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)
The IDF has formulated a series of doctrinal documents and operational concepts, but the “IDF strategy” document is exceptional because it is well connected to the daily activity of the IDF
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a Paratroopers Brigade officer who served as head of the operations division in the IDF’s Operations Directorate, wrote in his new book, Autobiography (Yedioth Books, 2018), that he recognized in the late 1990s that "what is really missing for the IDF is much more important – an official document that will describe holistically all that the army is capable of achieving in various war scenarios and how it thinks to do so." The IDF strategy document which the army published under the guidance of Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot in 2015 was a courageous attempt to fill that gap.
The document, short and concise – as is customary in the Golani Brigade in which Eisenkot served – was exceptional both in its publication to the general public and because it anchored principles and logic of action to one constitutive document. Such an attempt by the IDF to formulate a strategic operational doctrine has not been attempted since David Ben-Gurion established Israel’s security concept in the 1950s.
The document defined the responsibility of the army to ensure the national goals of the State of Israel, including preserving its existence, territorial integrity and the security of its citizens and residents. The work defined four pillars upon which military action to address these threats would rest. The first three, deterrence, warning and decisive action, were defined by Ben-Gurion, while the fourth, defense, was officially recognized for the first time in this document, as a result of the growing threat to Israel’s home front. The document stressed that, in accordance with Israel’s Basic Law: The Military, the IDF is subordinate to the political echelon, and the General Staff alone must maintain contact with it and conduct a strategic dialogue with it on the goals of any given campaign.
The paper included the strategic concept of "campaigns between wars" (CBW), a series of operations with a unified strategic logic, aimed at weakening and reducing the enemy’s strength and creating "optimal conditions for victory in a future war." The CBW concept includes both covert operations outside the borders of the state, based on precise intelligence, to harm the enemy’s efforts and initiatives, and "overt action to create deterrence," aimed at illustrating "the limits of Israel’s restraint."
A clear example of such an overt action is Operation House of Cards, the recent attack by the Israel Air Force against Iranian bases in Syria, in response to the rockets fired by Iranian forces at IDF posts in the Golan Heights.
In the preface to the document, the chief of staff wrote that it would be "a compass for the use and construction of force," and this is evident in the multi-year plan (Gideon Doctrine) in which the elite divisions were improved and the commando brigade was established, to strengthen the IDF’s maneuvering capabilities. Already when it was published, it was clear that this was a living and breathing document that would be updated in accordance with changes in the nature of the threats Israel faces, changes to the battlefield and the structure of the IDF. Accordingly, last month the IDF published the updated version, an "IDF Strategy 2.0" If you will.
The updated document, too emphasizes the importance of land maneuver capability, that has been neglected in recent years. According to the principles laid out in the document, the army will employ "integrated, immediate and simultaneous" strikes, "using two basic elements: an effort to maneuver with rapid, lethal and flexible capabilities that operate in a multi-arms combination, [and] a precision and wide-scale effort based on qualitative intelligence."
According to this approach, land maneuvers must be "quick and lethal to targets perceived by the enemy as valuable," as was the case in the Six Day War. The concept therefore sees importance in the use of "disproportionate force," as the chief of staff said when he was the head of the Northern Command, so that at the end of the conflict deterrence is created and the enemy is required to engage in rehabilitation at the expense of intensification and hostile offensive activity.
In his book, Maj.-Gen. Eiland, who was my father’s company commander in the Paratroopers (after whom my younger brother and I volunteered for the paratroopers), claimed that the next high-intensity confrontation will require the use of force similar to the bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War, in which Hezbollah headquarters were located. That air-strike demonstrated the IDF’s destructive potential, undermined Hezbollah’s legitimacy among the Lebanese population, strengthened deterrence and also caused increased involvement by the international community in efforts to achieve a cease-fire.
"Only a strategy that will cause a large number of [instances] of the Dahiya effect, and at the beginning of the war, will ensure that the next campaign is short and Israel victorious," he wrote.
It appears that IDF strategy follows the same lines of thought.
However, a military strategy document, no matter how comprehensive, must rely on a national security strategy formulated by a political echelon that defines the interests, objectives and vision of the state. Such a written concept, the kind published every year in the United States (and signed by the president), does not exist.
And what about a dialogue in which the political echelon and the General Staff define the goals of the various campaigns Israel is conducting? Is seems that when it comes to dealing with what is defined in the updated IDF strategy document as a Confrontation Complex against the Shi’ite axis: Iran, Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and the Shi’ite militias operating in Syria, such a dialogue does takes place, with good results.
On the other hand, in the Palestinian arena, with an emphasis on the Gaza Strip, such dialogue is lacking. Over the past two years, military commanders have warned that Israel must create economic incentives to improve living conditions in Gaza, and it appears that the political echelon has refused to listen. The army, which remained without a clear political directive except to prevent the fence from being breached, exercised great force, and rightly so. On the other hand, if the government had heed the army’s warnings, it would have been possible to avoid the scenario from arising in the first place.
Over the years, the IDF has formulated a series of doctrinal documents and operational concepts, but the "IDF strategy" document is exceptional because it is well connected to the daily activity of the IDF, both in the force buildup and the use of force in overt and covert operations. The chief of staff wrote in the preface to the original document, as well as in the updated version, that the army is not tested in formulating and updating strategy.
"The actual realization of the strategy in preparing the IDF for the challenges and its operation in various scenarios against emerging and existing threats are our supreme test," he wrote.
But without a comprehensive national security strategy formed by the government, the army will be operating in a vacuum.
The author is the founder and operator of the blog “In the Crosshairs” on military and security vision, strategy and practice.
(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", May 22, 2018)