The IDF that Eisenkot leaves behind is ready; The test of Kochavi will be to prove it is capable | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

 Series of reports issued by the IDF Ombudsman, Gen. Brick, the IDF Comptroller and the Knesset's Subcommittee on Preparedness, found gaps in the IDF's readiness for war. Under Gen. Eisenkot the military is more prepared, but it’s prudent to listen to Brick too, before the storm comes

In 2002, the US military conducted its "Millennium Challenge" exercise. Considered the greatest exercise in modern military history, its goal was to test the readiness of the American military and develop new tactics and weapons against the outlines of confrontations that American forces would encounter.

The Blue team represented the American forces, while the Red team, the enemy, represented the army of a Middle Eastern state whose identity was not defined. The Red team was commanded by retired Gen. Paul Van Riper, a decorated Marine officer who chose to challenge the planners and exploited the weaknesses of the opposing force one by one. The force under his command launched many surface-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles against the Blue team’s Navy and sank 13 ships. In an original step, the communications of the Red team relied on emissaries mounted on motorcycles that conveyed messages from the main headquarters to its decentralized forces in a way that prevented the "Blue" force from monitoring it and anticipating its actions. This method proved that the basic assumptions on which the American military built its strength and prepared for present and future conflicts were problematic.

Due to the success of the Red team, the commanders of the exercise dictated new rules to Van Ripper that would restrain him and ensure the success of the Blue team. Looking back, it seems that the person who chose him as commander of the Red team simply did not know him. In 1969, as commander of a Marine Rifle Company in Vietnam, Van Ripper led an attack on a fortified objective held by a North Vietnamese battalion. At the end of the battle, the objective was captured, and the Marine Company he led killed 60 enemy soldiers. Van Ripper, who won the Silver Star for his courage, did not give up then, and over the years he seemed to remain as determined. He abandoned the exercise and criticized it in the media.

This story came to mind in the face of the harsh criticism voiced by the IDF Ombudsman, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, about the IDF’s readiness for the next confrontation. Brick, who fought bravely as a tank company commander in the Yom Kippur War, seems as determined now in the confrontation he initiated with the IDF as he was on the Sinai battlefields in 1973. In the past six months since he published his last report as a commissioner, Brick has been conducting a publicized confrontation with the IDF’s senior command. He claims that the IDF, with an emphasis on the ground forces, is not prepared for the next war. Among other things, he stated that the IDF failed to persuade good officers to remain in the army for long-term careers. In addition, he said that the organizational culture is wrong and includes increasing use of the WhatsApp app and as a tool for commanders to communicate with their subordinates ("In war, WhatsApp won’t work," he once said). Brick also found that there is a problem in implementing combat systems in reserve units, including the new command and control system, the Digital Land Army).

Since this is the "last ride" of the veteran commander, it is clear that he wants to give it meaning. Another explanation is that Brick was burned by the lessons of the difficult war that he experienced 45 years ago, and he intends to do everything possible to make sure Israel will "not be caught unprepared again."

The IDF, for its part, claims that during Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s tenure as chief of staff, the IDF has been training much more. Within the framework of the multi-year plan, the Gideon unit underwent a real reform in the ground forces (and in the reserve units) and the readiness of the units was defined as a high priority, even at the expense of strengthening and purchasing. Under Eisenkot (himself a former Golani infantry brigade commander), the infantry brigades switched to a better training model and there is a process to upgrade the capabilities of brigade combat teams to operate in a more coordinated and effective manner. In addition, the Commando Brigade was established, which upgraded the IDF’s ability to operate deep inside the enemy’s territory.

The IDF’s claim that it is prepared is justifiable, although it is always possible to be more prepared. In the last four years, the IDF has built three armies – the Border Defense Forces, the Reserve force and the Attack force – each with its designated components at different levels of competence. The question that should be asked is whether the processes that have taken place over the past four years have brought the army – the regular army and the reserves – to a level of sufficient and even optimal preparedness for the next confrontations.

The answer to this question must take into account many factors, including the fact that time, money and manpower are limited, that there are operational constraints with which the army is constantly dealing, and that the situation obliges the army to prioritize units, projects and even arenas. Given these and other parameters, the IDF is in a better state than it was before the summer of 2014. But with regard to the ground forces, much improvement is needed. Following the ombudsman review, the IDF comptroller and the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Preparedness have produced reports that found gaps in the IDF’s readiness, yet nevertheless stated that the IDF is ready for the next war. However, despite the fact that Brick sounded like a prophet of rage, it’s prudent to listen to him too, before the storm comes.

It can be said that Eisenkot dealt with building strength and readiness, and that his successor, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, will have to instill in the commanders the sense of capability. The belief is that they can act and overcome, even when dealing with ground maneuvers deep into enemy territory, many kilometers from the border. This is not a unique problem for the IDF; the US military is facing it as well. Former secretary of defense James Mattis and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Danford, both Marine generals, have also done much in the field of force buildup. The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (if authorized by the Senate), Gen. Mark Milley, a paratrooper and Special Forces officer, will face the same challenge as the Israeli chief of staff.

Almost two decades ago, Kochavi, the 35th paratroopers brigade commander, stood out among a small group of determined field commanders who, during the Second Intifada, broadcast to the senior political and military echelon that they are ready for any challenge – including fighting in Palestinian refugee camps and crowded urban areas. Kochavi’s challenge is to raise a generation of field commanders like the one he was part of.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", January 1, 2019)

President-elect Trump – the ‘West Wing’ lesson/ by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

During the time left before he takes office, President-elect Trump should conduct an in-depth study of the many responsibilities that await him

In a speech given last month, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (USMC General Joseph Dunford) addressed the true weight of estimates and assumptions. Dunford told the audience about task force “Smith” (TFS), an infantry battalion of the 21st Regiment US Army, which was the first force to encounter the invading North Korean army during the first few hours of the Korean War.

In that war, said Dunford, the US military fought on the ground, at a time and in conditions it did not expect, and the initial results were disastrous.

“I like to remind people who have a high level of confidence in assumptions on when, where and how we will fight the next fight, that the Korean War took place right after some of the best strategists that we’ve ever produced as a nation decided to rebalance to Europe.”

Seven hours after task force “Smith” encountered the enemy 185 US soldiers were wounded and dead.

That’s what assumptions can do,” said the general, and therefore the US must strengthen its forces’ readiness for unexpected developments.

The US elections are behind us. It’s been said that “assumption is the mother of all messups,” and that rule applies to lesson learned from TFS encounter. In this case, all that was needed was to erase all that was written before the morning of Wednesday, November 9, and rewrite it so it will be relevant to the new reality.

There are cases, as described by Dunford, where the price of assumption is much heavier.

During the time left before he takes office, President-elect Trump should conduct an in-depth study of the many responsibilities that await him. Until now Trump focused mostly on campaign issues and devoted his attention to defeating other GOP contenders, but now the focus will shift to governing related tasks: appointing cabinet members, developing a legislative schedule in cooperation with GOP leadership and developing an action plan for the first hundred days of his presidency.

“The first hundred days” index, traditionally used to assess one’s presidency, originated with president Franklin Roosevelt, who in his first hundred days in office carried out his “New Deal” to rescue the economy from the Great Depression of the Thirties. Trump, needless to say, isn’t Roosevelt, but even Reagan, who won the Cold War and in the early days of his administration solved the Iran hostage crisis, was similarly criticized before taking office.

In the third episode of The West Wing, a serial political drama about the Democratic administration of President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen), the new president is required to decide how to respond to a terrorist attack guided by the Syrian government. During the attack a US Air Force transport plane is shot down. The president refuses to accept the proportional response proposed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Fitzwallace, and replies that “from this time and this place, gentlemen, you kill an American, any American, we don’t come back with a proportional response. We come back with total disaster!” Moreover, the president demands the admiral and the national security team take the next 60 minutes and put together an American response scenario that doesn’t make him think they are just “docking somebody’s damn allowance!” It’s more than likely that after Trump’s election some people remembered that scene and imagine that this is (more or less) the way that the new president will behave in his first meeting with the Joint Chiefs in the situation room.

During Operation Protective Edge that West Wing scene went viral among Israelis’ social network accounts. Israel advocacy groups, mostly from the political Right, presented it in support of their argument that Israel should stop the IDF’s proportional attacks on the Gaza strip and move to disproportionate response. However, the rest of the episode holds a far more important lesson: in the next scene President Bartlet is proposing an air-strike scenario that includes attacking extensive critical infrastructure in Syria, which could lead to a humanitarian crisis. Bartlet understand the consequences, but despite the expected tragic loss of life, he can’t “dole out five thousand dollars’ worth of punishment for a fifty-buck crime.”

That is what the creator of the series, Aaron Sorkin, was trying to teach the audience: a limitations of power lesson.

Even the sole superpower in the world can’t do as it pleases (or as it’s commander-in-chief pleases).

“We must not, for example, send military forces into a crisis with an unclear mission they cannot accomplish,” wrote Gen. Colin Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Powell’s rule of thumb directed President Barack Obama throughout his administration. The complexity of conflicts at the present time taught him not to rush to send forces into harm’s way before formulating a coherent strategy and a defined endgame. For example, Obama has refrained from sending ground forces to battle against Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, since such an action may well mire the US in a war of attrition.

As an alternative, the president approved an unprecedented number of special operations and air raids.

Earlier this month it was reported that the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team is deploying to Iraq. The 1,700 paratroopers, from one of the toughest divisions in the world, will continue training, advising and guiding Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS, but will not take an active role in the fight. In contrast, about 100 soldiers from the US Army special forces are taking part in the campaign in Mosul, and are responsible for directing precision strikes from air. It’s unlikely that during the Trump administration there will be a change in the scope of “boots on the ground” that Americans are willing to invest in that fight.

Trump’s closest security adviser is General Michael Flynn, who is considered a prominent candidate for the position of secretary of defense, or national security adviser. Flynn joined the US Army as a graduate of the ROTC and volunteered for the paratroopers, but spent most of his time in service as an intelligence officer and in his last position was the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Flynn has stated more than once that the United States should soften its policy toward Russia.

In 2013, a year before he retired, the DIA held a seminar to commemorate the 30th anniversary Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada in ‘83. Flynn, who fought on the ground as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division, said then that it was the first time he “ever saw a dead American soldier in a body bag.”

The general also and said that “being ready for the unknown – that’s one thing that DIA has always been at the front of.” He, like Trump, may find that the Russians, as General Mark Milley recently warned, are playing a game of their own aimed at achieving power and influence while disrupting American interests.

In 69 days Donald Trump will become the commander-in-chief of the strongest army in the world. He will not have a hundred days of grace, or even a few hours, before being required to go into the situation room with generals Dunford, Milley and probably Flynn, and decide how the US will respond to any given event. He will then learn the hard lesson about the limitations of power and that the view from the chair of the presidential candidate is very different from the view from the one located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the fifth season of the West Wing, due to the constitutional crisis the speaker of the House, a right-wing conservative Republican (played by John Goodman), takes over the presidency, and is discovered, to the surprise of the characters and the viewers, to be a smart, cautious and moderate strategist. It could happen now, as well.


The author is the coordinator of the Military & Strategic Affairs program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", November 15, 2016)