An IDF Multi-Year Plan for the Ground Forces | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

As part of the economic crisis facing Israel, the IDF too is expected to face budget cuts. When the army is forced to make budgetary changes, it must remember: there is no substitute for the capabilities of ground forces, and failure to maintain them could have a very costly outcome

  • originally published  as an "INSS Insight" No. 1344, July 12, 2020

In a recent speech, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said that even during the coronavirus crisis, "the IDF continued to prevent and uproot threats", and to provide Israel with security and stability. This activity, he stated, is likely to be taken for granted, because of the "defense paradox: when there is security tranquility and stability, people are inclined to forget how difficult it is to achieve them", and they make the mistake of thinking that spending on defense needs can be reduced. The Chief of Staff warned that many countries, including Israel, have committed this error and subsequently paid a heavy price. His remarks were apparently in response to the economic recession in light of the coronavirus crisis. In view of the economic and budgetary distress, it is likely that all government ministries, including the Ministry of Defense, will be asked to accept smaller budgets. However, a smaller defense budget is liable to impact negatively on the army's capability, and particularly the ability of the ground forces, to provide effective security in peacetime and in an emergency, especially in war.

What sort of campaign is the most important? Is it the ongoing campaign between wars, which in part is designed to prevent war, or is war itself the principal campaign? Is the IDF's primary task to continue its force buildup and improve readiness in preparation for full-scale war? In today’s region, the opposing sides will usually prefer to stay below the threshold of full-scale war. On the other hand, there are situations that feature a chain of successive responses by the two sides with unforeseen consequences that are likely to culminate in escalation or even war. The IDF must therefore maintain its readiness for both the campaign between wars and for all-out war. 

Before the Second Lebanon War, for example, the ground forces’ fitness was severely affected by the 2003 budget cut. However, the theory was that the ongoing intensive operations against Palestinian terrorism would preserve the army's operational readiness. This misconception ignored the fact that fighting terrorism is different from what is likely to occur in a campaign like the one in Lebanon. Indeed, the "less than satisfactory" way, as a senior IDF officer put it, that that ground forces operated in the Second Lebanon War demonstrated that neglecting their fitness was a costly decision. The conclusion is that training the ground army for the purpose of maintaining battle fitness for an emergency requires the continuous investment of resources. This conclusion is also supported by the lessons of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in 2014, which highlighted the same dilemma, although in a less severe way. The fact that almost the entire regular army taking part in maneuvers fought in this operation was also due to the unfitness of the reserve forces, which did not undergo the necessary training and required a long time to make them combat ready.

There were good explanations for the cuts in both of these cases. The second intifada and the economic crisis on the one hand, and the 2011 social protests on the other, resulted in a decision to cut the defense budget. The IDF, most of whose budget is inflexible and tied to payment of salaries and pensions, regular maintenance, procurement, and force buildup projects, makes cuts where it can, usually in training, based on how it assesses the risk of war.

While the value ascribed to the ground maneuver, which requires a major logistics endeavor and almost always includes casualties, faded, the importance of firepower (mostly precision, but not exclusively) rose. The reasons are obvious: airpower, for example, is available for immediate and defined action on the other side of the border, and its use falls below the war threshold. Airpower makes full use of Israel's technological and military supremacy, and utilizes precision-guided weaponry, which reduces the risk to IDF forces and uninvolved civilians.

The IDF currently possesses very effective firepower and intelligence capabilities for combined operations, and the air force is capable of attacking thousands of targets a day. These capabilities were highly impressive against the threat posed by Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2014. Then too, however, precision firepower, boosted by timely and accurate intelligence, was not enough. The enemy became accustomed to it and learned to evade it, while continuing to launch missiles and rockets at the Israeli home front. The ground maneuver and firepower did not stop the barrages against the Israeli home front, but they did disrupt and lessen them. The combination of the two is capable of bringing the campaign to a close and leading to a situation in which Israel will be able to force its terms on its enemies – a state of affairs that Israel will seek to maintain for as long as possible.

The use of firepower is essential. It injures and disrupts the enemy's operational capabilities, deprives it of strategic assets, inflicts severe and destructive damage, deters it from another campaign for years, and forces it to invest its resources in repairing the damage. On the other hand, Israel cannot afford the luxury of prolonged campaigns because of the threat to its home front posed by the enemy. Although the fighting should not be halted before Israel's firepower is used in the attacks, Israel should aim at shortening the campaign's duration as much as possible. One of the tools available to the IDF to shorten the campaign is the ground maneuver, because it poses a concrete threat to the enemy's survival and ability to function, and is likely to cause it to terminate the campaign.

What this means is that the army needs supplementary land capability, including regular and reserve forces that can be called up and used as a spearhead in a lightning land campaign that will disable and damage the military power of Hezbollah and Hamas. A ground force composed of combined combat teams smaller in size than those of the IDF's past traditional and awkward structure is needed. The old structure relied mainly on divisions as combat teams. What is needed are brigade-size forces able to move rapidly from theater to theater and conduct raids with speed, flexibility, and tight inter-branch coordination, integrating elements of firepower and intelligence, while initiating direct contact with enemy operatives and conducting effective attacks against them. These forces, which will be based on the ability to process intelligence rapidly, will be able to track down an elusive enemy that makes every effort to avoid direct contact with the army by staying protected in tunnels and bunkers.

The IDF’s most recent successful land campaigns were in Operation Defensive Shield, when Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi commanded the Paratroopers Brigade, and Operation Cast Lead, when he was head of the Operations Division of the Operations Directorate. It appears that this experience taught him that a land campaign should aim to destroy the enemy's assets and military power. In his view, "If all you did was reach a certain line without destroying the rockets, anti-tank missiles, and headquarters on the way, the enemy entrenched in the urban area will continue operating as if the land operation or counterattack had no effect on it".

Even in a campaign initiated by the IDF with powerful and impressive firepower, targets lower their signature within a short time, and the enemy vanishes from the battlefield. In order to track down the enemy, attack it, and bring it to the surface, so that it can be hit with a barrage of firepower, ground maneuver and direct contact with the enemy's strongholds and hiding places are necessary.

The IDF must now undergo force buildup processes that address a range of scenarios – some of which are already evident – including annexation in the West Bank, a second wave of the coronavirus, an economic recession accompanied by a deep cut in the defense budget, and, as always, the possibility of an outbreak of unrest in the West Bank or a conflict in the Gaza Strip and the northern theater (and possibly both). The multi-year plan will have to create optimal readiness in the army for the various scenarios, while setting in motion force buildup processes for the future and cutting some portions of the budget. Therefore, it would be a mistake to devote most of the investment to intelligence and firepower capabilities, at the cost of preparedness and buildup of ground forces.

The previous multi-year plan, "Gideon", which was carried out during the term of former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, emphasized preparedness of the ground forces, "our Achilles’ heel", as described by Major General Aharon Haliva. During Eisenkot's term, training of ground forces increased; substantive reform was conducted in the ground forces arm, in which tens of thousands of unneeded soldiers were discharged from reserve duty; and a distinction was made in the fitness of units, with priority being given to the combat brigades, even at the expense of force buildup and procurement. In addition, the IDF's ability to operate deep in enemy territory was upgraded through the establishment of a commando brigade. The political deadlock of the past year, however, which prevented the creation of a regular budget framework and caused a cut in training (exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis), means that the Achilles’ heel is still a weak point.

By nature, armies are conservative organizations. The fear that the army will have to engage in combat before the change is complete means that the processes of change will be relatively slow, but these must be persistent. Another variable is the inherent tension in force buildup processes between the desire to improve weak points and the desire to strengthen the IDF's relative advantage. The difficulty in strengthening the ground forces stems from the size of this arm in manpower, combat platforms, and equipment. The cost of consolidating a quality effect is larger and more substantial that that required for procuring precision weapons. The result is that the army will usually choose to strengthen its qualitative advantage. On the other hand, the fact that the regular and reserve land army is shrinking as time goes by makes it possible to strengthen its strike forces, as was done under the Gideon plan.

Because of the expected defense budget cut, the next multi-year plan, "Tnufa" ("Momentum"), should build the most suitable plan for Israel and the challenges before it, and should in effect continue the previous multi-year plan. The threat from both the Gaza Strip and the northern front, which includes a grave threat to the home front from batteries of rockets and missiles and raiding forces designed to penetrate and operate in Israeli territory, requires making the ground forces much quicker, more flexible, and capable of operating on both defense and offense. This joins the necessary enhancement of firepower capabilities and their lethalness.

Some of the measures were indeed taken over the past year. In the IDF Southern Command and Northern Command, Major Generals Herzi Halevi and Amir Baram, both originally from the Paratroopers, initiated a series of training maneuvers and threshold tests, so that all the regular and reserve IDF battalions undergo training simulating a campaign in the south and the north. These training maneuvers are important, because, as the Chief of Staff said, "If there is something significant to combat soldiers crossing the border, it is a sense of capability and confidence". Although the test of fitness is a step in the right direction, a major investment must still be made in the ground forces, because the combination of firepower and an effective and energetic land campaign can shorten the duration of the next conflict, and also achieve a decisive outcome. 

Hezbollah in crisis, but Israel cannot take its eyes off it | By Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The plague hit Lebanon during an ongoing economic crisis. The dire situation of both countries has had a profound effect on Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that is supported by Iran

Published in "The Jerusalem Post", April 19, 2020

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman recently told reporters that the corona pandemic had hit hard in some of the region’s countries and there was “a decline in hostile activity toward Israel". The severe outbreak of the disease in Iran has reduced the volume of its military activity against Israel as regards the supplying of weapons and financing of terrorism.

The plague hit Lebanon during an ongoing economic crisis. The dire situation of both countries has had a profound effect on Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that is supported by Iran and which is an integral part of the Lebanese government.

In an article published by researchers at the Institute for National Security Studies, Orna Mizrahi and Yoram Schweitzer state, "In these circumstances there is heightened pressure on Hezbollah, which is responsible for the appointment of the current minister of health".

Mizrahi and Schweitzer recommended that "the IDF should continue to use the opportunity to strike Hezbollah forces in Syria and disrupt their efforts to bring weapons into Lebanon". The IDF, it seems, agreed with the assessment of the two. According to foreign publications, the Israeli Air Force recently carried out a series of strikes in Syria, some to prevent the organization from obtaining long-range guided missiles, and some against the "Golan File" unit that Hezbollah has established on the Golan Heights.

An epidemic or not, since the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah stars at the top of the threat scenarios table prepared by the IDF. The man who worries the most is the commander of the IDF’s Northern Command, Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram.

Last February, Baram spoke at a conference held in memory of Paratroopers Brigade Reconnaissance (Sayeret Tzanhanim) company commander, Maj. Eitan Balachsan, who was killed in a skirmish with Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon in 1999.

Baram said at the conference that he and Balachsan "met many times throughout the service in Lebanon, as young commanders in the paratroopers". He was also the man called to take command of the company after its commander was killed.

The man who recommended to call him was the commander of the brigade to which Balachsan belonged, along with Baram’s company commander when he joined the paratroopers’ anti-tank company, Aviv Kochavi (Now the IDF chief of staff).

Indeed, despite the severe blow to the company, Baram again made it a leading operational unit. A few months later, Baram led a force from the company in a tangled operation in Lebanon. The result was two Hezbollah operatives killed.

The next time Baram was operating in the Lebanese sector was when he commanded the elite Maglan unit (before that he was my battalion commander in the Paratroopers Brigade). Although most of the activity during those years was in Judea and Samaria and Gaza, Baram pushed to activate the unit also against Hezbollah.

IN JUNE 2005, a force from the unit, commanded by Itamar Ben-Haim, also a Paratroopers Brigade officer (and now commander of the Hebron Brigade), ambushed three Hezbollah operatives on Mount Dov. BenHaim’s force killed the squad commander who took part, it turned out, in the ambush in which Balachsan was killed. The other two operatives fled, and one was wounded.

The death of the squad commander has had a profound effect on Hezbollah’s senior command in the area. In an after-action report, Baram wrote, "Hezbollah also has faces and names. It’s not a demon that comes out of the ground, for whom the people are also dear. Wounded and dead are extremely difficult for them".

Since 2005, the IDF has fought two campaigns against Hezbollah; one in the summer of 2006, and one secret, long and Sisyphean. Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot described at the time dealing with Hezbollah as "a huge iceberg, some of which is visible to the public and media eye, and the greater part is hidden from view".

The prime example is the organization’s flagship project: the penetration tunnels dug in the northern border, which the IDF surprisingly destroyed in Operation Northern Shield. At the conference, Baram said that despite the Lebanese government’s claims that Hezbollah does not share its decisions, it is “two sides of the same coin".

The Lebanese president pledged in an interview to the French media that Hezbollah obeyed UN resolution 1701, which at the time ended the Second Lebanon War and included the deployment of an armed UN and the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from continuing to operate from there.

"But what they say in French does not happen on the ground in Arabic," said the Northern Command’s general, noting that the organization, sponsored by the Lebanese state, “violently violates the decision".

As examples, he brought military activity in Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon and the organization’s striving to equip itself with long-range, high-precision missiles with the aim of damaging the Israeli home front.

In his speech, Baram warned, "If we are to fight, we will know how to claim a heavy price from this organization and those who sponsor it; also from its patrons in the northeast, also from the capital of the Lebanese state in Beirut, and certainly from the Shi’ite villages in southern Lebanon, which serve as a shelter and base for Hezbollah’s terrorist forces".

The IDF, like Israel as a whole, is now facing a pandemic. The 98th Paratroopers Division, commanded by Brig.-Gen. Yaron Finkelman, who had previously commanded the Paratroopers Reconnaissance Battalion in Operation Cast Lead and the Givati Brigade, was deployed to Bnei Brak, as part of an effort to stop the severe outbreak of the epidemic that was discovered in before it can expand into wider circles outside the city.

That makes a lot of sense, since it’s a flexible and portable power, but the 98th Division is the sharpened tip of the IDF Ground Forces for war. In the next round against Hezbollah, it is a significant tool in the IDF’s offensive ability that the commander of the Northern Command spoke of, through rapid, deadly and flexible ground maneuvers at the front and behind enemy lines. In order to be ready for war the day after the coronavirus subsides, the IDF will be required to regain its now-defunct combat capabilities.

Hezbollah was at a low level in the past, during difficult times in the Syrian civil war and after the Second Lebanon War. But even when it was down, Hezbollah refused to give up the fight in Israel. Today the IDF is focusing its efforts close to home, investing resources, troops and tools in finding solutions to the plague. But it would be best to look to the future, too, because the plague will finally pass, and Hezbollah is here to stay.

 

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

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)