision missiles in Lebanon – and given the need will act to prevent it.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot also used his speech at a ceremony marking the 21st anniversary of the 1997 “Disaster of the Helicopters” to convey a message, saying that Hezbollah “violates UN Security Council resolutions, maintains a military presence in the region, possessing weapons systems and increasing its military capabilities. In the face of these threats, the IDF operates day and night”. Eisenkot also noted that he is confident of Israel’s military superiority, “the quality of commanders and soldiers and their ability to achieve victory in times of war and to inflict painful damage on the enemy”.

It is clear that Israel is making an effort to clarify for its enemies, as well as the international community, its redlines, in order to prevent and deter their crossing.

“We are following the processes of arms transfers in all sectors of the fighting”, former chief of staff Benny Gantz once said. “This is a very bad thing, which is very sensitive, and from time to time, when things are needed, things can happen”. If Israel’s message falls on deaf ears, one can cautiously assess that the need will arise and things may happen.

But a strike against the missile manufacturing facilities could be cause for severe Hezbollah response; the other side also has redlines. One of them is an attack on Lebanon and a violation of its sovereignty. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Israel, which radiates readiness and determination mainly for deterrence, will operate covertly.

Walking on the threshold of war by means of deterrence, and the possibility of miscalculation of one of the parties, or, alternatively, a too successful action which obligates the other side to respond harshly, requires Israel to be prepared for a confrontation. In a lecture given at the at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) last December, former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan said that in the next campaign Israel must take full advantage of the asymmetry between it and the hybrid terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and activate “the maximum of Israeli power at the same time on all enemy formations, everywhere, in the shortest time possible”.

The reality of confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon is well known to Golan. He did most of his service as a soldier and commander in the 35th Paratroopers Brigade. In 1987, he commanded the Paratroopers’ anti-tank company in “Operation Green Eyes” against Hezbollah headquarters in the village of Maydoun. At dawn, snipers from IAF special forces unit Shaldag opened fire on Hezbollah operatives, while at the same time the force led by Golan fired anti-tank missiles at Hezbollah positions and vehicles.

Later on he commanded the 890 Battalion and a regional brigade in Lebanon, and led the Nahal Brigade during “Operation Defensive Shield,” and before he served as deputy chief of staff he was the OC Northern Command. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006 he sent a letter to the chief of staff, Dan Halutz, in which he suggested launching a largescale ground operation. His proposal was declined.

Hezbollah has grown stronger and more experienced since 2006 and constitutes a grave threat to Israel’s home front. To remove the threat quickly, said general Golan in his lecture (just as he wrote in his letter to Halutz), “IDF ground forces must be used in a very decisive and very effective manner”. This rule, as well as the additional significance of a possible war in the north, should be taken into consideration by the government as it forms a policy against the emerging threat in Lebanon. Those who define redlines should be prepared to act when these lines are crossed.

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", February 12, 2018)

Alexander the Great Would Not Have Been Perplexed / by Gabi Siboni, Yuval Bazak & Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

When US Secretary of Defense General James Mattis was the commander of the 1st Marine Division, he remarked that if Alexander the Great found himself on a modern battlefield, he "would not be in the least bit perplexed," because in spite of the changes in the nature of warfare in modern times, the principles remain the same. In contrast, due to the weakening of military thinking in the IDF, which was unable to cope with the changes that occurred in the battlefield and failed to formulate an updated doctrine, solutions involving standoff fire were preferred over maneuvers. The last time that the IDF operated according to its traditional security concept and took the fighting to the enemy's territory was during Operation Defensive Shield and the series of incursions into the heart of Palestinian towns that followed. The question that needs to be asked today is, therefore, not whether maneuvers are still a central foundation of Israel's security concept, but rather which maneuvers the IDF needs in order to deal with the security challenges before it.

War is above all a human-social phenomenon, and as such its principles remain, and will apparently remain for the foreseeable future, faithful to the unchanging nature of human beings. Based on this understanding, former Marine Corps General James Mattis, currently US Secretary of Defense, emailed his officers when he was the commander of the 1st Marine Division, before the division left for operational duties in Iraq. In reply to those who claimed that the nature of war had fundamentally changed and the tactics were wholly new, Mattis said: "Not really. Alexander the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq".

Similarly, we can ask if in 1967 or 1973 Arik Sharon had faced the challenges of the Second Lebanon War with his battalion, would he have been perplexed? Or in other words, would the change in warfare have been as dramatic as the theorists of the post-modern school try to argue? Have there indeed been changes in the nature of warfare that make the experience to be gained from past wars superfluous and irrelevant, or are changes a case of another development, deriving from a specific context, and requiring the adaptation of old but solid principles to a reality that is different, sometimes extremely so, from the reality in which these principles were defined.

While human nature remains fixed and dictates universal principles, the changing environment demands adaptation of implementation, sometimes in far reaching ways. This is apparently the most significant challenge in the world of warfare – how to adapt fixed principles to changing circumstances.

One of the founding principles of the security concept of the State of Israel was the principle of taking the war to the enemy’s territory. This led to the establishment of the strike force and embrace of the maneuvers approach, which sought to seize the initiative and penetrate deep into enemy territory in order to subdue the enemy as quickly as possible. Over a few years, the IDF developed impressive maneuvering capabilities, which led to victories on the battlefield and undermined the enemies’ belief in their ability to realize their strategic goal – the conquest and destruction of the State of Israel.

Conservatives remain faithful to traditional templates that ultimately blow up in the first encounter with the new reality, while others create new templates that are not anchored in the universal principles. Both types are destined to fail.

Since the end of the 1970s, the enemies of Israel have adopted new approaches to achieve their goal of eliminating the Zionist project. At the same time, the IDF has changed its tactics to adjust to the emerging reality, which included an almost complete abandonment of the maneuvers approach that had characterized its spirit and action, as a new belief took shape that this approach was no longer suitable for the "new wars." Is this correct?

This paper contends that it is not a change in the nature of warfare that has led to the preference for standoff fire over maneuvers. Rather, it is the weakening of military thinking, which has not managed to deal with the changes in the nature of the battlefield and not shaped a new doctrine to confront the new challenges, based on the principles of the security concept. As a result, maneuver has been neglected, and emphasis has shifted to technology-based concepts of fire.

Doctrine as a Formative Element

War is a social phenomenon, and as such it mirrors features of the period, the spirit of the times, the perception of the threat, social mobilization, national resources, available technologies, and so on. Of course, war is also influenced by the balance of power between the enemies, knowledge of the other side, development of strategic and operational perceptions, and the processes of building forces. All these mean that no war is the same as any other.

That is also the reason why above all war is a deeply intellectual challenge. The element of surprise likewise plays a central role, because surprise undermines confidence in perceptions and causes embarrassment, confusion, disorientation, and eventually, defeat. That is what happened to the French facing the Germans at the start of World War II, that is what happened to the IDF at the start of the Yom Kippur War, when its perceptions regarding air superiority and defenses against attack were shattered before the eyes of military and civilian leaders; that was also the position of Arab countries facing the surprise of the Six Day War. The inability to function was not only due to physical failures, but above all, to the gap between expectations of how war would develop and the way in which it actually developed.

Since the 1980s, the IDF has not managed to develop a doctrinal response that is suited to the fundamentals of the security concept and simultaneously deals with the new challenges of the battlefield. Meanwhile, maneuvering has dwindled and been replaced by fire and intelligence capabilities based on technology. In an article dealing with the challenges of force buildup in the IDF, a senior commander argued that the attempt of the IDF, in response to changes in the nature of war, "to avoid fighting on land, ultimately led to longer and less effective wars. We continue to strengthen our ‘healthy leg’ – the ability to assemble and counter attack, and are amazed that we can’t get rid of the ‘limp’ coming from the leg dealing with overland maneuvers."

However, thinking based on ruses must be strengthened, along with the approach that direct contact and rapid and aggressive maneuvering into enemy territory is the key to a decisive victory on the battlefield.

In the Yom Kippur War, after 48 hours of confusion, the IDF ground forces managed to recover and regroup, on the basis of a clear doctrine, well trained troops, and an experienced command array. To be sure, the fact that both the Egyptians and the Syrians decided to halt their offensives contributed to the ability of the IDF to regain its composure, seize the initiative, and turn the situation around in spite of the difficult opening conditions and the surprise that undermined the confidence of the decision makers. Even though it is seared into our consciousness as a failure, the Yom Kippur War was actually an impressive military victory, the outcome of a security concept and doctrine that were shaped during the 1950s and refined by means of developing military thinking and drawing on vast amounts of accumulated experience.

In 2000, the IDF was fighting the Palestinians with no suitable doctrine and without the capability of dealing with the challenges created by the conflict. The result was that for a year and a half the Palestinians controlled events, while the IDF and the security system had no effective response. Determined political leadership and the initiatives of field commanders led the security establishment, including the IDF, to shift the existing perceptions of leverage and erosion, and to formulate an approach of decisive victory based on recapturing territory and taking the initiative. The IDF demonstrated that with the help of rapid maneuvers that it utilized in Operation Defensive Shield and the transfer of the fighting to enemy territory – fundamentals of the doctrine that developed during 1950s and 1960s – it was possible to overcome the Palestinians and create the conditions for defeating terror, even in conflicts with completely different features. These military moves provided the infrastructure for a dramatic improvement in the security of the Israeli population, and later for economic growth and the creation of conditions for political moves. In Judea and Samaria, the IDF returned to the idea of maneuvers within enemy territory, albeit maneuvers completely different from those of other wars, and it led to a huge achievement that has still not been replicated in any other arena of war in the world.

In the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, the IDF continued the concept of using standoff fire, mainly out of a sense that terror could be contained by the security fence. When Ben Gurion spent time in London during the blitz, he came to the conclusion that people are not broken by bombing; the attempt to prove otherwise always collapses in the face of reality. However, in Gaza this approach failed. While terror from Judea and Samaria, which constituted an acute strategic problem, was reduced dramatically, the threat from the direction of Gaza grew stronger. Nonetheless, this is the same war, with the same enemy, the same society, and the same international arena. The main difference between the two arenas lay in the decision to adopt the paradigm of decisive victory in Judea and Samaria while maintaining the paradigm of containment in Gaza. The results are clear to this day.

There are two traditional concepts for fighting an enemy that use guerilla and terror methods – counter warfare that includes accurate remote fire, and the direct contact approach, which seeks direct combat with the enemy on its territory. Using the counter warfare tactic ensures operational gains but has many limitations: first, the duration of technological advantage is limited, and the enemy will find ways to overcome it; second, counter warfare glorifies opposition, because the frequent use of smart weapon systems creates "a platform for glorifying the stone in the hand of a child against a helicopter, and the improvised explosive device against an airplane"; third, the collateral damage caused by counter action includes killing and injuring innocent civilians alongside the terrorists. Alternatively, the direct contact approach requires moving the fighting to the enemy’s territory, high speed movement and fire, and a high rate of incursions, while pursuing secret activity, utilizing surprise, and minimizing collateral damage.

The difference between these operational perceptions is also expressed in the commander’s dimension. In the counter warfare approach, commanders of operations are located in remote technology centers, while in the direct contact approach, the commander has "direct, unmediated contact with the ground forces in the operational space".

Over many years, beginning in the years when the IDF was present in the security zone, in a slow, ongoing process, the IDF began to abandon the fundamental elements of its doctrine. Ground maneuvers, which were the heart of the strike force, lost their centrality, and even more so, began to lose their defensive nature. It was only in 2006 that this trend was formally articulated in an official IDF document. The operational approach published that year by the General Staff stated that the nature of war had changed and it was necessary to adopt a new approach, centering on fire based on intelligence. Ground maneuvers were given only a secondary role in this perception. Keshet, the long term plan devised by General Staff divisions, reflected this approach and prompted a sharp cutback in the capabilities and battle order of the ground forces, including dismantling the regimental headquarters. The Second Lebanon War, which broke out a few months later, forced the IDF to reconsider this route. Indeed, every doctrine is the result of the military leader’s decision.

A doctrinaire approach is almost never the only choice; in most cases it is chosen by the military leader. It is certainly possible to imagine that under a different leadership, the wars between Israel and the Arab countries in the early years of the state would have been conducted differently. The decisive victory approach propounded by Ben Gurion was not the outcome of a factual situation that could lead to only one definitive outcome, but mainly the result of a leadership decision by Ben Gurion, who spent much time studying the security problems predicted for the State of Israel, and who understood that protracted wars, such as the War of Independence, with the heavy price it exacted from the newborn state, would work against the essential interests of the Zionist project.

Moreover, the War of Independence fought first by the pre-state Jewish settlement (yishuv) and later the state, had features that were entirely different from those around which Ben Gurion designed his security approach and the doctrine he later formulated. His understanding that the coming wars would be essentially different and that the IDF had to be built as a professional army with an offensive doctrine was at the core of the argument between him and the former Haganah fighters. In other words, the choice in the decisive victory approach adopted by Ben Gurion was not the necessary conclusion or the “natural” choice in view of the given factual situation at the end of the 1940s and start of the 1950s – far from it. Few at that time saw the whole picture as it took shape in Ben Gurion’s head. The dynamics of the security mechanisms pushed in quite different directions.

Military Thinking at the Heart of Warfare

War changes its face all the time. The winner is the first one to understand the singular features of future wars and acquire the ability to change in order to operate effectively in these conditions. The phenomenon of preparing for the wars of the past is familiar, and usually derives from conservatism and stagnant thinking. There are few military leaders who are able to look beyond the fog and decipher the signs of the future battlefield. The rarest among them are those who are prepared to use their weight to shatter paradigms that are no longer valid and replace them with a new foundation.

In its early days Israeli military thinking drew from three main sources. The first was British military thinking brought by veterans of the Jewish Brigade in World War II, whose approach to the military trade was based on professional methodology. The second was the extensive battle experience accumulated by Haganah commanders before and during the War of Independence. They emphasized the special spirit of its military arm, the Palmach, and tended to reject the idea of professionalization and establishment in the transition from yishuv to state. The third was the extensive universal experience acquired during the Second World War, for example, the idea of the blitzkrieg, which was translated into the Israeli strike force based, and not by chance, on an air force and mobile ground forces whose purpose was to take the fighting quickly deep into the enemy’s territory. In addition, the process of training senior commanders in overseas military colleges constituted an important factor in the development of Israeli thinking, and served as the basis for its professional and intellectual development.

Since the Six Day War, and even more so after the Yom Kippur War, Israeli thinking has undergone a transformation, moving more and more toward the American way of thinking – toward an approach based on technology. The American approach of erosion or exhaustion 14 was the complete opposite of the Israeli maneuvers approach that was dominant until the early 1980s. The idea that it was possible to erode the enemy’s capabilities based on technological advantages and superior power, thus leading to its defeat, is the typical American approach, but it was completely unsuitable for the IDF, because of the required patience, the element of international legitimacy that provides the necessary freedom of activity to implement this approach, and the ongoing threat to the civilian front. The attempts to develop a pattern of technology-based erosion, a pattern that the IDF began to adopt in the early 1990s, was destined to fail. The IDF attempt to retain this approach, which was from the start completely contrary to its proven security concept, is the core of the problem, and not the change in the battlefield.

The art of war is a slippery profession. It involves enormous danger as well as elements of honor, prestige, human life, and national interests. These are what have made outstanding military leaders into admired heroes and condemned the failures to eternal shame. Military leadership demands a deep understanding of the history of war, the lessons learned from battles, and the principles and rules derived from them. It also requires the ability to conceptualize, imagine, and create; the skill to analyze developments on the battlefield in order to prepare the troops for a future war whose features will be completely different from those of previous wars; and a deep understanding that the battlefield will continuously change and surprise those who are not properly prepared for it. Above all, supreme military leadership demands courage when preparing an army for battle and leading the troops when it occurs. Courage demands difficult decisions, the ability to adopt new approaches, and patterns of action, in order to adjust the army and its ways of thinking to future challenges.

Development in the IDF

Over the last two decades the conventional threat against Israel posed by the militaries of Arab countries has declined, but the sub-conventional threat from military organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terror organizations has increased. The risk of a wide ranging invasion of Israel has become almost anachronistic, but the threat from non-state military organizations, which have acquired considerable high trajectory weapon systems, has grown. This change requires Israel to develop the ability to deal with conventional – classic military – threats; sub-conventional threats from military organizations and terror groups; unconventional military threats – nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; and cyber threats – damage to computer systems and communications. Notwithstanding the change in the threats, there is a greater disconnect between the IDF General Staff and force buildup processes, which for the General Staff have turned into a collection of projects initiated by the respective branches. At the same time, the General Command HQ, which was always in charge of the ground forces, “handed over the reins” to the ground forces command and later to the ground forces.

These processes, along with hesitant operation of ground forces in conflicts fought by the IDF in the last thirty years, have created a sense among decision makers that the IDF ground forces are less relevant than the air force and intelligence to current and future battlefield challenges. While the IDF has invested more and more in these elements, the fitness of the ground forces for extensive maneuvers on the fighting front and deep in enemy territory has been weakened, and this includes the fitness of the reserve ground forces, which were once the backbone of IDF maneuvering.

In its early years, the IDF benefited from the intellectual input of veterans of the British army, who laid the groundwork for theories of warfare and training, and from an officer class with extensive battle experience in war, but over the years it has gradually lost this support that formed the core of its quality. As its knowledge of doctrine declined, the IDF turned more and more outwards, to industry, to find technology-based solutions, while neglecting to “develop its intellectual element.” As this aspect eroded, the IDF found itself without sufficient doctrinal knowledge on which it could base its response to the growing challenges. At the tactical level, IDF officers still received orderly training and accumulated some experience on the limited conflict battlefield, but it was clear that there were widening and deepening gaps in the higher levels of strategic and operative thinking that are mainly responsible for the development of concepts that shape IDF force buildup as well as the approaches to its utilization. The technological dominance that has gradually taken hold at the expense of doctrinal quality has led to a dramatic increase in investments in pinpoint fire and intelligence, alongside ongoing investment in ground maneuvers. The deficiencies of this perception were striking during the Second Lebanon War.

When Gadi Eisenkot was named Chief of Staff in 2015, this trend began to change, and considerable emphasis was placed on ground maneuvers as the IDF’s main tool to defeat the enemy. Although the divide between the General Staff and the ground forces staff was not yet bridged, in early 2017 the IDF decided that General Command HQ would formulate the ground maneuvers approach and thus direct the building of ground strength (which would be continued by the ground forces arm). This decision in fact returned the General Staff to the role of commander of the ground forces, which had been denied to it for many years. This is an important step toward a solution, but there is still a long way to go to the required amendment.

Conclusion

It is not any change in the nature of war that led to the neglect of ground maneuvers, nor changes in society, but doctrinal weakening that caused the growing reliance on technology, at the expense of the art of war. Since the 1980s, the IDF has tried time after time to operate according to the erosion approach while making use of leverage, an approach that is strikingly opposed to the security concept that sought to shorten wars by achieving a quick decisive result based on taking the fighting to enemy territory, and maneuvering quickly deep into this territory. Time after time the IDF ends its campaigns with a sense of a missed opportunity, and time after time it returns to the approach of strengthening intelligence and fire in order to improve its performance in the next round of fighting. From functioning as the decisive element, ground maneuvers have become something used hesitantly and in small doses, if at all, usually at a fairly late stage and for limited tasks. It is a vicious cycle: as the expectations of the maneuvering forces decrease, so does their fitness to perform, and perhaps more than anything, the spirit that characterized it – the spirit of galloping horses – is gradually evaporating.

The only time in the last 30 years that the IDF operated according to the security concept of the State of Israel and took the fighting into the territory of the Palestinian Authority was during Operation Defensive Shield, when the forces of the Central Command and "the lawn mower" that followed, in the form of a long series of incursions into Palestinian towns, managed to contain terror and create the conditions for achieving its strategic goals.

Thus it was not war that changed its character, but rather it was a decision, very likely an unconscious one, of the security establishment. The question therefore that has to be asked now is not whether maneuvers are still relevant as the foundation of Israel’s security concept, but what maneuvers are required by the IDF, and what is their ability to deal with the security challenges that Israel confronts.

The great military leaders understood people, what motivates them, what frightens them, what breaks them, and what makes them rise above themselves. These were and remain the foundations on which they waged war. The more the leaders can rise above the tactical level that is influenced by changes in the environment and technology, to the operative and strategic level that is mainly influenced by the awareness of human beings, the more the art of war becomes dominant. In this they can express genius, and the dominance of military leadership that knows how to turn deep understandings into winning patterns of warfare. Alexander the Great was a genius who fully understood the art of war.

Notwithstanding the time that has passed, the advanced technology, and the changes and upheavals that have occurred in the nature of campaigns since the days of Alexander the Great, ultimately the same principles that guided him, that obliged him to study war as a profession, to use stratagems, to recognize the importance of the territory, to know how to get the most out of it, and the need to have direct contact with the enemy remain as relevant as they were in his time. Indeed, it seems that if he faced the challenges of the present-day battlefield, equipped with ancient principles and his military genius, Alexander would need some time to study the unique features of the modern battlefield, but he would likely not be perplexed.

Dr. (Col. res.) Gabi Siboni is head of the Military and Strategic A!airs Program at
INSS. Col. (res.) Yuval Bazak is the commander of the IDF Concept Laboratory.
Gal Perl Finkel is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Afairs Program
at INSS. 

(The article was originally published as an "Strategic Assessment" , Volume 20, No. 3, October 2017. Please refer to the original publication for the End Notes) 

The IDF Exercises in Cyprus and Crete / by Gabi Siboni & Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The Israel Defense Forces recently completed a large military exercise on the island of Cyprus, and a smaller training exercise in Crete was held several months earlier. Although the commanders of the exercise did not refer to this specifically, the topographic outline of Cyprus is clearly similar to that of the Lebanese mountains, and in general, training in unfamiliar territory, and particularly when it resembles areas beyond the border where the troops may well have to operate, is highly important. The exercise presumably created tension with Turkey; in addition, the government heads of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece met earlier this month in Greece, in yet another trilateral meeting since the leaders of the three countries met in Nicosia a year ago to establish a new geopolitical bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean, partly as a counterweight to Turkey.

The Israel Defense Forces recently completed a military exercise on the island of Cyprus. The exercise involved some 500 soldiers from the Commando Brigade, including the Egoz Unit (which specializes in operating on rough terrain, fieldcraft, camouflage, and counter-guerrilla warfare); teams of dog handling soldiers; combat engineering soldiers; and another 200 air force personnel. Reports indicated that the exercise included flying the forces from Israel's Nevatim Air Base in C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, joining up with Black Hawk helicopters in Cyprus, and from there flying to an ongoing exercise in the Trodos Mountains. The soldiers practiced incursions, land and urban warfare, taking control of areas from which rockets are fired, and tunnel warfare. The reports also stated that IDF forces were joined in the exercise by 100 fighters from the special forces of the Cypriot National Guard.

For several years the IDF has carried out joint exercises with foreign armies in friendly countries, such as the Red Flag aerial training that takes place in the United States. Most of the participants and equipment used in these exercises are from the air and marine branches. In addition, the Israeli Air Force holds a series of joint training exercises with the Greek Air Force, which enable it to practice long range missions and capabilities when facing a system of Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, such as possessed by the Syrian and Iranian armies.

Ground forces were first involved in this activity about 6 months ago, when the Maglan Unit, also part of the Commando Brigade, carried out a smaller training exercise on the Greek island of Crete. Press reports of the training in Cyprus provide a glimpse of the development of IDF training methods and the advantages of training in neighboring countries, in both military terms and strengthened regional ties.

One IDF commander told the press that the advantage of training on foreign territory was its unfamiliarity to all the solders and commanders. The commander of the Egoz elite unit said, "We landed deep in enemy territory and received our mission on the plane on the way to the destination. We had a range of enemy scenarios and many different type of terrain for fighting." The Cypriot Air Force even deployed anti-aircraft systems to simulate a real threat to the IAF helicopters.

Although the commanders of the exercise did not refer to this specifically, the topographic outline of Cyprus is clearly similar to that of the Lebanese mountains. Training in unfamiliar territory, and particularly when it resembles areas beyond the border where the troops may well have to operate, is highly important. The training areas within Israel are very limited, which makes it very difficult to create an environment that meets the IDF needs for training ground fighting against Hezbollah in the north and Hamas and jihad organizations in the south. Landing by helicopter, maneuvering, navigating, and fighting in unfamiliar territory far from home create a significant challenge for the commanders and the troops, and an opportunity to develop campaign knowledge and fighting capabilities.

The decision to strengthen the commando element of the army reflects a further understanding. MK Ofer Shelah, a former Paratroopers company commander, describes the importance of incursions as a means of dealing with the current IDF threat references in his book, Dare to Win. In his view, "Building the IDF as an attacking, initiating force in the 1950s and the pattern of the IDF’s actions led over the years to the concept of the incursion. Contrary to automatic connotations, an incursion is not just a nighttime raid by a small force that returns home at dawn. Rather, it is the whole concept of operating the force in mobile actions of various sizes, in order to undermine the enemy and create a surprise, a sense of being chased and vulnerable, after which they go back over the border."

Although there were no public statements to this effect, the exercise presumably created tension with Turkey, which chose to hold a training exercise for the Turkish Navy south of Paphos. In spite of the reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey signed in 2016, and the return of ambassadors to Ankara and Tel Aviv, Turkey continues to maintain close ties with Hamas. Turkey houses a headquarters of the Hamas military wing, which in 2014 was the element that instructed Hamas activists to kidnap and murder three teenagers in Gush Etzion, which ultimately led to the war in the Gaza Strip (Operation Protective Edge). Although the reconciliation agreement requires Turkey to prevent any terrorist or military activity against Israel from its territory, including fundraising, Ankara has failed to comply fully with this clause. The senior figure in the military wing, Saleh al-Arouri, has left the country, but military activists continue to operate against Israel from Turkish territory. The Erdogan government has ignored Israeli protests about this.

Israel's cooperation with Cyprus is not limited to military activities. The countries have signed an agreement to provide assistance in emergencies. Indeed, Cyprus was the first to send firefighting planes to Israel during the Carmel fire disaster in 2010. In 2016, when a giant fire broke out in the town of Paphos, Israel in turn sent an aid delegation, including three firefighting planes and an IDF transport plane. The Israel Navy has also held a number of joint exercises with the Cypriot Navy. Ties between Israel and Greece grew stronger following the deterioration of relations with Turkey, and the process accelerated after the Marmara incident in 2010, which was perceived by the Greeks and the Cypriots as an expression of Turkish assertiveness. As a result, in 2011 the Greek government stopped about a dozen ships from leaving Greek ports for another protest flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

In 2016 there was a summit meeting in Nicosia between the leaders of Greece, Israel, and Cyprus with the aim of creating a new geopolitical bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean, partly also as a counterweight to Turkey. The third trilateral meeting between the government heads took place earlier this month in Greece. At the last meeting in Saloniki, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that if the countries succeeded in implementing the idea of the East-Med pipeline (an ambitious idea to build a gas pipeline with a length of 2,000 km reaching Italy and passing through Cyprus and Greece), it would be a "revolution."

The disclosure of the joint activity to the media likely lies in the desire by Israel – as well as Cyprus, and Greece – to send messages to countries and non-state organizations in the region at this time. The first message concerns the drive to exploit the potential of the gas reserves in the Mediterranean, which is a top priority for all the countries involved and is a source of tension between Greece and Cyprus on one hand, and Turkey on the other. In addition, the close ties between Turkey and Qatar and Hamas, the tension due to the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, and the belligerent rhetoric from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in recent months may all have prompted Israel to publicize the exercise. This exercise joins a series of sudden exercises conducted by Israel recently in both the north and the south, including with the Galilee Division and with reserves formations, designed to strengthen the forces' readiness for unexpected escalation.

From the military aspect, the exercise highlights the importance of more intensive training in unfamiliar territory, including for additional ground units, and even for integrated fighting involving infantry, armored corps, artillery, and engineering units. There is a process in the IDF for operational thinking and building the force with the aim of returning maneuvers on the ground to the center of attention as an important tool for reaching a decisive victory in the next round of hostilities. The special operations and training of the Commando Brigade could support the main effort in the campaign, but could not replace it. Therefore it is extremely important to extend and upgrade training for the IDF's main ground troops and develop models for joint training exercises for these forces overseas, in spite of their high cost relative to the cost of training in Israel. It is these forces that bear the main burden of the effort to maneuver, whose purpose is to strike the enemy, capture territory, limit fire from captured territories into Israeli rear territory, seize and destroy military infrastructures, and undermine the survival of the enemy government.

Dr. Col. (res) Gabi Siboni, former Commanded of Sayeret Golani and head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Gal Perl Finkel is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the INSS.

(The article was originally published  as an "INSS Insight" No. 945, June 28, 2017)