The IDF is building an impressive capacity to crush Hezbollah, Hamas and Iranian assets in future fighting. But it must not neglect defense of the periphery or go soft on its ethos and fighting spirit.
I came away from a conference this week deeply concerned about the IDF’s battle preparedness; actually, about its fighting spirit and ethos. I hope that the weaknesses exposed by the experts I heard from can be corrected in time for our next military confrontation.
On the one hand, it is apparent that the IDF is building an impressive capacity to crush Hezbollah and Hamas and Iranian assets in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza when the next inevitable round of fighting ensues.
Major General Yair Golan, the immediate past deputy chief of staff, and Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, told a forum convened by Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) that the IDF is intensively training its front-line combat troops for decisive ground offensives against Israel’s enemies.
“No amount of airpower is going to win the next battles for us or be able to quash enemy missile fire on Israel. We will have to maneuver on the ground in large formations with power and agility,” Golan says.
The two generals also emphasize that the IDF and IAF are better equipped than ever with tactical communications systems, exact targeting systems, accurate field intelligence, outstanding cyber abilities and robotic weapons, alongside world-leading air force platforms (F-35 jets and killer drones) and naval platforms (submarines and more).
Golan’s view is that the Russian military and political entrenchment in Syria can also play in Israel’s favor – if Israel plays its cards well. Only Russia can rein in Iran’s operatives and militias in Syria, not the US; and Russia may discover an interest in doing so as its economic investment in Syrian reconstruction grows.
Amidror, who is now the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at JISS, is of the view that Israel has a very deep bench: a powerful economy and industry, a motivated citizenry and army, and a resilient home front. “Israel is a huge power, and can overwhelm any of the Islamist forces that surround us.”
But here is where doubts seep in. Is this country’s leadership hardening the home front for the resilience needed going into our next confrontations? And is the fighting spirit of the IDF all that it needs to be? Not so much, according to other experts I heard from this week.
Uzi Rubin, a senior fellow at JISS who was founder of the Israel Missile Defense Organization in the Ministry of Defense (which developed the Arrow missile), warns that the Iranian strategy is a long war of attrition against Israel; a series of “nuisance” wars that will eat away at the Israeli economy and make life here intolerable.
Without significant investments in the protection and survivability of national infrastructures – which Rubin says Israel isn’t sufficiently making – he fears a collapse of national resilience leading to emigration from Israel.
Lt. Col. (res.) Eytan Honig of the Kohelet Forum has a different concern – that IDF soldiers are being fed a diet of liberal-progressive messages that undermine their fighting spirit and determination.
He says that over the past two decades the IDF outsourced its “values” education to civilian associations which wrenched the IDF’s “moreshet krav” (combat legacy) programs away their foundations in Maccabee and Zionist ethos, and towards curricula that emphasize humanitarian values and international law. (Honig believes that the IDF is beginning to fix this, by bringing its educational programs back in-house; but I’m not sure this is a real remedy).
Most worrisome of all, are the allegations made by Major General (res.) Gershon Hacohen, former commander of the Northern Corps and the military colleges, about the IDF’s abandonment of Israel’s periphery.
Hacohen is now conducting the General Staff evaluation of the massive war-game exercise conducted by the IDF several months ago in the north – it’s largest-ever. He says that the exercise included evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians from the Galilee (and in case of conflict in the south, it would be the same for Gaza envelope towns).
Hacohen feels that this is a travesty. Not only would it be impractical in war time, but it represents a “complete abandonment of Zionist values.”
“Why is the IDF planning such evacuations? Where has our tenacity and willingness to endure hardship gone? Why isn’t the leadership of this country and the IDF telling citizens who live in border areas to hunker down; or better yet, to take up arms themselves and join the war effort?” Hacohen asks.
Hacohen: “We need to reinforce Israel’s rugged border pioneers. Our government needs to tell them that they are heroes and to invest in regional defense systems with their involvement. In fact, we should be establishing many more such border communities. Instead, we have a government and IDF leadership that plans to cut and run.”
Extending this argument to the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria, Hacohen argues that settlement is an asset, not a burden, in defense of the country. “Only where we settle, can the military prevail. We need friction on the ground and with local (Arab) populations in order to reinforce the permanence of our presence.”
“Rugged homesteads, cultivated fields, armed citizenry, and military commanders who embrace and appreciate the sacrifice of border communities – this is what Israel needs,” he says.
I agree. Hewing to home and identity is the essence of the modern Zionist-Jewish re-birth. Such dedication needs to be part of our military strategy too.
Published in The Jerusalem Post, 29.12.2017
JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.