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)

מודעות פרסומת

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)

Alexander the Great Would Not Have Been Perplexed / by Gabi Siboni, Yuval Bazak & Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

When US Secretary of Defense General James Mattis was the commander of the 1st Marine Division, he remarked that if Alexander the Great found himself on a modern battlefield, he "would not be in the least bit perplexed," because in spite of the changes in the nature of warfare in modern times, the principles remain the same. In contrast, due to the weakening of military thinking in the IDF, which was unable to cope with the changes that occurred in the battlefield and failed to formulate an updated doctrine, solutions involving standoff fire were preferred over maneuvers. The last time that the IDF operated according to its traditional security concept and took the fighting to the enemy's territory was during Operation Defensive Shield and the series of incursions into the heart of Palestinian towns that followed. The question that needs to be asked today is, therefore, not whether maneuvers are still a central foundation of Israel's security concept, but rather which maneuvers the IDF needs in order to deal with the security challenges before it.

War is above all a human-social phenomenon, and as such its principles remain, and will apparently remain for the foreseeable future, faithful to the unchanging nature of human beings. Based on this understanding, former Marine Corps General James Mattis, currently US Secretary of Defense, emailed his officers when he was the commander of the 1st Marine Division, before the division left for operational duties in Iraq. In reply to those who claimed that the nature of war had fundamentally changed and the tactics were wholly new, Mattis said: "Not really. Alexander the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq".

Similarly, we can ask if in 1967 or 1973 Arik Sharon had faced the challenges of the Second Lebanon War with his battalion, would he have been perplexed? Or in other words, would the change in warfare have been as dramatic as the theorists of the post-modern school try to argue? Have there indeed been changes in the nature of warfare that make the experience to be gained from past wars superfluous and irrelevant, or are changes a case of another development, deriving from a specific context, and requiring the adaptation of old but solid principles to a reality that is different, sometimes extremely so, from the reality in which these principles were defined.

While human nature remains fixed and dictates universal principles, the changing environment demands adaptation of implementation, sometimes in far reaching ways. This is apparently the most significant challenge in the world of warfare – how to adapt fixed principles to changing circumstances.

One of the founding principles of the security concept of the State of Israel was the principle of taking the war to the enemy’s territory. This led to the establishment of the strike force and embrace of the maneuvers approach, which sought to seize the initiative and penetrate deep into enemy territory in order to subdue the enemy as quickly as possible. Over a few years, the IDF developed impressive maneuvering capabilities, which led to victories on the battlefield and undermined the enemies’ belief in their ability to realize their strategic goal – the conquest and destruction of the State of Israel.

Conservatives remain faithful to traditional templates that ultimately blow up in the first encounter with the new reality, while others create new templates that are not anchored in the universal principles. Both types are destined to fail.

Since the end of the 1970s, the enemies of Israel have adopted new approaches to achieve their goal of eliminating the Zionist project. At the same time, the IDF has changed its tactics to adjust to the emerging reality, which included an almost complete abandonment of the maneuvers approach that had characterized its spirit and action, as a new belief took shape that this approach was no longer suitable for the "new wars." Is this correct?

This paper contends that it is not a change in the nature of warfare that has led to the preference for standoff fire over maneuvers. Rather, it is the weakening of military thinking, which has not managed to deal with the changes in the nature of the battlefield and not shaped a new doctrine to confront the new challenges, based on the principles of the security concept. As a result, maneuver has been neglected, and emphasis has shifted to technology-based concepts of fire.

Doctrine as a Formative Element

War is a social phenomenon, and as such it mirrors features of the period, the spirit of the times, the perception of the threat, social mobilization, national resources, available technologies, and so on. Of course, war is also influenced by the balance of power between the enemies, knowledge of the other side, development of strategic and operational perceptions, and the processes of building forces. All these mean that no war is the same as any other.

That is also the reason why above all war is a deeply intellectual challenge. The element of surprise likewise plays a central role, because surprise undermines confidence in perceptions and causes embarrassment, confusion, disorientation, and eventually, defeat. That is what happened to the French facing the Germans at the start of World War II, that is what happened to the IDF at the start of the Yom Kippur War, when its perceptions regarding air superiority and defenses against attack were shattered before the eyes of military and civilian leaders; that was also the position of Arab countries facing the surprise of the Six Day War. The inability to function was not only due to physical failures, but above all, to the gap between expectations of how war would develop and the way in which it actually developed.

Since the 1980s, the IDF has not managed to develop a doctrinal response that is suited to the fundamentals of the security concept and simultaneously deals with the new challenges of the battlefield. Meanwhile, maneuvering has dwindled and been replaced by fire and intelligence capabilities based on technology. In an article dealing with the challenges of force buildup in the IDF, a senior commander argued that the attempt of the IDF, in response to changes in the nature of war, "to avoid fighting on land, ultimately led to longer and less effective wars. We continue to strengthen our ‘healthy leg’ – the ability to assemble and counter attack, and are amazed that we can’t get rid of the ‘limp’ coming from the leg dealing with overland maneuvers."

However, thinking based on ruses must be strengthened, along with the approach that direct contact and rapid and aggressive maneuvering into enemy territory is the key to a decisive victory on the battlefield.

In the Yom Kippur War, after 48 hours of confusion, the IDF ground forces managed to recover and regroup, on the basis of a clear doctrine, well trained troops, and an experienced command array. To be sure, the fact that both the Egyptians and the Syrians decided to halt their offensives contributed to the ability of the IDF to regain its composure, seize the initiative, and turn the situation around in spite of the difficult opening conditions and the surprise that undermined the confidence of the decision makers. Even though it is seared into our consciousness as a failure, the Yom Kippur War was actually an impressive military victory, the outcome of a security concept and doctrine that were shaped during the 1950s and refined by means of developing military thinking and drawing on vast amounts of accumulated experience.

In 2000, the IDF was fighting the Palestinians with no suitable doctrine and without the capability of dealing with the challenges created by the conflict. The result was that for a year and a half the Palestinians controlled events, while the IDF and the security system had no effective response. Determined political leadership and the initiatives of field commanders led the security establishment, including the IDF, to shift the existing perceptions of leverage and erosion, and to formulate an approach of decisive victory based on recapturing territory and taking the initiative. The IDF demonstrated that with the help of rapid maneuvers that it utilized in Operation Defensive Shield and the transfer of the fighting to enemy territory – fundamentals of the doctrine that developed during 1950s and 1960s – it was possible to overcome the Palestinians and create the conditions for defeating terror, even in conflicts with completely different features. These military moves provided the infrastructure for a dramatic improvement in the security of the Israeli population, and later for economic growth and the creation of conditions for political moves. In Judea and Samaria, the IDF returned to the idea of maneuvers within enemy territory, albeit maneuvers completely different from those of other wars, and it led to a huge achievement that has still not been replicated in any other arena of war in the world.

In the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, the IDF continued the concept of using standoff fire, mainly out of a sense that terror could be contained by the security fence. When Ben Gurion spent time in London during the blitz, he came to the conclusion that people are not broken by bombing; the attempt to prove otherwise always collapses in the face of reality. However, in Gaza this approach failed. While terror from Judea and Samaria, which constituted an acute strategic problem, was reduced dramatically, the threat from the direction of Gaza grew stronger. Nonetheless, this is the same war, with the same enemy, the same society, and the same international arena. The main difference between the two arenas lay in the decision to adopt the paradigm of decisive victory in Judea and Samaria while maintaining the paradigm of containment in Gaza. The results are clear to this day.

There are two traditional concepts for fighting an enemy that use guerilla and terror methods – counter warfare that includes accurate remote fire, and the direct contact approach, which seeks direct combat with the enemy on its territory. Using the counter warfare tactic ensures operational gains but has many limitations: first, the duration of technological advantage is limited, and the enemy will find ways to overcome it; second, counter warfare glorifies opposition, because the frequent use of smart weapon systems creates "a platform for glorifying the stone in the hand of a child against a helicopter, and the improvised explosive device against an airplane"; third, the collateral damage caused by counter action includes killing and injuring innocent civilians alongside the terrorists. Alternatively, the direct contact approach requires moving the fighting to the enemy’s territory, high speed movement and fire, and a high rate of incursions, while pursuing secret activity, utilizing surprise, and minimizing collateral damage.

The difference between these operational perceptions is also expressed in the commander’s dimension. In the counter warfare approach, commanders of operations are located in remote technology centers, while in the direct contact approach, the commander has "direct, unmediated contact with the ground forces in the operational space".

Over many years, beginning in the years when the IDF was present in the security zone, in a slow, ongoing process, the IDF began to abandon the fundamental elements of its doctrine. Ground maneuvers, which were the heart of the strike force, lost their centrality, and even more so, began to lose their defensive nature. It was only in 2006 that this trend was formally articulated in an official IDF document. The operational approach published that year by the General Staff stated that the nature of war had changed and it was necessary to adopt a new approach, centering on fire based on intelligence. Ground maneuvers were given only a secondary role in this perception. Keshet, the long term plan devised by General Staff divisions, reflected this approach and prompted a sharp cutback in the capabilities and battle order of the ground forces, including dismantling the regimental headquarters. The Second Lebanon War, which broke out a few months later, forced the IDF to reconsider this route. Indeed, every doctrine is the result of the military leader’s decision.

A doctrinaire approach is almost never the only choice; in most cases it is chosen by the military leader. It is certainly possible to imagine that under a different leadership, the wars between Israel and the Arab countries in the early years of the state would have been conducted differently. The decisive victory approach propounded by Ben Gurion was not the outcome of a factual situation that could lead to only one definitive outcome, but mainly the result of a leadership decision by Ben Gurion, who spent much time studying the security problems predicted for the State of Israel, and who understood that protracted wars, such as the War of Independence, with the heavy price it exacted from the newborn state, would work against the essential interests of the Zionist project.

Moreover, the War of Independence fought first by the pre-state Jewish settlement (yishuv) and later the state, had features that were entirely different from those around which Ben Gurion designed his security approach and the doctrine he later formulated. His understanding that the coming wars would be essentially different and that the IDF had to be built as a professional army with an offensive doctrine was at the core of the argument between him and the former Haganah fighters. In other words, the choice in the decisive victory approach adopted by Ben Gurion was not the necessary conclusion or the “natural” choice in view of the given factual situation at the end of the 1940s and start of the 1950s – far from it. Few at that time saw the whole picture as it took shape in Ben Gurion’s head. The dynamics of the security mechanisms pushed in quite different directions.

Military Thinking at the Heart of Warfare

War changes its face all the time. The winner is the first one to understand the singular features of future wars and acquire the ability to change in order to operate effectively in these conditions. The phenomenon of preparing for the wars of the past is familiar, and usually derives from conservatism and stagnant thinking. There are few military leaders who are able to look beyond the fog and decipher the signs of the future battlefield. The rarest among them are those who are prepared to use their weight to shatter paradigms that are no longer valid and replace them with a new foundation.

In its early days Israeli military thinking drew from three main sources. The first was British military thinking brought by veterans of the Jewish Brigade in World War II, whose approach to the military trade was based on professional methodology. The second was the extensive battle experience accumulated by Haganah commanders before and during the War of Independence. They emphasized the special spirit of its military arm, the Palmach, and tended to reject the idea of professionalization and establishment in the transition from yishuv to state. The third was the extensive universal experience acquired during the Second World War, for example, the idea of the blitzkrieg, which was translated into the Israeli strike force based, and not by chance, on an air force and mobile ground forces whose purpose was to take the fighting quickly deep into the enemy’s territory. In addition, the process of training senior commanders in overseas military colleges constituted an important factor in the development of Israeli thinking, and served as the basis for its professional and intellectual development.

Since the Six Day War, and even more so after the Yom Kippur War, Israeli thinking has undergone a transformation, moving more and more toward the American way of thinking – toward an approach based on technology. The American approach of erosion or exhaustion 14 was the complete opposite of the Israeli maneuvers approach that was dominant until the early 1980s. The idea that it was possible to erode the enemy’s capabilities based on technological advantages and superior power, thus leading to its defeat, is the typical American approach, but it was completely unsuitable for the IDF, because of the required patience, the element of international legitimacy that provides the necessary freedom of activity to implement this approach, and the ongoing threat to the civilian front. The attempts to develop a pattern of technology-based erosion, a pattern that the IDF began to adopt in the early 1990s, was destined to fail. The IDF attempt to retain this approach, which was from the start completely contrary to its proven security concept, is the core of the problem, and not the change in the battlefield.

The art of war is a slippery profession. It involves enormous danger as well as elements of honor, prestige, human life, and national interests. These are what have made outstanding military leaders into admired heroes and condemned the failures to eternal shame. Military leadership demands a deep understanding of the history of war, the lessons learned from battles, and the principles and rules derived from them. It also requires the ability to conceptualize, imagine, and create; the skill to analyze developments on the battlefield in order to prepare the troops for a future war whose features will be completely different from those of previous wars; and a deep understanding that the battlefield will continuously change and surprise those who are not properly prepared for it. Above all, supreme military leadership demands courage when preparing an army for battle and leading the troops when it occurs. Courage demands difficult decisions, the ability to adopt new approaches, and patterns of action, in order to adjust the army and its ways of thinking to future challenges.

Development in the IDF

Over the last two decades the conventional threat against Israel posed by the militaries of Arab countries has declined, but the sub-conventional threat from military organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terror organizations has increased. The risk of a wide ranging invasion of Israel has become almost anachronistic, but the threat from non-state military organizations, which have acquired considerable high trajectory weapon systems, has grown. This change requires Israel to develop the ability to deal with conventional – classic military – threats; sub-conventional threats from military organizations and terror groups; unconventional military threats – nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; and cyber threats – damage to computer systems and communications. Notwithstanding the change in the threats, there is a greater disconnect between the IDF General Staff and force buildup processes, which for the General Staff have turned into a collection of projects initiated by the respective branches. At the same time, the General Command HQ, which was always in charge of the ground forces, “handed over the reins” to the ground forces command and later to the ground forces.

These processes, along with hesitant operation of ground forces in conflicts fought by the IDF in the last thirty years, have created a sense among decision makers that the IDF ground forces are less relevant than the air force and intelligence to current and future battlefield challenges. While the IDF has invested more and more in these elements, the fitness of the ground forces for extensive maneuvers on the fighting front and deep in enemy territory has been weakened, and this includes the fitness of the reserve ground forces, which were once the backbone of IDF maneuvering.

In its early years, the IDF benefited from the intellectual input of veterans of the British army, who laid the groundwork for theories of warfare and training, and from an officer class with extensive battle experience in war, but over the years it has gradually lost this support that formed the core of its quality. As its knowledge of doctrine declined, the IDF turned more and more outwards, to industry, to find technology-based solutions, while neglecting to “develop its intellectual element.” As this aspect eroded, the IDF found itself without sufficient doctrinal knowledge on which it could base its response to the growing challenges. At the tactical level, IDF officers still received orderly training and accumulated some experience on the limited conflict battlefield, but it was clear that there were widening and deepening gaps in the higher levels of strategic and operative thinking that are mainly responsible for the development of concepts that shape IDF force buildup as well as the approaches to its utilization. The technological dominance that has gradually taken hold at the expense of doctrinal quality has led to a dramatic increase in investments in pinpoint fire and intelligence, alongside ongoing investment in ground maneuvers. The deficiencies of this perception were striking during the Second Lebanon War.

When Gadi Eisenkot was named Chief of Staff in 2015, this trend began to change, and considerable emphasis was placed on ground maneuvers as the IDF’s main tool to defeat the enemy. Although the divide between the General Staff and the ground forces staff was not yet bridged, in early 2017 the IDF decided that General Command HQ would formulate the ground maneuvers approach and thus direct the building of ground strength (which would be continued by the ground forces arm). This decision in fact returned the General Staff to the role of commander of the ground forces, which had been denied to it for many years. This is an important step toward a solution, but there is still a long way to go to the required amendment.

Conclusion

It is not any change in the nature of war that led to the neglect of ground maneuvers, nor changes in society, but doctrinal weakening that caused the growing reliance on technology, at the expense of the art of war. Since the 1980s, the IDF has tried time after time to operate according to the erosion approach while making use of leverage, an approach that is strikingly opposed to the security concept that sought to shorten wars by achieving a quick decisive result based on taking the fighting to enemy territory, and maneuvering quickly deep into this territory. Time after time the IDF ends its campaigns with a sense of a missed opportunity, and time after time it returns to the approach of strengthening intelligence and fire in order to improve its performance in the next round of fighting. From functioning as the decisive element, ground maneuvers have become something used hesitantly and in small doses, if at all, usually at a fairly late stage and for limited tasks. It is a vicious cycle: as the expectations of the maneuvering forces decrease, so does their fitness to perform, and perhaps more than anything, the spirit that characterized it – the spirit of galloping horses – is gradually evaporating.

The only time in the last 30 years that the IDF operated according to the security concept of the State of Israel and took the fighting into the territory of the Palestinian Authority was during Operation Defensive Shield, when the forces of the Central Command and "the lawn mower" that followed, in the form of a long series of incursions into Palestinian towns, managed to contain terror and create the conditions for achieving its strategic goals.

Thus it was not war that changed its character, but rather it was a decision, very likely an unconscious one, of the security establishment. The question therefore that has to be asked now is not whether maneuvers are still relevant as the foundation of Israel’s security concept, but what maneuvers are required by the IDF, and what is their ability to deal with the security challenges that Israel confronts.

The great military leaders understood people, what motivates them, what frightens them, what breaks them, and what makes them rise above themselves. These were and remain the foundations on which they waged war. The more the leaders can rise above the tactical level that is influenced by changes in the environment and technology, to the operative and strategic level that is mainly influenced by the awareness of human beings, the more the art of war becomes dominant. In this they can express genius, and the dominance of military leadership that knows how to turn deep understandings into winning patterns of warfare. Alexander the Great was a genius who fully understood the art of war.

Notwithstanding the time that has passed, the advanced technology, and the changes and upheavals that have occurred in the nature of campaigns since the days of Alexander the Great, ultimately the same principles that guided him, that obliged him to study war as a profession, to use stratagems, to recognize the importance of the territory, to know how to get the most out of it, and the need to have direct contact with the enemy remain as relevant as they were in his time. Indeed, it seems that if he faced the challenges of the present-day battlefield, equipped with ancient principles and his military genius, Alexander would need some time to study the unique features of the modern battlefield, but he would likely not be perplexed.

Dr. (Col. res.) Gabi Siboni is head of the Military and Strategic A!airs Program at
INSS. Col. (res.) Yuval Bazak is the commander of the IDF Concept Laboratory.
Gal Perl Finkel is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Afairs Program
at INSS. 

(The article was originally published as an "Strategic Assessment" , Volume 20, No. 3, October 2017. Please refer to the original publication for the End Notes) 

Win the close fight/ By Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to ‘clear/hold/build’ even as the ‘hold’ stage stretched for months, and then years

Similar to the way Israel stands against Hamas and Hezbollah, hybrid organizations that combine terrorist, guerrilla and military elements into one entity, the United States is conducting a campaign against Islamic State (ISIS). Although the organization suffered a defeat in the battle for Mosul, it is far from disappearing from the stage.

In an article he wrote in 2014, retired US general Daniel Bolger, who rose through the ranks of the Army infantry units and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, admitted (with uncommon integrity) that the US, himself included, is losing in the war against terrorism. The US, he wrote, “did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to ‘clear/hold/build’ even as the ‘hold’ stage stretched for months, and then years.”

That strategy was wrong and, as he points out, the American people had never signed up for this sort of war. According to Bolger the Surge strategy “in Iraq did not ‘win’ anything. It bought time. It allowed us to kill some more bad guys and feel better about ourselves.” In the meantime the enemy, terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida, just let the attrition war take its toll, knowing that in the end the price would be too high and the US would back away. It happened in Iraq and Afghanistan and one can assume that ISIS expects that the US will not commit its forces a third time.

Bolger is not the only critic of the way the US fights its wars. Retired colonel Douglas A. Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran who has spent most of his career in the US Army Armored Branch, and like his comrade in arms Lt.-Gen. “H. R.” McMaster (the new national security adviser) fought in the Battle of 73 Easting during the Gulf War. While he was in uniform, and even more so after his retirement, he published several books about the much needed reform in the US ground forces.

In his book Transformation under Fire (Praeger, 2003), he stated that the way the US military prepares for its present challenges reminds him of “the attitudes prevalent in the post-Civil War army. Instead of adapting tactics, equipment, and organization to cope with the Native American enemy, each Indian campaign was treated as though it were the last because the army wanted to refight the Civil War, not fight Native Americans on the western frontier. Ironically, when the Spanish-American war broke out, the US army was no more ready than it had been to fight the Confederate Army at Bull Run” (Page 14). Much the same thing can also be said about the IDF land forces’ readiness for the Second Lebanon War and operations in the Gaza Strip.

In a recent testimony he gave to the Air-Land Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Macgregor said that in order “to terminate future conflicts on terms that favor the United States and avoid long, destructive wars of attrition, the US armed forces must combine the concentration of massive firepower across service lines with the near-simultaneous attack of ground maneuver forces in time and space to achieve decisive effects against opposing forces.” That statement sounded like it was taken from the IDF strategy published by IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot in 2015.

In a war, Macgregor emphasized, one cannot conduct the fighting from afar, using only air power, artillery and precision-guided munitions. To achieve a decisive outcome, or at least a more clear and concrete achievement, one must maintain presence on the ground. In his book, Macgregor cites former IDF general Doron Almog, who said that if one loses “the close fight… the rest is irrelevant” (Page 227). Almog, who in 1982 led the 35th Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion through heavy fighting against PLO insurgents and the Syrian army in Lebanon, knew what he was talking about.

Macgregor wondered if the strategic impact would have been different if the US had chosen to deploy ground forces on several occasions.

“Would the introduction of a robust strike force of Army Rangers into the target area where [al-Qaida] forces were identified in 1998 have enticed [al-Qaida] into a fight with US forces that they could not have possibly won?” (Page 66). Such an attack was carried out on October 2001, when 200 Rangers of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, the army’s elite light infantry, led by then-colonel Joseph Votel, parachuted toward an airfield south of Kandahar and attacked several Taliban targets. The purpose, according to Votel, was “to go in there and basically conduct an airfield assessment, to destroy the Taliban forces that were operating in that area and to gather information for intelligence use.” During the raid, as Macgregor predicted, the forces hardly encountered any resistance.

Votel is now commander of US Central Command. As such, he is the general who commands US troops in the war against ISIS, under which Ranger and Marine units were recently deployed to Syria to support preparations for the fight for Raqqa. Therefore he must, as Bolger warned, make sure that the enemy’s logic and formations are clear, and form a plan that includes boots on the ground. It should be very similar to what Macgregor suggested, and in accordance with IDF strategy, that states: “A combined, immediate and simultaneous strike, using two basic components: the first – immediate maneuver, to harm the enemy, conquer territory, reduce the use of fire from the conquered area, seize and destroy military infrastructure, and affect the enemy’s regime survivability. The second – extensive strategic-fire campaign, based on aerial freedom of action and high-quality intelligence.” US forces, along with the local Syrian forces, cannot afford to lose the close fight on the ground.

The author is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and the founder and operator of the blog “In the Crosshairs” on military, security vision, strategy and practice.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", March 21, 2017)

How to win a modern war/ by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Israel must form a strategy at the state level (not just the military level) based on an understanding of the enemy structure, strengths and weaknesses

When US General David Petraeus, who commanded the successful Surge campaign in Iraq, was a young platoon leader in the army 509th Airborne Battalion, and made parachute jumps all over Europe, he trained with the French paratroopers. Then he read Jean Lartéguy’s novel The Centurions, a realistic novel about the wars France fought in Indochina and Algeria, a book that influenced him greatly. A passage Petraeus particularly liked, in which Lieutenant Marindelle, a French paratrooper, is explaining how the Vietnamese way of war was different from that of the French: “When we make war, we play Belote with thirty-two cards in the pack. But their game is Bridge and they have fifty-two cards: twenty more than we do. Those twenty cards short will always prevent us from getting the better of them. They’ve got nothing to do with traditional warfare, they’re marked with the sign of politics, propaganda, faith, agrarian reform.”

Indeed, since the wars in Indochina, Algeria and Vietnam there has been a dramatic change in the nature of warfare. These wars introduced the “war among the people,” as British General Sir Rupert Smith named it. Instead of wars between states with industrialized armies the Western world finds itself fighting a hybrid adversary. It can be state or non-state, and can act as a proxy for state actors but have independent agendas as well. It’s an enemy that fights among the people rather than on the battlefield, using them for cover, concealment, support and protection. It operates with both conventional and irregular tactics, such as terrorist attacks, indiscriminate violence (by launching rockets on civilian population centers). Western industrialized armies were ill-suited to this new style of warfare. These new wars required armies to develop their counter-insurgency capabilities, strategy and forces.

In his fascinating and important book War from the Ground Up, Emile Simpson, a former captain in the British Army Royal Gurkha Rifles, describe his first combat mission in Afghanistan.

“As an infantry platoon commander in 2007, my first operation was the clearance of the Upper Gereshk Valley, Helmand, in a brigade-level operation. The insurgents were engaged, cleared out, and the mission was achieved. Yet the insurgents would also have claimed it as a victory because they had inflicted some casualties on us, and we did not stay to hold the ground we had cleared. The outcome of the operation in the longer term is debatable since several similar operations in the same area have been mounted since then. Moreover, the ‘meaning’ of the battle for local people was most likely nothing to do with who ‘won’. They would be far more concerned with the battle in terms of their own safety and property.”

This description, which is familiar to anyone who served in the IDF and took part in raids in Lebanon, Gaza or the occupied territories, contains the entire problem. When the narrative of the two sides is on different levels and is shaped by perceptions of reality diametrically opposed, there is substantial difficulty in determining who won.

Simpson argues in his book that the traditional war between states, as defined by Clausewitz, still existed (as proved by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in South Ossetia in 2008), but that there is another kind of war, what he calls “armed politics.” While the old wars had two main criteria: polarity – the idea that there are two sides to every conflict – and decisive outcomes, who are the poles in the Syrian civil war? How one can achieve a decisive outcome in such a conflict? Even when the polarity principle is realized, the war is was mostly between an army and a non-state organization that fights among the people. In such conflicts, one side is rarely completely destroyed. All that can be achieved is the imposition of our will on the opponent.

So how does one win these new wars? Israel has found itself fighting such wars since 1982 war in Lebanon. In his recent book Dare to win, MK Ofer Shelah, a former Paratroopers company commander (who was wounded in the First Lebanon War) and a journalist, suggests a different way for the IDF to fight. Before a war, Israel, Shelah writes, “Must analyze and recognize the security doctrine of the enemy. The possibilities to act must be examined according to their ability to undermine it and place him in the same paradigmatic embarrassment we are at today, after the Second Lebanon War or ‘Protective Edge.’ If there is a possibility to achieve that – then, and only then, it is right to use force.”

Victory will be achieved through an integrated and simultaneous campaign in which all efforts: legal, economic, military and political, are intertwined and support each other, unlike to the way it has been done in the past. For example, the political action can’t wait for the fighting to end. In the “war among the people,” the political action must be done in parallel to the fighting.

The IDF strategy, published by IDF Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot, is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Israel must form a strategy at the state level (not just the military level) based on an understanding of the enemy structure, strengths and weaknesses in order to achieve its objectives in the next conflict against Hamas or Hezbollah.

The author is the coordinator of the military and strategic affairs program and cyber-security program at The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). He is the founder and operator of the blog “In the Crosshairs” on military, security vision, strategy and practice. 

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", September 07, 2016)