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. Virov, 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 Viroy, 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)

מודעות פרסומת

The IDF that Eisenkot leaves behind is ready; The test of Kochavi will be to prove it is capable | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

 Series of reports issued by the IDF Ombudsman, Gen. Brick, the IDF Comptroller and the Knesset's Subcommittee on Preparedness, found gaps in the IDF's readiness for war. Under Gen. Eisenkot the military is more prepared, but it’s prudent to listen to Brick too, before the storm comes

In 2002, the US military conducted its "Millennium Challenge" exercise. Considered the greatest exercise in modern military history, its goal was to test the readiness of the American military and develop new tactics and weapons against the outlines of confrontations that American forces would encounter.

The Blue team represented the American forces, while the Red team, the enemy, represented the army of a Middle Eastern state whose identity was not defined. The Red team was commanded by retired Gen. Paul Van Riper, a decorated Marine officer who chose to challenge the planners and exploited the weaknesses of the opposing force one by one. The force under his command launched many surface-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles against the Blue team’s Navy and sank 13 ships. In an original step, the communications of the Red team relied on emissaries mounted on motorcycles that conveyed messages from the main headquarters to its decentralized forces in a way that prevented the "Blue" force from monitoring it and anticipating its actions. This method proved that the basic assumptions on which the American military built its strength and prepared for present and future conflicts were problematic.

Due to the success of the Red team, the commanders of the exercise dictated new rules to Van Ripper that would restrain him and ensure the success of the Blue team. Looking back, it seems that the person who chose him as commander of the Red team simply did not know him. In 1969, as commander of a Marine Rifle Company in Vietnam, Van Ripper led an attack on a fortified objective held by a North Vietnamese battalion. At the end of the battle, the objective was captured, and the Marine Company he led killed 60 enemy soldiers. Van Ripper, who won the Silver Star for his courage, did not give up then, and over the years he seemed to remain as determined. He abandoned the exercise and criticized it in the media.

This story came to mind in the face of the harsh criticism voiced by the IDF Ombudsman, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, about the IDF’s readiness for the next confrontation. Brick, who fought bravely as a tank company commander in the Yom Kippur War, seems as determined now in the confrontation he initiated with the IDF as he was on the Sinai battlefields in 1973. In the past six months since he published his last report as a commissioner, Brick has been conducting a publicized confrontation with the IDF’s senior command. He claims that the IDF, with an emphasis on the ground forces, is not prepared for the next war. Among other things, he stated that the IDF failed to persuade good officers to remain in the army for long-term careers. In addition, he said that the organizational culture is wrong and includes increasing use of the WhatsApp app and as a tool for commanders to communicate with their subordinates ("In war, WhatsApp won’t work," he once said). Brick also found that there is a problem in implementing combat systems in reserve units, including the new command and control system, the Digital Land Army).

Since this is the "last ride" of the veteran commander, it is clear that he wants to give it meaning. Another explanation is that Brick was burned by the lessons of the difficult war that he experienced 45 years ago, and he intends to do everything possible to make sure Israel will "not be caught unprepared again."

The IDF, for its part, claims that during Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s tenure as chief of staff, the IDF has been training much more. Within the framework of the multi-year plan, the Gideon unit underwent a real reform in the ground forces (and in the reserve units) and the readiness of the units was defined as a high priority, even at the expense of strengthening and purchasing. Under Eisenkot (himself a former Golani infantry brigade commander), the infantry brigades switched to a better training model and there is a process to upgrade the capabilities of brigade combat teams to operate in a more coordinated and effective manner. In addition, the Commando Brigade was established, which upgraded the IDF’s ability to operate deep inside the enemy’s territory.

The IDF’s claim that it is prepared is justifiable, although it is always possible to be more prepared. In the last four years, the IDF has built three armies – the Border Defense Forces, the Reserve force and the Attack force – each with its designated components at different levels of competence. The question that should be asked is whether the processes that have taken place over the past four years have brought the army – the regular army and the reserves – to a level of sufficient and even optimal preparedness for the next confrontations.

The answer to this question must take into account many factors, including the fact that time, money and manpower are limited, that there are operational constraints with which the army is constantly dealing, and that the situation obliges the army to prioritize units, projects and even arenas. Given these and other parameters, the IDF is in a better state than it was before the summer of 2014. But with regard to the ground forces, much improvement is needed. Following the ombudsman review, the IDF comptroller and the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Preparedness have produced reports that found gaps in the IDF’s readiness, yet nevertheless stated that the IDF is ready for the next war. However, despite the fact that Brick sounded like a prophet of rage, it’s prudent to listen to him too, before the storm comes.

It can be said that Eisenkot dealt with building strength and readiness, and that his successor, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, will have to instill in the commanders the sense of capability. The belief is that they can act and overcome, even when dealing with ground maneuvers deep into enemy territory, many kilometers from the border. This is not a unique problem for the IDF; the US military is facing it as well. Former secretary of defense James Mattis and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Danford, both Marine generals, have also done much in the field of force buildup. The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (if authorized by the Senate), Gen. Mark Milley, a paratrooper and Special Forces officer, will face the same challenge as the Israeli chief of staff.

Almost two decades ago, Kochavi, the 35th paratroopers brigade commander, stood out among a small group of determined field commanders who, during the Second Intifada, broadcast to the senior political and military echelon that they are ready for any challenge – including fighting in Palestinian refugee camps and crowded urban areas. Kochavi’s challenge is to raise a generation of field commanders like the one he was part of.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", January 1, 2019)

It’s the man (or woman) who makes the job | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Last week Defense Minister Lieberman resigned from his post The only mark he left was the appointment of the next IDF chief of staff, Gen. Kochavi. But if he wants a Defense Minister with civilian background can shape the military

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s decision to resign just a few days after a short round of escalation with Hamas that ended poorly for Israel was defined by "Maariv" reporter Tal Lev-Ram as "At the very least, irresponsibility and political cynicism for its own sake; there is no greater reward than that for Hamas."

Liberman’s entry into the position stemmed from the dispute that arose between minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a seemingly minor issue, the Hebron shooting incident and the military court-martial of Elor Azaria, the soldier who carried out the shooting. Ya’alon chose to back the IDF commanders and later resigned.

The outgoing minister, Ya’alon, was discharged as a sergeant in the Paratroopers brigade and reenlisted in 1973, after the war. In 1988, he led Sayeret Matkal’s assassination raid on Arafat’s deputy, Abu Jihad, in Tunis. Later he served as the IDF chief of staff during the Second Intifada and as defense minister in Operation Protective Edge.

The incoming minister, on the other hand, served in the IDF as an NCO in the territorial defense in Hebron and in reserve in an artillery unit. Although he did not command a division, He came with a very good introduction to the system and the security issues at hand. Among other things, he served as foreign minister and member of the cabinet during the campaign in the summer of 2014, and as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The Israeli public prefers defense ministers with an extensive military background, but there were already a few very good defenses ministers (most prominent among them was David Ben-Gurion) who did not stand out as soldiers yet managed to influence the army and the state. Most defense ministers focused on their role as the sovereign of the territories and on appointing the next chief of staff, taking advantage of extending his term for another year as a whip to keep him in line. But some did more. Moshe Arens, for example, an aeronautical engineer, came to the post with a distinctly civilian approach, which dealt well with military thinking. Arens used the chief of staff’s appointment as means to force the IDF to form the Ground Forces Command.

When it came to appoint the next IDF’s chief of staff, Liberman run a thorough process and chose a worthy candidate, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who led the 35th Paratroopers Brigade during the Second Intifada and served as the head of Military Intelligence directorate. On the issue of force buildup, Liberman stressed the importance of the ground forces but did not give it practical expression. He did initiate a large-scale acquisition of rockets that would provide the IDF with a rapid, destructive and accurate operational response as an alternative to the Air Force. The IDF, for its part, did not like the idea because it contradicts the General Staff approach, that only way to shorten the duration of the next war, certainly in view of the serious threat to the home front, is by rapid ground maneuvers.

Alongside Prime Minister Netanyahu and IDF’s chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot, Liberman took part in shaping Israel’s offensive policy on the northern front, a long series of covert air strikes and special operations mainly in Syria, against Iranian targets. On the southern front, things were different. Liberman was a partner in the containment policy and attempts to reach a ceasefire with Hamas, when he suddenly turned and demanded a more aggressive policy. The prime minister thought otherwise, and considering that a military campaign could bring Israel to the same point as it now, that would be a fair assessment.

That concept held until the last round of escalation with Hamas. The organization implemented a strategy of walking on the threshold. The operation of the IDF special forces in the heart of Gaza, in which seven Hamas operatives were killed, including a battalion commander, shortly after a ceasefire was reached, forced Hamas to respond, but though his operatives fired around 500 rockets toward Israel, there was no intention to “break the rules.” Liberman, for his part, felt that in order to preserve some degree of credibility among his voters, he must resign. But it would have been better to wait two weeks, if only to negate a Hamas achievement.

Since Hamas controlled the nature, time and place for the confrontation, the IDF found it difficult to hit quality targets and senior leaders and commanders, who preceded and went underground. In an article he published about the Second Lebanon War, Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland claimed that alongside the possibility of limited air or ground retaliation, the government could have chosen a third option, to go to war. His example was the decision to launch the first Lebanon war.

Eiland, a paratrooper officer who served as the head of Operations Directorate, wrote, "The government made a strategic decision removed from the tactical level. At the tactical level, the government decided not to put its decision into practice right away but to wait for the right opportunity. In the meantime, for an entire year, from the summer of 1981 until the summer of 1982, the army prepared and trained rigorously for battle." This is a model that is best to adopt. The IDF has already embarked, at least twice, on large-scale operations in the Gaza Strip while relying on the element of surprise in order to ensure a successful strike against high-value targets. Israel must not make do with a bad result, like the one in which the last round ended. In order to preserve deterrence on the southern front as well as in other arenas, Israel must initiate, at its right time, a ground and air operation in the Gaza Strip, which will eventually lead to an arrangement with Hamas.

Liberman’s tenure in the ministry can be summed up as someone who has just passed through. The only influential move he made was the choice of the next chief of staff, Kochavi, which is important. At the end of the day, the system is the people in it, and the identity of the army commander has a significant impact on it. Unlike a defense minister who has a long military career and is always portrayed as the "responsible adult", a defense minister who comes from a civilian background must build his image during his term in office. He can influence the IDF, as Arens and Ben-Gurion did, or he can make do with appointing the chief of staff.

It’s the man (or woman) who makes the job.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", November 19, 2018)

Changing the rules in the Gaza Strip comes with a cost | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

When it comes to the use of force in the Gaza Strip there are no good alternatives. Almost all of them range from bad to worse

In light of the difficulties in reaching an agreement and a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, Hamas – which is in dire straits as Gaza approaches the status of humanitarian disaster – is signaling that it intends to reheat the sector in order to remind everyone that in the absence of a solution, the only option is war. Hamas chooses the place and the time it operates and escalates. The IDF’s Gaza Division is now required to deal with the continuing use of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel, and with the fact that the Friday demonstrations have moved mainly to the evening and night hours.

Hamas identified the IDF’s relative weakness in using effective means to disperse demonstrations during these hours, including the use of precision fire and snipers at night. At the same time, the terrorist organization operates raiding units that harass IDF soldiers securing the fence, by attempting to infiltrate into Israel, throwing explosive devices, shooting and sabotaging the fence itself. That leads to an increase in the number of casualties on the Palestinian side and to a feeling that the escalation is near.

Last Friday on KAN 11 TV, commentator Amir Bar-Shalom reported that the IDF is considering a limited and minor ground operation in the Gaza Strip in order to signal to Hamas that Israel is ready for a confrontation. The task, if decided, will naturally be imposed on the Gaza Division led by Brig.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, a paratrooper who did most of his service in the Nahal Brigade.

This is not a new idea. The IDF carried out dozens of limited ground operations over the years on all the fronts on which he operated. This method of raids was also practiced in the period before and after the disengagement. The commanders of the Gaza Division, Aviv Kochavi, followed by Moshe "Chico" Tamir, led a series of raids and operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

In January 2005, Kochavi, who acquired considerable experience when he led the 35th Paratroopers Brigade during the Second Intifada, commanded the "Oriental Step" operation, which was carried out by the Shimshon Battalion in response to the attack at the Karni Terminal. The force penetrated the heart of the Zeitun neighborhood, about which battalion commander Udi Ben Moha said, "It was a terrible blow to the terrorist organizations." During the operation, the battalion killed about 20 terrorists and destroyed weapons and infrastructure used by them.

Brig.-Gen. Moshe Tamir, who replaced the stars in August 2006, went even further, tasked some of those raids to reserve forces. In a way that is happening less and less often today. The raids of that time had clear operational logic. "Our activity prevents the terrorists from dealing with terror attacks on the other side of the fence and they are forced to concentrate on defense," said Tamir, who was an expert on such operations in his service in the Golani infantry brigade and in Lebanon.

The chief of staff at the time, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who served in the same units and places as Tamir, thought in the same way. In the last article he wrote in 2007 in "Haaretz" just before he died, veteran military commentator Ze’ev Schiff wrote that in response to Palestinian terrorists firing Kassam rockets from the Strip into Israel, "Ashkenazi has instructed Southern Command to prepare to mount incursions all across the Strip. These are not aimed at laying ambushes, but constitute broader penetrations."  Although the forces who took part in these operations claimed that the level of soldiering demonstrated by Hamas operatives was higher than they expected, the risk was relatively low. Low but not nil. It is better to remember that such steps don’t come cheap. In one of these night raids in November 2007, during a skirmish with a Hamas squad that fired mortar shells at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, a soldier in the reserve paratroopers battalion, Sgt. Ehud Efrati, was killed.

The force recovered, killing one of the terrorists and wounding the other, who escaped. "We left 41 people and returned 40," said an officer in Efrati’s company, and briefly described the entire cost.

But Hamas of that time, as Tamir described it in a lecture in 2011, was an "immature, unprepared, disorganized" enemy. Today Hamas is well-prepared in Gaza, and it is hard to believe that there is there is a sector, certainly in the built-up areas, in which a raiding force will not encounter heavy resistance from a fortified and entrenched enemy. The organization operates above and below ground, using tunnel warfare in large scales.

Moreover, in those years, Hamas did not have rockets with a broader range than the surrounding settlements. Already by the time of Operation "Protective Edge" in 2014, rockets were fired at Ben-Gurion Airport and at Tel Aviv. So the consequences of such overt incursions may be a major escalation of the situation, which will affect the entire country and require the use of significant force.

When it comes to the use of force in the Gaza Strip there are no good alternatives. Almost all of them range from bad to worse. The choice of the method of targeted killings, for example, allows the IDF to operate mainly from the air, from afar, without endangering its personnel, and the achievement of killing a high-level terrorist may be positive. However, over time, new leaders have emerged, and more often than not they are more sophisticated and determined than their predecessors, as Israel learned after IAF attack helicopters killed Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi in 1992.

The use of standoff firepower, including deterrent fire by aircraft, snipers and artillery, or firing at buildings and launching rockets squads, has clear advantages and disadvantages. There is no risk to the IDF, but the enemy adapts, is less deterred, and there is a considerable risk of harming civilians. The use of standoff firepower, Tamir said at his lecture, is sometimes convenient for decision-makers because it allows the confrontation to remain "on a low flame."

But one has to know, he said, "when to change the rules of the game." On the other hand, there is a price to pay when one is changing the rules, and, above all, responsibility.

Anyone who thinks that an incursion into Gaza territory will deter Hamas and restrain it must take into account that though the IDF will harm many Hamas operatives and some civilians (since Hamas exploits the civilian population for its defense), a large number of casualties on the Palestinian side is a catalyst for continued escalation – not to mention the risk to Israeli soldiers during the fighting.

It is the responsibility of the government to ensure the security of its citizens who reside within the Gaza envelope. In view of the impasse that political negotiations have recently encountered – not because of Israel’s fault – it is good that there is real thinking about the use of force. At the IDF General Staff, where Maj.-Gen. Kochavi is today deputy to Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot (another ex-Golani Brigade officer, like Tamir and Ashkenazi), the implications of the use of force are clear, and therefore the recommendation to avoid them as long as possible.

It would be better for the government to understand the full implications of a decision on a limited and short-term ground raid, as well as other alternatives. There were already governments in Israel that approved an operation and found themselves at war. Such a raid, though it represents a resolute and determined policy, just as ministers Bennett and Liberman want to be seen, could lead to things which Israel has no interest in achieving, including another war in Gaza.

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", October 13, 2018)

Don't 'poke the bear' in Syria | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

In Syria, the Russians maintain the principle of reasonable employment

About two weeks ago, Israel Air Force planes attacked a number of targets in Latakia, the Syrian port city. In the course of the attack, the Syrian air-defense system fired a number of anti-aircraft missiles, one of which hit and knocked down a Russian intelligence plane and killed 15 crew members. The Russians quickly blamed Israel for the incident, as there was a security coordination mechanism between the two countries. The tension with Russia has forced official Israel to publicly address the issue it maintains in the space of ambiguity – the campaign between wars.

Senior officials in the political echelon, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, have been talking to their counterparts in Russia in an attempt to explain what happened, and the IDF has even uncovered an IAF investigation into the operation. According to the findings of the investigation, the plane was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, and at that time the IAF planes were in Israeli territory.

The Russians are trying to "milk" the incident as much as they can in order to establish new ground rules in the North. Their decision to provide S-300 air-defense systems to Syria is just an example of their ability to do so. Nevertheless, it appears that Israel has adopted a policy similar to that of the government headed by Shimon Peres, who announced after an incident during Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996, in which the IDF fired artillery at the UN facility in Qana village, Lebanon, that the IDF fired in order to extract an Israeli Special Forces team from the Maglan unit, under Naftali Bennett’s command, and accidentally hit the facility, killing about 100 Lebanese civilians. Peres said at the time, "We are very sorry, but we are not apologizing."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close ties with President Vladimir Putin, as well as other senior Israeli officials with their Russian counterparts, are important, but countries are not formulating policies based on good relations but on the basis of interests. Israel has its own interests in the northern sector, including preventing Iran from establishing itself in Syria and preventing the arrival of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, which often clash with Russian interests. Russia has so far shown great understanding of Israel’s needs, which was expressed almost openly on May 10 of this year after Netanyahu returned from a parade in Moscow’s Red Square to commemorate the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

Netanyahu’s former military secretary, Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano, said in his farewell address to the prime minister that when they returned to Israel, the IDF repulsed a rocket attack fired by the Iranians on its forces in the Golan Heights, and then launched a "seven-fold strike." This retaliatory operation, Operation House of Cards, during which Israel Air Force planes attacked more than 50 Syrian targets belonging to and used by the Iranian Quds Force, was defined by Toledano, a non-sentimental paratroopers officer, as one of the two most exciting events in which he took part as the prime minister’s military secretary. On the other event, he said then, he is still not allowed to tell. 

In Syria, the Russians maintain the principle of "reasonable employment," which means deploying and operating a minimum of military force so as to facilitate the promotion of strategic goals and interests. They have no intention of investing more resources than they already have. Israel, which enjoys the advantage of domesticity, can certainly draw its red lines so that they take them seriously into account and allow it the freedom of action to protect them. 

Zvi Magen, Israel’s former ambassador to Russia and currently a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, told "Israel Hayom" that at the end of the day, "The Russians know that Israel can cause them big troubles in Syria, and the last thing they need is confrontation with us. These are just some of the reasons why I believe the changes will be minor."

Although the incident demonstrated the potential volatility and complexity of the northern front, Israel’s freedom of action in the North is likely to continue. However, there are some insights from the event.

The first, it is obvious, is that when one operates on such a large scale of attacks as Israel does in Syria, even when it tries to implement a "zero-fault" policy, failures occur. Second, it is also obvious that it is best for Israel to exercise extreme caution and avoid "poking the bear," as the saying goes, especially when it comes to the Russian bear, and not to stretch the rope unnecessarily.

The campaign between wars as became a central pillar during the tenure of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. Last month the IDF revealed that in the past year-and-a-half, Israel has conducted about 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria. But even though the concept was established and anchored in the days of the current chief of staff and his predecessor, Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel implemented it in the past, even if not at such broad scales. Brig.-Gen. (res.) Emanuel (Mano) Shaked, former head of the Paratroopers and Infantry Corps of the IDF in the early 1970s, who died last month, was responsible for what can be described as a beta version of the campaign between wars concept.

The most famous operation he commanded was Operation Spring of Youth, against terrorist targets in Beirut in April 1973. Years later Shaked, who served in the Palmah and commanded a battalion in the paratroopers, described how during the preparations for the raid in Beirut, chief of staff David Elazar visited the paratroopers force under the command of Lt.-Col. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak (later the chief of staff), who was tasked with destroying the PFLP headquarters and asked if there were gaps and problems.

One of the officers, Lt. Avida Shor, said there is "a house adjacent to the house we need to demolish, where there are civilians," and was worried they might get hurt. Shor suggested reducing the amount of explosives to reduce the risk to the civilian population. Gen. Elazar left the decision to Shaked, the commander of the operation, who decided in accordance with Shor’s proposal.

In the raid, Lipkin-Shahak’s force got into trouble. A small party led by Shor opened fire and killed the sentries at the front of the PFLP headquarters, but immediately afterwards they were fired from behind. Terrorists in a car with a machine gun, which the force did not know existed, hit them, killed Shor and another soldier and wounded a third one. Lipkin-Shahak, who maintained his composure, decided to continue with the mission, and later said that immediately after the force was exposed, "There was an exchange of fire and throwing grenades from the high floors of the building, so we shot at the building and took over its bottom, and the fire stopped."

The force evacuated the wounded and killed, prepared the headquarters for an explosion and retreated under fire. The building was destroyed and dozens of terrorists were killed. No damage was caused to the adjacent building. Even then, the Russians did not show much sympathy for Israeli policy, and in the "Pravda" newspaper the raiding forces were also described as "gangsters." But condemnations are one thing and freedom of action is another. That rule applies now as well.

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", October 06, 2018)

Between fire and maneuver, or a combination of the two | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The damage to the enemy’s military power is achieved on land by ground forces

While Israel has invested considerably in air power and maintains its relative advantage in this field – beginning with Operation Moked in the Six Day War and more intensively in the last three decades – its enemies chose a cheap and foolish solution, but one that reduces the gap.

The first to understand this was Syrian President Hafez Assad. It was a lesson from the first Lebanon war, during which the Israel Air Force destroyed about a third of the Syrian Air Force and severely damaged its anti-aircraft forces. The Syrian president reduced and cut down the air force, which he himself commanded years earlier, and invested in acquiring a large-scale arsenal of rockets that pose a real threat to Israel’s population centers.

In the years preceding the civil war in Syria, Assad succeeded in creating a balance of deterrence against Israel. It was clear that Syria would attack Tel Aviv with precision rockets and heavy warheads, while Israel would send its planes to attack the Syrian capital. Assad received the proof that he was right during the Iraqi missile attack in the Gulf War. Israel was more or less helpless in the face of a threat on its population centers.

Hezbollah and Hamas, each according to its capabilities, also adopted the method and also have obtained an arsenal of rockets aimed directly at Israeli population centers. Also important are the Iranians, who are working to establish a similar arsenal that will threaten Israel from Syria.

In a lecture at the INSS annual conference in January 2014, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate at the time and now the leading candidate for the post of chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said the IDF defined the period as an "era of fire." He emphasized, "There are many more missiles and rockets aimed from deep enemy territory to deep into Israel’s territory. They are much more distributed. They are much more accurate. They are much more lethal. We are talking about around 170,000 rockets and missiles that threaten the State of Israel."

Part of this change can be seen in the decision of the IDF to acquire a variety of rockets of varying ranges, from 30 km. to 150 km. Over the past two decades, the Artillery Corps has become increasingly sophisticated and technologically advanced. Media reports indicate that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to establish a kind of "rocket corps."

An Israeli response to the rocket arsenal that its enemies have established will provide the IDF with a rapid, destructive and precise operational response, which is economical in relation to its air response, and eliminates the need to endanger pilots in missions above enemy territory. In future confrontations, air force pilots will be unable to operate almost freely over enemy territory. It seems that the minister wants it to be that in such a case the IDF will not remain without a real alternative.

Under Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF has invested considerable resources in improving the capabilities of its ground forces and reserves. However there is another cost for such a significant investment in standoff firepower capabilities (Israel already invests huge sums in the IAF and in tightening the connection between current intelligence and precision munitions). Every investment in a particular field comes at the expense of non-investment in another field. When one buys an airplane, he sometimes gives up buying a tank, and when one buy planes and rocket launchers, he might harm the level of readiness of ground forces.

Thus, the IDF may find itself in a future campaign in a situation in which it relies almost exclusively on its capabilities in standoff firepower from the air, sea and land. The next campaign may be a standoff-firepower confrontation between the IDF and the enemy. Such wars, as demonstrated by the German blitz on London and the thousands of bombing raids carried out by the Allies over German cities during World War II, did not shorten the war or make real achievements. The British did not surrender, they only became more determined, as did the Germans.

At a recent conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, former deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, noted that there is a deep conceptual gap regarding the use of military force in recent confrontations, which led to the public’s disappointment with the way it ended, without a clear Israeli victory. Golan stated, "Anyone who has ever dealt in this field of warfare can understand that this belief that wars can be won only with the help of accurate intelligence and precise fire is a problematic assumption. In fact, I would say, it reduces the art of war to the level of technicians. And since the techs never won wars, it is reasonable to assume that they will never win wars."

Golan, who is also a candidate to become the next chief of staff, said the IDF should be built so that when Israel chooses, "We will hit our enemies with a hard and decisive blow. And when I say hitting our enemies, it’s hitting their fighting ability."

In his view, the assumption that harming infrastructure and the civilian population can bring the enemy to despair is wrong. "If we want relatively short wars, and if we want to bring the enemy to surrender, or to ask for a cessation of hostilities, we must first and foremost hit his military strength and his fighting ability," he said.

The meaning is an attack on the enemy’s operatives, whether they are soldiers or terrorists. The only way to do this, certainly in view of the serious threat to the home front, is through the old Ben-Gurion approach of transferring the war to enemy territory, and for this, the IDF must maneuver, and quickly.

The operation of ground forces is an expensive move, which includes the risk of casualties. In his lecture in 2014, Maj.-Gen. Kochavi – who, like Golan did his service in the Paratroopers Brigade and fought in Lebanon, Judea and Samaria – said that the maneuver “is not going to be simpler." According to him, in almost every village in Lebanon, forces will operate mainly in urban areas where there are "dozens of rockets, launchers and bombs – all modern weapons, not improvisations.

Therefore, it is already a semi-military organization, not a terrorist organization in the classic sense of the term. And, he said, "Maneuvering in this space becomes much more challenging."

Nevertheless, Kochavi said that Israel has "a basic interest in shortening the duration of the war." This has never been achieved by standoff firepower. Significant firepower must support IDF land forces. But in the end, as Israeli governments have learned in all the confrontations, from "Defensive Shield" to ,Protective Edge," the damage to the enemy’s military power is achieved on land by ground forces.

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", September 06, 2018)

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)