Potential for strategic turns | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The killing of soleimani and the Deal fo the Century

In the 13th International Conference of The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) was concluded with a conversation between the institute’s head, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, and Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, head of the IDF Operations Directorate. The two talked about the IDF’s force buildup, and about the challenges the army faces in the present and future.

Haliva was asked how the IDF copes with the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, given that the rate of IDF strikes in Syria has decreased and Iranians are moving their operations to countries where it’s more complex for the IDF to operate, Iraq and Lebanon.

"The Persians did invent chess, but I met quite a few Jews who learned how to deliver checkmate", replied Haliva, noting that the campaign-between-the-wars is far from over.

"The IDF has continued in the last year, with all the power and tools. Most of them are hidden from the eye… to prevent Iranian consolidation in the area", he said. But there are, he added, other interests and players to consider, including the Russians and the Americans.

In his view, "both the killing of [Gen. Qasem] Soleimani by the United States in early January, as well as the announcement of the "Deal of the Century" are two events with significant potential for strategic turns, and the IDF is preparing for it".

Yadlin, a former fighter pilot who took part in the strike that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and who served as the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, noted that in light of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran could “crawl” toward nuclear weapons production.

Asked whether the IDF is ready to deal with that threat, Haliva responded, "If necessary, we will know how to do it", but did not elaborate.

Yadlin noted that it might have been necessary to reexamine whether the perception that the US is leaving the Middle East and that Iran has the upper hand is still relevant, he stated, “[It is better] not to reverse this perception just yet", because it is remain to be seen whether the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Soleimani indicates a continuing American willingness to exert force in the area. It’s still too early to determine.

Haliva did most of his service in paratroopers. He was a platoon leader in the raid led by brigade commander Shaul Mofaz on the Hezbollah stronghold in village of Maydoun in Lebanon in 1988. The force, led by Haliva, who had just finished the officer’s course a month earlier, identified two terrorists hiding behind a bush.

"It ended with us shooting like crazy into the bush and killing them", he said years later. Although the successful raid was an important chapter in his military life, the high level of soldiery, and the boldness demonstrated by Hezbollah operatives also left a strong impression on him.

Later, he served in all the positions in the paratroopers, including commanding a battalion, the brigade training base (when he was my commander) and the entire brigade. He also commanded the IDF’s Officer Candidate School (Bahad 1).

"DON’T WANT to be heard, God forbid, as cocky. There will be prices, sometimes heavy prices. War is not a pleasant thing at all and both sides pay prices for it. But I say clearly, the land forces are now ready to carry out their tasks", Haliva replied to Yadlin’s question about the IDF’s land-force readiness.

Are there any gaps? Sure, He said. There always will be. The elephant in the room was the criticism made by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick about the "Gideon" multiyear plan, led by former IDF chief of staff, Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot. Haliva said the plan significantly improved the land forces, but there are still gaps in force readiness.

In this context, he added, the "Momentum" multiyear plan led by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi is supposed to bring significant reinforcement to land forces, with the aim of achieving a faster victory, at a lower cost of lives, in the next war.

How this settles with the recent decision to cancel the brigade exercises and to focus primarily on battalion and company exercises is unclear. Past experience shows that brigades which did not practice on the ground, as a maneuvering unit before fighting, achieved far from good results when battles occurred.

The transition government cannot pass a budget law, and without a clear budgetary framework, the "Momentum" multiyear plan could follow those written in Benny Gantz’s term as IDF chief of staff. The IDF, said Gantz in 2013, can give itself "a good grade in planning multiyear plans". The realization, as a result of the budget cuts that resulted from social protests, was a completely different story.

Haliva referred to a war game at the institute that dealt with an escalation scenario in the northern arena, mentioning that the manager of the game failed to motivate the various players, including Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, to escalate their response to a full-scale war. All parties strove to quickly close the escalation round and return to normal.

The reason, in his view, is that Israel’s enemies understand the power gaps between them, and the futility of war. In the event of a confrontation, Haliva said, "The result should be such that, at its end, the enemy has for many years distanced its desire to fight with us".

Yediot Aharonot commentator Shimrit Meir criticized this assessment on Twitter this week, stating, "We have a chronic tendency to assume that the other side wants to return to normal, a classic projection". We project our motives, perceptions and desires onto the other side, and it’s not at all sure that this is what the enemy wants and thinks.

Suffice it to recall IDF Military Intelligence Directorate statements during Operation Protective Edge about the upcoming end of the war, which were shattered every time Hamas chose to resume fighting and breach the ceasefire, in order to understand that in the next round of confrontation may be longer than expected.

One issue that the conversation hardly dealt with was the Palestinian issue. The IDF has been detecting an opportunity for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for some time. It seems that despite what the military estimates, Hamas continues to raise the flames in an attempt to extort additional concessions from Israel. The demolition balloons, rockets and terrorist penetration attempts are just negotiating tools.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", February 16, 2020)

Importance of IDF Ground Forces in new army appointments | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The indication of the importance of a field is measured by the resources allocated to it, and to the people who lead it

Recently, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to appoint Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick as commander of Ground Forces. This right step shows the importance the chief of staff sees in upgrading and strengthening those forces.

During the tenure of Gadi Eisenkot, there was a significant force buildup that improved its operational capability. But the claims raised by former IDF ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick prove that much more work is still needed in order to bridge the many gaps in the readiness of the Ground Forces.

The indication of the importance of a field is measured by the resources allocated to it, and to the people who lead it. The appointment of Strick, who commanded the Givati Brigade, the Galilee Division, the Home Front Command and the Northern Command, brings with it a possibility for change. But he will also have to come with the promises of authority, budgets, backing and support from the chief of staff.

Strick’s replacement in the Northern Command will be Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram (my battalion commander in the paratroopers, whom I highly respect). The Lebanese scene is familiar to him from long years of fighting. About 25 years ago, Baram led the Paratroopers Brigade anti-tank company in a complex operation near the Lebanese village of Kafra, during which the force directed attack helicopters that killed four Hezbollah operatives. A few years later, he was called in to command the brigade’s Reconnaissance Company, after its commander Eitan Balachsan was killed in a skirmish in southern Lebanon.

Baram rehabilitated the company and managed to lead its soldiers in a successful skirmish with terrorists, shortly before the IDF withdrew from Lebanon. During the Second Intifada, he commanded the 890th Battalion, and later commanded the Maglan Reconnaissance Unit, the Samaria Brigade, the 35th Paratroopers Brigade and two divisions. Baram, an old subordinate of the chief of staff since the time Kochavi was his company commander in the Paratroopers Brigade, is expected to be an important member of the General Staff. Unlike some senior members of the defense establishment, Baram is a firm believer in the ground maneuver.

"I love the Iron Dome system, but in the end, it will reach its limit. There comes a time at which each dome will need a hammer next to it, and then we will have to recall what we did in Defensive Shield," he once said. In the case of a campaign in Lebanon, Baram will be required to command a large-scale ground maneuver. Strick would be the one who would be required to close the gaps in competence and make sure the Ground Forces are capable and ready to carry it out.

Two other officers promoted in the round were Brig.-Gen. Itai Virob and Brig.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who will be appointed IDF attaché in the United States. Virob, who successfully commanded a reserve Paratroopers Brigade in the last days of the Second Lebanon War, as well as the Gaza Division, will replace Baram as commander of the military colleges.

Fuchs, who commanded the Nahal Brigade and replaced Virob at the Gaza Division, is a talented officer. However, it would have been better if the most senior defense representative to Israel’s strategic alliance would not be a general in his first position, however talented, who lacks experience in the General Staff echelon and in Israel’s strategic floor.

Sixteen years ago, journalist Avihai Becker (himself a former Golani Brigade company commander), published an article in "Haaretz" about Benny Gantz, the general who later became chief of staff, on his appointment as the commander of the Northern Command. "Somehow it happened that all those officers who used to gather around the conference table of Paratroopers Brigade commander Col. Shaul Mofaz, today head all the most sensitive and important sectors in the IDF," Becker wrote. 

He did not lack examples: The commander of the Judea and Samaria Division was Yitzhak "Jerry" Gershon, who was the commander of Battalion 202 in the brigade and fought under Mofaz in the raid on the Hezbollah stronghold in Maidun in 1988; the commander of the Galilee Division was Meir Kalifi, the brigade executive officer in the raid; Israel Ziv commanded the 50th Battalion at the same time; and Gantz himself commanded Battalion 890.

"It does not matter how you look at the phenomenon: The question arises as to how all military intelligence and professionalism stem from only one source – Mofaz’s Paratroopers Brigade," Becker wrote.

With the appointment of Kochavi as chief of staff, this question arose again, as three generals who served under him as battalion commanders are sitting around his General Staff table: Amir Baram, the Military Colleges commander; Aharon Haliva, head of the Operations Directorate; and Miki Edelstein, the IDF attaché in the United States. They will soon be joined by Itay Virob, who served as the commander of the brigade training base under Kochavi. (And it is not as if there are no more paratroopers in the General Staff, such as Herzi Halevi and Moti Baruch, who did not serve under him).

Worthy commanders were promoted to positions where they will be able to bring their advantages and experience to an optimal realization. But in order to prevent the danger in which the General Staff table will seat only commanders who think in the same way – because they all served in the same unit and went through a very similar career – preferably the next appointments will have room for those who grew up in the Armored Corps, Artillery and perhaps even Combat Engineering. 

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", February 21, 2019)