Analysis: 'Depth Corps' a sign of regional threats

New IDF command will work with special operations units, oversee their covert operations.

December 18, 2011 02:11
3 minute read.
IDF special forces troops in training exercise

IDF special forces troops in training exercise 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)


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The lesson that can be learned from the IDF’s announcement on Thursday night that it is establishing a strategic corps for operations deep in enemy territory is an indication of the type of war Israel expects it will face – one that is long and difficult and which cannot be won by simply fighting along the borders.

The “Depth Corps” as it is called in Hebrew, will oversee operations by special forces in an effort to enable each unit – Sayeret Matkal, Shaldag and Flotilla 13 – to retain their unique capabilities, but at the same time operate in better coordination and with less competition.

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Head of the corps will be Maj.-Gen. (res.) Shai Avital, a former commander of Sayeret Matkal, who has been out of the IDF for over a decade. His expertise in deep covert operations as well as his friendship with Defense Minister Ehud Barak helped him land the post.

The establishment of the new corps has been under consideration for the past decade in the IDF but was repeatedly pushed off due to more pressing issues.

What has changed is the nature of the threat that Israel faces, which requires elite units to operate far from Israel and deep within enemy territory.

With a possible confrontation looming on the horizon with Iran, some in the IDF are already calling Avital the commander of the “Iran Command,” or at least something along the lines of the the US military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) which is led by Adm. William McRaven, the officer who oversaw the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this year.

The corps’ job will be split into two categories. It will firstly work with special forces and at times oversee their covert operations which could be against arms smuggling to Hezbollah and Hamas, or directly against Iran and its nuclear facilities.

While Israel’s special forces have had some spectacular successes in recent years – most of which cannot be publicized – there has been a feeling within the General Staff already since the Second Lebanon War that the units could do more if they worked closer together and if there was better coordination between their respective branches.

The current situation, under which the air force is in command of Shaldag, Military Intelligence in command of Sayeret Matkal and the navy in command of Flotilla 13 (also known as the Shayetet), will remain, but some of the operations will now be directed by Avital, who will be subordinate to Gantz.

The corps’ second role will be overseeing larger-scale military operations deep in enemy territory, whether in places like Lebanon and Syria.

While each of these fronts has a regional command responsible for it, the Northern Command is set up to operate until a certain line in Lebanon and Syria, and not farther. The same is the case with the Southern Command in Sinai.

The problem is that in a future war, the presence of Hezbollah’s new long-range missiles inside Lebanon could require the IDF to operate deeper inside the country, and not just in the south like it did in the summer of 2006.

If, for example, war breaks out with Syria and the IDF wants to launch a joint air force-infantry-naval operation north of Damascus, Avital and his new corps will play a key role in directing those forces.

The growing concern within the IDF about the possible regional changes that could evolve out of Syria, Egypt and even Iraq contributed to the decision to establish Avital’s new corps. As one senior officer explained: “We build capabilities to provide solutions in uncertain situations.”

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