Security and Defense: ‘We will know how to smash them’

IDF commanders this week reviewed lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War and military readiness for future wars.

December 17, 2010 15:34
War Games

war games 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Israel and ‘Hizbullah’ waged war this week. Columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers surrounded positions on a ‘southern Lebanon’ battlefield, simulated in the northern Golan Heights.

The exercise, one of the largest the IDF has held over the past decade, included the Infantry Corps’ Nahal Brigade and the Armored Corps’ 401st Brigade, which with its advanced Merkava tanks, some equipped with Trophy active-protection systems to intercept enemy missiles, is being dubbed “Israel’s gatekeeper to Lebanon.”

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What made the exercise unique was its size. Held in a plateau just under Mount Shifon with the snowcapped Hermon in the background, thousands of soldiers practiced war alongside one another, then against one another.

Some of the scenarios were conventional, to sharpen skills for a possible confrontation with Syria, but most were a combination of guerrilla and urban warfare with terrain similar to Lebanon’s open forests and densely populated villages.

Exercises like this clearly demonstrate the change that has overtaken the military in the four years since the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009.

There to watch was Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who explained his seemingly simplistic perspective.

“A military is either preparing for war or is fighting a war,” he said, pointing out that since he took over in 2007, the IDF has held more than 100 brigadelevel exercises. This makes one thing sure: The next post-war commission of inquiry will not be able to say that the IDF did not train enough.

WITH ARTILLERY shells exploding below, Brig.-Gen. Agai Yehezkel, the new commander of Division 162, the organic home of both the Nahal and 401st Brigades, briefed his officers on their objectives and missions.

One of the IDF’s superior mobilized divisions, 162 participated in the Second Lebanon War and was harshly criticized for not being prepared and for hesitating and moving slowly when maneuvering in southern Lebanon.

One of the deficiencies that was made plain by the post-war inquiries was the lack of coordination between the division’s two main brigades – Nahal and 401. The exercise this week was aimed at correcting that.

“Hizbullah has always been weaker than us,” Yehezkel said during an interview on the sidelines of the exercise on Wednesday.

“Today, four years after the last war, we are better prepared and have better plans, better technology and there is no question about what the results of the next war will be.”

It is that clear to you? “Yes,” Yehezkel answers without blinking an eye, “Hizbullah will be in major trouble.”

According to intelligence assessments in Northern Command, Hizbullah is already in trouble – Iran has slashed its annual aid to the group by 40 percent and tension between a senior Iranian operative parachuted into its hierarchy and some of the veteran Hizbullah operatives has led to a strain in ties.

At the same time, there is no question that Hizbullah has been preparing for the next conflict.

Recent reports of the transfer of Scud D ballistic missiles from Syria to Lebanon, hundreds of accurate M600s and more than 40,000 rockets and missiles make Hizbullah a force to reckon with.

HOW THE next war will erupt was a key question on the minds of all the participants in the exercise, particularly Ashkenazi and OC Northern Command Maj.- Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.

Ashkenazi will be leaving the IDF in February after his four-year term comes to an end; he will be replaced by Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. Eizenkot will also likely retire after turning down an offer to serve as Galant’s deputy. What they take pride in is that they will be leaving behind a military ready to fight the war whenever it occurs.

The scenarios perceived as most likely include a Hizbullah decision to attack without direct prior provocation in retaliation for a strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, or to attack in an effort to divert attention away from indictments the UN is expected to submit against top Hizbullah operatives over their involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Still, the prevailing assessment within Northern Command is that Hizbullah will not attack after the findings are published but will be more likely to topple the Lebanese government and steer the country toward a political deadlock. Either way, the outcome would be detrimental for Israel, which will find itself with a neighbor in complete disarray and anarchy.

Part of the IDF’s strategy for a future war was apparent in the way it conducted the exercise. First was the emphasis commanders put on the “combined battle,” the interoperability and coordination between the infantry, armored units and air force and the integration of new unmanned aerial vehicles to assist battalion commanders.

Then, OC Nahal Col. Amir Abulafia made his soldiers hike some 60 kilometers during the exercise carrying loads the equivalent of about half their weight on their backs.

Behind such a requirement is the understanding that in the next war, the IDF will need to be capable of moving fast if it wants to be able to suppress Hizbullah rocket and missile fire. It will not have time to rely on the air force to bomb enemy targets, but will need to conquer territory. The way to do this is with boots on the ground – and lots of them.

At the Nahal forward base, a number of tents were pitched next to armored personnel carriers. Inside, the brigade had established its various war rooms with large screens projecting the exact location of friendly and enemy forces. Officers from Military Intelligence, the air force, the navy and other branches of the IDF sat around tables to discuss planned strikes and attack modes.

Like the division commander, Abulafia is also confident that the outcome of the next war will bring a decisive victory.

“I do not want to sound like I am underestimating Hizbullah,” he said. “But in face of the masses and strength that we will be bringing with us, we will know how to smash them. It will be a challenge, but with our capabilities the victory will be decisive.”

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