Security and Defense: Preparing for war on all fronts


The IDF’s multi-year plan, unveiled to the press this week, was for the most part a continuation of the last plan, Tefen, initiated in 2007 under former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi.

Then, the IDF was reeling from its failures and mistakes following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and Ashkenazi decided to invest in the ground forces by manufacturing more Merkava tanks, developing a new armored personnel carrier (APC) called the Namer and significantly boosting training.

An emphasis was also put on missile defense, the benefits of which we witnessed last week when the Iron Dome intercepted eight rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

This has paid off, and the IDF is unquestionably better prepared today for another ground war in Syria, Lebanon or the Gaza Strip.

During his term as chief of staff, Ashkenazi oversaw nearly 100 different brigade-level exercises. In 2006, by comparison, the IDF held a total of two brigade-level exercises. The IDF has already received the first batch of Namer APCs and has equipped some of its tanks with the Trophy active-protection system. The ground forces are ready.

THE NEW plan, called Halamish and constructed under new Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz – some IDF officers have joked that Halamish is the Hebrew acronym for “I am missing 1 billion shekels” – continues the same line of thinking as Tefen, but may contain another focal point.

While both plans identify Iran as the greatest threat and challenge for Israel – followed by the northern front, which includes Syria and Lebanon and then the Palestinians – Halamish may be unique if it places Egypt on the list as well.

In the meantime, Gantz has decided to take the cautious and not hysterical approach vis à vis Egypt. This was done with the understanding that even if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over in upcoming elections – considered unlikely – it will still take some time before Egypt threatens Israel again like it did in the days leading up to the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

For that reason, the upcoming year will be spent mostly on learning about Egypt, dusting off old maps, remembering what it was like being in the Sinai and preparing conceptually for the future.

When it comes to Egypt, if the worst-case scenario comes true, the IDF will have plans in place to embark on an unprecedented procurement campaign that, in short, will set the establishment of new divisions, fighter jet squadrons and other military capabilities. If that doesn’t work and Egyptian tanks roll through the Sinai, Israel could always call on the US for intervention.

BUT WHERE Halamish breaks from Tefen is in the following assessment, which serves as the introduction of the new multi-year plan: “There is an increasing probability of conflict on multiple fronts.” While this concept – war on several fronts simultaneously – is not a new one for Israel, it is significant when it appears in a military multi-year plan for the first time in 15 years.

What are the chances for war? 50-50? 70-30? No one in the IDF will say. If they could, there would be no purpose in maintaining a massive branch in the IDF called Military Intelligence.

The new plan, though, is sophisticated and recognizes that the IDF is already at war on some of its fronts. It is waging a war against Iran’s nuclear program – mostly in the shadows and below the surface – and is also, at the same time, fighting on the high seas against weapons smuggling to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon – demonstrated by the seizure of Iranian arms on the Victoria cargo ship last month.

But if a larger-scale conflict breaks out in the coming years, the IDF has a very clear idea of the way it wants to see it play out. The first principle will be to ensure a short conflict – with a clear and decisive victory for Israel at its end.

What this means, though, is unclear, mainly because the IDF no longer really talks in terms of victory and defeat in the conventional, historic sense of the terms. Years ago, after one side’s military surrendered and it had lost significant territory to its adversary, it was obvious who had won. Nowadays, when an enemy does not really own territory – as is the case with Hamas and Hezbollah – and when it cannot conquer Israeli territory, how is it possible to determine the outcome of a war?

That is why when the IDF talks about terms like victory and defeat, what it means is that the other side has been so badly beaten that it will be deterred for an extended period before engaging Israel again. While the IDF made major mistakes during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the quiet that has prevailed in the five years since proves that the war was something of a victory. The country’s difficulty in understanding this new concept likely added to the public sense of failure at the time.

THIS UNDERSTANDING of the nature of conflicts was demonstrated during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, which, while it did not destroy Hamas, did create deterrence and restore quiet for the residents of the South. Unfortunately this deterrence eroded over the past month, culminating in last weekend’s cycle of violence, which included over 120 rocket and mortar attacks against Israel in just two days.

Then, too, the IDF’s entire operation was aimed at restoring deterrence and postponing what many in the defense establishment believe is inevitable – a large-scale Cast Lead-like operation in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF knew that it was facing a new round of violence two weeks ago after it bombed a car in the southern Gaza Strip carrying three senior Hamas operatives and suitcases full of money. The terrorists were planning to kidnap Israelis in the Sinai and then smuggle them under the border and into the Gaza Strip.

Knowing the group would try to exact revenge – one of the slain terrorists was a close confidant of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari – the IDF removed troops and equipment away from the border, trying hard not to provide Hamas with a target. But by last Thursday, Hamas had had enough and, in the absence of a military target, decided to fire a Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile at a school bus near Nahal Oz.

The IDF then began responding, but throughout the entire weekend did not attack major Hamas targets like bases or military compounds. Even though it killed nearly 20 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives, none was killed in targeted killings, but rather in routine bombings and air strikes against cells spotted in real time launching, or preparing to launch, rockets into Israel.

The idea was to send Hamas a message that Israel could cause it damage on many different levels. If Hamas had not understood the message by Sunday, when the cease-fire went into effect, Israel would have begun to escalate its response, and Hamas likely would have reciprocated. With every Israeli escalation, it is possible that Hamas will, eventually, finally decide to use its long-range Iranian-made rockets that are capable of hitting near Tel Aviv.

At no point during the operation did the IDF mention toppling Hamas or defeating Hamas. Instead, the idea was to restore deterrence and make Hamas understand that it would pay a price for its attacks against Israel. After almost a week of strained and tense quiet, the message seems to have gotten across – at least, for the time being.

April 16, 2011 | 9 Comments »

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9 Comments / 9 Comments

  1. Any intervention disguised or not by Iran should result in the blockade of the strait of Hormuz and a massive retaliation against whoever attacks.
    This seems to be the only lesson that will make the world understand that Israel is not joking. The west does not care too much about Israel.
    The shameful votes at the UN, time after time, against Israel show where their allegiance is: OIL.
    Muslim leaders do not care how much “meat” they send to the war front. Death is heaven they claim! There will be a shortage of virgins!

  2. It’s with confidence such as this, that both sides entered the US Civil War. Prepare for similar results

  3. Iran is more than 1000 miles from Israel and Turkey is almost 600 miles from Israel. Clearly,Iran and Turkey do not “border” Israel. Unless someone knows differently, I doubt Iran and Turkey have significant projection capacities. For example, tanks have to be transported by ship or train. They cannot travel 500 miles on their tracks. Israel can access the Persian Gulf via Eilat. It is clear Israel obtained these submarines with threats such as Iran in mind.

  4. Joe Hamilton said,

    “Iran and Turkey clearly don’t have the capacity to “project” their power in order to defeat Israel. Only the US has enough projection power to bring a significant portion of their land power to bear against an adversary not bordering it.”

    Turkey and Iran border Israel via Syria. Egypt also borders Israel; so those four countries CAN project their combined power into Israel. Add Iraq to the mix as well; as Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria now issue a common visa. Concerning the Dolphins, note that Israel’s navy has limited mobility because of Egyptian control of the Suez Canal. Israel is threatened.

  5. The most reliable ranking of the world’s armed forces : Armed Forces of the World Database has the IDF’s “land power” (not including naval power and nuclear weapons) rating as 2100 which is higher than all nations except the USA ,China, and slightly below India. The combined “land power” ratings of Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Syria is approximately 2190. Iran and Turkey clearly don’t have the capacity to “project” their power in order to defeat Israel. Only the US has enough projection power to bring a significant portion of their land power to bear against an adversary not bordering it. Iran despite their probable development of nukes within several years has a ranking of only 453. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to be between 200 and slightly above 300 nuclear devices. Only the US and Russia clearly possess more nuclear devices. Israel has the most advanced ,comprehensive missile defense system in the world including the USA. Iran even if Pakistan assisted them would have difficulty delivering their nuclear weapons against Israeli cities. Israel, on the other hand would have much less difficulty. Israel also possesses 6 Dolphin submarines manufactured in Germany. They are the most advanced, non-nuclear powered submarines in the world . They have the capability of delivering missiles with nuclear warheads. It is believed at least one Dolphin is always stationed close to Iran in the Persian Gulf. So Israel possesses true second strike capability which Pakistan and Iran do not. Even in 2006 in what many inside and outside of Israel considered a defeat was actually a victory. Hezbollah has not fired any rockets at Israel since. This was a strategic victory since Israel wants to deter it’s adversaries. The world will not let Israel totally destroy the military power of their adversaries. The peace treaty with Egypt was essentially trading the Sinai and its’ oil for what is now almost 40 years of peace. Israel could’ve have seriously damaged Egypt’s military had the Soviet Union not threatened to intervene.

  6. I agree the 2006 Lebanese War which Hezbollah as well as much of the hostile Western media and other assorted anti-Israel, antisemitic commentators declared a defeat for Israel was,instead, the usual Israeli victory although the IDF learned important lessons. The ability of Israel citizens to criticize their government especially the military is a major advantage Israel holds over their adversaries. I have read numerous analyzes of the 2006 war. Israel has , as always made very important corrections in the IDF. The method of criticism available to IDF members is not available in other militaries even in some Western armies. My experience with the US Army showed the officers are essentially above criticism. If they fail in their duties, other officers especially where general officers are concerned, will “cover” for their fellow officers. Failure is met with a lateral transfer for the general officer. This was clearly evident when the jihadist Major Hasan murdered 13 active duty service members at Fort Hood. Chief of Staff Casey was a failure in Iraq, made a traitorous statement which showed no concern for the murdered US army service members. Someone like Casey had he served in the IDF would not have been rewarded with the post of Chief of Staff. A further advantage of the IDF is , according to my understanding of it, most officers must first serve some time as a PFC. In the US army, non commissioned officers ,specialists and PFCs( Sgt and below) are very hostile to their change of command (Lieutenant and above) because they have never served as a soldier but entered the military as a Lieutenant. This hurts morale and unit cohesion which is crucial in any military.
    The US Army which currently has very few Jewish service members, nevertheless has a very high opinion of the IDF. Some IDF active duty service members are involved with training US army and US Marine personnel. I am confident the IDF can and will decisively defeat any and all adversaries.