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After introducing a new 5-year efficiency plan for the Israel Defense Forces at the end of July, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot took the highly unusual step of publishing the Israeli army’s new strategy. In Eisenkot’s view, the IDF must be able to deliver a military solution to the multiple threats that Israel is facing.
The new doctrine is already visible on the Golan Heights, where the IDF is preparing for a possible incursion into Syria in response to increasing efforts by Islamist terror groups such as Hezbollah, al-Nusra front and Islamic State to set up camp in the vicinity of the Israeli border.
The 5-year efficiency operative called the Gideon Plan that was released at the end of July dealt with all sorts of measures to adjust the IDF to the rapid changing reality in the Middle East. The plan includes the dismissal of 2,500 professional soldiers and the discharge of 100,000 reserve soldiers.
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By 2020, the IDF will look totally different; units will be considerably smaller, and the average age of commanders will be significantly lower. Infantry and artillery brigades will be cut down in size, and the remaining reserve soldiers will be trained and equipped for war tasks. The commands will shrink 6% in size; and systems that are not at the core of the army, such as the education corps, army radio and the military rabbinate, will undergo adjustment or will be cut down in size as well.
In response to increasing cyber war threats, the IDF will establish a cyber wing and will purchase new submarines and stealth war planes (Lockheed F-35) as well as more drones. Together with other sophisticated anti-rocket systems, these purchases will provide multi-layer protection for Israel. The IDF has been reducing the number of tanks and warplanes since 1985.
All this has to do with the declining conventional threat to Israel by regular Arab armies. The Lebanese army has never been a match for the IDF, and the Syrian army is literally being cut down. Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel and are increasingly cooperating with the IDF and IAF.
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Just last week, Israeli KC-707 flying fuel tankers were spotted flying together with Jordanian Air Force F-16’s when they were on their way to the United States to participate in a joint military exercise in Nevada.
Last month, the media reported that the IAF gave Jordan 16 used Cobra helicopters to enhance their abilities to defend their borders against a possible Islamic State attack. Israel at one stage had two Cobra squadrons of 30 helicopters each; but since 2000, the IAF has been using the more sophisticated Apache combat helicopter.
As for cooperation with Egypt, Israeli TV Channel 10 reported in January this year that the IDF and the Egyptian Army are cooperating in field operations against the Islamist terror group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (now called Wayilat Sinai after it swore allegiance to Islamic State in December 2014). Other Israeli media reported earlier that Egypt uses Israeli intelligence for its operations against the Islamist terror groups in the Sinai Peninsula.
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Channel 10 reported in 2014 that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu had ordered the IDF to carry out operations against Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis deep in the Sinai Desert. It remains unclear whether such an operation ever took place.
The IDF’s new strategy that was published last week aims to enhance the IDF’s operational capabilities in light of the increasing terrorist threats at its borders, multidimensional threats and cyber warfare.
The publication of the 33-page document is considered highly unusual because it offers a glimpse into Israel’s defense doctrine and because Eisenkot proposes cuts in defense spending. His predecessors always asked for an increase in the defense budget.
The Israeli paper Israel Hayom explained that the ”new strategy is based on the understanding that the conventional and unconventional first-circle threats Israel faces, meaning threats looming on its borders, are decreasing, while the threats posed by terrorist organizations, projectile fire and cyber attacks are increasing.”
The first principle of the national security strategy outlined in the brief is relying on a defensive security strategy, that strives to ensure Israel’s existence, generate effective deterrence, defer conflict and, if necessary, neutralize threats.
The principles of military offensive are also outlined, stating the IDF’s basic operational premise is that defeating the enemy solely via defensive tactics is impossible.
“The third principle notes the importance of strategic cooperation, including bolstering defense ties with the U.S. and fostering strategic ties with other key countries,” Israel HaYom reported.
The document stresses that a key characteristic of regional dynamics “is the fact that the enemy strives to impose Islamic rule across the Middle East, including in Israel. (The enemy) seeks to exhaust Israeli society, as it assumes it will prove to have little resilience.”
Eisenkot noted in the document that the threat by non-state entities such as Hezbollah, Islamic State and Hamas has increased, and that these groups now strive for territorial expansion and sovereignty.
In the next conflict with terrorist organizations, the IDF will have to achieve a decisive victory that would enable Israel to dictate the terms of a ceasefire; and the military would have to limit the damage inflicted on the home front. By achieving a decisive victory, the IDF would undermine the enemy’s ability to rebuild its forces like Hamas is now doing in Gaza.
“The document stressed that the main approach to achieving decisive victory is cunningly using offensive maneuvers that play on the enemy’s weaknesses, thus using the IDF’s comparative advantages to ensure it achieves its ‘shock and awe’ objectives.
“While the military proved reluctant to use ground forces during its last few campaigns, the document officially states that one of the principles guiding the new strategy is engaging all relevant forces in ‘immediate maneuvers.’ Moreover, the military’s cyber capabilities will be used to support both its defensive and offensive maneuvers, across all branches and on all levels,” Israel HaYom reported.
The new strategy emphasizes the need to evacuate border communities in case of immediate danger. Although border communities have been emptied of residents as a result of rocket attacks in the past, it has never been Israel’s policy to evacuate whole communities in wartime. To the contrary, the Israeli government always called upon citizens to continue living their lives as normally as possible during a war.
The document also deals with the threat of non-bordering nations, namely Iran, and outlines that offensive efforts must be made “to undermine the enemy’s strength, limit its scope of operations and thwart its intentions and abilities.”
The document calls for the implementation of the plan in order to achieve “accurate, multidimensional firepower capabilities, in the shortest amount of time, across an extensive target bank.” This means “tens of thousands of targets” in the north (meaning Lebanon and Syria) and “thousands of targets” in the south (Gaza), the document notes.
The strategy aims to further improve the IDF’s offensive capabilities “on several fronts and dimensions — on the ground, in the air and at sea — simultaneously.” It is clear that the document here talks about the possibility that Israel will be attacked by several terrorist organizations from multiple fronts at the same time.
The strategy also aims to improve the IDF’s operational capabilities deep in enemy territory behind the front lines, even without access to direct supply lines.
The publication of the new IDF strategy was noticed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. In his annual speech during the commemoration of “the divine victory”–meaning Hezbollah’s resistance against the IDF during the Second Lebanon War–Nasrallah claimed that Eisenkot’s document showed that the IDF has no strategy against Hezbollah.
He said “the IDF did not bring anything new” and will be defeated again in the next war.
“Every piece of Lebanese land will be a fortified trench that will destroy your ranks and kill your soldiers and their officers and your army will be defeated,” Nasrallah bragged.
He claimed the war ended in “a victory by the grace of God… Dozens of armored tanks were destroyed and dozens of soldiers were killed. They felt hell below their feet and over their heads here. Here the legend of the Merkava tank was shattered.”
Hezbollah is operating a special unit in the Iranian embassy in Beirut that monitors everything that happens in Israel. The organization also has spy-rings in Israel.
Last week, the Israeli internal security office Shin Bet announced it had arrested a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent who is suspected of spying for Hezbollah.
The man, Hassan Khalil Khizran, 55, was arrested upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport on July 21. The Shin Bet had received prior information of his activities for Hezbollah. He was recruited by Hezbollah in 2009 while visiting Lebanon with his family.
On Sunday, Israel delivered a warning to Hezbollah and Iran when the IDF released footage of the elimination of a Hezbollah terrorist cell in the border area near the Druze town of Khader, close to Mount Hermon in Israel. Four Druze members of Hezbollah were killed by an Israeli rocket when they tried to plant an explosive device near the border fence in May.
The release of the footage constituted a warning to Iran and Hezbollah, said Middle East expert Tzvi Yechezkieli in an interview with TV Channel 10 in Israel. Since the signing of the nuclear agreement with six world powers in Vienna, Iran is again trying – via Hezbollah – to take over the border area on the Golan Heights, Yechezkieli said.
He noticed that all terrorist activity directed at Israel on the Golan Heights is the work of Hezbollah and not of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate that is in control of the border with Israel. Hezbollah and Assad’s forces are in control of Khader in the northern Golan; but try again to move south in the direction of Kuneitra, and Israel will not allow that to happen, the Channel 10 expert added. He and other Israeli commentators are convinced that under Eisenkot, the IDF will no longer sit on its hands when Islamist groups threaten the Israeli communities on the Golan Heights, and will invade Syria if necessary.