Operational revolution in the IDF

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 07-Sep-04 | Author: Ze'ev Schiff| Source: Ha'aretz

Moshe Ya'alon
A perceptual revolution is occurring in the defense doctrine of the IDF. These changes are occurring separately from the discussions in the committee headed by Dan Meridor, which deals with Israel's comprehensive strategy. While the Meridor committee is just at the beginning of its work, the major conceptual discussions lead by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon on the deployment of the army have been completed. Ya'alon was pushing for this when he was still deputy chief of staff after he discerned, he says, that many of the IDF's operational plans are no longer relevant.

The essence of the revolution is expressed in the decision to put the emphasis on the element of firepower and less on maneuverability on the ground. The intention is firepower from precision weaponry and not massed firepower, like that of ordinary artillery. Hence, the capture of territory, which had always been a supreme consideration, will decline in importance. Maneuverability will exist at a different level, more in the air and on the sea and less by armor divisions that clash on the ground with enemy divisions. If in the Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon War, as well as before then, the emphasis was on divisions that rolled toward enemy capitals, the current thinking says the threat will come from fire that is aimed from long distances.

The meaning of this is an important change in the IDF's security doctrine, which in the past determined that the army will aspire to transfer the fighting - using ground troops - to the enemy's territory. Today they are saying that bringing the war to the enemy's territory can be done with precision weaponry. The debate about the correct ratio between maneuverability on the ground and the element of firepower has been going on for a long time, but in recent years precision weaponry has improved considerably. Parallel to this, the ability to obtain precise intelligence information at all levels and the possibility of transmitting this information rapidly to the forces have also improved.

The new direction in the operational perception means that the IDF has to change the structure of its forces - fewer tanks and also fewer aircraft, although the aircraft will be more advanced. Fewer ordinary artillery pieces but more long-range precision rockets. The regional command will deal more with the near-range contact battles whereas the General Staff will be responsible for the battle in the deeper arena.

As a result of this, the General Staff forum is also undergoing changes. It will look more like the directorate of a large military organization, with the discussions on the conduct of the war taking place in smaller forums from within the General Staff, where the assessment of the situation will be discussed.

In a discussion of the Syrian and Lebanese front, for example, there is no need for the participation of the GOC Southern Command or the head of the Personnel Directorate. The advance that has occurred in the area of precision fire and intelligence operations is indicative of the ability of the Israeli defense industry. However, there are still "bottlenecks" in the development of the operational doctrine. For example, in the area of control and supervision, Israel does not have sufficient economic means to solve everything, and therefore at this stage priority is given to the terror arena and only after that to the arena of conventional warfare, the depth arena and unconventional weaponry.

In any case, the operational plans are currently being updated in the IDF. These changes do not ensure automatic victories everywhere. The decision to make a fundamental change in the operation of the IDF will not put an end to the internal doctrinal debates. There will be those who will ask how a war will be won in which the major emphasis is placed on firepower and there is hardly any advance and friction inside enemy territory.

In the framework of the new doctrine, is Israel not likely to slip into a heavy war of attrition that is based on firepower directed from a distance over long periods of time, in which population centers will be hit and heavily damaged - an idea to which there is greater sensitivity in Israel?