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)

מודעות פרסומת

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)