There’s a time to shut up and do, and a time to send a threatening message
From his appearances in the media, at conferences and even on social networks, the new defense minister, Naftali Bennett, seems to enjoy the position. There is hardly a day when he does not warn Israel’s enemies of its long arm. At the Makor Rishon conference, Bennett said that Israel should "move from containment to attack. "If we are determined we can remove Iran’s aggression forces from Syria", and warned Iran "Syria will become your Vietnam".
This is a nice sentiment, but the question is whether the minister is not too optimistic. Israel is waging a long, mostly secret, campaign against Iran to thwart its holdings in Syria, under which hundreds of special operations and air strikes were conducted.
Overall, the strategic achievement of these attacks seems to be the prevention and reduction of the Iranian forces (and its proxy Hezbollah) with certain weapons, with emphasis on precise missiles of wide range. As for the presence of Iranian forces in Syria, the effort is similar to an attempt to empty the sea with a spoon.
Former IDF spokesman Brig-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu recently commented on the first year of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, noting that it was characterized by great courage, because within "this complex reality, the IDF under Kochavi continues to carry out open and secret counter-operations to defend the borders and to reduce risks".
That is true, but one of the factors that makes this complex is Russia’s presence in Syria. The publication (which was not approved by any Israeli or Russian source) that the Russians recently launched fighter jets to thwart Israeli airstrikes, shows that the rope the Russians are releasing to Israel has shortened.
Another issue is the huddle. In general, other than those in which Iranian forces were attacked, senior officials of the Israeli political and military echelons have avoided taking direct responsibility for attacks and sending tensions to increase tensions. So why does the minister make unnecessary threats?
In Haaretz, Yaniv Kubovich reported that senior officials in the defense establishment criticized the minister’s statements against Israel’s enemies. Obviously, in light of the upcoming elections, Bennett (like others, including the prime minister) is required to strengthen his public image, but it is best to remember that not "everything goes".
In this context, the principle underlying the tense Shadow over Babylon (Dutton Books, 1993), written by David Mason, a decorated officer in the British Army Welsh Guards, seems to be very relevant. In the book, which takes place after the Gulf War, Ed Howard, who "was a commissioned officer in the Royal Marines and the Special Boat Service" (page 24), is hired to plan and execute an assassination. "The target is Saddam Hussein" (page 149).
Howard assumes the mission was initiated by the British government, and it implements it through subcontractors to preserve its ability to deny its involvement.
Incidentally, at the beginning of the book, Mason wrote that there is an unwritten law whereby the leadership of the enemy is not harmed. However, he noted, there is a state that has never paid attention to this law and which has constantly persecuted individual people, in most cases terrorists, who have committed atrocities against its people, and that is Israel.
A striking example is the policy of Mason described the raid carried out by the Sayeret Matkal, the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, led by Moshe Ya’alon, to assassinate Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Abu Jihad, in Tunisia in 1988. In a fascinating episode about the operation on The kill List, the series created by military commentator Alon Ben David on Channel 13, Ya’alon said that the raid was "an operation in which you strike and withdraw without taking responsibility". Listening to Ya’alon may be problematic in the face of political reality, but the minister may at least read Mason’s book.
Bennett isn’t the only one talking too much. The investigative television program Uvda recently told the story of the botched Israeli covert operation carried out in the Khan Yunis in November 2018. That is another example of how Israel, in this case the IDF, is revealing unnecessary secrets.
Here, too, the reason is unclear. This is a great story about a Special Forces team that was captured in the heart of enemy territory, hit the terrorists and was rescued at the last minute, in what was not far from becoming a war. But it was better this time, as in publications about the Abu Jihad assassination, to wait about 30 years before telling most of the secrets.
This does not mean that one should always remain silent. Sometimes exposing security activity and sending a firm message by the senior political and military echelons may demonstrate the IDF’s capabilities to the enemy, and to deter him.
An example of this is the recent Commando drill in Cyprus. For more than two years the brigade units have been training on the island, the topography of which is similar to Lebanese mountainous terrain. The last exercise was the widest in scope so far.
BENNETT TWEETED about the exercise, stating that it was "complex and difficult and unfamiliar. That’s how you should practice. Hard is good. War is harder.” Such training is well known to Bennett, because after serving as a soldier in Sayeret Matkal he served as a team leader and company commander at the elite Maglan unit (and was considered a daring officer).
Media reports indicate that, like the minister, the commanders who participated in the training rated him as particularly successful. Lt.-Col. A., an ex-Sayeret Matkal officer who commands Egoz Unit, said in an interview posted on Israelhayom.com that the exercise allows "to train as close as possible to the war".
Maglan unit commander Lt.-Col. R., a Paratroopers officer, said in the interview that his soldiers required "meticulous planning to be prepared for any scenario, but also for high improvisation ability, to cope with the variables in the field".
Strengthening the ability to operate with a large force at the depth of enemy territory is essential for the next campaign, especially on a northern front.
Recently, a new edition of The Killing Zone (Maarachot, 2019) was published, in which Frederick Downs described his experiences as an US Army infantry platoon leader during the Vietnam War.
The introduction to the book was written by Maj.-Gen. Itay Virov, commander of the military colleges, who noted that the Vietnam War is now relevant to the IDF, due to the enemy’s pattern of action as a guerrilla army, similar to those in which the IDF fights today.
Virov did most of his service in Lebanon. In June 1999, as a Paratroopers battalion commander, he led an assault to eliminate the Hezbollah terrorist squad, and in the Second Lebanon War he commanded a reserve Paratroopers brigade.
He signed the introduction with a particularly accurate diagnosis of the type of campaigns Israel has fought in the last two decades in which there is no major decisive battle, such as the Egyptian Third Army Corps in 1973. In his view, "[In] a collection of tactical battles, the commanders’ determination and leadership, are the ones that have determined – and will determine – the outcome of the campaign".
It is important, then, to train the commanders in training that will simulate fighting as much as possible. And the enemy should also know that the IDF is preparing. Maybe that will deter them. If not, at least the troops will be ready.
and decide. Such a campaign will not last only one long day, but it is likely to begin with one – provided that it includes a determined operation of forces, in the air, on land and at sea.
(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", December 13, 2019)