While Israel has invested considerably in air power and maintains its relative advantage in this field – beginning with Operation Moked in the Six Day War and more intensively in the last three decades – its enemies chose a cheap and foolish solution, but one that reduces the gap.
The first to understand this was Syrian President Hafez Assad. It was a lesson from the first Lebanon war, during which the Israel Air Force destroyed about a third of the Syrian Air Force and severely damaged its anti-aircraft forces. The Syrian president reduced and cut down the air force, which he himself commanded years earlier, and invested in acquiring a large-scale arsenal of rockets that pose a real threat to Israel’s population centers.
In the years preceding the civil war in Syria, Assad succeeded in creating a balance of deterrence against Israel. It was clear that Syria would attack Tel Aviv with precision rockets and heavy warheads, while Israel would send its planes to attack the Syrian capital. Assad received the proof that he was right during the Iraqi missile attack in the Gulf War. Israel was more or less helpless in the face of a threat on its population centers.
Hezbollah and Hamas, each according to its capabilities, also adopted the method and also have obtained an arsenal of rockets aimed directly at Israeli population centers. Also important are the Iranians, who are working to establish a similar arsenal that will threaten Israel from Syria.
In a lecture at the INSS annual conference in January 2014, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate at the time and now the leading candidate for the post of chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said the IDF defined the period as an “era of fire.” He emphasized, “There are many more missiles and rockets aimed from deep enemy territory to deep into Israel’s territory. They are much more distributed. They are much more accurate. They are much more lethal. We are talking about around 170,000 rockets and missiles that threaten the State of Israel.”
Part of this change can be seen in the decision of the IDF to acquire a variety of rockets of varying ranges, from 30 km. to 150 km. Over the past two decades, the Artillery Corps has become increasingly sophisticated and technologically advanced. Media reports indicate that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to establish a kind of “rocket corps.”
An Israeli response to the rocket arsenal that its enemies have established will provide the IDF with a rapid, destructive and precise operational response, which is economical in relation to its air response, and eliminates the need to endanger pilots in missions above enemy territory. In future confrontations, air force pilots will be unable to operate almost freely over enemy territory. It seems that the minister wants it to be that in such a case the IDF will not remain without a real alternative.
Under Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF has invested considerable resources in improving the capabilities of its ground forces and reserves. However there is another cost for such a significant investment in standoff firepower capabilities (Israel already invests huge sums in the IAF and in tightening the connection between current intelligence and precision munitions). Every investment in a particular field comes at the expense of non-investment in another field. When one buys an airplane, he sometimes gives up buying a tank, and when one buy planes and rocket launchers, he might harm the level of readiness of ground forces.
THUS, THE IDF may find itself in a future campaign in a situation in which it relies almost exclusively on its capabilities in standoff firepower from the air, sea and land. The next campaign may be a standoff-firepower confrontation between the IDF and the enemy. Such wars, as demonstrated by the German blitz on London and the thousands of bombing raids carried out by the Allies over German cities during World War II, did not shorten the war or make real achievements. The British did not surrender, they only became more determined, as did the Germans.
At a recent conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, former deputy chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, noted that there is a deep conceptual gap regarding the use of military force in recent confrontations, which led to the public’s disappointment with the way it ended, without a clear Israeli victory. Golan stated, “Anyone who has ever dealt in this field of warfare can understand that this belief that wars can be won only with the help of accurate intelligence and precise fire is a problematic assumption. In fact, I would say, it reduces the art of war to the level of technicians. And since the techs never won wars, it is reasonable to assume that they will never win wars.”
Golan, who is also a candidate to become the next chief of staff, said the IDF should be built so that when Israel chooses, “We will hit our enemies with a hard and decisive blow. And when I say hitting our enemies, it’s hitting their fighting ability.”
In his view, the assumption that harming infrastructure and the civilian population can bring the enemy to despair is wrong. “If we want relatively short wars, and if we want to bring the enemy to surrender, or to ask for a cessation of hostilities, we must first and foremost hit his military strength and his fighting ability,” he said.
The meaning is an attack on the enemy’s operatives, whether they are soldiers or terrorists. The only way to do this, certainly in view of the serious threat to the home front, is through the old Ben-Gurion approach of transferring the war to enemy territory, and for this, the IDF must maneuver, and quickly.
The operation of ground forces is an expensive move, which includes the risk of casualties. In his lecture in 2014, Maj.-Gen. Kochavi – who, like Golan did his service in the Paratroopers Brigade and fought in Lebanon, Judea and Samaria – said that the maneuver “is not going to be simpler.” According to him, in almost every village in Lebanon, forces will operate mainly in urban areas where there are “dozens of rockets, launchers and bombs – all modern weapons, not improvisations.
Therefore, it is already a semi-military organization, not a terrorist organization in the classic sense of the term. And, he said, “Maneuvering in this space becomes much more challenging.”
Nevertheless, Kochavi said that Israel has “a basic interest in shortening the duration of the war.” This has never been achieved by standoff firepower. Significant firepower must support IDF land forces. But in the end, as Israeli governments have learned in all the confrontations, from “Defensive Shield” to “Protective Edge,” the damage to the enemy’s military power is achieved on land by ground forces.
The writer is founder and operator of the ‘In the Crosshairs’ blog on military, security, strategy vision and practice.
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