On May 3, the Israel Defense Forces announced a reshuffling of some of its officers.
One of the officers, Brig. Gen. Nimrod Aloni, former commander of the Gaza Division, was promoted to the rank of major general and appointed to the strategically critical position of Commander of the Depth Corps, succeeding Maj. Gen. Itay Virov.
Established in 2011, the Depth Corps, and the role it could play in any full-scale war against adversaries led by Hezbollah, is often overlooked. The military planning taking place at the Depth Corps could significantly influence the outcome and the duration of such a war.
This is due to the way the Depth Corps plans its operations.
While Israel relies on its air force for firepower and on ground forces for maneuvering on the front, the Depth Corps thinks differently.
It looks at how to activate special forces, or other kinds of ground forces, or air power, deep in enemy territory, focusing on the most sensitive enemy targets—what the defense establishment terms “the adversary centers of gravity.”
This has precedent in Israeli military history. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War almost 50 years ago, Ariel Sharon, who commanded a Southern Command division, broke through the Suez Canal, amassing forces on the Egyptian side. This is one form of depth combat—reaching the enemy unexpectedly, and breaking the predictable order of war.
As explained by outgoing Depth Corps. head Maj. Gen. Virov in December 2022, the concept is based on injecting forces into the enemy’s underbelly, where it has fewer defenses and more sensitive targets.
For Hezbollah, central Israel is depth, filled with sensitive strategic sites, the Israeli civilian population centers and IDF Headquarters. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah has its own depth.
Terrorist armies like Hamas and Hezbollah, too, have sensitive locations and strategic weak spots, though harder to reach than those of state adversaries.
These include their own headquarters, weapons production centers, force movements and other targets.
Relying on the IAF and its large-scale, precise firepower isn’t sufficient, since its efficacy erodes over time as targets and ammunition dry up, and adversaries adjust to Israeli air power.
The Depth Corps is therefore a complimentary tool that can place forces that independently maneuver in the enemy’s backyard.
They can get there by outflanking the front, as the IDF did during “Operation Kadesh” in the Sinai Peninsula in 1956 by parachuting forces, or as the IDF’s Paratrooper Brigade did during the 1982 First Lebanon War, when it made an amphibious landing in the depth of Lebanon, continuing on to the suburbs of Beirut and surprising the PLO.
The maneuver is not without its challenges, as such units do not receive the firepower and intelligence support of forces at the front, and face complex logistics challenges. They need to be able to feed and equip themselves, and bring their own firepower, while also being able to evacuate their wounded.
The Russian failure to take Hostomel Airport in February 2022 as part of Russia’s initial assault on Kyiv, is an illustration of how a depth operation can fail miserably.
If done right, however, the ability to skip over well fortified and armed enemy fronts and reach the enemy’s depth can be devastating.
To be sure, depth operations are no substitute for victory at the front. The IDF’s ability to pin down and neutralize enemy forces at the front is what would enable the depth operations to proceed.
Ultimately, depth operations can sap adversary capabilities and desire to continue fighting. With Israel seeking decisive victory in any large-scale war, due to the firepower that its enemies possess and the threat it poses to Israel’s strategic sites, shortening any conflict is also key.
This is not to be confused with “campaigns of deterrence,”which all recent Gaza clashes have been—limited operations to top up Israeli deterrence.
The IDF’s Depth Corps, therefore, is a baton that Israel can swing when needed to reach the enemy’s strategic locations and neutralize its core targets.
If done successfully, this can not only shorten a war, but also decrease casualties on the front.