Despite the absence of a new government or fresh defense budget, the Israel Defense Forces is wasting little time in its race to adapt to the security challenges that lie around the corner. It has launched into its new Tafnit (“Momentum”) multi-year working program without waiting for a new government to take shape.

Now underway, it’s being led by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who has told the IDF’s senior officers to think about the challenges that lie in store a decade ahead throughout the volatile Middle East.

As part of the planning stages, the IDF created three categories of teams along the lines of the colors of the French flag. The red teams analyzed changes among Israel’s enemies. The blue teams looked at the IDF’s future, and the white teams were in charge of assessing the changing environment. All of them had to answer the same question: How would the year 2030 look like from their perspective?

Their answers formed the basis for the entire Momentum program that followed—one of the most ambitious adaption programs ever embarked upon by the IDF.

A central conclusion reached by the red teams is that Israel’s adversaries are increasingly arming themselves with precision strike weaponry, and that they are benefiting from the miniaturization of technology that was once the reserve of great powers. Additionally, they found, enemies are increasingly entrenched in urban environments among their own civilians. Adversaries can today purchase off-the-shelf quadcopters and arm them with grenades and RGPs. They can use these to launch airstrikes on targets, with this trend almost certainly to become more prevalent.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi during an event honoring outstanding IDF reservists, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 1, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

The blue teams look at expected Israeli troop numbers, and the infrastructure and budgets that would be needed to support the next generations of Israeli forces. The white teams looked at the rapidly changing Middle East, and what potential coalitions and groups of adversaries could evolve in the future.

In April 2019, the IDF brought together every brigadier general and major general to a forum, and asked them to present their strengths and weaknesses before everyone. Thirty teams of analysts then dissected issues placed on the table, and the result was a kind of “MRI” that covered the entire military—an unprecedented and at times painful self-examination.

Next, the IDF’s Operations Directorate took these assessments and formulated a new concept for how to activate force to achieve decisive victory. The directorate’s new concept calls for defining victory as the rapid destruction of enemy capabilities, rather than merely seizing enemy territory, and for doing this in less time with fewer casualties, and incurring fewer economic costs than ever before.

This is based on the understanding that an Israeli home front under heavy enemy rocket and missile fire would mean that the national economy would be paralyzed. Every day that a conflict is shortened is therefore critical.

Widen the gap in Israel’s favor

The IDF determined to shape a new military machine designed to function at a much faster pace and with more lethality than ever before.

One way the IDF plans on achieving this is to give its field battalions abilities that were once reserved for central IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. This would mean that a battalion commander receives all of the latest relevant intelligence, has his own access to the air force, and is digitally connected with the remainder of the military.

By October, the IDF had completed defining its vision for itself in 2030—a vision in which the IDF forms a single digital fighting network, capable of rapidly detecting and destroying wily foes hidden in apartment buildings and tunnels. It will be a military in which a company commander on the ground has his own drones in the air, can interface with tanks over the horizon or helicopters overhead, and can fight on the electromagnetic spectrum and in the cyber realm all at the same time.

It will, however, take years to reach such capabilities. To do so, the Momentum plan calls for the creation of a new kind of ground offensive force. It also calls for new levels of firepower (including air) strikes. The third pillar of the plan is to defend the home front.

The force buildup planning involved 40 teams, each headed by a brigadier general and each one responsible for designing a different aspect of the future military. One team, for example, was in charge of cyber operations and how these would look like in 10 years. Another was in charge of air supremacy.

The entire planning process for Momentum lasted a year; in January, it reached its completion.

Ultimately, the IDF has concluded that Israel’s enemies are eroding the qualitative gap with it, and that action is needed now to widen the gap again in Israel’s favor.

A failure to do this would mean that enemies on multiple fronts with their accurate firepower, urban-warfare techniques and vanishing forces would end up canceling out Israel’s military advantage—a situation the defense establishment cannot tolerate.

At this time, the IDF is running on the past multi-year plan’s budget, receiving its monthly sum accordingly. But defense chiefs have already indicated that they will need a significant defense-budget increase in the next national budget if Momentum is to be fully realized.

In the meantime, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Shi’ite militias and others are building up their own forces, as all sides race to achieve the upper hand in the coming decade.

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