An army does not determine policy, but merely executes it. Policy determines ability, not the other way around. According to Israeli law, the commander-in-chief of the military is the security cabinet. The people through their elected officials determine policies and priorities, and the army finds the way to carry them out. It chooses the tools, the unit and the correct technology. This is not a political position. It is the law and a basic principle in any democratic state.
The IDF chief of staff has two main roles: to maintain the above principles and to execute them. There are a huge variety of subtasks, but they all boil down to these two goals.
Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi strengthened the discourse about victory within the IDF. Before he was appointed, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the main criterion for choosing a chief of staff is the pursuit of victory. However, the pursuit of victory is not enough without the army’s ability to carry out its tasks.
Unfortunately, there is currently a very large gap between talk of victory and the readiness of the army to carry it out.
According to the security concept established by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in the mid-1950s, the IDF must move the fighting to enemy territory in order for life on the Israeli home front to go on as usual. But since then, the threats have changed completely, and the main arena in the next multi-arena war will be the home front, against which around 3,000 rockets and missiles are expected to be launched every day. Ben-Gurion’s security concept was not adjusted to these new threats, and as a result the IDF did not build sufficient capabilities to provide answers to them.
In Israel’s wars, we won thanks to brave warriors who risked their lives in order to protect their family and homeland. They fought in extreme situations in the fog of battle, while their comrades were killed and wounded next to them. Nonetheless, they continued fighting, understanding that there were no others to replace them. They knew that they were the fortified wall between the enemy and their country.
It was clear to every fighter that there are no free meals and there is a price for the defense of the homeland. They understood that some of them would not return home safely, but this did not deter them from risking their lives out of a deep belief in the righteousness of their path and love of the homeland.
Unfortunately, today we are witnessing the reversal of this trend. There is fear of paying such prices, and decisions at the security and political level are not taken according to the real needs of the state’s security, but according to the price paid in losses.
This is the main consideration when the security and political echelons decide whether or not to launch an operation, rather than the value and necessity of the operation for our security and the preservation of deterrence. This concept will unfortunately bring very heavy prices in the next war.
Precisely now, when the threats are so tangible from the south, east and especially the north, when Iran is breathing down our necks and fanning the flames of Israel-hatred in the Middle East, it is important to choose a chief of staff who will strive for victory over our enemies and is able to return the IDF to full readiness for the next war.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick is a recipient of the Medal of Courage in the Yom Kippur War, commander of the Military Academies and the former IDF Ombudsmen for soldiers’ complaints.