"War Month": A Test of the IDF’s Operational Concept and a Dress Rehearsal for the Next War | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The IDF plans to conduct a month-long exercise, the first of its kind in Israel, which will simulate war in multiple arenas and multiple levels, and include elements of powerful offense and strong defense. The exercise will test, for the first time, Chief of Staff Kochavi’s ambitious operational concept for victory. What are the criteria for the exercise’s success?

The IDF announced recently that it would hold a "war month" in the first half of 2022 lasting four weeks – the first General Staff exercise of its kind. The exercise, which will include regular army and reserve forces on an especially large scale, is designed to evaluate the army's forces during the course of a long, consecutive, challenging, and life-like exercise in order to enhance readiness and fitness for war. The "war month" name is taken from the concluding stage in training IDF infantry troops. This phase includes a "war week" in which the training companies simulate a combat operation in order to test their fitness in an array of missions for which they were trained. In addition to a difficult and demanding drill involving many forces, the exercise will facilitate a thorough assessment of the operational concept for victory formulated by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.

Between August and September 1941, the US Army carried out a number of exercises in Louisiana over an area of 8,800 square kilometers. The exercises, in which the army wanted to test new concepts and weapons, such as the quality of commanders, was initiated by then-Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General George Marshall, in order to strengthen and improve the army's readiness for taking part in the world war that began in 1939. It appeared then that at some point the United States would have to intervene in the war. The forces were divided into two armies (red and blue) of 200,000 soldiers each. During the exercise, these armies conducted maneuvers in which weapon systems such as tanks and new fighting frameworks were tested, among them the armored division commanded by General George Patton. The army had to develop a combat doctrine that would enable it to halt the German blitzkrieg, or alternatively, to move forces forward rapidly in order to exploit opportunities on the flanks and conduct attacks in a large area. In a briefing to his men before the maneuvers, Patton said, “Find the enemy, hold him, and get around him, always moving, do not sit down, do not say ‘I have done enough, ‘keep on, see what else you can do to raise the devil with the enemy…You must be desperate determination to go forward." The division under his command indeed demonstrated great mobility, and highlighted to the army commanders the advantage of large frameworks and mobility in armored forces.

The exercises also examined new ideas about integrated multi-corps and multi-branch battle management. Many of the lessons from these maneuvers became operational concepts of the US armed forces after the United States entered the war in December 1941. Furthermore, many of the commanders in those maneuvers, among them Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, Dwight Eisenhower, and of course George Patton, played prominent roles in the war and were appointed to key positions in the army in the campaign against Germany. The exercises, which were referred to as the Louisiana Maneuvers, became famous in the American ground forces, and are still regarded as a model for how innovative concepts and new weapons should be tested and evaluated.

It appears that like Marshall, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi seeks to conduct an up-to-date version of the Louisiana Maneuvers. The IDF recently announced that in the first half of 2022, it would hold a "war month" lasting four weeks – the first General Staff exercise of its type. The exercise, which will include regular army and reserve forces on an especially large scale, is designed to evaluate the army's forces during the course of a long, consecutive, challenging, and life-like exercise in order to enhance its readiness and fitness for war.

"War month" is taken from the concluding phase of training IDF infantry troops, which includes a "war week," in which the training companies simulate a combat operation in order to test their fitness in an array of missions for which they were trained. It appears that the reason for the exercise is due primarily to the realization, as expressed by German General Erwin Rommel following his experiences as a company commander (and as an acting battalion commander) in an elite infantry battalion in WWI, "War makes extremely heavy demands on the soldier's strength and nerves. For this reason, make heavy demands on your men in peacetime exercises." In addition to a difficult and demanding drill involving many forces, the exercise will facilitate a thorough assessment of the operational concept for victory formulated by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, aimed at "undermining the enemy’s approach and building military power that will prove to the enemy that its approach is no longer effective."

Kochavi's concept include three main efforts in the use of force, all of which are to be practiced during the "war month": a multi-dimensional maneuver for enemy territory, powerful attacks with firepower and cyberattacks, and a strong multidimensional defense, designed, as stated in an article by Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, "so that the offensive achievements are not offset by the enemy's achievements in our territory." All of these efforts will be made simultaneously in order to expose the enemy and destroy it quickly.

Implementing the approach requires essential operational conditions, including intelligence superiority, air superiority, digital superiority, naval superiority, a policy that permits the effective use of firepower in the populated areas where the enemy hides and defends itself in the midst of the civilian population, the resilience of the home front during weeks of warfare, and operational continuity.

Key ideas in the approach are multi-branch efforts and multi-dimensionality, and according to the concept, all of the IDF's capabilities in all of the dimensions will be utilized in order to execute a more effective and deadlier maneuver and defense. For example, as US military theoretician and retired armored corps officer Douglas Macgregor said, sensors mounted on fighter jets and remote unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying above the battlefield are likely to gather intelligence about the enemy in a specific location, which will be transmitted to the land or naval force, and actually to anyone can do the best job of destroying it. At the same time, the force utilizing electronic warfare can disrupt the enemy's drone operation designed to attack the maneuvering land force, and can provide that force with protection.

Furthermore, the goal of the maneuvering force is to influence the dimension in which it operates, and to influence that and other dimensions. For example, an armored force that destroys the enemy's rocket launchers or artillery will perform a land mission that affects the home front's ability to maintain operational continuity, while alternatively, an elite infantry force flown into enemy territory that gains control over areas where it can prevent land-based fire against the navy's ships will ensure naval freedom of action.

The new elements shaping the modern battlefield, including advanced technology and the ability to integrate and connect branches and forces more effectively, do not eliminate the need for maneuvering forces to conduct land-based warfare in enemy territory, sometimes at short range. The enemy is able to adjust to the firepower directed against it; prepare in advance, both above and below the surface; and continue fighting. As Patton said, flexible and fast maneuvering forces are therefore needed that will be able to find the enemy, expose it to firepower, and strike it directly in order to reduce the barrages fired at the Israel home front.

The planned IDF exercise will therefore include a scenario of an integrated multi-front campaign in the north and south, according to the up-to-date and gravest reference scenarios, as well as testing all of the necessary capabilities: the transition from peacetime to emergency, inter-organizational coordination, management of the home front and civilian assistance, use of firepower, maneuver in a built-up area, and approach to a civilian population in enemy territory. One key challenge for the IDF is conducting a large-scale maneuver at the front and deep in enemy territory, based on general staff capabilities and activity of special forces.

Like the Louisiana Maneuvers, "war month" delivers a warning message about enhancing readiness for an upcoming war. A divisional exercise is accordingly being added for the first time, in which the IDF Fire Formation (98th Paratroopers Division) and Depth Corps, commanded by ex-paratrooper Maj. Gen. Itai Veruv, will conduct maneuvers in Cyprus. The exercise also has a deterrent element – displaying the ability to transport a combat division quickly behind enemy lines in an air assault. Cyprus is topographically similar to the Lebanese mountains, and training in foreign territory with features similar to those of areas beyond Israel's borders in which Israel's forces are likely to fight is of great value. The airborne mission; movement and navigation in unfamiliar territory; handling pressure, fatigue, and forces simulating the enemy, all far from home, pose a real challenge to the commanders and forces. The exercise as a whole is designed to bolster a sense of capability and self-confidence, and to facilitate the advance and development of operational know-how and combat doctrine.

Large exercises that comprehensively assess the systematic fitness of the IDF and validate innovative concepts of warfare, while testing the fitness of the forces and the ability of the commanders to function under a heavy load for an extended period, have considerable advantages. At the same time, given the current uncertain state of the IDF's resources resulting from the political crisis, the absence of an up-to-date state budget, and the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, budgetary issues arise. The alternative cost of the exercise and the constraints imposed by an exercise lasting an entire month on the IDF's operational continuity in a range of areas, from counter-terrorism and regular security in the Palestinian theater to the war between wars in the north, must be taken into consideration.

Another question is the degree to which the new operational concept is assimilated. One of the causes of the failures in the war between the IDF and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 was that the operational concept formulated before the war was not properly assimilated by the IDF forces. Nevertheless, the "war month" will provide the IDF with a period long enough to assimilate the current concept and its derivatives, and improve the expertise of forces and their commanders. A thorough assessment will make it possible to draw conclusions and update the concept in time for the next campaign.

The challenge facing the IDF is to learn lessons from the “war month” and the campaigns in which it fought against hybrid semi-military organizations, from the Second Lebanon War and Operation Protective Edge until the current time, so that victory is achieved in the next campaign in a shorter period. This will be an expression of the profound change that has occurred in the IDF.

The Operational Environment: Possible Escalation to an Unwanted War | by Itai Brun and Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Israel’s enemies are deterred from large-scale conflict • Possible unwanted escalation in the north and south • In a war Israel will sustain a severe attack on the home front, an incursion into its territory, and a cognitive campaign

The complex and challenging operational environment where Israel employs its military force (along with other measures) represents the convergence of technological, military, social, and political developments that emerged over recent decades. These developments include: deep, global changes in the nature of war; geostrategic changes in the Middle East, most of which are connected to the consequences of the regional upheaval and the ensuing events (including the arrival of Russian and US military forces in the region); substantial changes in the operational doctrine and weapons of Israel’s enemies, especially those that belong to the radical Shiite axis; changes in how Israeli military force is employed, and the preference for firepower (based on precise intelligence) over ground force maneuvers; and the consequences of the information revolution that has shaken the world, including the military institutions.

From Isolated Battle Days to Escalation?

In 2020 Israeli deterrence of large-scale conflict and war remained clearly in force, and even seems to have grown stronger. Israel’s enemies recognize its strength, and they are preoccupied with their domestic problems, including the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. A series of war games held by INSS in late 2019 and early 2020, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, led to the conclusion that all of the actors in the northern arena wish to avoid escalation. The year 2020 validated this assessment, and indeed, escalation did not occur. The experience of the last few years shows that this is also the case with regard to forces in the Gaza Strip.

However, since last July, the Northern Command has been on a higher level of alert with respect to Hezbollah, following Hezbollah’s threat to respond to the strike attributed to Israel in Syria in which one of the organization’s operatives was killed. The organization tried several times to settle the score with Israel, but was unsuccessful. The IDF repelled all of the attempts and even continued its attacks in Syria, in a way that made it clear that it does not accept the deterrence equations composed by Hezbollah.

In Israel, as in the ranks of Hamas and Hezbollah, there is an awareness of the danger inherent in an escalation dynamic, but it seems that all of the sides expect that they can end it after a few days of battle, similar to the short conflicts in the Gaza arena in recent years. However, such a scenario could change if one or both of the sides suffers fatal losses, at which point response and counter-response could escalate and lead to large-scale conflict and even war. Such a war could occur with the Iranian-Shiite axis, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq, and perhaps even with Iran itself. Furthermore, the escalation could spill over into other arenas, in particular with the forces in the Gaza Strip.

The Enemy’s Operational Doctrine

Hezbollah and Hamas’s choice regarding their current form of warfare stems from learning processes that took place starting in the 1990s, based on an analysis of Israel’s strengths and weaknesses. Last year INSS pointed to a change in these organizations’ doctrine of warfare following lessons learned from the conflicts that developed with Israel since the Second Lebanon War (2006). The essence of this change is the transition from a victory concept based on wearing down the Israeli population (“victory via non-defeat”) to a concept that also seeks to damage, from various arenas, national infrastructure in Israel and essential military capabilities, in order to destabilize and undermine the Israeli system.

This concept is implemented by means of military buildup processes that include: increasing the number of rockets and missiles, both in order to improve the survivability of the arsenal and to saturate the Israeli air defense systems; arming with high-precision rockets and missiles that can hit vulnerable civilian facilities (electricity, gas, and other national infrastructure) and military weak points (air force bases and headquarters) in Israel; arming with drones and other unmanned aerial aircraft, including for the purposes of precision strikes.

This concept is also based on the idea of infiltrating ground forces into Israeli territory, in order to disrupt the IDF’s offensive and defensive operational capabilities and to increase the damage to the home front’s stamina. Against this backdrop, the abilities of Hezbollah and Hamas to penetrate into Israeli territory have been improved, including in the underground realm, via special raid forces (Hezbollah’s Radwan force and Hamas’s Nukhba force). These forces are intended for moving some of the fighting into Israeli territory – taking central roads, infiltrating communities and bases, and compelling the IDF to invest a significant portion of its efforts in defense – in effect preventing it from being able to go on the offensive. Hamas has invested significant efforts and resources, both material and personnel, in its offensive tunneling project. In October the IDF exposed and destroyed an especially deep border fence crossing tunnel that was located using the engineering barrier capabilities built along the border between Gaza and Israel. It seems that Hamas has not abandoned the project since the construction of the barrier, and intends to find ways to overcome the obstacle.

The IDF Operational Doctrine

An examination of public official IDF documents published during the past year reveals a great deal about the concept of the IDF operational method in the next campaign. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and the entire General Staff see the response as a combination of "multidimensional maneuver into enemy territory, offensive strikes using firepower and other dimensions, and strong multidimensional defense. All of these will be carried out together, will benefit from closer reciprocity, and will fully utilize their advantages in the air, on the ground, in intelligence, and in information processing in order to expose the hidden enemy and destroy it at a fast pace".

Along with investing in enemy exposure capabilities and increasing fire effort capacities (with an emphasis on precision fire), the IDF has invested efforts in the ground forces in order to make ground maneuver more lethal, faster, and more flexible. In addition, the IDF has invested in constructing an engineered barrier, both on the northern border and in the southern arena, with the aim of thwarting the offensive tunneling efforts by Hamas and Hezbollah.

Regarding firepower, with an emphasis on airpower, the IDF has developed its strike doctrine on a large scale and with great precision, with each such strike aiming to cause the enemy destruction and damage that will exceed its expectations regarding the IDF’s capabilities and intentions. These strikes will be directed toward hitting enemy systems that it defines as critical to its operational functioning and to implementation of its strategy. There are three kinds of strikes: spatial strikes, whose goal is to hit a maximum number of the enemy’s operatives, infrastructure, and weapons in a given sector; mission-oriented strikes, whose goal is to destroy a specific enemy system (long-range rockets, for example); and broad strikes, whose goal is to hit a series of systems and spaces in order to cause the enemy to suffer multi-system failure and force it to invest most of its efforts in defense and repair of the destruction it has suffered. The goal of neutralizing warfare capabilities focuses on the enemy’s rocket arsenal, with an emphasis on the precision long-range missile arsenal, along with the operatives in its penetration forces.

Regarding ground maneuvers, in recent years two main gaps have emerged according to the IDF’s assessment, both in its ability to meet the challenge of high-trajectory fire in different arenas, and in the ability to deny capabilities in the enemy’s centers of gravity quickly and continuously. Thus, the army formulated an up-to-date doctrine for ground maneuvers that aims to address these gaps and sees maneuver warfare as a multidimensional process. In the ground forces, the maneuver doctrine has been formulated emphasizing consolidation, exposure, assembly, strike, and assault, whereby the maneuvering forces will be provided with intelligence capabilities and enhanced enemy exposure capabilities. This is so that they can attack the enemy and neutralize its capabilities, through both precision fire and rapid and lethal maneuvers. The IDF prioritization of firepower remains, but it is evident that in the past five years the understanding has emerged that launching fast and aggressive maneuvers as a complementary step is essential for quickly ending the campaign, under conditions that will serve Israel’s interests. Accordingly, considerable resources have been invested in improving and strengthening the capabilities of the maneuvering forces.

The Nature of the Next War

The IDF must prepare for two main campaign scenarios that could develop from unwanted escalation following limited battle days in the northern arena: a "third Lebanon war" with only Hezbollah in Lebanon that would be much more intense and destructive than the Second Lebanon War; and a "first northern war" with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but also with forces in Syria and Iraq, and perhaps also in Iran and in additional arenas.

In a war, the IDF would employ its offensive capabilities – on the ground, in the air, and at sea – and would cause very extensive damage to its enemies, in the front and deep behind enemy lines. But in such a war Israel too is expected to face massive surface-to-surface missile fire on the home front, some of which would be precision missiles and some of which would even penetrate the air defense systems. There would be attacks on the home front by unmanned aerial vehicles and drones; the penetration of ground forces into Israeli territory on the level of thousands of fighters; and cyber and cognitive attacks intended to undermine the stamina of the Israeli public and its faith in the political and military leadership. The IDF’s offensive components would face sophisticated air and sea defense systems and complex ground defense systems, including the use of the underground realm and advanced anti-tank missiles.

The campaign could therefore take place on two different levels: on one, Israel’s enemies would attack the home front with high-trajectory fire in amounts not previously seen, and in the other Israel would attack the enemy’s forces in its territory, through firepower and through ground maneuvers. But it is possible that the impression will emerge of only a loose connection between the two levels. Given the destruction in Israel’s cities, Israel’s residents who will be under fire will not be overly impressed by the enormous destruction that the IDF will inflict on the enemy’s systems (even if they are located within a civilian population) and by the number of its operatives who are struck in the battles. Battalion commanders in the Second Lebanon War said that during the fighting, despite lapses and errors, they felt that they carried out their mission and won overall, and when they returned to Israel they discovered that the public thought that the achievement lay somewhere between a tie and a loss. Considering the expected damage in the next war, this feeling will intensify.

Furthermore, presumably the reserve forces that are called up will also be forced to organize under fire, as the recruitment bases and emergency storage units will be targeted. The army will not be able to implement its "precious time" doctrine, whereby during a conflict the reserve units go through training to increase their fitness and only then take part in the fighting, because the training areas will also be targeted (as they were in 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense in the southern arena). Moreover, because some of the bases of reserve units are located far from the front lines, transporting the forces could be delayed due to high trajectory fire by the enemy. Hence, the safest place that the fighting forces can be is at the front and in the depths of enemy territory. While the ground forces will have to cope with the risks of fighting there, their combat capabilities and strength will address these risks.

The Israeli public expects a military victory in a short campaign with few losses. This expectation grows when it comes to a campaign based on the use of airpower. However, in future conflicts it is expected that the air force squadrons will not be able to move almost freely over enemy territory, as was demonstrated in February 2018, when, during an Israeli air strike in Syria, an F-16 fighter jet was hit and its pilots were forced to abandon the aircraft over the Jezreel Valley. Furthermore, along with its anti-aircraft systems, the enemy will seek to damage the functional continuity of the Israeli Air Force by firing rockets and missiles at air bases. The IDF will need to struggle for air superiority and freedom of operation. Moreover, the Russian presence in the northern arena could place additional limitations on the air force’s freedom of operation.

Policy Recommendations

Israel must prepare for a multi-theater war (a "northern war") as a main reference threat. This war would be characterized by a higher intensity than the campaigns that it has waged since the Second Lebanon War, both in terms of the amount of fire on the Israeli home front and in terms of the fighting front.

Given the challenges expected for airpower and the need to curtail fire on the home front quickly, it is important to prepare the ground forces for flexible, aggressive, and lethal maneuvers to destroy the enemy’s military force. In addition, it is important to narrow the gaps between public expectations regarding the nature and possible results of the war and the expected reality, and to initiate a political and military effort to prevent war and make the most of other alternatives for advancing Israel’s objectives in the northern arena. Furthermore, a multi-year plan for the IDF should be finalized and budgeted, and adapted to the budgetary constraints forced by the COVID-19 crisis. The buildup as part of the American aid should be implemented, and the IDF and the defense forces should be removed from the political struggle in Israel.

The Next War Will Make No Allowances for Political or Covid Constraints | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

"Prepare for it as if it will happen tomorrow", instructed IDF Chief of Staff Kochavi at a large-scale exercise in the north, and reminded commanders what perhaps the Knesset has forgotten: on Israel’s northern border, the quiet can be deceptive. Israel’s lawmakers must rise to the occasion, remove security issues from the healthcare and political crises, and help advance IDF readiness for the next campaign, before it is too late

  • originally published as an "INSS Insight" No. 1412, December 7, 2020

The prolonged tension in the north between the IDF and Hezbollah suggests that the two sides are actually only a few faulty or miscalculated moves away from a clash that is liable to escalate rapidly into a full-scale war, with little warning that would give the IDF time to prepare. At the same time, Israel is grappling with a Covid-19 crisis and a prolonged political crisis that has delayed essential IDF force buildup processes, particularly the budget and procurement of aircraft and battle systems, as well as the IDF's training program. The political crisis has also disrupted the ongoing dialogue between the government and the army, which is a critical element in Israel's ability to make decisions on both force buildup and, no less importantly, on force application. Despite the pandemic and the political crisis – and as was underscored recently by the IDF's retaliatory operation in Syria in response to the explosives laid in the Golan Heights – the IDF should train and prepare for escalation, despite the risks of infection from the coronavirus, so that it will be ready for war.

In mid-November 2020, the IDF reported it had launched a large-scale air attack in Syria. As described by the IDF spokesperson, the attack was in retaliation for explosives laid close to Outpost 116 in the Golan Heights under the direction of Unit 840 of the Iranian al-Quds force, which uses Syrian volunteers in terrorist operations. The IDF struck eight targets, including weapons stores, ground-to-air missile batteries, an al-Quds headquarters, and the headquarters of the Syrian 7th division. A number of Syrian and Iranian soldiers were killed in this attack. Since last July, the IDF Northern Command has been on increased alert against Hezbollah, following an attack in Syria attributed to Israel in which a Hezbollah operative was killed.

Following the latter attack, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared that the organization would exact a price in human life for each Hezbollah operative killed in Lebanon or Syria. Hezbollah has tried a number of times to impose this equation on Israel, with no success. For example, in August, Hezbollah snipers fired at an IDF force on the Lebanese border near Manara. The IDF responded from the air, attacking Hezbollah positions near the Lebanese border (in contrast to the response in a previous event, when a squad of Hezbollah snipers crossed the border at Mount Dov, and the IDF allowed the Hezbollah squad to flee). Maj. Gen. Amir Baram, head of the IDF Northern Command and a former paratrooper, said that the Israeli attack was designed to show Hezbollah that "you lost two positions when you fired and caused no casualties. This shows you how we will respond to a shooting attack that causes casualties". A number of additional attacks against bases of Iranian forces in Syria were attributed to Israel – a signal to Nasrallah that his equation has not deterred Israel. The tension, however, has not abated, and Nasrallah has since repeated, and emphasized, that the price will be exacted.

Although the tension continues at a low level, as has occurred in the past on both the southern and northern fronts, the two sides are only a few steps away from escalation that might develop into a war. As with the Israel-Hamas dynamic, it appears that Israel and Hezbollah have adopted the approach that any escalation will be limited to a few days of battle that can be contained and controlled. The potential damage from escalation on the northern front, however, is far greater than the potential damage that Hamas can inflict on Israel. This could make it even more difficult for Israel and Hezbollah to control developments and prevent their escalation into a major conflict.

In addition to the ongoing tension, any assessment of Israel's strategic position should factor in additional variables, among them the forthcoming transition in United States administrations. An American attack on Iranian targets in the region is possible, either in response to attacks against US forces in Iraq and eastern Syria or in order to damage Iran's nuclear project. Such an attack is likely to spark an Iranian response against Israel utilizing Iranian proxies, at a time when Israel continues to weather the Covid-19 pandemic and a political crisis.

Israel is a strong country, with stable and functioning government systems. The political stalemate in the decision making process, however, including in defense matters, has a negative impact on the defense establishment's preparedness for escalation in the security situation. No budget has been drafted or approved in the six months since the current government was formed, including for the defense budget. Procurement of new combat systems and weapons has not yet been decided, and the Tnufa (Momentum) multi-year plan proposed by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has not yet been approved. As stated by Ministry of Defense director general Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel, adaptation of the processes of training, procurement, receiving, and absorbing new combat systems and aircraft takes time, and some of Israel’s aircraft, for example helicopters, are in operational service far longer than what the manufacturer intended.

Furthermore, as revealed in the course of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Saudi Arabia and the political process that led to the signing of the Abraham Accords, senior ministers and the IDF General Staff were excluded and did not take part in the preparations, or in the process itself. A proper, regular, and ongoing dialogue between the government and the army is a vital element in Israel's ability to make critical defense decisions on force buildup, and no less importantly, on the use of force. In the event of escalation on the northern front, the ability of army commanders and senior political leaders to conduct a quick and well-organized dialogue based on trust and knowledge is essential for Israel's ability to manage such escalation successfully.

Given this situation, the insistence of Chief of Staff Kochavi on carrying out essential parts of the Tnufa program, as well as conducting Lethal Arrow, a multi-system exercise, which in late October simulated a conflict on more than one front and included participation by reserve forces, is praiseworthy. In addition to this drill, regular army and reserve forces conducted additional exercises, and more drills are scheduled to take place in the coming months.

Israel's airpower comprises effective and lethal force capable of especially large attack output. The air force has formulated a concept of large-scale high-precision strikes in which each strike is designed to cause destruction and damage to the enemy far in excess of its expectations of the IDF's capabilities and intentions. These strikes are planned to damage enemy systems that are critical to its operational performance and strategic plans. The objective is to bring about multi-system failure, thereby forcing the enemy to devote most of its resources to defense and reconstruction.

At the same time, it is quite possible that in addition to airpower, Israel will have to conduct supplementary rapid and aggressive land operations against enemy soldiers in their territory that will unseat them physically and emotionally, and will also expose targets to attack with precise firepower. According to the IDF, ground maneuvers in recent years revealed two main problems: the ability to provide a response to rocket and missile fire aimed at the Israeli home front, and the ability to neutralize capabilities, rapidly and continuously, in the enemy's centers of gravity. The IDF ground forces have therefore devised a ground combat doctrine of buildup, detection, convergence, strike, and assault, in which the ground combat forces have access to enhanced intelligence and detection capabilities. This will enable them to locate the enemy, attack it, and neutralize its capabilities through precise firepower and rapid and deadly action by land forces.

In any case, the large areas in Lebanon and the densely populated urban areas in the Gaza Strip require large orders of battle, and certainly in a multi-front war. This mandates the use of reserve forces, because the regular army by itself will not be sufficient. In turn, this points to the third deficiency in IDF preparedness – the combat fitness of its forces. Making the IDF fit for combat on land, despite the constraints, requires combat exercises, lest Israel find itself with an inadequate response to the threat. In a talk with Paratroopers Brigade commanders before the exercise in the Galilee, Chief of Staff Kochavi said, "It is impossible to triumph over our enemies without land operations." He warned against the illusion that the next campaign would be far in the future, and told the commanders that they should "prepare for it as if it will happen tomorrow".

In addition to a high level of readiness, regular maneuvers on a reasonably high level have always been a challenge to the IDF, because the IDF has almost constantly faced concrete threats. Conducting training during the Covid-19 pandemic, however, is an especially difficult challenge, because the possibility of infection during exercises has been added to the usual constraints affecting reserve soldiers, led by their need to balance between employment and family needs on the one hand and service in the IDF reserves on the other. Concern about contagion is well founded, as people have been infected during training.

Nevertheless, as the Chief of Staff said, Israel's enemies will have no regard for its Covid-19 or political constraints. The IDF must therefore arrange a clear procedure as soon as possible that will include appropriate compensation for soldiers who become ill and those who are forced to quarantine as a result of reserve service, and must insist on conducting drills. This arrangement will make it clear to soldiers serving in the reserves that the IDF regards them as a vital asset, and will reinforce their trust in it, while making them realize the importance of training. Conducting combat exercises, combined with IDF-initiated offensive action on the various fronts, strengthens Israel's deterrent image and clearly demonstrates its readiness for war, even though it does not wish for one.

In conclusion, despite the prevailing assumption that the probability of war at the present time is low, especially before the new administration settles into office in the US, it is essential to maintain the IDF's fitness and preparedness for unexpected developments, especially those involving the Iranian-Shiite axis on the northern front, which includes Lebanon, Syria, and western Iraq. The IDF's role is that of a responsible adult – especially at this time, when the political decision making and governmental mechanisms in Israel are underperforming. A high level of preparedness and a high and prominent operational profile will help deter the Shiite axis from efforts to confront Israel with harsh defense challenges having the potential to escalate into a large scale conflict.

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.