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Thursday, April 19, 2007

What Has Really Happened To Israel's "People's Army"?

Civilianization of the IDF
Written by Elliot Chodoff and Yisrael Ne’eman
Thursday, 19 April 2007

Over the past few years one of the greatest security threats to the State of Israel has been the civilianization of the IDF and military thinking. This process did not begin with the appointment of Defense Minister Amir Peretz in 2006, but dates to the early 1990s. In that decade the misplaced euphoria of Oslo led many to believe that universal regular military service as well as frequent reserve duty would be something of the past. After all the Palestinians would soon be Israel’s friends, if not allies, and if there arose a military challenge the air force, the standing army and commandos would handle everything. On the level of continued participation and integration within Israeli society the army was to be marginalized. Calls for a reorganization of the IDF as an all volunteer force (AVF) grew as it came to be believed that professionals would be the backbone of the IDF; reserve manpower was to be gradually eliminated in its entirety.

Civilianization of the Israeli military has manifested itself in a number of ways. Efficiency has been chosen to replace effectiveness as a measure of success; humanism has become a priority value, making casualties unacceptable in training and combat operations; management rather than command principles have come to direct the IDF elites in routine and crisis decision making; the reserves have been allowed to deteriorate, weakening the IDF’s connection to the civilian society while depriving the system of experienced combat troops; parental involvement in soldiers’ training and service has led commanders to further dilute training and discipline; and over-reliance on high technology has led to a command level alienation from the battlefield and the forces engaged with the enemy.

The fact that the IDF has not engaged in regular warfare since the summer of 1982 has had a profound effect on its organizational behavior. In the absence of direct measures of combat performance, the military has come to rely on civilian organizational models to assess its readiness. Measures of efficiency have come to replace combat effectiveness. The result has been a drive toward greater organizational efficiency at the price of achieving combat objectives. READ THE REST...

By the end of the nineties continuing attacks by the Hezbollah into the Israeli controlled south Lebanese security zone led to the establishment of the Four Mothers movement, a grass roots organization that demanded Israel’s immediate unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon to the international border. The Four Mothers and their supporters “reasoned” that if you do not attack your enemy, he will not attack you. The movement, built on the logic that if the IDF were removed from Lebanon there would be no further casualties in that country, was instrumental in the formulation of Ehud Barak’s policy of total withdrawal from Lebanon.

Israeli society also entered an era in which humanism was taken to its ultimate goal of individual human rights, whereby a soldier’s life was as important as that of a civilian.

Lastly, over the past decade or so Israel’s high tech success was grafted on to the military. The dream had been achieved, and the IDF would now operate in a fully managed high tech push button computer warfare environment utilizing the latest technological advances, including plasma television screens in air conditioned tents.

Training efficiency has been defined in terms of zero training accidents. This has been extrapolated to zero combat casualties. Training has become unrealistically sterile with little resemblance to the realities of the battlefield. Combat operations have devolved into casualty evacuation operations as soon as the first soldier has been wounded. While an extremely low casualty count may be a component of low intensity conflict (LIC) doctrine, it has no place on the regular battlefield. “Acceptable losses” mean minimum casualties within the framework of the mission and objectives, not a zero casualty expectation. The mission is to achieve the military objective at minimum cost and not the reverse.

There has been a gradual shift away from the IDF’s tradition as a mass, “people’s army” to a smaller, high tech force. This shift is rooted in the belief that peace with Israel’s neighbors is imminent, and even if there will be violent conflict in the future, it will be of a limited nature, requiring the engagement of only air and special ground forces.

The IDF has reached the point that it is only one step short of being an all volunteer force. Today, exemptions from service are relatively easy to obtain, whether categorical (full-time yeshiva student) or personal (mental or physical disability). Furthermore, it requires little effort for a recruit to opt out of combat service. This phenomenon is true in the regular army, and even more evident in the reserve component of the IDF.

In recent years, the reserve component of the IDF was allowed to deteriorate and decay, in the mistaken belief that they would no longer be needed to defend the country. Reserve troops’ training and equipment declined in quality and quantity, as perennial defense budget cuts forced the IDF to choose between high cost technology and the more mundane maintenance of the reserves. Within the ranks of IDF decision makers, the reserve corps took a back seat to the better placed and connected regular officer corps.

Today anyone serving in the reserves wants to be there, and reluctant reservists no longer exist. The IDF has come to understand that fewer, highly motivated reservists are preferable to a larger number who often avoid service or create more problems than they are worth.

What has been overlooked in the planned deterioration of the reserve corps is that the reservists add valuable civilian perspectives, concepts, and skills to the IDF’s planning and operations. When in civilian life they often use military thinking or techniques to succeed in their professional spheres. Most important, they still are the army’s best connection to the populace as they are part of civil society as a large part of the Israeli population is directly connected to the IDF; they understand military considerations and feel at home when in uniform. Furthermore, reserve officers and senior NCO’s often hold pivotal positions in the civilian sector, strengthening the link between the civilian society and the military.

Even if professionally run, once the reservists are forced out of the picture the army will become just another department in a civilian ministry (defense) to be used as sparingly as possible to reduce costs. Its professionals can be compared to civilian experts with “soldiering” defined as a job, gradually shifting the perception of military service from profession to occupation. The IDF will cease to be a people’s army representing the nation. The commitment of the average enlistee can be expected to drop considerably, as the military is not his chosen profession; in the end the professional soldiers will become bureaucrats and one will find very few bureaucrats willing to take the courageous steps necessary to fight and win a war.

The naïveté of the Four Mothers and their supporters bordered on fantasy yet their influence led to the total withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon combined with demands that the army take no offensive action, even should Hezbollah fire across the border. Everyone should play it safe. We are speaking of the same period when parents’ committees were set up to defend soldiers’ civil rights and the average battalion commander spent 20% of his time dealing with parents complaints and inquiries about their sons instead of planning for the next war (which can be considered militaristic). True, soldiers should not be abused in the military as had been in several cases, but parents should not be directly involved should a soldier be punished with extra guard duty or docked leave time due to infractions or slovenly behavior. The combat officer corps became more worried about what parents would say or be reported in the press about their lack of civil behavior and neglected the need to instill in their soldiers the need to destroy the enemy in combat (yes, admittedly “politically incorrect”). And lest in be forgotten, a soldier is trained and meant to defend his country and its civilian population, not the opposite. No one wants him to sacrifice his life, but he is on the front lines and is expected to endure the dangers of combat to ensure his nation’s security.

Finally we have the culture of hi-tech success. Just model the army after a computer or electro-optic firm in Tel Aviv and we can win, just like in the market place. All one needs is good managers. If wars are now managed, rather than commanded, then concepts such as “winning”, “crushing the enemy” or “going for total victory” will be replaced with management ideas of efficiency and satisfactory performance. One can manage a diplomatic offensive or an economic crisis but not a war, as the job of a general is to win a war, and not to be a combat “manager.” But speaking in “politically correct” civilian terms is more palatable to those who would prefer to avoid reality.

The Four Mothers syndrome was characterized by overly optimistic dreams that were shattered by the rocket fire of Hezbollah, a Khomeinist organization dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel and the enslavement of Jews in a second class citizenship role known as the “dhimma.” The leaders of the managerial army discovered that the war was beyond their control when certain critical parts of the battlefield were beyond the scope of their computer screens.

Words have meaning and those meanings are internalized by all. Armies are supposed to strive for victory, not satisfactory performance. The newly appointed Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, is said to understand this. We certainly hope so.

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