The Brik report, which concludes that Israel Defense Forces’ readiness for war is low due to the poor state of emergency equipment warehouses and soldier training, is certainly worthy of serious attention. Similar to medicine, in the military field any second opinion is welcome and desired.
With that, it’s also worthy to note that the IDF’s past achievements weren’t predicated merely on the supreme readiness of its troops, for whom military service is mandatory and reserve duty is brief and temporary, nor on fully stacked, perfectly organized warehouses even. The army’s successes were influenced, first and foremost, by its combat doctrine and its strategic, operative approach, from which operational plans are formed.
The author of the report, outgoing IDF Ombudsman Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Brik, hails from the 1973 Yom Kippur War generation, which is still convinced that the IDF’s numerous losses in that war stemmed from an intelligence failure and because the emergency warehouses weren’t prepared for war. This conclusion clearly influences Brik’s report.
Although a professional analysis of 1973 war shows the IDF’s losses stemmed mainly from a poor operative approach, which would have been very up-to-date had it still been 1967, when Israel didn’t have any strategic depth and thus had to “quickly take the fight to the other side.” This approach became invalid after the Six-Day War, when Israel gained a modicum of strategic depth.
After 1967, the army should have adopted a defensive operative approach, based on containing the attacker in our territory with a standing force in the first phase and defeating him with reserve forces in the second phase. This approach would have mitigated the considerable dependency on an intelligence warning and would have allowed the reserves to organize properly and less haphazardly in the emergency warehouses. More importantly, this approach would have spared the lives of countless soldiers who fell defending territory that we should have let the enemy conquer temporarily in order to absorb the initial blow and only then force the fight back to his soil.
Similar to the aftermath of the Six-Day War, today, too, the IDF is facing a new operational reality—one that neuters its traditional combat doctrine. For this reason, the army must alter its operative and strategic approach, along with its action plans and force building aims.
The IDF’s traditional combat doctrine was geared toward quickly and “cheaply” defeating mobile state army’s like itself, due to its superior ability to maneuver quickly on land. Stationary terrorist armies, which have replaced mobile state armies, and the array of ground obstacles they have built—fortified, booby-trapped, underground and armed with missiles pointed at the Israeli home front—have almost completely eradicated the open spaces of maneuverability in the arena.
This operational reality is intended to drag the IDF into a series of drawn-out battles to fatigue both our ground forces and home front immensely. In the past, the IDF acted in a linear fashion: defense followed by a transition to offense; first securing victory in the primary arena and then moving on to the remaining arenas. However, the current enemy’s counterstrike capability, which allows him to attack Israel from all arenas simultaneously, obligates the IDF to replace its linear fighting model with simultaneous dual combat: offense that is waged parallel to defense, with decisive blows delivered quickly and simultaneously across all arenas.
For this purpose, the army must develop new, multiforce methods for routing the enemy, as an alternative to ground maneuverability. Formulating this innovative, necessary approach and building the ability to carry it out practically is a professional and intellectual challenge of paramount proportions, and we must hope the IDF has already begun tackling it.
Brik’s recommendation to check the readiness of the troops and emergency warehouses should be respected. However, the need for a thorough, theoretical examination of the army’s combat doctrine is no less urgent.
If it is found that the current doctrine and approach fulfill the IDF’s duty to neutralize the threat of a prolonged war of attrition, we can be certain that the next war will be won quickly and “cheaply,” similar to 1967, even if the troops and warehouses aren’t at maximum readiness. On the other hand, mistaken perceptions, similar to those behind the IDF’s preparations in 1973, will assuredly result in heavy losses and protracted war, even if the troops and warehouses are fully ready.
Dr. Hanan Shai is a lecturer in the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University.