Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi briefs US military representative Joseph F. Dunford.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In 2002, the US military conducted its “Millennium Challenge” exercise. Considered the greatest exercise in modern military history, its goal was to test the readiness of the American military and develop new tactics and weapons against the outlines of confrontations that American forces would encounter.
The Blue team represented the American forces, while the Red team, the enemy, represented the army of a Middle Eastern state whose identity was not defined. The Red team was commanded by retired Gen. Paul Van Riper, a decorated Marine officer who chose to challenge the planners and exploited the weaknesses of the opposing force one by one. The force under his command launched many surface-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles against the Blue team’s Navy and sank 13 ships. In an original step, the communications of the Red team relied on emissaries mounted on motorcycles that conveyed messages from the main headquarters to its decentralized forces in a way that prevented the “Blue” force from monitoring it and anticipating its actions. This method proved that the basic assumptions on which the American military built its strength and prepared for present and future conflicts were problematic.
Due to the success of the Red team, the commanders of the exercise dictated new rules to Van Ripper that would restrain him and ensure the success of the Blue team. Looking back, it seems that the person who chose him as commander of the Red team simply did not know him. In 1969, as commander of a Marine Rifle Company in Vietnam, Van Ripper led an attack on a fortified objective held by a North Vietnamese battalion. At the end of the battle, the objective was captured, and the Marine Company he led killed 60 enemy soldiers. Van Ripper, who won the Silver Star for his courage, did not give up then, and over the years he seemed to remain as determined. He abandoned the exercise and criticized it in the media.
This story came to mind in the face of the harsh criticism voiced by the IDF Ombudsman, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, about the IDF’s readiness for the next confrontation. Brick, who fought bravely as a tank company commander in the Yom Kippur War, seems as determined now in the confrontation he initiated with the IDF as he was on the Sinai battlefields in 1973. In the past six months since he published his last report as a commissioner, Brick has been conducting a publicized confrontation with the IDF’s senior command. He claims that the IDF, with an emphasis on the ground forces, is not prepared for the next war. Among other things, he stated that the IDF failed to persuade good officers to remain in the army for long-term careers. In addition, he said that the organizational culture is wrong and includes increasing use of the WhatsApp app and as a tool for commanders to communicate with their subordinates (“In war, WhatsApp won’t work,” he once said). Brick also found that there is a problem in implementing combat systems in reserve units, including the new command and control system, the Digital Land Army).
Since this is the “last ride” of the veteran commander, it is clear that he wants to give it meaning. Another explanation is that Brick was burned by the lessons of the difficult war that he experienced 45 years ago, and he intends to do everything possible to make sure Israel will “not be caught unprepared again.”
The IDF, for its part, claims that during Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s tenure as chief of staff, the IDF has been training much more. Within the framework of the multi-year plan, the Gideon unit underwent a real reform in the ground forces (and in the reserve units) and the readiness of the units was defined as a high priority, even at the expense of strengthening and purchasing. Under Eisenkot (himself a former Golani infantry brigade commander), the infantry brigades switched to a better training model and there is a process to upgrade the capabilities of brigade combat teams to operate in a more coordinated and effective manner. In addition, the Commando Brigade was established, which upgraded the IDF’s ability to operate deep inside the enemy’s territory.
The IDF’s claim that it is prepared is justifiable, although it is always possible to be more prepared. In the last four years, the IDF has built three armies – the Border Defense Forces, the Reserve force and the Attack force – each with its designated components at different levels of competence. The question that should be asked is whether the processes that have taken place over the past four years have brought the army – the regular army and the reserves – to a level of sufficient and even optimal preparedness for the next confrontations.
The answer to this question must take into account many factors, including the fact that time, money and manpower are limited, that there are operational constraints with which the army is constantly dealing, and that the situation obliges the army to prioritize units, projects and even arenas. Given these and other parameters, the IDF is in a better state than it was before the summer of 2014. But with regard to the ground forces, much improvement is needed. Following the ombudsman review, the IDF comptroller and the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Preparedness have produced reports that found gaps in the IDF’s readiness, yet nevertheless stated that the IDF is ready for the next war. However, despite the fact that Brick sounded like a prophet of rage, it’s prudent to listen to him too, before the storm comes.
It can be said that Eisenkot dealt with building strength and readiness, and that his successor, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, will have to instill in the commanders the sense of capability. The belief is that they can act and overcome, even when dealing with ground maneuvers deep into enemy territory, many kilometers from the border. This is not a unique problem for the IDF; the US military is facing it as well. Former secretary of defense James Mattis and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Danford, both Marine generals, have also done much in the field of force buildup. The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (if authorized by the Senate), Gen Mark Miley, a paratrooper and Special Forces officer, will face the same challenge as the Israeli chief of staff.
Almost two decades ago, Kochavi, the 35th paratroopers brigade commander, stood out among a small group of determined field commanders who, during the Second Intifada, broadcast to the senior political and military echelon that they are ready for any challenge – including fighting in Palestinian refugee camps and crowded urban areas. Kochavi’s challenge is to raise a generation of field commanders like the one he was part of.
The writer is founder and operator of the blog “In the Crosshairs” on military, security, strategy vision and practice.
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