Capability and daring in the IDF | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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)

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)

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)