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)

מודעות פרסומת

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)