As the Middle East becomes
ever more anarchic and unpredictable, a group of high-ranking former and current
military figures gathered at Bar-Ilan University this week for what would turn
out to be one of the liveliest and frank public debates on the future of the IDF
The conference, called IDF Force Structure, was organized by
the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and Israel Defense magazine, and
contained two panels of speakers, each of which used their rich personal
experience in the security world to build up deep and well-founded arguments on
how Israel should tailor its armed forces in the first quarter of the 21st
The former navy chief, R.-Adm. (res.) Eliezer Marom, used the
opportunity to say that the Israel Air Force enjoys an unreasonable monopoly
over the IDF’s firepower. The monopoly was in fact dangerous, Marom said, since
an unpredictable challenge to air power would severely limit Israel’s ability to
direct long-range fire at enemy targets.
“If something happens to the air
force, like it did during the Yom Kippur War, there won’t be firepower directed
at the depth of the enemy’s territory,” he warned.
Most of the IDF’s
guided weapons systems are launched autonomously these days, and it would be
easy to spread out the weapons more evenly among the air force, ground forces,
and navy, Marom said.
The ex-navy commander cast doubt on the idea that
squadrons of fighter jets have to take off every time a target needs destroying.
“It would not be a problem at all,” he said, to direct surface-to-surface
missile fire when needed.
In truth, senior elements in the IDF agree with
Marom’s analysis, believing that the navy can and should play a bigger
supporting role in ground combat.
Navy vessels should serve as floating
guided- weapon launch pads. That said, they still regard the air force as
Israel’s supreme strategic branch.
In the IDF’s coming four-year working
plan, called Teuza (Hebrew for “valor”; the plan is awaiting government
approval), the air force and its guided weaponry appear to take second place in
the military’s priority list. Intelligence would appear to be in first
The air force continues to be perceived as the most effective
operational tool for strategic gains in war.
Ground forces hold third
place in the priority list, and are seen as an inseparable component of an
Israeli victory in any full-scale war.
Moreover, the navy might find
itself playing additional, classified roles that could be game-changers in a
During his address, Marom paid tribute to the IDF’s
networking capabilities, in which the three branches – air, ground and navy –
and their various platforms are merged into one. In effect, this means that
today, an infantry battalion commander can order an attack on a target in Gaza
by simultaneously employing missiles on navy ships and tank fire.
with all due respect to technology, Marom pointed out, “in the end, in order to
win, we need boots – with human legs in them – on the ground.”
(res.) Gal Hirsch, deputy head in the reserves of the IDF’s Depth Corps,
presented one of the most fascinating and radical visions during his address. Hersch argued that technological
advances and regional changes have prepared the ground for a second revolution
in military affairs (the first occurring in the late 1970s to the early
Faced mainly with enemies that know no limits, and which employ
terrorism, guerrillas or subversion rather than organized military forces,
Israel now has to create its own surprise force, Hirsch said.
He showed a
graphic of a floating iceberg, and then a second image, in which an intricate
matrix of wires, signals and colors pulsed inside the iceberg.
see is not the whole picture. We need to know what is happening underneath the
iceberg,” he explained.
“We need capabilities and forces that know how to
exit the frame,” Hirsch said, adding that a combination of secret services,
commando units and special forces fit the bill.
Creating a force based on
what Hirsch described as the “Six Cs,” command and control, computing,
intelligence, surveillance, cyber and special forces, would make the IDF “far
Amir Rapaport, editor-in-chief of Israel Defense
magazine and a member of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, noted the
intensive debate being held in the IDF on whether to prioritize firepower, or
ground maneuver capabilities.
A lack of training and proficiency in basic
skills, neglect of ground forces and a failure to invest in armored vehicles led
to systemic failures during the Second Lebanon War, Rapaport noted, adding that
the IDF repaired these shortcomings between 2007 and 2011.
Now, he said,
some of this work is being undone.
According to Rapaport, in the coming
years, cyber warfare capabilities will be at the top of the IDF’s its priority
list – higher even than the air force.
“If there is a recruit suitable to
become either a pilot or a cyber-operator, he will be sent to be a
cyber-operator,” Rapaport said. The Intelligence Unit 8200, which according to
reports, runs cyber war programs, can inflict as much damage with the press of a
button that paratroopers can with weapons, he
Intelligence-gathering units are next on the list of priorities,
enjoying an enormous budget, followed by the air force, which is due to receive
the F-35 fighter jet in the coming years.
But budget cuts will affect
numbers of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs), tank units and ground forces combat
training. “I’m not sure there will be enough AFVs in the next clash,” Rapaport
Rapaport’s concerns for the future of the ground forces are
The Ground Force Command’s special staff, who oversee key
functions, have experienced a 20-percent budget cut in 2013-2014. When combat
units resume training programs this year, the drills will be limited to
frontline fighting forces.
Combat support units will not train much – if
at all – unless the IDF’s budget is increased again in 2015.
soldiers this year will spend nine months carrying out operational duties,
before holding short war-training exercises, and returning to normal
Nevertheless, in the eyes of army brass, robust ground maneuvering
capacities remain a vital component in Israel’s ability to strike deep in enemy
territory, making conflicts short, and, unlike past clashes, making an Israeli
victory appear convincing.
The current cuts appear to be guided by an
element of risk management for the coming year, rather than a permanent
downgrading of ground forces.
During the panel, Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avigdor
Klein, former Armored Corps chief officer, argued in favor of cutting back on
armored vehicles, saying that such tools were becoming increasingly
He supports focusing more on firepower, and less on ground
maneuver force build-up.
With no current existential threats facing
Israel, and enemies seeking to inflict damage on Israel’s civilian sector, the
ID F should focus on being able to strike the enemy’s infrastructure, weapons
and commanders, while minimizing harm to Israeli civilian casualties and
noncombatant deaths on the other side of the border.
“I very much agree
with the reduction [of heavy vehicles]. What will remain constitutes an enormous
core [of military forces] in comparison to other armies in the world,” Klein
Maj.-Gen. Meir Kalifi, former military secretary to the prime
minister, said Israel should seek to build a flexible military, guided by its
capabilities, rather than trying to design the IDF according to a forecast of
future developments. Strategic and security forecasts are less relevant now than
ever, he argued.
Maj.-Gen. Gershon Hacohen, current corps commander of
the General Staff, looked at how differing cultures play a part in military
force build-ups, and offered some salient perspectives.
technical advantage Israel develops, hostile Arab entities like Hamas and
Hezbollah will work to neutralize them, he said, turning disadvantages into
advantages. Israel’s enemies adapt quickly, and leverage their inferior
strategic conditions as tools against the Jewish state. Recent examples include
Hamas’s movement of human shields to rooftops of buildings designated for
destruction via air strike.
“When we identify a problem, we look for a
technical solution. We think like graduates of a business school. They focus on
primitive adaption, and then watch how it creates a new situation,” Hacohen