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Operation Peace for Galilee
The Israeli Defense Force
For the past thirty-five years the Israeli Defense Force has been the shield protecting the country. Since its beginning in 1948, the Israeli army has fought no fewer than five major wars against Arab attacks, any one of which was capable of destroying Israel. To the average Israeli, it is impossible to separate the Israeli Defense Force from the history of modern Israel. It takes no stretch of the imagination to suggest that, given the continued imbalance of forces between Israel and its enemies, had the Israeli Defense Force not been as effective as it has been, the State of Israel would no longer exist.
Because war has been a constant threat, the role of the military in the formation and preservation of that state is of major importance. It is fair to suggest that the shape of modern Israel in its political, economic, and even in its social structure would have been far different had it not been for the central role played by the IDF. The IDF is one of the major social institutions of the state.
The Israeli Defense Force came into existence formally on May 28, 1948. It is most commonly known to Israelis as Zahal, a term derived from Zeva Haganah le-Israel, which means Israeli Defense Force. It constituted the first official army of an independent Jewish state in over two thousand years. The IDF had its origins in three illegal guerrilla organizations with a common purpose to drive the British out of Palestine: the Haganah, theIrgun, and the Palmach. The most important of these was the Haganah.
The Haganah was formed in 1920 during the British mandate. Its purpose was to protect Jewish settlers in Palestine from constant Arab attacks. The larger goal was to prepare the nucleus of an army that could help Israel achieve independence from the British, and then to establish an army within the new state. Its initial activities involved organizing fighting groups and smuggling arms, to be funneled to Jewish settlements for self-defense.
In 1936, after a year of large-scale rioting, even the British came to see that the forces they had in the area were insufficient to defend all Jewish settlements against Arab attack. Inadvertently, they encouraged the Haganah openly to take on the role of self-defense. In 1938, under the command of Captain Orde Wingate, the British formed three legal counterguerrilla units whose job was to collect intelligence and to sustain the security of Jewish settlements. The establishment of legal military units was a boon to the Haganah. Many members of its secret army joined these legal units, where they gained considerable military experience. Moreover, since the Jewish soldiers in these units acquitted themselves well, they not only acquired leadership and combat experience but gained legitimacy, among the population at large, as a credible military force.
The major criticism leveled against the Haganah was that it adopted a strictly defensive posture: to protect the settlements against Arab attacks, but not to retaliate against Arab villages or Arab forces. A number of influential political leaders in the underground came to regard the Haganah's policy of "defense only" as not aggressive enough. Moreover, they saw it as a policy that was doomed in the long run because it would not bring to bear the strong pressures necessary to drive the British out of Palestine. As a consequence, another underground group, more radical and more aggressive, was formed--the Irgun.
Irgun, which means National Military Organization, was formed in 1937 under the leadership of Vladimir Jabotinsky, a radical socialist and terrorist. In 1937 the Irgun began its campaign of terror and retaliation against Arabs in Palestine. Its fundamental difference with the Haganah, from the military perspective, was its willingness to engage in offensive operationsand retaliatory raids. In 1939, the British formally extended their mandate for ten additional years, a move which forced the Irgun into an even more radical stance. The Irgun had previously limited most of its attacks to Arab targets, but, with the extension of the mandate, it began to strike at the British. The object of Jabotinsky's strategy was to turn the Irgun into a military force and a genuine freedom movement to achieve independence from the British.
When World War II broke out, Irgun forces reduced their attacks against the British in the mandate. But most of their members refused to join the Jewish units under British command to fight in Europe; most of their leaders and members remained in Israel to organize. During the war, terrorist acts were carried out against the British by extremists in the Irgun. When the British did not respond, pressure grew on the Irgun to step up these attacks, and eventually the Irgun gave birth to a more radical group of terrorists, the Stern Gang. The basic goal of this new group was to maintain pressure on the British by continued military attacks. The Stern Gang became the most extreme of the terrorist radicals. Their view was that only through continuous military pressure could Israel achieve its independence from Britain.
The third group, a direct forerunner of the IDF, is the Palmach. During World War II, some thirty-two thousand Jews from Palestine volunteered for service with British units. Of these, five thousand were formed into the famous Jewish Brigade, which fought long and hard for Britain and acquired a reputation for bravery and daring. With considerable numbers being drawn away from Palestine into the British forces, the strength of the Haganah at home was depleted. The British therefore created a force of some three thousand full-time soldiers to defend Jewish settlements in Palestine. This group was known formally as the Palmach. Once World War II was over, the Palmach began a campaign, in concert with the Irgun and the Haganah, to renew military pressure on the British occupation forces to press for independence for Israel.1
It is important to understand that the Israeli Defense Force has its roots in organizations that by modern standards would be judged, depending on one's point of view, as either genuine freedom fighters or genuine terrorists. Each major force--theHaganah, the Irgun, and the Palmach--had a political constituency within the Jewish population, and each had a political arm in the form of a political movement or political party. Each group differed radically in its ideology and in the way they viewed the tenor and nature of the emergent Jewish state for which they had all fought. The Palmach, for example, had strong pro-Soviet and socialist tendencies and saw itself as an organization of independent freedom fighters striking against the British. The Irgun was almost fascist and even today traces its heritage to the Likud Party. The Haganah was more moderate and tended to be strongly socialist in orientation, drawing heavily on the Russian background of many of its leaders.
A point of major concern once the State of Israel was established in 1948 was the fact that the early military leaders were underground military commanders, and also political commanders. Each of them and his following had a long history of clandestine operations against a hostile military force. It was often difficult for these leaders to separate military tactics from their overall political orientation and an essentially conspiratorial concept of military force. In short, the organizations which constitute the basis of the IDF were really private political armies, each with a different idea of what the new state should be, what form it should take, and, most important, what their role would be in the larger political context of the State of Israel.
A problem for the new nation was how to persuade these competing, politically oriented armed movements to disband and place their armed forces and leadership at the disposal of a central military command. The greater problem was how to place them under a stable political command where they would be willing to submerge their interests into the larger interest of the state. As independence approached, there were clashes among the three military organizations, and a number of leaders were assassinated. When independence came, Israel's first president, David Ben-Gurion, issued the famous Decree Number 4, on May 28, 1948, banning all military organizations within Israel. At the same time, he created the Israeli Defense Force as the sole military arm of the state. Initially, the Irgun and the Palmach refused to disband and there were violent clashes between them and the army of the new state. But with the Arab attack in May 1948, which began almost immediately after independence, theseforces gradually pulled together. The Irgun was disbanded in June 1948, and the Palmach in October. The 1948 war, which came so rapidly after the declaration of independence, virtually cut the ground out from under these private military movements; they were forced to choose either to join the Israeli state or to lose whatever legitimacy and following they had. In any case, Ben-Gurion's consummate political skill was brought to bear, and he was able to bring the disbanded military forces together under one command.
The war in 1948 and the need to prepare and to fight five more wars since then has honed the structure of the Israeli Defense Force and kept it loyal to the state. The IDF has assumed the primary role for the survival of the State of Israel. Thirty-five years of recurring conflict or of preparing for conflict has submerged the divergent views of the three radically different politico-military groups into one. In time, as new generations came into service and as military service became conditioned more and more by individual military and political experiences, attachments to the private armies of pre-independence days weakened. In the early days, however, the country could easily have been plunged into civil war had it not been for Arab attacks and the political skill of David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion's dictum of 1948 remains the basis of the IDF's role in the nation. Political parties must refrain from attempting to influence the IDF politically, and the IDF is expected to have no political connections with the political structure. The IDF in thirty-five years has moved from a situation of potential civil war growing out of conflicting partisan loyalties to where it is today--above politics, the bulwark of national security, and totally subservient to the will of the political leadership. This is no small accomplishment; there are any number of new states in the modern world whose military have failed to make the transition from underground military forces to a modern military organization subordinate to civilian leadership.
The present-day Israeli Defense Force is an integrated organization. There is no truly separate air force, navy, or army. Operational responsibility and command are located in the Chief of Staff and day-to-day operations are conducted by the General Staff. There are no separate chiefs of staff for the air force, army, or navy, and the commanders of the respective services act asadvisors to the Chief. It is the Chief of Staff who has the overall operational and planning responsibility for the entire Israeli Defense Force. In this way, long-range planning, doctrine, and battlefield deployment can remain flexible but coordinated, and maximum combat power is ensured. It is interesting to note that most nations do not have integrated forces but separate military branches. The integrated services in the IDF are a reflection of its history, of the need to bring under political control competing military forces whose conflicts reach back to pre-independence days.
The IDF is more than a military force; it is involved in a number of social roles that are no longer performed by most Western armies but, paradoxically, are still performed by the Russian army. Many of the founders and shapers of the Israeli state were immigrants from Russia and influenced by Russian socialist thought and the general Russian experience. A direct consequence is the tendency to view the military establishment as more than a military shield; rather, as a complete social institution with wider functions within the state. There are four basic roles in addition to military defense that are performed by the Israeli Defense Force.
Chief among these is nation building. Israel is a highly heterogeneous state. Its citizenry is drawn from sixty countries and speaks twenty different languages. In addition, the values of various ethnic groups within the Israeli state are often at odds. Although most commonly the distinction is drawn between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, in point of fact even within these major groups significant ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural differences exist. Yet Israelis must build a nation in a secular world that has common values extending to a common religious tradition. One way to achieve this, often practiced in underdeveloped countries, is to use national conscription and military service as an integrating mechanism to build a national identity. The Israeli army has done this very well. Based entirely on conscription, it brings together through a common experience members of every ethnic, racial, and religious group in thesociety. While in the army, everyone learns to speak Hebrew, and they all share common experiences.
A second social role of the IDF is the inculcation of democratic values. Many of the ethnic groups within Israel come from traditions that are not democratic. Indeed, the extreme Orthodox Jewish sects are so devout that they perceive the existence of a secular state as fundamentally blasphemous. Others are not as extreme, but groups from Morocco, Egypt, and Yemen, to name only three, have political traditions that are feudal and authoritarian. Israel must integrate these groups into a secular nation state, and ensure that democratic values and customs are inculcated and passed on. Again, universal military service serves a purpose here. While in the military, all individuals are treated equally; an enormous social leveling takes place that breaks down traditional social barriers. Promotion is rigorously determined by merit and bravery, and democratic values are openly praised and fostered.
A third major role of the Israeli army is education. The IDF is one of the largest educational institutions in Israel. It sends more people to more schools than almost any other establishment, save, of course, the formal education structure itself. Education is not only in military skills; the Israelis make great efforts to ensure that technical skills are taught which can be of use in the civilian economy. The IDF also finances higher education in civilian educational institutions by sending its regular officers to school. It also finances a range of programs in which reserve officers can continue their education at government expense. Perhaps among the IDF's more interesting educational programs are the remedial ones that rescue the marginally literate and bring them up to a literate standard. During the last few years, the IDF, under the prodding of Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, initiated a program that is in some ways the equivalent of Project One Hundred Thousand, which the American army initiated during the sixties. The goal in both armies is to bring in individuals who do not qualify and to pace their training so as to educate them up to an acceptable level. The IDF has been careful not to allow this policy, as happened in the United States, to reduce the standards of education in the army as a whole.
A fourth function of the IDF is to accelerate upward mobility. Military service in Israel provides opportunities for a number of groups to advance rapidly in their social status. This applies most specifically to socioeconomic groups such as the Sephardim and Orientals, who are at a great disadvantage because of a lack of educational skills. A substantial number of poor and immigrant Jews see the military as a vehicle for advancement, therefore the military are scrupulous in ensuring that promotion is based on fairness, competence, and bravery. Many Israeli officers of high rank are, in fact, members of minority groups. A number, for example, are Yemenites and Druse, two groups which society often discriminates against. The IDF has been very successful in assisting in the general acculturation and assimilation process and in ensuring fairness; mobility for certain segments of the population is at least as fast and in many instances faster than in society at large.
Military service is so central to life in Israel that if someone does not perform adequately or honorably, his or her success in civilian life is almost impossible. Even obtaining employment is difficult in Israel without a proper and adequate service record. The IDF is virtually at the center of Israeli society, in that it is the one social institution with which every Israeli has some experience, and in most instances a very long and intimate experience.
The ground forces of the IDF are the shield of Israel, and all military services exist to support it. Air tactics, naval tactics, and even the organizational configuration of the other services are determined to a large extent by the roles they play in support of the ground forces. The IDF is a conscript army and everyone who is physically fit enters military service at age eighteen. Most, by far, end up in the ground forces. Service is for a period of three years for men and twenty-four months for women. After leaving active service, men must serve in reserve units until they reach the age of fifty-four; women serve in reserve units until they are thirty-four. Reserve units are well equipped and well organized and train in a highly realistic fashion. They are called up for thirty to forty-five days twice a year. Israel is a truemilitia state, with almost 80 percent of its ground forces in reserve, ready for deployment at a moment's notice.
The Israeli Defense Force is quite large relative to the country's total population of four million people; almost 94 percent of the eligible population serves in active or reserve roles, a percentage that compares very favorably with the Soviet Union, which also has universal conscription and in which 92 percent of draft-age youth serve. The ground army has a standing strength of about 134,000, of which 110,000 are conscripts doing their three-year service. When mobilized, the force can expand to 450,000, with more than 100,000 coming into active duty in deployable units within twenty-four hours. Normally when reserve units are brought up, they conduct operational missions such as border patrols and crossing raids, and are thoroughly integrated into regular units. Each of the major divisions in the Israeli army, for example, has a reserve brigade permanently assigned to it, which is mobilized and attached to bring the regular unit up to full strength. The manpower distribution is relatively stable. Reserve officers are experienced and often have a higher IQ than active officers. In battlefield performance, Israeli reserve units often perform better than active-duty units. The reserve units constitute a militia of considerable size and capability. One study of military heroism which analyzed Israel's medal-of-honor winners indicates that a higher rate of heroism is to be found in reserve units than in active-service units.2
The Israeli army is a highly sophisticated military force equipped with modern tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, mobile guns, and small arms (see Table 1 in the Appendix). Official government releases indicate that the IDF can deploy eleven divisions within seventy-two hours. Intelligence estimates, however, suggest that it can actually deploy almost fifteen divisions. If that estimate is correct, it makes the IDF one of the largest deployable ground forces in the Western world. By comparison, the United States army is able to deploy some sixteen divisions, but it would take an enormous amount of time and effort to fill them out with sufficient manpower and equipment. According to one estimate, it would take 280 days for the United States army to fill out its full sixteen divisions with equipment and manpower and move them to the battlefield. By contrast,Israeli active and reserve units fully equipped and at full manpower strength can be mobilized and deployed within seventy-two hours.
The emphasis on speed is a consequence of the fact that Israel has no territory which it can trade for time. The ability of the Israeli army to mobilize rapidly is central to its ability to survive. In addition, Israeli combat formations are highly flexible. The basic Israeli combat unit is the ugdah, which is often translated as a division, but it is more accurately a German Kampfgruppe, or task force group. Israelis tailor their combat units to the task at hand. There are basic combat formations, but, as shown in Table 2 in the Appendix, manpower and equipment configurations are deployed to suit specific battlefield conditions.
The Israeli Defense Force has the capability to fight a sustained battle for about twenty-eight days. It has supplies and stores to carry out a full-scale war, with all units engaged in battle and without significant resupply, for a period of almost a month, a condition which American forces in Europe have yet to attain. After twenty-eight days, the Israeli army's ability to continue sustained battle declines rapidly, which accounts for the Israelis' refusal to allow the enemy to fight a war of attrition. The need to be able to sustain a full-scale battle for a long period became evident in the 1973 war, when problems in the chain of supply, coupled with lack of equipment, due to dependence on foreign sources, made that war a very close thing. Today, almost all small-arms weaponry for the ground forces--including the Galile rifle, the Uzi machine gun, 81 mm mortars, 106 mm antitank guns, the 105 mm tank cannon and fieldpiece, Katyusha rockets, RPG's, and almost all the ammunition for these weapons--is produced at home by a defense industry that has grown significantly since the 1973 war.3 For weapons of larger caliber than 105 mm, the IDF relies on the United States for the M-107, 175 mm gun, and the M-110 203 mm gun. Israel builds its own tank, the Merkava, which is among the best main battle tanks in the world. The IDF also has the ability to repair any tank the Soviets put in the field and can use captured Soviet guns and equipment. The air force is where the IDF is vulnerable due tolack of supplies. But even there, Israel has made rapid advances and now produces its own fighter and a number of air-to-surface weapons.
Taken as a whole, the Israeli Defense Force is probably the best ground force in the world in the quality of its manpower. The Israelis are among the best-educated and best-trained people in the world. In an army that relies on conscription of all social levels, the quality of the soldiers called to active service represents the talent of the society at large. This does not apply in the United States army, of course, since it is an all-volunteer force, which tends to recruit disproportionately from the lower social levels. In addition to having excellent raw material, the Israeli army gives its soldiers excellent training. Another factor that contributes to the ability of the army to fight well is the quality of its officers, including its NCO ranks, which are among the best in the world due to a system that continually weeds out the marginal and selects the best for command. Finally, the combat experience of the Israeli officer corps, NCO, and soldier is probably the most extensive in the world. Eighty percent of the IDF ground forces is comprised of reserve units, and some of the men in these reserve units have fought in four or five wars. They have not only a high degree of unit attachment and cohesion but considerable combat experience and technical expertise. Thus, when General Israel Tal states that Israel must rely on "superior technology" to carry the day in battle, he means not only superior equipment and technical expertise but superior human material as well.4 The Israeli Defense Force has managed to draw that material into the army, thus building a combat force which, for its size, is probably second to none in the world, and certainly second to none in the Middle East.
Strategically, Israel finds itself confined by a number of politico-military realities that have shaped its military actions since 1948. These realities have been forced on Israel by geography and the nature of the enemy. First, Israel lacksstrategic depth. In practice, this means that Israel cannot allow the enemy significantly to penetrate its small territory, for it would risk unacceptable damage or destruction of its population as well as its military reserves. Perhaps most important, trading territory for time would be self-defeating, because it would cripple Israel's ability to mobilize its reserves. It is an imperative of Israeli military strategy that it be able to mobilize its reserves totally and rapidly, and all reserve units must be at full strength and equipped for mobilization. The Israelis have therefore assigned to the air force the primary mission of keeping the skies clear of enemy aircraft, so there can be no disruption of mobilization. Moreover, it is imperative that the Israeli intelligence service function almost to perfection to prevent surprise attack. In 1973, there was a massive intelligence failure and Israeli forces were taken by surprise on two fronts. Enemy forces penetrated significantly and the result was a near-disaster.
A second major strategic premise is the fast-war doctrine. Israel realizes that its survival depends on quick and decisive victories, it cannot allow a war to drug on for any length of time. None of the five wars fought over its thirty-five-year history has brought permanent victory or peace. There have been only respites to prepare for the next war. One reason for this is that neither of the superpowers, the United States or the Soviet Union, is prepared to see its client states totally defeated. Whenever one state appears to be on the verge of a total victory or defeat, one or the other of the superpowers brings pressure to bear to bring the conflict to a halt. In all three major wars--1956, 1967, 1973--Israeli forces were advancing and were capable of destroying the enemy. In each instance, superpower pressure forced the Israeli advance to halt. One aspect of the war in Lebanon reflects this situation. The basis of the Israeli war plan was to achieve its objectives before the U.S. intervened and forced a halt to the fighting. Israel understands that its wars are not purely military but are fought in the larger political context of regional interests and great-power rivalry. The conclusion the Israelis have drawn is that it must achieve its battlefield goals rapidly and decisively before the great powers can intervene.
Israel's third major strategic premise is that it cannot ever truly defeat its combined Arab opponents in a final military sense. Arab manpower and the financial support that eachcountry receives from other Arab states or the great powers make semi-permanent war the only real possibility in a purely military sense. Therefore, the Israeli application of military force is always directed toward the achievement of some political settlement. In practice, the Israelis see that the object of military force is to ensure that the enemy loses territory which can be traded for a political settlement. War must be the servant of political ends, as Clausewitz points out. In the operation in Lebanon, however, the Israelis may have forgotten this dictum, or at least failed to trade military gains for political concessions. But in the long run the Israelis understand that their enemies cannot be defeated militarily to the extent that they will no longer constitute a threat. Rather, military victories are to serve larger political goals.
A fourth major premise of Israeli strategic doctrine is that the effects of war are judged by their impact not only on the battlefield but on Israeli society. War is measured in terms of its economic, sociological, political, and psychological effect on the Israeli people. Israeli society has been in a state of war or preparation for war since 1948, and this "garrison state" has put tremendous pressure on Israeli society, its economy, and its political structure. The continued loss of soldiers increases emigration; it destabilizes the political leadership, and brings a tendency to blame military leadership for political errors. The investigations of the events at Sabra and Shatila in 1982 resulted in the removal of several high-ranking military and political officials. The same thing happened in 1973 when Israeli intelligence failed to provide adequate warning of an Arab attack. The point is that Israelis understand that war exacts a terrible sociological and psychological price. Given its nature, its heterogeneity, its size, and its memories of the Holocaust, the military and political leadership is acutely aware of the long-range effects of a continued war on its people; this concern helps to shape the strategy that guides the deployment of Israeli military forces.5
These four factors underlie Israeli strategic doctrine and lead to a number of basic sub-premises on how to employ the IDF in battle. The first of these is always to strike first. Surprise is never to be conceded to the enemy. When there is doubt, the IDF is to take the initiative and carry the war to the enemy. A second major application of defense doctrine is always to take the offensive.Israel is acutely aware that any attempt to fight a defensive war would quickly turn it into a war of attrition that would concede a maximum advantage to the superiority of her enemies' manpower. Therefore, the Israelis have an army that is continually on the move and rarely takes the defensive.
A third sub-premise of Israeli strategy is to achieve goals quickly before the great powers can prevent their achievement. The IDF doctrine seeks to minimize casualties by use of superior tactics and superior equipment, while maximizing enemy losses through surprise, initiative, and firepower. The Israelis are aware that they cannot afford to trade gun for gun, tank for tank, aircraft for aircraft, and, above all, soldier for soldier. They must deal the enemy a quick, decisive blow that cripples its ability to continue the war.
How tactically to achieve Israel's goals has been a subject of debate within the IDF since 1948. And the debate tends to become more heated after each war. One can identify clear shifts in tactical emphasis which have occurred since 1948, representing responses to battlefield experiences as well as the development of weapons technology available to the Israelis and to its enemies. While strategic goals have remained relatively stable, the tactical means for achieving them have gone through four phases: (1) individual infantry; (2) mobile light vehicle; (3) pure tank; and (4) combined arms.
In the War for Independence, Israel faced an enemy superior in both manpower and weapons. The focus of military effort on both sides remained the infantryman and his weapons. Neither the crew-served weapon nor the tank had been in anything but a support role. Since Israel lacked tanks, equipment, and air power, and had only human motivation and endurance to compensate for Arab advantages, the IDF sought to carry the battle to the enemy by mobilizing morale, daring, initiative, and unconventional tactics. As a consequence, the tactical stress was on using infantry almost on its own, with very little support, because the IDF had very few crew weapons to deploy. The IDF, therefore, became masters of night attack and the ambush.The basic thrust of IDF military tactics in the War for Independence was on small infantry units operating under excellent leadership, with officers who normally had total authority for the movement of their units. Individual firepower, bayonet, stealth, and unconventional tactics were the order of the day, instead of air, artillery, and tank support. Lacking almost any other resource, the Israelis turned to their soldiers, using them very effectively.
Between 1948 and 1956, the Israeli army went through a period of uncertainty. Efforts were made to create mobile light forces, but on balance, the IDF wasn't very successful. The Israelis continued to rely on the infantry-first doctrine, which had worked so well in 1948. Daring, individual bravery, and the best deployment of human resources continued to be stressed, but the Israeli military force between 1948 and the early 1950's declined in mobility, as evidenced by a number of unsuccessful military operations against Arab territory. Clearly, something was wrong; the IDF was having difficulties making the transition from a revolutionary army to a permanent one. And it was not until 1956 that most of these difficulties were solved and the Israelis began to operate with a modern military force.
In the 1956 Sinai campaign, Israel fought its first modern war, though by today's standards that war was relatively primitive in equipment and tactics. By 1956, much of the IDF was mounted on light vehicles such as half-tracks, jeeps, and trucks, and had some tanks. For the first time, the Israelis integrated crew-served weapons, especially artillery and tanks, and had air support, though from a relatively primitive air force.
During that war, the Israelis began to appreciate the value of mobility on the battlefield, especially when coupled with a sudden armored attack. In 1948, mobility had been severely limited by terrain, lack of vehicles, and the nature of infantry fighting. In 1956, the Israelis were fighting on a different battlefield, the open terrain of the Sinai Peninsula, on which tanks and vehicles could move very rapidly. Although some high-ranking staff were still skeptical of those tactics at the outbreak of the war, successful and daring tank operations which broke the back of the enemy proved to the military leadership that success on a modern battlefield could be achieved with a militaryforce built around the tank. This led to Israeli tactical doctrine based on the use of tanks. It began in 1956 and ended rather suddenly in 1973.
The war in the Sinai convinced the IDF that the future lay in a configuration of its forces around the main battle tank. Everything was to be subordinated to the tank. All infantry was made mobile by mounting them on APC's so they could move as rapidly as the tank. Even air power was reconstituted to support ground operations as "flying artillery." Walking or light-mounted infantry operating as an independent force was virtually dispensed with. These forces were reconfigured to be able to move rapidly in armored vehicles in support of the tank. Artillery was neglected because it was not highly mobile and because the air support provided by the IAF would act as artillery sustaining the rapid movement of large armored formations. With the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967, with Israel's massive preemptive air strike and the collapse of the Arab armies in the face of large, rapidly moving armored forces, IDF planners were more convinced than ever that they had hit on the formula for modern war. As a consequence, between 1967 and 1973 the IDF became more and more tank-oriented, with decreasing emphasis on the infantry and still less on artillery. These developments proved disastrous in 1973.
Between 1968 and 1971, the Israelis engaged in a war of attrition mostly against the Egyptians on the Sinai front. During this time, the IDF gradually adopted a defensive posture by constructing the Bar Lev line along the Suez Canal. They used their airpower essentially for punitive strikes and occasionally in air-to-air engagements. The Israelis seemed not to understand what was happening in terms of the growth of battlefield technology. Israeli high-level officers paid scant attention to the growth of enemy infantry and the development of new weapons such as the rocket-propelled grenade and the antitank missile mounted on a jeep or fired from a fixed position. For reasons that are difficult to understand, few Israeli military planners appreciated the vulnerability of tanks and aircraft to these new weapons--despite the American experience in Vietnam with SAM missile screens.
The Yom Kippur War in 1973 saw a massive intelligence failure that allowed Egyptian and Syrian forces in a major attackto catch the Israelis completely unaware. More important, as the war developed, the Israelis attempted to apply their pure-tank strategy against entrenched infantry forces in the Sinai, with the result that hundreds of tanks were destroyed by enemy infantry firing missiles as tanks attacked fixed infantry positions with no supporting infantry of their own and no long-range artillery to suppress enemy fire. The IDF engaged in attritional tactics, using massed armor against infantry strongpoints, and suffered heavy losses to both tanks and armored vehicles. In time, the Israeli air force recouped air control of the battlefield, but the IAF's ability to deliver ground support was severely hindered by missile screens near the battle area. For the first three days of the war, IAF aircraft were knocked out of the skies in very high numbers by these screens. Eventually, the missiles were neutralized, not by air attacks, but by tanks which penetrated infantry positions and destroyed the missiles on the ground.
These battle experiences in 1973 led many ranking Israeli officials to question the pure-tank doctrine. As put into effect in 1973, it almost resulted in disaster. Moreover, experience showed that tanks operating in open country could not successfully operate independently of infantry and artillery to protect them from infantry attack. As Field Marshal Erwin Rommel pointed out in World War II, the greatest danger to the tank was still the armed infantryman. By 1973, that infantryman had acquired an arsenal of new weapons of great firepower, ranging from missiles to rocket-propelled grenades. In the Sinai campaign, even poorly trained Egyptian troops could function with devastating effectiveness.
The lessons learned in the Yom Kippur War caused the Israelis to shift from pure-tank strategy to a strategy based on combined arms. The army that went into Lebanon in 1982 was reconstituted along very different lines from the army of 1973. It still held that one of the most powerful weapons on a battlefield was the main battle tank. But it now understood that the main battle tank cannot operate alone. Moreover, with the reduced effectiveness of airpower as a result of the employment of missile screens, ground forces would have to protect the tank on the ground. This meant integrating mobile artillery and highly mobile infantry into armored combat formations to suppressantitank weaponry being used by enemy infantry in dug-in positions.
The new tactical doctrine forced the IDF to restructure itself radically. First, infantry forces were made totally mobile by placing them in armored personnel carriers. For a long time, Israeli infantry had been mobile, but it had not been structured so that it could be utilized as a screen for armor and to suppress infantry firing at tanks. The restructuring also affected the Israelis' use of artillery, which, historically, has been the forgotten branch in the IDF. Generally speaking, up to the 1973 war, the Israeli use of artillery was rather primitive. One reason seems to be that the IDF felt that the tank itself was an artillery piece. Further, it saw the air force as flying artillery. What artillery pieces it had were mostly towed rather than self-propelled. Beginning in 1973, then, the IDF began to create an entirely new branch of service for artillery, fully equipped with highly mobile artillery pieces that could keep pace, on the battlefield, with armor and infantry. Artillery became a full partner in the combined-arms team.
This tactical change required the restructuring of the air force to take into account its greater vulnerability to missiles and antiaircraft fire over the battle area. The war of 1973 had shown that the use of the air force as flying artillery was severely limited by new technological developments. No longer could aircraft loiter for long periods over the battlefield, and no longer could ground forces rely on quick support strikes from the air force. Planes were extremely vulnerable to the new missiles. The air force would still cover the mobilization and ensure that Israel was not attacked by enemy aircraft. But on the battlefield its role had changed.
The Israeli Defense Force expanded enormously since 1973 in manpower and in complexity. Just how much had changed in the IDF in ten years can be seen from the following figures. At the present time, the IDF is configured to fight on three fronts at the same time, with all its equipment in place, and with the capability of mobilizing one hundred percent of its reserveswithin seventy-two hours. It has truly become a modern army--a larger, more mobile, more heavily armored, more complex force than the army that fought in 1973. Consider the following data.7
• In 1973, the IDF had 75,000 men in its total standing forces, without reserves. In 1982, that number had increased 131 percent to 172,000.
• Regular army strength in 1973 was 11,500; this had increased to 25,000 by 1982. In 1973, it had 50,000 conscripts; by 1982, that number had increased to 110,000. In 1973, the entire Israeli army had a strength of 61,500 men; this increased 125 percent to 135,000.
• Mobilized reserves in 1973 were 275,000 for the total force deployed; in 1982, the army could mobilize in twenty-four hours a total ground force of 450,000, an increase in reserve forces of 63.5 percent.
• In 1973, the Israeli army had nineteen infantry brigades, eleven armored brigades, four paratroop brigades, and no artillery brigades. In 1982, it could field thirty-three armored brigades, ten mechanized infantry brigades, five paratroop brigades, twelve territorial infantry brigades, fifteen artillery brigades, and armor units organized into eleven armored divisions. It is important to note that its fifteen artillery brigades were all new and that the number of its armor brigades was doubled.
• In 1973, the Israelis could field 1,225 tanks; in 1982, the country was capable of deploying 3,825 tanks, an increase of 212 percent.
• In 1973, the Israeli Defense Force had 1,515 armored fighting vehicles; in 1983, that number had increased to 4,000, an increase of 164 percent.
• In 1973, the Israeli Defense Force had approximately 500 armored personnel carriers. In 1982, as a clear reflection of its desire to increase the mobility of its infantry forces, the IDF could field 4,800 armored personnel carriers, an increase of 900 percent.
• In 1973, the IDF had only 300-plus self-propelled artillery guns. In 1982 the number had increased to 958, or 219 percent. The caliber of the guns had also increased enormously.
• In 1973, of a gross national product of $5.4 billion, the military budget was allocated $1.48 billion, or 27.4 percent, an expenditure of $1,764 per capita. By 1982, the gross national product had increased to $23 billion and the military budget to $7.3 billion, or 31.9 percent of the GNP. This amounted to a per-capita expenditure of $1,835, in constant 1973 dollars.
These figures indicate a massive buildup of the Israeli armed forces between 1973 and 1982. They also reflect a changing attitude, with an increased emphasis on armored forces, an increased ability to move mechanized infantry, a reduction in the role played by "straight-leg" infantry, and a marked increase in artillery, in numbers, caliber, and mobility, with approximately two-thirds of all artillery made mobile. Most of the artillery is now self-propelled or mounted on tracked vehicles. Thus, the Israelis have reconstituted their forces so as to be able to fight a three-front war on a moment's notice, at a hundred percent of its strength. One of the paradoxes of the 1982 war is, however, that this massive military force was used for the first time in Lebanon, where the terrain and the nature of the war made it difficult if not impossible for the Israelis properly to apply their new combined-arms strategy. Yet no fact is more striking with regard to how much the IDF has changed since 1973 than that it could then deploy about six divisions whereas today it can deploy fifteen fully mobilized divisions in seventy-two hours.
The Israelis have created a military force far larger than anything they had in the past and proportionately larger than any force maintained by a modern industrial state, including the United States. The expansion, however, has brought problems, which began to emerge in 1979, and which suggest that the complexity attendant to a large military force may impair its ability to function in a traditional manner with a heavy reliance on the quality of its manpower. Or, put another way, it may be that as Israel has moved into the modern military age its military structure has begun to show signs of the same difficulties encountered by other modern military structures such as those of the United States and of the Soviet Union. These problems may simply be attendant to any military force of a certain size and complexity.
One problem is how properly to utilize territorial commands. These commands established in 1967 were assigned very few resources; they seem mostly to have been organizational conveniences. But since 1973 these commands have grown, and their role has expanded. In addition to ground units specifically assigned to each territorial command, specific air squadrons havebeen attached to each. And each command now has its own intelligence assets, to avoid repeating the intelligence failures of 1973. As commands grow in size and complexity, they come to depend on modern facilities--centralized (C3) command, control, and communication links; and communication links may become overly centralized. There is the risk then of a loss of flexibility in combat command structures.
There is also concern among some IDF officers that each territorial command is beginning to develop doctrine specific to its own area. Moreover, the required integration of reserve units in each territorial command may result in these combat formations being not only doctrine-specific but overly specialized in their training as well. The Israelis are aware of this difficulty and have made efforts to ensure that each unit, especially reserve units, receives at least some training in the other territorial commands and in different battle environments. In practice, however, this does not always work well; as a rule, no more than 20 percent of a unit's training is outside its own area of responsibility. There is also the fear that not only will units become tailored to operate in a specific battle environment but their equipment mix will also become tailored. This is especially true of tanks. The Israelis deploy four basic types of tanks: the M-48, the Centurion, the Merkava and the M-60. Tank units are most often integrated in the reserves and since certain types of tank are better suited for specific environments and terrain, deploying them in different locales may adversely affect efficiency in battle and the ability to resupply them.
The expansion of the IDF has caused some concern that it may bring about a decline in the quality and intensity of training. Despite the expansion, the IDF ground army still maintains a regular force of only three standing combat divisions. In addition to these divisions, there is the elite Golani infantry brigade, augmented by five battalions. These few units comprise the standing Israeli ground force, and even they have to be augmented by at least one reserve component to fight at full strength.
These few units provide most of the training for all reserve units. They are responsible for training the equivalent of ten divisions. Their cadre also train reserve units that come on duty for periods of thirty to forty-five days; they train new officers and NCO's, much of whose training takes place in regular army units.At least one battalion and often a brigade of each division spend at least three months each year training reserve troops or new troops. Each year, moreover, at least one third of all regular troops and almost 90 percent of the officers leave the regular force for reserve units as their conscript military duty ends. Finally, the troops in the regular units must keep their training up to standard, and attend career and training schools. Serious questions are being raised by Israeli officers about the ability of regular units to handle this tremendous burden of training. Can regular units handle the training load and still remain combat-ready?
As a result of the expansion of the IDF, there are increased pressures on the officer corps. The staggering death rate in 1973 was especially so for junior officers and combat leaders. One hundred fifty-three lieutenant colonels and majors were killed, and 350 were so badly wounded that they never returned to the military. There was a net shortage of 503 officers in just these two ranks alone. Two hundred and twenty captains and first lieutenants were killed, and six hundred were so badly wounded that they did not return, resulting in a net shortage of over eight hundred officers. Further, the number who left regular service at the end of their military service created a huge shortage of trained combat officers. Had the forces not been modernized or increased in size, normal replenishment would have brought the forces back to standard in three to five years.
Since the IDF expanded almost two and a half times in less than ten years, there was enormous need to recruit new officers and to retain veterans. A policy of accelerated promotion was implemented. However, a number of IDF officers are concerned about the quality of officers promoted too rapidly; they suggest that standards may also have declined.
An article written by Meir Pa'il, former commander of the IDF Central Officers School, notes that, because of the technological skills required, the air force and the navy tend to get recruits with the high IQ's and motivation, while the ground forces have what he calls a "mediocre quality of regular officers."9 Moreover, since many of the best officers do not stay in the military, in time a gulf might widen between the young and excellent conscript officers and the selected group of regulars who choose to stay beyond their normal conscript service. Pa'il suggests thatconscript officers have higher IQ's than regular officers and that their "spiritual level" may also be higher. Further, Pa'il contends that as regular officers remain on active duty they tend to put their careers first and to respond to the internal requirements of the bureaucratic system from which their promotions and advancements come. As a consequence, he fears, their daring, their initiative, and their strength as leaders may be sacrificed. In contrast, the conscript officers, who do not plan to make a career in the military, would tend to keep faith with themselves and their ideals, and be daring and take the initiative. In Pa'il's opinion, the young short-term conscripts are likely to make the best officers, whereas those who remain in the service are likely to decline in quality; and this may create a "spiritual" gulf between the two officer corps that may have grave consequences on the battlefield.
Moreover, there is a tendency for regular officers to be something of a guild. This is true in other large and complex armies such as those of the United States and the Soviet Union. Increased competition for promotion and command positions and the need for prior command as a prerequisite for promotion bring about a creeping careerism among the "survivors" of the system. To be sure, the careerist tendencies evident in the Israeli army are not nearly as severe or corrosive as they are in the United States army or, perhaps, in any other modern Western army. But the tendency is there and will develop further with the process of expansion and the need to recruit and retain more officers; the same factors generated similar pathologies in the U.S. army during the war in Vietnam.
As the IDF became larger, it necessarily became more complex. As a consequence, the fear is that there has been an increased reliance on technological fixes and use of firepower as substitutes for traditional qualities of leadership, daring, and initiative. Some stress on firepower and technology was a natural result of the development of the combined-arms strategy. Further, since the role of flying artillery has been diminished, the need to develop technological fixes to deal with the enemy's technology has inevitably increased. Has the emphasis on technology and firepower, then, undercut the traditional human qualities that have been so vital to Israeli success on the battlefield?
Another major development associated with a large, complex army is the need for officers and NCO's to master more sophisticated tasks of war. Officers, NCO's, and some troop elements now have shorter tours with their units. Officers and NCO's move in and out of positions at a faster rate in order to learn more and more about newer and newer skills. Officer turbulence is increasing in the Israeli army. In the past, an officer could count on spending about thirty-six months with his unit in a stabilized command tour. That time is down to about twenty-four months, which is more or less the same amount of time an American officer spends with his command unit. Increased rotational turbulence tends to reduce officers' attachments to their men and to reduce unit cohesion; at the same time, the administrative and technical aspects of command become increasingly important.
This is balanced by the fact that rotational turbulence is not found to the same degree at the lower combat levels. Rather, it tends to occur at the brigade and division level. At the platoon, company, and even battalion level, the leadership of lieutenants and captains remains highly stable. This is important because it is these units that do the fighting and it is in these units that individual attachment to one's men, unit cohesion, and leadership are most crucial.
It must also be remembered that the overwhelming majority of Israeli combat platoons, battalions, and companies are in the reserves. Reserve officers are assigned to their units for very long periods of time; indeed, often for life. It is not unusual, therefore, to see reserve units whose officers have held their commands for fifteen and even twenty years. The same is true of the reserve NCO leadership right down to the squad level. Thus, even if rotational turbulence is increasing in the IDF regular force, it is not increasing at the lower combat-unit level, and for at least 80 percent of the forces in the reserve, rotational turbulence has not increased at all.
Another problem is that the number of individuals who are asked to become officers and who accept--85 percent to 90 percent traditionally--has been dropping over the years. More and more individuals are refusing to accept the added responsibility of being officers and NCO's. Certainly one reason is that they don't want the extended year of service that is required of a commissioned officer. But it may also be indicative of a deepersocial trend, war weariness, and a natural desire to get on with civilian life. Too, the fact that officers tend to die at excessively high rates relative to their numbers is hardly encouraging to young men to become officers. The general pool from which the regular IDF forces are able to draw their officers may be getting smaller, and that pool may no longer be made up of the best in Israeli society but rather of those who, in Pa'il's words, tend to be "mediocre in quality."
The educational level of most IDF career officers is far below that of their counterparts in the reserve. Indeed, it tends to be far below that of their counterparts in most Western armies, because the system is such that one cannot become an officer until one serves as a conscript. As a result, very few university graduates become officers, since the education of officers is delayed. Most IDF officers do not acquire a university degree or an advanced education for a very long time, and normally do it piecemeal. A substantial number of IDF officers, perhaps 25 percent, never obtain a university degree at all. The recently retired Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan, does not have a university degree. Some would argue that a lack of a degree produces a narrow officer, a man who is well schooled in military and technical skills but not capable of grasping the bigger political picture.
It is difficult to accept this argument, given the past success of the Israeli Defense Force. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that the American officer corps is thoroughly educated, with master's degrees and Ph.D.'s, and yet its qualities of leadership in Vietnam were hardly testimony to the usefulness of advanced degrees in the military. The extent to which higher-level leadership talent is linked to education remains an open question, but that it is linked to some extent is clear enough. The fact that relatively few Israeli officers earn a university degree suggests that it may be difficult to create a general staff at the senior level which is educated well enough to grasp the import of military, political, and economic factors with which they must often deal.
A question of quality also applies to the NCO corps, which, like the officer corps, operates on a dual-tier system. Combat NCO's are selected from the best conscripts and are generally of excellent quality. But those who stay on as NCO's tend also to be below the traditionally high standards of the IDF. As a result, the same problem that Pa'il sees afflicting some elementsof the officer corps also afflicts the NCO corps. On the other hand, the senior NCO corps in the IDF is used primarily in a staff or technical role. Fortunately, almost all NCO's in combat units are not long-term NCO's but conscripts, so that the impact of the quality of senior NCO corps on combat performance at the small-unit level is minimal.
In assessing the overall quality of the IDF officer, one must keep certain facts in mind. First, the performance of IDF officers in battle has historically been good, if not excellent. In every war since 1967, the Israeli officer corps has suffered 26 percent of the total casualties in battle; the death rate is three to four times higher than that of their men. The notion of leading from the front, of taking the initiative, of exercising daring, seems to be a condition and quality of IDF officers that is as strong today as it was in 1967. One would suggest of IDF officers that their bravery, initiative, daring, flexibility, and willingness to set the example for their men does not appear to have lessened significantly since 1973.
Whatever shortcomings IDF officers may have begun to develop are not likely to affect the small-unit level, in any case. In the battalion and below, officers and combat NCO's are conscripts, not career officers, and they are selected and promoted because they are the best the army has to offer. In this sense, "creeping careerism" and a lowering of the quality of IDF officers is likely to have little impact on combat units.
The basis for military service in Israel is, after all, conscription. This means that the "law of large numbers" is operative: the quality of recruits represents a cross section of the general citizenry. And the Israeli citizenry is among the best educated and healthiest in the world, so that the overall quality of raw recruit material is and will remain high. The problems that beset the American army, particularly drug abuse, poor discipline, desertion, etc., tend to be associated with the fact that an all-volunteer force draws disproportionately from the lowest strata of American society. These problems are almost unknown in the Israeli army.
The concern is not that the Israeli army suffers or will suffer from pathologies that undermine its ability to execute combat operations or affect the quality of its leadership and its unit cohesion. Rather, it is the fear that "creeping mediocrity" mayin the future afflict its regular standing force. The reserve militia is likely to remain as good an army as it is today, but the standing force may decline in quality during peacetime. A mediocre regular force that produces mediocre officers at the top may, during periods of peace, generate inadequate tactical and strategic policies, may ignore technical innovations, and may become more concerned with promotion and advancement and the bureaucracy. There is, lastly, the fear that really capable younger officers may come increasingly to resent their seniors. To some extent, this condition exists in all armies, but because this has not been the case in the Israeli army, it is regarded perhaps as more of a threat than it is.
Since 1973, the Israeli Defense Force has become a modern army in every sense of the word. It has grown enormously in size, become highly technical in its equipment, and requires more manpower, more officers, and more resources. As it has grown, the initial signs of internal tensions associated with large modern forces are beginning to be seen. But on the eve of the Lebanon war the Israeli Defense Force mustered a military force capable of defeating any enemy in the region or any combination of enemies in the Middle East. Most certainly, it was in a position to deal severely with the PLO, a force of fifteen thousand stationed in southern Lebanon. The military outcome was virtually assured.
The IDF, of course, still enjoyed the almost total and unquestioned support of the political leadership and, more important, of the population at large. Public support--and its links with the public--has historically been one of the IDF's strongest assets. The military has always clearly explained its military actions and, in return, has received unquestioned public support. Because 80 percent of the army is militia in reserve units, a close relationship between the military and the population is crucial. A change in public opinion in Israel is likely to spread rapidly throughout the military structure--much more rapidly than it would in any other army in the West. The war in Lebanon for the first time raised the question of whether this linkage would remain strong in the future.
Copyright © 1984 by Richard A. Gabriel