The IDF’s new task: Read books

The IDF’s traditional approach tends to be very practical, i.e., its officers are trained to prove their capabilities in action.

Read, soldier, read  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Read, soldier, read
(photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi decided in mid-October that officers “will be required to read professional literature.”
This is an important decision, long overdue, and is also sad evidence to the lack of will among officers to read books, even books that are in their field. Therefore, there was a need for a special order.
Israeli officers have a reputation of those who don’t bother to read much in their field. It is often not their fault since they have a lot on their plates, and engaging with books is not one of them. They have other priorities, much more urgent. They work hard in their profession and sometimes risk their lives in the process. There has also not been much encouragement by their superiors, to put it mildly, to invest time in reading books.
Prof. Avi Kober claimed that, “Throughout the years, the Israeli military establishment has shown symptoms of poor intellectualism that have been reflected, among other expressions, in a lack of interest in the theoretical aspects of the military profession and the underestimation of theory’s contribution to practice.” Reading books can help with this issue.
The IDF’s traditional approach tends to be very practical, i.e., its officers are trained to prove their capabilities in action, not in writing or reading books. (There are dozens of Israeli officers who had published articles during their service, but very few wrote a book). It obviously makes sense that the ,military will concentrate on what matters most: to carry out its main tasks. The IDF is not a university or a research institute. Nevertheless, it should continue to urge its officers to read. The IDF can’t win a war by focusing on reading, no matter what its officers read, but reading books can help achieve victory.
Reading can improve the skills of Israeli officers. This method has several advantages. First of all, it opens the reader to the world of military history, from ancient times to current days. A book takes the officer back in time, exposing him or her to a variety of military lessons about land, air and sea combat worldwide. Furthermore, the reader will not be harmed at all, unlike in training, particularly when live fire is involved.
Another major advantage is the cost of a book. Even when thousands of copies are given to officers, the cost of such an investment is quite low compared to buying and maintaining military gear, let alone weapon systems such as tanks.
There is a need to find the right books because there are so many. The IDF does not necessarily have to choose the classic ones, although they can be part of the reading list. Yet the priority has to be on picking books that fit the specific reality and conditions in which the IDF fights and of Israel’s overall strategy. The reading list should also have books that are interesting enough to motivate the officers to read them.
The IDF has learned much over the years from other militaries that gained vast experience in fields that concern the it. In the past, the IDF translated and published many books on subjects that were relevant to it. One subject was the battles in North Africa in World War II because of their similarity to the confrontations between the IDF and Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula from the 1950s to the ‘70s.
The bottom line is, with the right books and guidance, the IDF can upgrade its forces in an inexpensive and effective way.
The writer is a senior fellow with the Gold Institute for International Strategy, who has been dealing with and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the IDF, worked for the Defense Ministry and has published five books.