General Yair Golan: The IDF is battle ready but the political echelons and the general staff fear deploying the IDF’s ground forces, even when necessary and justified.
By Ron Ben Yishai
The criticism of the IDF’s readiness expressed by Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and another unnamed general, is disconcerting. A pity that the responses were mostly political and not objective, because at stake are three critical issues, not just for the IDF, but for the security of the State of Israel.
Golan, who served as the Deputy Chief of Staff (and today is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute of Strategy and Security), claims that the political echelons and the General staff fear deploying the IDF’s ground forces, even when necessary and justified. The reason being, he claims, is the oversensitivity of the Israeli population to loss of life and the risk of soldiers being captured, which puts pressure on the security cabinet.
The second reason Golan gave is the appeal to utilize the extraordinary capabilities of the Air Force and intelligence agencies that don’t expose troops to battlefield dangers but they also cannot put an end to the surface to surface rocket threat.
In order to silence the rocket launchers — whether in Gaza, Lebanon or Syria — the IDF must rapidly maneuver deep into enemy territory and by its mere presence and efforts to destroy the launchers and rocket stores, it will prevent major harm to the Israeli home front. This has been duly proven time and time again, in the Second Lebanon War and during the multitude of Gaza operations.
Yair Golan knows this based on his experience, not just with regards to rockets but also with regards to terror which can only be defeated by a comprehensive ground operation. Golan was the Nahal Brigade commander before Operation Defensive Shield, in the early days of the second Intifada.
He, along with the IDF’s other ground forces commanders, appealed to then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz and prime minister Ariel Sharon to be allowed to enter Area A, including Ramallah where Yasser Arafat resided, in order to gather intelligence and confront the terrorists in the locations where they prepare their attacks.
Sharon and Mofaz were hesitant to heed the request of all those officers until that fateful Passover night in 2002 when dozens of Israelis were murdered by a suicide bomber at the Park Hotel in Netanya. Operation Defensive Shield was authorized and Golan was one of the officers who led troops into the Palestinian cities and refugee camps. The present Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi also led his troops into the Nablus Qasba and the Balata Refugee Camp to root out the terror infrastructure, in what was the beginning of the end of the Intifada.
Golan is not arguing that the IDF isn’t ready for battle, on the contrary. He is saying that the IDF is ready but the political and military brass who handled Operation Protective Edge demonstrated their hesitation to dispatch infantry, tanks and combat engineers into the Gaza Strip due to the irrational fear among the Israeli populace of battle fatalities and abducted soldiers.
As a result, Golan argues, the ground forces are atrophying and are not familiar with rapid offensive battle standards. Instead of entering Gaza and eliminating the rocket threat, Israel obsessed over the marginal tunnels threat and turned that into the central focus of the operation.
The fixation on the tunnels, instead of what should have been the main focus —destroying Hamas’ rocket and missile capabilities — caused the war to drag on leading to more casualties among the troops and population.
It is the politicians who at fault here and not the military. The irrational fixation on casualties and potential abductions may end up leading to more casualties, both among the troops and on the home front. Intelligence and air power alone are not sufficient to complete the job and General Golan was correct in his assessment.
The second matter raised by Golan’s revelation is who commands the ground forces during a war. A second, unnamed, general also raised this question. This question has been a matter of controversy within the IDF almost since its founding. The established custom is that the chief of staff is the commander of the ground forces, as the Navy and Air Force have their own commanders.
But the chief of staff is of course also the commander of the military as a whole and therefore he lacks the time and ability to properly prepare the ground forces during a period of quiet and command them during a war. Accordingly, the regional commanders (north, central and south) are the ones who command the ground forces during a war.
Recently, a fourth regional command was added, the Depth Command, which coordinates the IDF’s long range operations and operations deep in enemy territory. But it is the GOC Army Headquarters that supply’s, administers and trains the troops, but does not lead them during wartime.
The establishment of the GOC command was apparently intended to unite at least one force under one authority, but in practice a situation arose in which the chief of staff and the regional commanders trained the ground forces while who exactly was responsible for what remains ambiguous as was brutally demonstrated during the Second Lebanon War.
As a result of this confusing situation, the ground forces fall between the cracks, and suffer from a range of conditions, some real and some imaginary, which the various IDF comptrollers point to.
Both of these arguments are very important and require swift and determined handling, but as expected, the reactions were political: for Gantz and against Gantz, for Netanyahu and against Netanyahu, for Operation Protective Edge and against. No one took a practical approach to the problems themselves, which I believe will decide the outcome of the IDF’s next war, whether in the north or in the south.
Immediately following the elections, there is a crucial need, not only among the general staff but for the public as a whole, to perform a genuine soul-searching and to deal with the fear of using the IDF ground forces and the question of who is responsible to ready the troops and who commands the ground forces during wartime.