analysisIsrael at War

The IDF will need to drastically update its multi-year program

The Israeli military's Ma’alot (Ascent) strategy was formulated before Hamas's Oct. 7 attack.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi tours the northern border, Aug. 2, 2023. Credit: IDF.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi tours the northern border, Aug. 2, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Prior to the October 7 mass murder attack on southern Israel by Hamas death squads and the collapse of fundamental operational and intelligence assumptions that guided the Israeli defense establishment, the Israel Defense Forces was shifting from its Momentum multi-year program, in place from 2020 to 2023, to its successor, Ma’alot (Hebrew for “ascent”).

After the war, when the military has had time to review its failures, draw conclusions and learn lessons, the multi-year program will need to be updated to better guide future Israeli force build-up.

The need will arise to get back to basics, which means prioritizing the destruction of the bulk of the enemy’s military resources that are embedded in civilian, built-up areas, both above ground and underground. Afterwards, the IDF will have to focus on continuous ground and air operations fueled by intelligence to prevent Iran-backed proxies like Hamas from rebuilding offensive military-terrorist capabilities.

This will involve a pivot from the concept of prioritizing sensor-based border defenses, and aiming to achieve lengthy periods of quiet while allowing terror armies to build capabilities almost without disruption, to a more offensive doctrine involving a continuous cross-border operational posture.

The Ascent program sought to pick up where Momentum left off, and outlined new strategic objectives for the IDF’s force build-up. Prior to the war, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi defined four fundamental pillars for Ascent. They were:

1. People and military-society relations. This clause was based on the premise that Israel will only be able to deal with its severe security challenges if its best and most suitable people choose to continue to perform significant military service.

2. The need to deal with Iran’s ascension in the region as a hostile power, led by a radical regime that presents a multi-arena threat. In response, Ascent sought to improve Israeli readiness through boosted intelligence, defense and offense.

3. The need for better training and readiness for ground maneuvers and border defense capabilities, with a stress on multi-force coordination.

4. The boosting of the IDF’s operational and organizational culture by strengthening the young commanders in its ranks, intensifying the sense of responsibility among its personnel and utilizing human capital to maximum effectiveness.

During a key workshop that took place at Camp Moshe Dayan just north of Tel Aviv on September 4-5,  these topics were discussed by Halevi together with the IDF Planning and Force Design Directorate (J8), with the participation of members of the IDF General Staff and additional senior officials.

However, in light of the collapse of the border defense concept with its reliance on sensor-based early warnings and accurate intelligence, the next IDF multi-year program will need to focus on getting back to basics.

Momentum, the program that came before Ascent, was formulated by former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Aviv Kochavi and offered a new definition of what constituted military victory. Some of its achievements can and should be incorporated into the updated Ascent program.

The emphasis in Momentum switched away from the traditional goal of seizing enemy territory and instead defined victory as the rapid elimination of enemy capabilities. This concept could prove useful in the post-war Gaza arena.

Momentum’s conception of success placed an emphasis on the rapid destruction of enemy infrastructure, including command centers, armament stores and projectile bases, as well as personnel. It measured victory through the speed and effectiveness with which threats could be eliminated. The same concept, at a lower intensity, can be applied to prevent the rebuilding of new capabilities, as Israel has done in various ways in both the West Bank and Syria—and failed to do in Lebanon against Hezbollah between 2006 and 2023.

Momentum’s aim was to create a network-based Israeli war machine that closed sensor-to-shooter cycles as quickly as possible and delivered the full range of IDF “services,” such as air power and intelligence, to frontline battalion commanders.

These capabilities will be critical in the ground offensive to destroy Hamas’s terror army in Gaza.

At the International Operational Innovation Conference held by the IDF in 2022, the achievements of Momentum were put on display for 200 international participants from 24 military delegations who came to witness the IDF’s network-based combat capabilities.

The key question going forward is how Ascent will pick up where Momentum left off.

The need to significantly boost the IDF’s force build-up budget will also need to be confronted by any future government in the post-war phase.

Originally published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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