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.

 

Potential for strategic turns | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The killing of soleimani and the Deal fo the Century

In the 13th International Conference of The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) was concluded with a conversation between the institute’s head, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, and Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, head of the IDF Operations Directorate. The two talked about the IDF’s force buildup, and about the challenges the army faces in the present and future.

Haliva was asked how the IDF copes with the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, given that the rate of IDF strikes in Syria has decreased and Iranians are moving their operations to countries where it’s more complex for the IDF to operate, Iraq and Lebanon.

"The Persians did invent chess, but I met quite a few Jews who learned how to deliver checkmate", replied Haliva, noting that the campaign-between-the-wars is far from over.

"The IDF has continued in the last year, with all the power and tools. Most of them are hidden from the eye… to prevent Iranian consolidation in the area", he said. But there are, he added, other interests and players to consider, including the Russians and the Americans.

In his view, "both the killing of [Gen. Qasem] Soleimani by the United States in early January, as well as the announcement of the "Deal of the Century" are two events with significant potential for strategic turns, and the IDF is preparing for it".

Yadlin, a former fighter pilot who took part in the strike that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and who served as the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, noted that in light of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran could “crawl” toward nuclear weapons production.

Asked whether the IDF is ready to deal with that threat, Haliva responded, "If necessary, we will know how to do it", but did not elaborate.

Yadlin noted that it might have been necessary to reexamine whether the perception that the US is leaving the Middle East and that Iran has the upper hand is still relevant, he stated, “[It is better] not to reverse this perception just yet", because it is remain to be seen whether the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Soleimani indicates a continuing American willingness to exert force in the area. It’s still too early to determine.

Haliva did most of his service in paratroopers. He was a platoon leader in the raid led by brigade commander Shaul Mofaz on the Hezbollah stronghold in village of Maydoun in Lebanon in 1988. The force, led by Haliva, who had just finished the officer’s course a month earlier, identified two terrorists hiding behind a bush.

"It ended with us shooting like crazy into the bush and killing them", he said years later. Although the successful raid was an important chapter in his military life, the high level of soldiery, and the boldness demonstrated by Hezbollah operatives also left a strong impression on him.

Later, he served in all the positions in the paratroopers, including commanding a battalion, the brigade training base (when he was my commander) and the entire brigade. He also commanded the IDF’s Officer Candidate School (Bahad 1).

"DON’T WANT to be heard, God forbid, as cocky. There will be prices, sometimes heavy prices. War is not a pleasant thing at all and both sides pay prices for it. But I say clearly, the land forces are now ready to carry out their tasks", Haliva replied to Yadlin’s question about the IDF’s land-force readiness.

Are there any gaps? Sure, He said. There always will be. The elephant in the room was the criticism made by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick about the "Gideon" multiyear plan, led by former IDF chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot. Haliva said the plan significantly improved the land forces, but there are still gaps in force readiness.

In this context, he added, the "Momentum" multiyear plan led by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi is supposed to bring significant reinforcement to land forces, with the aim of achieving a faster victory, at a lower cost of lives, in the next war.

How this settles with the recent decision to cancel the brigade exercises and to focus primarily on battalion and company exercises is unclear. Past experience shows that brigades which did not practice on the ground, as a maneuvering unit before fighting, achieved far from good results when battles occurred.

The transition government cannot pass a budget law, and without a clear budgetary framework, the "Momentum" multiyear plan could follow those written in Benny Gantz’s term as IDF chief of staff. The IDF, said Gantz in 2013, can give itself "a good grade in planning multiyear plans". The realization, as a result of the budget cuts that resulted from social protests, was a completely different story.

Haliva referred to a war game at the institute that dealt with an escalation scenario in the northern arena, mentioning that the manager of the game failed to motivate the various players, including Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, to escalate their response to a full-scale war. All parties strove to quickly close the escalation round and return to normal.

The reason, in his view, is that Israel’s enemies understand the power gaps between them, and the futility of war. In the event of a confrontation, Haliva said, "The result should be such that, at its end, the enemy has for many years distanced its desire to fight with us".

Yediot Aharonot commentator Shimrit Meir criticized this assessment on Twitter this week, stating, "We have a chronic tendency to assume that the other side wants to return to normal, a classic projection". We project our motives, perceptions and desires onto the other side, and it’s not at all sure that this is what the enemy wants and thinks.

Suffice it to recall IDF Military Intelligence Directorate statements during Operation Protective Edge about the upcoming end of the war, which were shattered every time Hamas chose to resume fighting and breach the ceasefire, in order to understand that in the next round of confrontation may be longer than expected.

One issue that the conversation hardly dealt with was the Palestinian issue. The IDF has been detecting an opportunity for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for some time. It seems that despite what the military estimates, Hamas continues to raise the flames in an attempt to extort additional concessions from Israel. The demolition balloons, rockets and terrorist penetration attempts are just negotiating tools.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", February 16, 2020)

Wisdom is in the timing | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

There’s a time to shut up and do, and a time to send a threatening message

From his appearances in the media, at conferences and even on social networks, the new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, seems to enjoy the position. There is hardly a day when he does not warn Israel’s enemies of its long arm. At the Makor Rishon conference, Bennett said that Israel should "move from containment to attack. "If we are determined we can remove Iran’s aggression forces from Syria", and warned Iran "Syria will become your Vietnam".

This is a nice sentiment, but the question is whether the minister is not too optimistic. Israel is waging a long, mostly secret, campaign against Iran to thwart its holdings in Syria, under which hundreds of special operations and air strikes were conducted.

Overall, the strategic achievement of these attacks seems to be the prevention and reduction of the Iranian forces (and its proxy Hezbollah) with certain weapons, with emphasis on precise missiles of wide range. As for the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, the effort is similar to an attempt to empty the sea with a spoon.

Former IDF spokesman Brig-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu recently commented on the first year of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, noting that it was characterized by great courage, because within "this complex reality, the IDF under Kochavi continues to carry out open and secret counter-operations to defend the borders and to reduce risks".

That is true, but one of the factors that makes this complex is Russia’s presence in Syria. The publication (which was not approved by any Israeli or Russian source) that the Russians recently launched fighter jets to thwart Israeli airstrikes, shows that the rope the Russians are releasing to Israel has shortened.

Another issue is the huddle. In general, other than those in which Iranian forces were attacked, senior officials of the Israeli political and military echelons have avoided taking direct responsibility for attacks and sending tensions to increase tensions. So why does the minister make unnecessary threats?

In Haaretz, Yaniv Kubovich reported that senior officials in the defense establishment criticized the minister’s statements against Israel’s enemies. Obviously, in light of the upcoming elections, Bennett (like others, including the prime minister) is required to strengthen his public image, but it is best to remember that not "everything goes".

In this context, the principle underlying the tense Shadow over Babylon (Dutton Books, 1993), written by David Mason, a decorated officer in the British Army Welsh Guards, seems to be very relevant. In the book, which takes place after the Gulf War, Ed Howard, who "was a commissioned officer in the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service" (page 24), is hired to plan and execute an assassination. "The target is Saddam Hussein" (page 149).

Howard assumes the mission was initiated by the British government, and it implements it through subcontractors to preserve its ability to deny its involvement.

Incidentally, at the beginning of the book, Mason wrote that there is an unwritten law whereby the leadership of the enemy is not harmed. However, he noted, there is a state that has never paid attention to this law and which has constantly persecuted individual people, in most cases terrorists, who have committed atrocities against its people, and that is Israel.

A striking example is the policy of Mason described the raid carried out by the Sayeret Matkal, the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, led by Moshe Ya’alon, to assassinate Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Abu Jihad, in Tunisia in 1988. In a fascinating episode about the operation on The kill List, the series created by military commentator Alon Ben David on Channel 13, Ya’alon said that the raid was "an operation in which you strike and withdraw without taking responsibility". Listening to Ya’alon may be problematic in the face of political reality, but the minister may at least read Mason’s book.

Bennett isn’t the only one talking too much. The investigative television program Uvda recently told the story of the botched Israeli covert operation carried out in the Khan Yunis in November 2018. That is another example of how Israel, in this case the IDF, is revealing unnecessary secrets.

Here, too, the reason is unclear. This is a great story about a Special Forces team that was captured in the heart of enemy territory, hit the terrorists and was rescued at the last minute, in what was not far from becoming a war. But it was better this time, as in publications about the Abu Jihad assassination, to wait about 30 years before telling most of the secrets.

This does not mean that one should always remain silent. Sometimes exposing security activity and sending a firm message by the senior political and military echelons may demonstrate the IDF’s capabilities to the enemy, and to deter him.

An example of this is the recent Commando drill in Cyprus. For more than two years the brigade units have been training on the island, the topography of which is similar to Lebanese mountainous terrain. The last exercise was the widest in scope so far.

BENNETT TWEETED about the exercise, stating that it was "complex and difficult and unfamiliar. That’s how you should practice. Hard is good. War is harder.” Such training is well known to Bennett, because after serving as a soldier in Sayeret Matkal he served as a team leader and company commander at the elite Maglan unit (and was considered a daring officer).

Media reports indicate that, like the minister, the commanders who participated in the training rated him as particularly successful. Lt.-Col. A., an ex-Sayeret Matkal officer who commands Egoz Unit, said in an interview posted on Israelhayom.com that the exercise allows "to train as close as possible to the war".

Maglan unit commander Lt.-Col. R., a Paratroopers officer, said in the interview that his soldiers required "meticulous planning to be prepared for any scenario, but also for high improvisation ability, to cope with the variables in the field".

Strengthening the ability to operate with a large force at the depth of enemy territory is essential for the next campaign, especially on a northern front.

Recently, a new edition of The Killing Zone (Maarachot, 2019) was published, in which Frederick Downs described his experiences as an US Army infantry platoon leader during the Vietnam War.

The introduction to the book was written by Maj.-Gen. Itay Virov, commander of the military colleges, who noted that the Vietnam War is now relevant to the IDF, due to the enemy’s pattern of action as a guerrilla army, similar to those in which the IDF fights today.

Virov did most of his service in Lebanon. In June 1999, as a Paratroopers battalion commander, he led an assault to eliminate the Hezbollah terrorist squad, and in the Second Lebanon War he commanded a reserve Paratroopers brigade.

He signed the introduction with a particularly accurate diagnosis of the type of campaigns Israel has fought in the last two decades in which there is no major decisive battle, such as the Egyptian Third Army Corps in 1973. In his view, "[In] a collection of tactical battles, the commanders’ determination and leadership, are the ones that have determined – and will determine – the outcome of the campaign".

It is important, then, to train the commanders in training that will simulate fighting as much as possible. And the enemy should also know that the IDF is preparing. Maybe that will deter them. If not, at least the troops will be ready.

and decide. Such a campaign will not last only one long day, but it is likely to begin with one – provided that it includes a determined operation of forces, in the air, on land and at sea.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", December 13, 2019)

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)

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

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", October 13, 2018)

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

רשומה רגילה

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", September 06, 2018)