Is the IDF ready for war?

Last June, the IDF’s chief ombudsman, Gen.(res.) Yitzhak Brick, issued an urgent report in which he claimed that the military’s readiness for war is dangerously deteriorating.

IDF soldiers near the Gaza border (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
IDF soldiers near the Gaza border
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Two conflicting visions for Israel’s military future are meeting in battle yet again in the coming week with the publication of a review about the Israel Defense Forces’ preparedness.
Last June, the IDF’s chief ombudsman, Gen.(res.) Yitzhak Brick, issued an urgent report in which he claimed that the military’s readiness for war is dangerously deteriorating. At the center of the report stands the ill-preparedness of IDF ground forces for potential military engagement with one or more of Israel’s adversaries. According to Brick, “The IDF is currently in one of its worst crises, and may no longer be able to confront potential threats.”
In response, IDF chief of general staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot appointed a committee to review Brick’s claims. Though the findings of this committee are not yet released, Eizenkot has made his opinion about Brick’s report well known. Shortly after Brick presented his conclusions at a press release in June, Eizenkot said that the “IDF preparedness for war has seen massive improvement,” directly contradicting Brick’s claims.
Is one of them wrong? Not necessarily.
Contrary to popular belief, the dispute between Eizenkot and Brick is not about whether or not the IDF is ready for war. Their dispute is about which type of war the IDF should be prepared to fight – a conventional war against mass armies from neighboring nation-states, or an asymmetrical war against non-state adversaries.
According to Brick’s approach, the primary threat to every state, including Israel, is one posed by a conventional army belonging to a nation-state. Therefore, artillery, infantry, air and armored forces – traditional staples of conventional warfare – have always constituted the core of the military, and should be prioritized in terms of funds and qualified manpower.
Brick is right in saying that IDF preparedness for war against conventional nation-states armies has deteriorated. The 2015 multi-year “Gideon Plan” cut 4,000 officer posts, discharged 30% of IDF reserve combat manpower and diverted funds and qualified human resources from combat units to intelligence, cyber and air defense units.
According to Eizenkot’s approach, 21st-century militaries should be prepared to fight an asymmetrical war against non-state adversaries. The underlying assumption here is that unconventional deterrence, innovative military technology and powerful alliances will deter nation-states from going to war with Israel. The IDF should therefore divert resources from the traditional combat units to other capabilities that are more relevant to dealing with non-state adversaries.
Eizenkot is also right in saying that IDF preparedness for war has seen massive improvement. Groundbreaking innovations in military technologies have led to the enhancement of Israel’s defense capabilities, the most significant of which was the multi-layered defense system capable of intercepting mortar shells and short, medium and long-range missiles. At the same time, precision-guided munitions and new methods of gathering real-time intelligence enable Israel to disrupt infiltration attempts from the air and sea, above and below ground. Despite the recent flare up from Gaza, in the past decade, Israel’s borders have never been quieter and the number of military and civilian casualties on both sides have never been lower.
The advantages of Eizenkot’s approach taken into account, it is still a strategy that seeks only to contain a threat, while Brick’s approach seeks to have an army that can root them out. Yet the majority of Israeli leaders support Eizenkot’s approach.
Last August, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented Israel’s National Security Strategy for 2030. The strategy, which was formulated by the Israeli National Security Council in collaboration with the IDF and Israel intelligence agencies, dictates that the IDF’s top priorities will be “enhancing cyber capabilities, upgrading anti-missile defense, continued protective measures on the home front and completing the security fences.”
Although such a military prioritization is unprecedented, it is certainly not lacking strategic justification. The Arab Spring played a major role in the decision-making process of the Israeli National Security Council. The demise of nation-states in the Middle East following the Arab Spring, the transformation of Hamas and Hezbollah from insignificant militant groups to political entities with great military power, and the rise of ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood have forced Israeli security leadership to make hard decisions.
Israel is a small country with limited resources; it could not sustain an army that could master the art of warfare against both state and non-state adversaries. Israel had to make a choice: either be mediocre in both types of warfare or master one of them. The decision Israel made was to put all its military “eggs” in one basket, preparing exclusively for asymmetrical war against non-state adversaries, while relying on its alliances, unconventional capabilities, and superior air force to deter nation-state adversaries.
The writer served as a reconnaissance officer and team commander in the IDF Special Forces. He is currently completing his Ph.D. at the War Studies department of King’s College London and is working at IDC Herzliya as the program manager of the Argov Fellows Program.