Between fire and maneuver, or a combination of the two | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

The damage to the enemy’s military power is achieved on land by ground forces

While Israel has invested considerably in air power and maintains its relative advantage in this field – beginning with Operation Moked in the Six Day War and more intensively in the last three decades – its enemies chose a cheap and foolish solution, but one that reduces the gap.

The first to understand this was Syrian President Hafez Assad. It was a lesson from the first Lebanon war, during which the Israel Air Force destroyed about a third of the Syrian Air Force and severely damaged its anti-aircraft forces. The Syrian president reduced and cut down the air force, which he himself commanded years earlier, and invested in acquiring a large-scale arsenal of rockets that pose a real threat to Israel’s population centers.

In the years preceding the civil war in Syria, Assad succeeded in creating a balance of deterrence against Israel. It was clear that Syria would attack Tel Aviv with precision rockets and heavy warheads, while Israel would send its planes to attack the Syrian capital. Assad received the proof that he was right during the Iraqi missile attack in the Gulf War. Israel was more or less helpless in the face of a threat on its population centers.

Hezbollah and Hamas, each according to its capabilities, also adopted the method and also have obtained an arsenal of rockets aimed directly at Israeli population centers. Also important are the Iranians, who are working to establish a similar arsenal that will threaten Israel from Syria.

In a lecture at the INSS annual conference in January 2014, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate at the time and now the leading candidate for the post of chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said the IDF defined the period as an "era of fire." He emphasized, "There are many more missiles and rockets aimed from deep enemy territory to deep into Israel’s territory. They are much more distributed. They are much more accurate. They are much more lethal. We are talking about around 170,000 rockets and missiles that threaten the State of Israel."

Part of this change can be seen in the decision of the IDF to acquire a variety of rockets of varying ranges, from 30 km. to 150 km. Over the past two decades, the Artillery Corps has become increasingly sophisticated and technologically advanced. Media reports indicate that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to establish a kind of "rocket corps."

An Israeli response to the rocket arsenal that its enemies have established will provide the IDF with a rapid, destructive and precise operational response, which is economical in relation to its air response, and eliminates the need to endanger pilots in missions above enemy territory. In future confrontations, air force pilots will be unable to operate almost freely over enemy territory. It seems that the minister wants it to be that in such a case the IDF will not remain without a real alternative.

Under Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF has invested considerable resources in improving the capabilities of its ground forces and reserves. However there is another cost for such a significant investment in standoff firepower capabilities (Israel already invests huge sums in the IAF and in tightening the connection between current intelligence and precision munitions). Every investment in a particular field comes at the expense of non-investment in another field. When one buys an airplane, he sometimes gives up buying a tank, and when one buy planes and rocket launchers, he might harm the level of readiness of ground forces.

Thus, the IDF may find itself in a future campaign in a situation in which it relies almost exclusively on its capabilities in standoff firepower from the air, sea and land. The next campaign may be a standoff-firepower confrontation between the IDF and the enemy. Such wars, as demonstrated by the German blitz on London and the thousands of bombing raids carried out by the Allies over German cities during World War II, did not shorten the war or make real achievements. The British did not surrender, they only became more determined, as did the Germans.

At a recent conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, former deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, noted that there is a deep conceptual gap regarding the use of military force in recent confrontations, which led to the public’s disappointment with the way it ended, without a clear Israeli victory. Golan stated, "Anyone who has ever dealt in this field of warfare can understand that this belief that wars can be won only with the help of accurate intelligence and precise fire is a problematic assumption. In fact, I would say, it reduces the art of war to the level of technicians. And since the techs never won wars, it is reasonable to assume that they will never win wars."

Golan, who is also a candidate to become the next chief of staff, said the IDF should be built so that when Israel chooses, "We will hit our enemies with a hard and decisive blow. And when I say hitting our enemies, it’s hitting their fighting ability."

In his view, the assumption that harming infrastructure and the civilian population can bring the enemy to despair is wrong. "If we want relatively short wars, and if we want to bring the enemy to surrender, or to ask for a cessation of hostilities, we must first and foremost hit his military strength and his fighting ability," he said.

The meaning is an attack on the enemy’s operatives, whether they are soldiers or terrorists. The only way to do this, certainly in view of the serious threat to the home front, is through the old Ben-Gurion approach of transferring the war to enemy territory, and for this, the IDF must maneuver, and quickly.

The operation of ground forces is an expensive move, which includes the risk of casualties. In his lecture in 2014, Maj.-Gen. Kochavi – who, like Golan did his service in the Paratroopers Brigade and fought in Lebanon, Judea and Samaria – said that the maneuver “is not going to be simpler." According to him, in almost every village in Lebanon, forces will operate mainly in urban areas where there are "dozens of rockets, launchers and bombs – all modern weapons, not improvisations.

Therefore, it is already a semi-military organization, not a terrorist organization in the classic sense of the term. And, he said, "Maneuvering in this space becomes much more challenging."

Nevertheless, Kochavi said that Israel has "a basic interest in shortening the duration of the war." This has never been achieved by standoff firepower. Significant firepower must support IDF land forces. But in the end, as Israeli governments have learned in all the confrontations, from "Defensive Shield" to ,Protective Edge," the damage to the enemy’s military power is achieved on land by ground forces.

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", September 06, 2018)

מודעות פרסומת

IDF promotes officers who think outside the box, but still follow the line | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

In the end, the argument that the IDF promotes colorless rule-abiding commanders is simply not true

In the two rounds of appointments of generals to positions in the General Staff and of division commanders that Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot carried out in the recent year, there was criticism that the IDF preferred officers who sanctify discipline and obey orders at the expense of courage and creativity, and who showed no flexibility in punishing daring officers with creative thinking. Some also claimed that in the promotion of certain officers who did not command brigades and divisions in Lebanon and Gaza, the IDF lost exactly those commanders who think outside the box.

Another claim made is that the IDF does not promote officers from religious Zionism to key positions. These claims were reinforced by the decision of the chief of staff not to appoint Brig.-Gen. Ofer Winter as commander of the division. Winter did most of his service at the head of the column, at the front, and was considered a daring and creative commander. He enlisted in Sayeret Matkal, IDF’s elite unit; after the officers’ course, he moved to the Maglan unit (where he served with Minister Naftali Bennett) and served as a company commander in Lebanon. Winter commanded a battalion in the Givati Brigade in a series of operations in Gaza (he was decorated with a citation and the battalion was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for the first time in the IDF).

During Operation Protective Edge, Winter was the commander of the Givati Brigade. At the end of the campaign, a force from the brigade had an encounter with Hamas terrorists in the outskirts of Rafah that cost the lives of two officers and a soldier. The terrorists kidnapped Hadar Goldin’s body and escaped by tunnel. In order to thwart the abduction, Winter (according to the records of the communications network published on the Mako website) ordered "Hannibal Procedure" which was aggressive. The decision was justified, but there was also harsh criticism of the massive fire that he ordered to use, from which many Palestinian civilians who were not involved in terrorism were killed.

For some reason, the majority of those who rose for Winter’s defense chose to ignore the fact that during the period in which he served as the Givati brigade commander, the brigade had a series of disturbing incidents, including the irregularities and mishaps in the Tzabar Battalion, that its commander was Convicted and demoted for sexual misconduct towards a subordinate). Winter, as was published in Walla! Website, was questioned by the MPCID on suspicion of obstructing proceedings in the affair, because the deputy battalion commander came to him with the story only to be rejected and dismissed him from the brigade. In the end, as reported in Haaretz, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz rebuked Winter and wrote him a note in his personal file. It is also reasonable that the IDF commanders did not like the fact that Winter, according to an article published in al-Monitor by Ben Caspit, was apparently the officer who, without permission, informed his comrades-in-arms, Minister Bennett, about the tunnels at the beginning of “Protective edge”. It seems therefore that the decision not to promote him was motivated by practical motives. 

"An officer who sends his subordinates a message that it is possible to violate the laws because the goal justifies it, will create a bad atmosphere in which his subordinates will take the law into their own hands," wrote Itamar Kremer, an ex- Givati officer who serves in reserve as a battalion deputy commander. That message remains true. The claims that the IDF prevents the promotion of religious officers are wrong. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, who joined the paratroopers in 1974, testified that he was "the only religious platoon leader, the only religious company commander," but since then times have changed. Although there will always be a personal dimension to the considerations for which officers are promoted, the impressive presence of religious officers at every level of command in the IDF proves more than anything that the military does not check what does its field commanders have under the helmet and promotes on the basis of skills and abilities as much as possible.

In the end, the argument that the IDF promotes colorless rule-abiding commanders is simply not true. The current General Staff members are experienced, opinionated and highly professional. Two of its members were my battalion commanders in the Paratroopers and I can testify that they are among the best and most experienced. The units they commanded were always better because of them and they left behind battalions, brigades, and divisions much more prepared for war. 

Among those officers who speak their mind and combine courage and ingenuity while obeying rules and orders are:

• Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman, an armored officer who also commanded the Northern Corps and now heads the Intelligence directorate.

• Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, a Paratrooper officer who served as a company commander during the years the IDF fought in Lebanon, and later as the commander of Sayeret Matkal and now commands the Southern Command. Halevi, by the way, comes from a religious background. 

• A key figure in the General Staff is Air Force commander, Maj.-Gen. Norkin, who was the Head of the IAF Operations Department in the second Lebanon War (2006). 

• Generals Nitzan Alon and Nadav Padan, both ex-Sayeret Matkal officers.

• Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, who spent most of his career in the paratroopers and led the 890 battalion in counter-terrorism operations during the Second Intifada. 

• Baram’s brigade commander in those operations (who was also his company commander when he joined the paratroopers’ anti-tank company), was Aviv Kochavi, now deputy Chief of Staff and a prominent candidate to replace Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot in January. 

• Another prominent candidate is Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, also a paratroopers officer who commanded the Nahal Brigade in Operation Defensive Shield. 

General Baram once described Chief of Staff Eizenkot and his deputy Kochavi as commanders who "look for a different direction and would be happy if you challenged them." The IDF knows how to hold on to its creative commanders, even if there were failures during their service, and to promote them. The military is not looking for yes-men, but initiative and courage cannot come at the expense of proper conduct. 

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", June 18, 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)