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 people and the U.S. are with the Golan | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

U.S recognition in the Golan Heights as "part of the State of Israel" is an important political achievement for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it is not certain that the way it was done will not escalate a reality that until now has been tacitly agreed upon

Recently, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah delivered a speech in which he responded to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

"The only option for the Syrians to return the Golan Heights, and the Lebanese to return the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar, and the only option for the Palestinians to accept their legitimate rights is resistance, resistance and resistance," Nasrallah said.

Beyond the border, in Syria and Lebanon, it is hard to believe that there will be tolerance for international recognition of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the Six-Day War (and managed to keep in its hands in 1973 and thereafter) as an Israeli sovereign territory. This could constitute a precedent for the possibility that additional areas will be recognized as such. Given that Hezbollah and other Shiite militias have established an operational infrastructure on the Syrian side of the border, as the IDF revealed last month (in a cognitive operation), Nasrallah’s declaration is a clear threat.

Last month, leaders of the Blue and White Party visited the northern part of Israel. Even though the four, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid were mainly focused in trying to recruit votes and supporters, its likely that the north is connected mainly to their experiences from the military service. The former chiefs of staff fought for many years across the border, some against the Syrians, all of them in Lebanon, in the raids of the Paratroopers (Ya’alon and Gantz) and Golani (Ashkenazi) brigades, and operations. Even Lapid, who was a military correspondent in Bamahane, spent (though not as a fighter) a considerable amount of time in his service in the outposts in Lebanon.

During the tour in the North, the four referred to threats by Hezbollah and Syria. In his press conference, Gantz stressed that there is an "Iranian front that sits on the border of the State of Israel, and we will know how to deal with any threat in any arena, as much as necessary." Lapid, for his part, pledged on behalf of the four, "We will never return the Golan Heights."

The person who took care of Lapid’s commitment was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past was among those who negotiated with the Syrians, in which he was asked to give up control of the Golan Heights. During Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last week, President Trump signed a presidential proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel. For Netanyahu, too, the North is connected to his personal military service as a soldier and commander in the Sayeret Matkal IDF elite unit.

גריר טוויטר.jpg

IN HIS book Autobiography, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland referred to the negotiations that Prime Minister Ehud Barak held in 1999 with then-Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and argued that Israel should not agree to a peace arrangement with Syria in which it relinquishes its control over the Golan Heights. Eiland, who like Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi, participated in raids in Lebanon (in one of them, as a paratrooper battalion commander, he took with him a stubborn platoon leader named Ofer Shelah, now number eight in Blue and White’s list), admitted that he had formulated his insights after his retirement. He noted that he had hoped that the negotiations between Israel and Syria would not grow into a peace agreement in which Israel would relinquish the territory.

In his view, Prime Minister Barak relied on wrong assumptions. First, if the Syrian army moved forces to the Golan Heights, Israel would know about this in real time, which is not necessarily true. Second, it is not at all certain that Israel would understand and correctly interpret the movement of Syrian forces aimed toward war (in 1973, for example, Israel did not understand this). Third, because of the time required for such a decision, the Syrians would be the first to arrive to the battlefield and gain the upper hand.

Another assumption is that an international monitoring mechanism that would enforce the agreement might indeed monitor tanks and cannons, but it would be less effective in detecting sophisticated surface-to-surface missiles with long range and accuracy, and anti-tank missiles, which are relatively easy to conceal but whose impact on the battle is significant.

It is hard to counter Eiland’s arguments – and since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria that undermined the stability of Bashar Assad’s regime, it became clear that other troubling scenarios might also materialize. Iran was allowed to establish military infrastructures in Syria and to act against Israel, which for its part is conducting a long and largely secret campaign to prevent it. As part of that campaign, according to foreign publications, the IAF recently attacked Iranian weapons depots near Aleppo.

WHY DO we need all this noise now? The Golan has been under Israeli control for more than 50 years and no state entity can take control of it without Israeli consent. Moreover, Trump’s statement, which appears to be a finger in the eye of the international community, has only motivated Western Europe, Russia, the Arab countries, Iran and Syria to act against it. The Syrians and their allies from Iran may also decide to "use terror and guerrilla attacks" from the Syrian side of the border, just as Nasrallah declared in his speech.

In the eyes of Israeli prime ministers, only one member of the international community is a heavyweight – the United States. This perception has not changed, and with good reason. American backing, even now, is a powerful credit. In an article on the subject in Israel Hayom, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Israel Ziv, who like Eiland served as a paratrooper officer and as the head of the Agaf HaMivtza’im (Operations Directorate), wrote that "Israel will be required to conduct an uncompromising legitimization battle, while increasing efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on the other side of the border. The American declaration on the Golan Heights will no doubt help these efforts."

Recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan is important, but the way it was done – not through the UN Security Council and without the broad consensus of the international community – is damaging. It is not certain that the tacit agreement to Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which was the American policy until now, would not have been more effective at this time.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", April 7, 2019)

 

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)

The IDF’s Cognitive Effort: Supplementing the Kinetic Effort | by Gabi Siboni & Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The IDF has intensified its cognitive-related activity recently and engaged in a significant buildup process in this realm. This has included developing a cognitive operations doctrine and engaging in developing technological tools, training human resources, and building organizational frameworks supporting the doctrine. The use of overt capabilities by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit enables direct discourse with many target audiences in enemy states on the social media, as well as with terrorist elements. This is effected using the various capabilities developed in the IDF designed to create legitimacy in international target audiences, influence the enemy, and even maintain deterrence. The current development of technology in the social media, whether overt or covert, constitutes a strategic asset for Israel alongside traditional kinetic assets.

In late January 2018, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manlis published an article in the Arab media, warning Lebanon’s citizens of “Hezbollah’s hooligan-like behavior, the establishment of terror infrastructures and plants for manufacturing weapon systems under the very eyes of the Lebanese government, and the undisturbed military deployment within the civilian population.” Manlis added that Lebanon’s citizens had better not “let Iran and Hezbollah exploit the naiveté of Lebanon’s leaders and establish plants to produce precision missiles, as they have lately attempted.” The IDF is fully prepared for any eventuality, and “as we proved in previous years – and those who need to know are aware of this – our security red lines are clear-cut, and we prove this every week.”

Manlis’s article provided a glimpse into a range of IDF overt and covert activities in the realm of cognitive operations, with the aim of delivering messages to target audiences in Lebanon, the region, and the world at large: namely, that buildup efforts by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are clear to Israel, that Israel has the ability to act against them, and that therefore Lebanon’s citizens would be better off not to sanction these efforts, as they designate the civilian population as human shields in a future campaign.

The IDF engages in additional cognitive-related efforts vis-à-vis Hezbollah in Lebanon. Avihai Edree, in charge of the social media in the Arab world in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, conducts a heated online discussion in order to confront Hezbollah with various target audiences in Lebanon. In advance of Lebanon’s forthcoming elections, scheduled for May 2018, the Lebanese news website IMLebanon published an article reviewing IDF activity in the Lebanese social media. Under the headline “Whom Are You Laughing At?” Edree addresses Nasrallah directly, “Who commanded you to send youths to die in Lebanon? What interest did you have to be dragged in to a war that Lebanon has no part in, if not just the interest of Iran?” Confronting Nasrallah further, he charges, “Why did you, along with the Iranians, assassinate Badreddine?” It is hard to assess the impact of this activity on Hezbollah, but it appears that this activity has resonated in the Lebanese press and has potential for influence in the long term.

The IDF has recently intensified its cognitive-related activity and has engaged in a significant buildup process in this area. This has included developing a cognitive operations doctrine and engaging in developing technological tools, training human resources, and building organizational frameworks supporting the doctrine. In addition, the cognitive realm has been incorporated into IDF exercises. To be sure, the importance of the effort is not new and has long featured in the annals of war. “The importance of suppressing the fighting spirit of the adversary is no less important than the actual killing of its soldiers,” declared Carl von Clausewitz, emphasizing that the kinetic activity in the battlefield must be combined with activity designed to influence the enemy’s mindset.

Technological development enables a wide range of focused means of influence vis-à-vis various target audiences, and in effect creates another combat arena beyond the classic kinetic combat arenas. Armies and states find themselves having to contend with enemy efforts of influence that utilize the technological realm and social media in order gain achievements without resorting to the use of kinetic means or employ both types of tools together. This phenomenon requires armies and states to work both on the defensive plane, in order to counter enemy efforts, as well as on the proactive and offensive plane, in order to achieve objectives by influencing enemy target audiences, including decision makers, commanders, combatants, and domestic and world public opinion.

Cognitive efforts can be divided into three categories: (1) Covert efforts, whereby the attacked target is not aware that an effort to influence it is underway. In such operations, the messages are conveyed in a way preventing the target audience from identifying that it is subject to an influencing operation. An example might be messages transmitted by disguised elements. (2) Undercover efforts (also termed “operations under a false flag”), whose target, whether an organization, public, or country, is aware of the activity against it, but those behind it hide behind a false identity. An example is the campaign for the election of the Governor of Florida in 1994. Activists of Democratic candidate Lawton Chiles telephoned about 70,000 elderly voters, identified themselves as representing Republican candidate Jeb Bush, and told them that he intends to cut national insurance and medical aid to the elderly, subjects of critical importance to them. (3) Overt efforts, such as the messages in the article by the IDF Spokesperson to Lebanon, or IDF activity on the social media in Lebanon.

The common denominator of all types of cognitive efforts is that most of the activity takes place in the overt realm, conveying messages to the target audiences in the classic media (the press, television and radio) and via the internet, the social media, forums, blogs, and website advertisements. The overt effort bears with it most of the ability to influence and change public opinion, with respect to a large public or at the decision making level. The activity in the overt realm necessitates certain skills, primarily an understanding of mass psychology and the ability to analyze target audiences. In this context, the development of operational capabilities in armies in general and in the IDF in particular can benefit from the civilian world. Campaigns to influence various target audiences are the bread and butter of every advertising and public relations office marketing products or campaigning for politicians.

In the IDF, as in other armies, an ongoing debate concerns who should lead the influence operations. There is a traditional tendency, stemming from the “soft” nature of these operations and the closeness to psychological warfare, to associate them with the intelligence operations sphere. This is partly due to the fact that in the past these operations had to be based on focused intelligence; thus, the activity was directed to the covert intelligence field. However, in view of the fact that most of the operations take place in the overt realm and the skills needed involve activities in the public realm vis-à-vis various target audiences, it would be best for the IDF if those specializing in the field led these operations. Moreover, developments in recent years and the transfer of the operational arena to the overt realm necessitate building capabilities on a large scale, tapping all the operational capabilities of armies in general and of the IDF in particular for operating in the overt media.

The use of overt capabilities by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit enables direct discourse with many target audiences in enemy states on the social media, as well as with terrorist elements. This is effected using the various capabilities developed in recent years in the IDF, designed to create legitimacy in international target audiences, influence the enemy, and even maintain deterrence. The current development of technology in the social media, whether overt or covert, constitutes a strategic asset for Israel alongside traditional kinetic assets. There is considerable potential for activity in the overt sphere, including in the operational context, while in tandem maneuver and fire operations in the physical realm are intensified.

The cognitive battle consists of three efforts: preliminary (before the confrontation), concurrent (during), and following the confrontation and complements the principal campaign in the physical realm. The cognitive battle for the must be guided by an overall principle that incorporates all the relevant entities and authorities in the country, including the army, defense entities, and legal, financial, and diplomatic elements; it requires ongoing tasking of intelligence, both gathering and assessment. It is necessary to develop tools and capabilities for operating in the cognitive field, including responses to existing threats, ability to interdict evolving threats, and ultimately proactive attack capability to achieve objectives vis-à-vis various relevant target audiences. Therefore, IDF activity in the social networks used by the enemy bears considerable operational potential for Israel.

Dr. Col. (res) Gabi Siboni, former Commanded of Sayeret Golani and head of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Gal Perl Finkel is the coordinator of the Military and Strategic Affairs program at the INSS.

(The article was originally published  as an "INSS Insight" No. 1028, March 1, 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)