Has Israel of late neglected the IDF’s ground forces? Is it well prepared to wage its real battles ahead against well-entrenched Hamas and Hezbollah armies? Currently embroiled in an intensive ground battle with Hamas in Gaza, have IDF’s infantry and armor units complained of insufficient preparation?
Perhaps, things are not all fine. An ineluctable impression one gets from a recent study conducted by the Tel Aviv based Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies is that the IDF has decided to invest primarily in air force capabilities, intelligence, special operations forces, stand-off precision fire and cyber capabilities. It is at the expense of its more traditional units, mainly the large ground forces. The study stresses the need to diversify IDF precision-fire capabilities and not to concentrate it all in the hands of the air force. It says today’s technology allows for precision fire to be launched from the sea as well .
An expert of the BESA Center says that the backbone of the IDF traditionally has been a large land army, comprised of heavy armored brigades supported by artillery and infantry. Most of the ground forces were reserve units mobilized from their homes in the event of war. A strong air force ensured air superiority allowing the time for the reserves to deploy. It proved highly effective when Israel’s main strategic threat was large conventional Arab armies threatening to invade its territory.
The expert says the scene has changed a lot in the last two to three decades. The last time the IDF engaged in combat with a conventional army was on Lebanese soil against the Syrian army in 1982. Since then, the threat from conventional armies has diminished. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel (in 1979 and 1994). Iraq’s army was essentially eliminated by US invasion in 2003. The Syrian army too has been devastated by the civil war in that country.
Today, instead of conventional armies, the IDF finds itself occupied with operations against terror and guerilla organizations such as Hamas in Gaza, Islamic Jihad in Sinai, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The threat to Israel’s home front has also changed, from bombardment by hostile air forces to rocket and missile fire by terror organizations. The country that most supports and supplies these organizations is a non-Arab state actor that does not share a border with Israel – Iran. Iran also has a nuclear program that poses a threat to the entire Middle East. Under these circumstances Israel must be able to project power thousands of kilometers from home.
He says there are new technological developments in the military. Drones and unmanned vehicles in the air, sea and land; networks of digital command and control; precision fire that can be launched from almost any platform; and cyber-warfare – all hold the potential to alter, and in some cases have already changed, the way armies fight.
Besides, the expert says, the IDF cannot overlook the domestic strategic environment. The large civil protest demonstrations in Israel of 2011 reflect a change in priorities of the Israeli public: “More butter, fewer guns.” The IDF has to be more effective and less costly.
“Ideally, like every military, the IDF would like to have it all: The new F-35 jet fighter and state-of-the-art Dolphin class submarines, the new Namer APC and a new model of the Merkava tank, and additional batteries of Iron Dome, Arrow and the new David’s Sling missile defense systems. However, due to budget pressures, the IDF must compromise and make hard choices, “ he says..