Security and Defense: Taking in the panoramic view

One thing is as clear as the gorgeous Golan horizon: The IDF has to look ahead at - and prepare for - asymmetrical warfare

tanks 88 (photo credit: )
tanks 88
(photo credit: )
The Ramata observation post, 1,194 meters above sea level on Mount Dov along the Syrian border, was rated by National Geographic magazine in 2004 as one of the 10 best scenic lookouts in the world. From the mountain, to the West, one sees the split village of Ghajar, and off on the horizon the Mediterranean Sea. To the East, one encounters the majestic snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon and the sweeping hills of the Golan Heights. These 25 square kilometers of mountainous terrain, however, constitute far more than a place from which to admire the view; they are a source of conflict and tension located at the junction of Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Also known as the Shaba Farms, their ownership is disputed by Hizbullah - which claims they belong to Lebanon - and Israel, which says they belong to Syria, from which they were captured during the Six Day War in 1967. Their name is misleading. The closest thing one finds to a farm are the heavily fortified IDF outposts along the mountain, which until last summer's war against Hizbullah were the target of incessant mortar attacks, and from which three soldiers were kidnapped by the guerrilla group in 2000. The soldiers here no doubt enjoy the beautiful surroundings, but, as they are quick to proclaim, their attention is elsewhere - on the Lebanese army and UNIFIL positions in the villages below. Soldiers at the Gladiola outpost - once the scene of numerous Hizbullah infiltrations and rocket attacks - are walking around this week without the formerly mandatory flak jackets and helmets, one of many indications that a new reality is unfolding following the war. Soldiers from Battalion 13 of the Golani Brigade are currently stationed in the outpost and assigned the task of keeping a close watch on suspicious activity in the nearby Lebanese village of Shuba. Inside a labyrinth of fortified concrete walkways are the outpost's lookout towers, from which intelligence officers survey Lebanon on high-resolution screens. On Wednesday, Brig.-Gen. Alon Friedman, chief of staff of the Northern Command, visited there to get a close look at the tense situation. Friedman is one of the few senior Northern Command officers who "survived" the war in Lebanon. His commanding officer, Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, stepped down as OC Northern Command as a result of the war's failures, and Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch has been ousted as commander of the Galilee Division. Friedman, on the other hand, is staying put. With at least 18 months left to his term, he is busy preparing his troops for the challenges ahead - possibly renewed fighting in Lebanon, or a war with Syria. Among other things, this preparation involves the round-the-clock training of battalions and brigades in places like the IDF's guerrilla warfare center in Elyakim. According to senior defense officials, it is "only a matter of time" before a new round of violence with Hizbullah erupts. They attribute Hizbullah's upper hand during the fighting in urban Lebanese areas to a lack of IDF armored and infantry training. In the meantime, say IDF officers, Syria is in the process of creating a new military doctrine - motivated by Hizbullah - based on a type of asymmetric warfare. Syria, one senior officer said this week, knows that it would be defeated in a conventional war against Israel. That is why if war breaks out, the Syrian military will employ Hizbullah- and Palestinian-like tactics against the IDF. ON TUESDAY, Tel Aviv University held a conference entitled: "Asymmetric Warfare and the War in Lebanon." Participants claimed that Israel's conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizbullah were classic examples of asymmetric warfare, a term that describes military situations in which two sides of unequal strength interact, while taking advantage of their respective strengths and weaknesses. Though the Palestinians do not have a regular army, terror groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad employ tactics such as the firing of short-range Kassam rockets and the positioning of forces in civilian areas. Hizbullah did the same this summer when it used advanced anti-tank missiles to neutralize Israeli armor, and drew infantry units into built-up areas. One of the speakers at the conference was Brig.-Gen. Itai Brun, newly-appointed head of the IDF's Operational Theory Research Institute, the think tank responsible for developing and writing operational commands and methods. A former air force intelligence officer, Brun said that military might can no longer be measured by size or the amount of territory conquered. Rather, the leading tool for rating the IDF against its enemies, he said, should be the notion of "invisibility or disappearance." He said that enemies like Hizbullah and Hamas use cities and villages as their bases and command posts, essentially "disappearing" into populated areas where the IDF can be defeated more easily. That is why - according to former National Security Council head Giora Eiland, who also spoke at the conference - Israel needs to put its focus on where its strengths are: technology and intelligence. "Technology is the greatest advantage a country has over a terror group," he said, pointing to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles as a tool in the targeted killing of Palestinian terrorists. Referring to the war in Lebanon, Eiland, who also served as head of the IDF's Planning Division, said that one of the greatest challenges in asymmetric warfare was maintaining a dialogue between the military and diplomatic echelons to formulate clear and attainable goals. "It is difficult to understand what the diplomatic echelon wants during asymmetric wars," he said. "Especially considering that there is always a huge gap between the government's expectations and the IDF's capabilities."