Defense Update - News Analysis by David Eshel

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Price of the Intifada

The Second Lebanon War provided a wake up call for the IDF. After six years of low intensive conflict it was forced to face realities, long forgotten by its senior leadership. Cynics can even predict, that if the Hezbolla/ Iraq war would not have happened last summer, it should have been invented, for the sake of Israel's security and even survival in this turbulent neighbouhood.

Six years of Intifada fighting have already shown how irrelevant have been traditional warfare scenarios. Employing the most sophisticated weapons in IDF disposal, against a known enemy in full scale warfare, proved in most cases useless and even counter-productive, in the daily struggle against the Palestinian street violence in Gaza and the West Bank Kasbahs. Most Israeli senior commanders have for many years detested this kind of confrontation, termed euphemistically by the gurus of the American military discipline as ‘low intensity conflict (LIC)'. It was too low to their taste- in fact, the few veterans remaining in service, which have been blooded in full scale battles during the 1973 Yom Kippur War- are the only one's that have seen a major military action.

The long frustrating years of the ‘low intensity conflict’ in the West Bank and Gaza, that has sent Israel’s best and fiercest soldiers to chase Palestinian terrorists in the alleys of Nablus or Hebron, have stamped their mark on the lack of professional military performance during the latest Lebanon conflict, which was fought with modern weapons, fielded by a highly trained and motivated force.

The new report by the state comptroller, blaming the lack of training of the senior commanders of the Israel Defense Forces, maybe one of the most critical and troubling ever made public. However, to those privy to IDF senior officer training procedures, for a long time- it came as little surprise.

The IDF officer corps has for decades preferred "doers" instead of "brainers" into its senior ranks. The art of war was negated as superflous in counter-terrorist low intensity warfare, in which tactical command was supreme. For years, senior officers neglected in-depth studies of their military profession- preferring "action" to theory- active command to staff assignment- all being the speedy track for promotion to senior rank.

Unfortunately under the constant high intensity of operational service in field ranks little time was available for long-term study courses to prepare those younger field officers, with huge combat experience in low intensive warfare, to command higher formations, such as brigades and even divisions in high intensive warfare.

The six years of Intifada had even more bearing on the senior officer ranks: The usual term for young Lt colonels commanding a combat battalion is two years- and in most cases, extremely grueling. The same goes for a colonel commanding a brigade. Normally following tactical command officers would undergo at least one year in military studies either local or abroad and then serve on the staff to get acquainted with a wider scope of the military and especially the inter-service co-operation procedures, essential for a modern high-intensity warfare scenario. However, over the last years, this routine, critical for the development of a professional senior commander, was ignored, due to the constant need for qualified combat commanders in LIC operations. As those operations are fought "round-the-clock" for months on end, this leaves senior officers little time for anything but duty, not to mention in-depth study of their profession.

In sheer statistics- a young Lt Colonel commanding a combat battalion, in his early thirties, would in many cases be commanding a combat brigade after a mere four or five years since taking command of his first battalion and would be promoted to one star general commanding a division about four or five years later. The resulting inadequate professional standards of senior officers in high intensive combat operations, should therefore not be surprising- being the price tag of grueling abrasion in the six years of Intifada- in which the IDF fought to a large extent- police action, not suitable for a military force.

The IDF had identified the need for professionalism before. After the hard fought and hard won Yom Kippur War of 1973, its military leadership was looking for new approaches to train its officers. The Talpiot program was established as the Israel Defense Forces elite brainpower summit, tasked with changing the language of technological warfare. Moreover, recognizing that its officer corps required significant overhaul, the IDF had begun to imitate some-not all-features of the American approach to officer development and compensation. Existing programs for educating more senior officers were considered clearly inadequate. Already under consideration were proposals to convert the command and staff school to a two-year course, and perhaps to create a military academy that would confer academic degrees. Unfortunately, things dis not develop according to these ambitious plans. By 2003, nearly 21 classes of more than 440 soldiers have called themselves elite Talpiot alumni but only a handful of Talpiot graduates have become military career officers. There are only 2 colonels, 14 lieutenant colonels, and 1 brigadier general remaining of this alumni.

It is to be hoped, that the IDF top brass will heed to this latest wake-up call and take the necessary steps to redress the situation and create a professional senior officer corps- which Israel's military urgently needs in time to meet the looming challenges to its security.

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