IDF versatility focus of War & Mind conference

Foreign behavioral scientists learn how IDF combat soldiers deal with multiple crises.

IDF Apache 224.88 (photo credit: IDF)
IDF Apache 224.88
(photo credit: IDF)
Mental preparation for battle, IDF versatility and the identification of potential military commanders were some of the issues at the heart of talks held between IDF behavioral scientists and their counterparts from around the world. Under the title "War and the Mind," close to 20 military officers and academics from Germany, the United States, Holland, Germany, Spain the United Kingdom and the Far East, gathered at an IDF base in Netanya last week for a conference dedicated to studying combat behavior. Organized by Lt.-Col. Tzur Keren, military psychologist for the IDF Ground Forces Command, the conference was arranged as part of IDF policy to share doctrine and techniques with ally countries that face similar terror threats to Israel. The attraction in coming to Israel to study military behavioral science has to do with the large number of threats the IDF single-handedly faces on a daily basis, an officer said Monday. The difficulty in adapting to a wide variety of missions was demonstrated during the conference by the German military, which in 2003 sent a small contingent to Congo to oversee elections. "The German military is one of the best militaries in the world," a top IDF officer involved in the conference said. "But after what was supposed to be a short operation turned into almost two years, the soldiers, who did not have an enemy and were not doing what they were trained to do, began to get into trouble and to develop drinking problems." For this reason, the officer said, the IDF looks for versatility when choosing soldiers to send to Officers' Training School who will be capable of leading troops in extreme and changing circumstances. "In Israel, everything is done by the same military," the officer explained. "Whether it is trying to stop human-trafficking or drug smuggling in the South, combating terrorism in Gaza, peacekeeping-like operations in the West Bank or preparing for war with Hizbullah guerrillas and Syria in the North, it is all done by the same units and the same IDF." In comparison, the officer said, most western militaries are built on a number of branches from the Ground Forces with different capabilities suitable for a wide variety of operations. One example is Operation Iraqi Freedom, which was fought mainly by the US Marines and Army though the military branch on the ground in Iraq and responsible for maintaining law and order today is the National Guard. "The National Guard does not know how to conquer Baghdad, but they do know how to maintain law and order," the officer pointed out. "In Israel, however, the same unit conquers and the same unit then works to maintain law and order." The difference between the IDF and the Marines, for example, is also evident in the type of training they receive before being sent to a mission in enemy territory. The Marines undergo anthropological training learning about the Iraqi culture and language. In Israel, the training is not anthropological but rather mental preparation for the ever-changing missions. One of the senior officers to attend the conference was US Col. Thomas Kolditz, head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Due to the variety of threats and missions, the IDF finds itself in a unique position when creating a mechanism for selecting potential commanders from the large pool of soldiers. "When we look for leaders we need to find people who have characteristics that make them suitable to command over troops at a roadblock in the West Bank, in the North and then, if needed, in an evacuation of an illegal outpost," the officer said. "It is all about being in the right state of mind and having the right type of training."