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.

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)

IDF Strategy 2.0 | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

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.

תיעוד תקיפת סוללת נמ בסוריה צילום דובר צהל1

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)

Israel defines redlines for Iran in Lebanon | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Those who define redlines should be prepared to act when these lines are crossed

The escalated events over the weekend in the North exceeded several levels that has until now been the norm.

Firstly, it is a clear Iranian provocation. This is not a force that is supported and operated remotely by Iran, such as Hezbollah, but rather a clear and visible clash between Israeli and Iranian forces in which Iranian soldiers may have been killed. Second, the Israeli response is consistent with the doctrine recently presented by Minister Naftali Bennett, according to which Israel must act directly against Iran and not only against its proxies, including Hezbollah.

But the weekend of action does not stand in a vacuum, but rather joins a broader context of messages and moves, Israelis and Iranians alike, on the northern front.

Recently, Israel has been conducting an effort to deter Iran and the Hezbollah attempts to construct infrastructure for the manufacture of precision rockets in southern Lebanon. Indeed, missiles with heavy warheads and high accuracy are already in Hezbollah’s arsenal, in large numbers, and they also have significant range. But so far, the organization has been able to acquire them mainly through smuggling and arms shipments from Syria and Iran, and it seems there is a trend to cut out the middle man, or at least shorten the way.

As part of the effort, the IDF constantly presents high readiness for battle by exposing various exercises, including drills and publication of the acquisition of new weapons and capabilities. In addition, the IDF spokesperson, Brig.- Gen. Ronen Manelis, published an article in Arab media in which he warned the citizens of Lebanon that “Iran is playing with their security and future”. In the article, Manelis, a former intelligence officer, stated that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are turning Lebanon into “one large missile factory”. This is no longer an issue of transferring arms, money, or counsel, he said. Iran has de facto opened a new branch, “the Lebanon branch – Iran is here”.

Israel identified the Iranian effort to establish missile manufacturing infrastructure in Lebanon some time ago, and sent threatening messages to Hezbollah. In addition to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the time, during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to warn that Israel would not allow Iran to establish itself in Syria and would not accept the existence of precision missiles in Lebanon – and given the need will act to prevent it.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot also used his speech at a ceremony marking the 21st anniversary of the 1997 “Disaster of the Helicopters” to convey a message, saying that Hezbollah “violates UN Security Council resolutions, maintains a military presence in the region, possessing weapons systems and increasing its military capabilities. In the face of these threats, the IDF operates day and night”. Eisenkot also noted that he is confident of Israel’s military superiority, “the quality of commanders and soldiers and their ability to achieve victory in times of war and to inflict painful damage on the enemy”.

It is clear that Israel is making an effort to clarify for its enemies, as well as the international community, its redlines, in order to prevent and deter their crossing.

“We are following the processes of arms transfers in all sectors of the fighting”, former chief of staff Benny Gantz once said. “This is a very bad thing, which is very sensitive, and from time to time, when things are needed, things can happen”. If Israel’s message falls on deaf ears, one can cautiously assess that the need will arise and things may happen.

But a strike against the missile manufacturing facilities could be cause for severe Hezbollah response; the other side also has redlines. One of them is an attack on Lebanon and a violation of its sovereignty. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Israel, which radiates readiness and determination mainly for deterrence, will operate covertly.

Walking on the threshold of war by means of deterrence, and the possibility of miscalculation of one of the parties, or, alternatively, a too successful action which obligates the other side to respond harshly, requires Israel to be prepared for a confrontation. In a lecture given at the at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) last December, former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan said that in the next campaign Israel must take full advantage of the asymmetry between it and the hybrid terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and activate “the maximum of Israeli power at the same time on all enemy formations, everywhere, in the shortest time possible”.

The reality of confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon is well known to Golan. He did most of his service as a soldier and commander in the 35th Paratroopers Brigade. In 1987, he commanded the Paratroopers’ anti-tank company in “Operation Green Eyes” against Hezbollah headquarters in the village of Maydoun. At dawn, snipers from IAF special forces unit Shaldag opened fire on Hezbollah operatives, while at the same time the force led by Golan fired anti-tank missiles at Hezbollah positions and vehicles.

Later on he commanded the 890 Battalion and a regional brigade in Lebanon, and led the Nahal Brigade during “Operation Defensive Shield,” and before he served as deputy chief of staff he was the OC Northern Command. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006 he sent a letter to the chief of staff, Dan Halutz, in which he suggested launching a largescale ground operation. His proposal was declined.

Hezbollah has grown stronger and more experienced since 2006 and constitutes a grave threat to Israel’s home front. To remove the threat quickly, said general Golan in his lecture (just as he wrote in his letter to Halutz), “IDF ground forces must be used in a very decisive and very effective manner”. This rule, as well as the additional significance of a possible war in the north, should be taken into consideration by the government as it forms a policy against the emerging threat in Lebanon. Those who define redlines should be prepared to act when these lines are crossed.

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", February 12, 2018)

The IDF vs. Subterranean Warfare\ by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Despite the great public attention paid to the problem of subterranean warfare, this does not mean that subterranean warfare is the major strategic threat to Israel

Subterranean warfare has appeared many times in the Arab-Israeli context, and the IDF and the Ministry of Defense have dealt with various aspects of the phenomenon of subterranean warfare for many years. On rare occasions Hizbollah chose to operate underground during the years the IDF controlled the security zone in Lebanon. In the Second Lebanon War, a force from the Maglan special forces unit conquered a fortified Hizbollah dugout adjacent to the Shaked post; two IDF soldiers and five Hizbollah operatives were killed in the battle. After the war, Hizbollah built an extensive system of concealment and military tunnels within the villages, and possibly tunnels for cross-border penetration as well.

During the second intifada, the Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip made extensive use of tunnels for smuggling weapons from Egypt to the Gaza Strip and for attacking IDF forces in Gush Katif. Digging a tunnel is estimated to take about three months and costs about $100,000. Such tunnels can be concealed so that their openings are inside houses or greenhouses, and can be dug in advance without being used until the crucial time. The IDF launched many raids against the tunnels, and by June 2004 had destroyed over 100 of them. A special heavy piece of equipment, called a trencher, was acquired and used to dig a trench along the Philadelphi axis. Shafts were dug at random places into which explosives were inserted in the hope of making the tunnels collapse, and rows of houses close to the Rafah road were demolished. The problem, however, was not solved.

Past significant attacks included the booby-trapped tunnels in the IDF’s Termit outpost, in which three soldiers were wounded in September 2001; the booby-trapped tunnel in the IDF’s Orhan outpost, in which one soldier was killed and five wounded in June 2004; and the attack on the Joint Verification Team (JVT) outpost in Rafah in December 2004 in a powerful booby-trapped and cross-border tunnel attack, which left five soldiers killed and six wounded and was considered the most deadly tunnel attack during those years. Hamas’ best-known offensive tunnel, whose exit was 100 meters inside Israeli territory near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, was used on June 25, 2006 in an attack by a terrorist squad that killed two IDF soldiers and kidnapped Gilad Shalit.

Between the years 2006-2008 In October 2006, IDF forces demolished from smuggling tunnels and offensive tunnels from the Gaza Strip. In November 2008, a paratroopers battalion commanded by Yaron Finkelman operating in Operation Double Challenge killed six terrorists and demolished the opening of a tunnel concealed within a building 300 meters from the fence on the Gaza Strip border.

The IDF'S tunnel rats 

Already in the early years of the twenty-first century, the IDF organized the Samoor (“weasel”) company for combating hidden weapons caches and tunnels, as part of the Yahalom Special Operations Engineering Unit of the IDF Engineering Corps. The unit is trained and equipped with means to operate within tunnels, including communications and breathing systems. Actually, the IDF prefers to avoid entering tunnels it has detected, if possible, because the attacking side has no advantage in a tunnel. This capability is designed for a scenario in which a soldier has been kidnapped, or in order to attack the enemy’s underground command and control positions.

 Operation Protective Edge's Subterranean warfare  

During the entire period that included Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, not much tunnel warfare activity was recorded, but in November 2013, IDF forces destroyed two cross-border tunnels. In March 2014, the IDF demolished another cross-border tunnel. Tunnel warfare began even before Operation Protective Edge was declared, during the escalation that took place following Operation Brother’s Keeper. On July 6, 2014, in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the IDF took preventive action against a cross-border tunnel in the Rafah area that led to the death of six Hamas operatives.

As a result, Hamas intensified its rocket fire, further escalating the conflict and leading the IDF to launch Operation Protective Edge on July 8, 2014. An attempted attack on July 17 by 13 terrorists emerging from a cross-border tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa was foiled, and led to the beginning of the land-based operation. During the land campaign, brigade combat teams, including infantry, armored forces, and combat engineers engaged in the detection and demolition of both combat tunnels within the Gaza Strip and cross-border tunnels.

During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives carried out a number of attacks in Israeli territory using cross-border tunnels. Terrorists attacked an IDF pillbox tower near Nahal Oz, killing five soldiers. On August 1, 2014, a Hamas force violated the ceasefire, killing three Givati Brigade soldiers, and escaped through an offensive tunnel to Rafah, taking with them the body of First Lieutenant Hadar Goldin. A total of 34 cross-border tunnels used by Hamas were destroyed. The tunnels detected by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge were complex tunnels, with a number of entry and exit shafts. The main tunnel route was often split, and sometimes there were parallel routes. For this reason, dealing with the tunnels was no simple task.

As soon as a tunnel was detected, IDF forces took action to isolate the operating area and detect its additional shafts and branches. The Special Operations Engineering Unit planted explosives in order to demolish the tunnel. A number of methods were used to demolish tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, including aerial bombardment using JDAM bombs (called “kinetic drilling”), using water to make the tunnel collapse, and using liquid explosives by a special system dubbed “Emulsa.” In addition, elite IDF units were trained to fight within tunnels as “tunnel rat” units. In retrospect, the IDF learned that aerial bombardment of the tunnel shafts made it harder to detect the tunnels themselves.

The tunnels have been classified as a strategic threat, with the impression given that this is the gravest threat facing Israel. Arguments have since been made that the defense establishment is responsible for a strategic failure, and there have even been demands for an investigative commission on the matter. There is no doubt that the tunnels are a serious problem. despite the great public attention paid to the problem of  subterranean  warfare,  this  does  not  mean  that subterranean  warfare is the major strategic threat to Israel. It is merely one of many kinds of warfare. In other words, the issue is currently in the headlines, but long term thinking should not be distracted by momentary criticism.


The Author is the Military & Strategic Affairs and Cyber Security Program Coordinator at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", August 16, 2016)