Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The current state of the IDF

This recent interview of military historian and Castalia House author Martin van Creveld by a French magazine is particularly interesting in light of the recent Israeli airstrike on Syria, to which Iran has threatened to respond. Read the whole thing there.
Can you give us an overview of the actual situation of the Israeli armed forces?

One could argue that, taking a grand strategic perspective and starting with the establishment of the State of Israel seventy years ago, some things have not changed very much. First, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) remain the armed organization of a democratic country, one in which it is the politicians who decide and the military which obeys. Second, the objective of the IDF was and remains to defend the country, a outrance if necessary, against any military threats that may confront it. Third, Israel remains in a state of war with several other Middle Eastern countries; nor is there any way in the world it can bring the conflict to an end by defeating them and compelling them to make peace against their will. Fourth, the occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights notwithstanding, Israel remains a small country with very little strategic depth. Fifth, the lack of strategic depth implies a heavy reliance on intelligence to detect threats before they materialize. Sixth, and for the same reason, Israeli military doctrine remains basically offensive, with a strong emphasis on destroying the opposing armed forces.

In its short history, the State of Israel often fought and won wars in which it was outnumbered and trapped: is this because of its only technological superiority or is there also a strategic and tactical factor? 

Starting in 1948 and ending with the 1973 war inclusive, the most important factor behind Israel’s victories has always been the quality of its troops. Both in terms of education—Israel, unlike its enemies, is not a third-world country but a first-world one with educational, technological and scientific facilities to match. And—which is more critical still—in terms of motivation and fighting morale.

After 1973, and especially the 1982 First Lebanon War, things began to change. Education, technical skills and scientific development continued to improve, turning this a nation of less than eight million people into a world center of military (and not just military) innovation. There are, however, some signs that, as some of its former enemies concluded peace with it and its own military superiority came to be taken for granted, motivation suffered. To this was added the need to combat terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank—the kind of operations that contribute nothing to overall fighting effectiveness and and even detract from it.

Can the logistic organization represent a decisive factor – militarily -?

Logistics, it has been said, is “that which, if you do not have enough of, the war will not be won as soon as.” As recently as the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah in 2006, so heavy was expenditure of air-to-surface missiles and other precision-guided munitions that the IDF had to apply for US aid even as hostilities were going on. This situation which has its origins in budget constraints, may well recur.

Furthermore, in all its wars from 1948 on the IDF has enjoyed near-absolute command of the air. As a result, it was able to attack enemy lines of supply whereas the enemy was unable to do the same. The buildup of reliable and accurate surface-to-surface missiles in the hands of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran may very well change this situation, causing supply bases and ammunition dumps, as well as communications-junctions and even convoys on the move to come under attack. This scenario, which is not at all imaginary, is currently giving the General Staff a lot of headaches.

We know that the intelligence is the decisive element to ensure strength to Israeli Armed Forces: can you explain what is this strength?

Israeli technological, tactical and operational intelligence has always been very good. Two factors help account for this fact. First, there exists in Israel a large community of first-class experts (known as Mizrahanim, “Easterners” who know the countries of the Middle East, their language, culture, traditions, history, and so forth as well as anyone does. Many members of this community spend their periods of reserve duty with the IDF intelligence apparatus.

Second, modern intelligence rests on electronics, especially various kinds of sensors and computers. As the famous Unit 8200 shows, these are fields where nobody excels the IDF. Nobody.

That said, it is important to add that Israeli top-level strategic and political intelligence is nowhere as good as it is on the lower levels. Starting at least as early as 1955, and reaching all the way to the present, IDF intelligence has often failed to predict some of the most important events. That included the 1967 war, the 1973 War, the 1987 Palestinian Uprising, the 1991 Gulf War, the “Arab Spring,” and the outbreak of the 2011 Syrian Civil War.

Compared to its actual friends, which are its strengths and weaknesses from a military point of view?

As I said, strengths include a well-educated and highly skilled society, excellent technology, and vast experience in fighting various enemies (though some of that experience is now dated). The chief weaknesses remain the country’s relatively small size and lack of strategic depth—Iran, for example, is eighty times as large as Israel. Perhaps most important of all, there is reason to think that motivation, though much higher than in the NATO countries, is no longer what it used to be.

If the situation between Israel and Iran (or Hezbollah in Lebanon) comes to a showdown, which could be the reactions of some States as Turkey, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or USA?

Hard to say. Iran will use Syria as a forward base for fighting Israel. Assuming the regime stays, Saudi Arabia will probably retain its ties with Israel, at least unofficially. Ditto Egypt. Turkey will probably not engage in a shooting war with Israel, but it will support an anti-Israeli coalition in other ways while at the same time fighting the Syrians (and the Kurds). Russia will try to support Hezbollah and Syria, but without becoming deeply involved. The US on its part will support Israel and against Hezbollah, but without directly taking on the Russians.
In short, while Israel remains stronger than its enemies, its strategic position has weakened somewhat since it became the primary regional power in the 1980s. It cannot defeat Iran or Turkey the way it defeated Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, and its two primary non-nuclear advantages - air supremacy and troop quality - have declined over time. It is also aware that its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons has a time limit.

From the Game Theory perspective, this would tend to indicate that another Middle Eastern war is likely sooner rather than later, because the trends suggest the odds of Israeli success are greater now than they will be in the future, especially given the fact that an Israel-friendly US President is now in office following an Arab-friendly one. Of course, since people in general, and politicians in particular, are not logical, and have a natural tendency to want to put off until tomorrow things that can more profitably be addressed today, that does not mean logic will dictate events.

UPDATE: I checked with Martin to clarify what appeared to be a typo, and he confirmed that he did mean the US supporting Israel AGAINST Hezbollah.

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Blogger Jew613 May 09, 2018 7:17 AM  

Dr. Van Creveld's analysis is excellent as usual. I would add certain sections of the military are extremely motivated, primarily the daati and heavily charedim units. Hiwever those sections with a feminism infection are in some trouble.

Blogger Cataline Sergius May 09, 2018 7:20 AM  

Why is Ask Me Anything limited to celebutards like Justin Bieber?

MVC seems to have doubts about the Iranian regime's long term viability. Which raises the question: Was the real objective of the Iranian Deal propping up a failing regime?

I'd love to ask Van Creveld about that.

Blogger Lazarus May 09, 2018 7:22 AM  

Perhaps most important of all, there is reason to think that motivation, though much higher than in the NATO countries, is no longer what it used to be.

Feiglin's Zehut Party platform addresses this point at length.

The IDF of today no longer strives for victory. Victory is no longer in its conceptual world, because the society that sent it on its mission no longer believes in the justice of its own existence, to say nothing of its right to decisively defeat its enemies.

It has the Western Disease: An entire generation of commanders and soldiers grew into a world of “postmodern” concepts of “narratives” - a world without truth and lies, good and evil. That world has no place for justice and certainly not for victory.

When there is no victory, the war never ends, and when the war does not end, peace cannot begin.

Part Six Liberty and Security

Blogger BR MK May 09, 2018 7:39 AM  

"The US on its part will support Israel and Hezbollah,..."
I never even imagined the US supporting Hezbollah.
The alliances in that part of the world are much more complicated than I thought.

Blogger Jew613 May 09, 2018 7:46 AM  

Br MK, i think that was an error, but the alliances in the Middle East make little sense to everyone else. Just take a look at the Lebanese civil war. Allies became enemies then allies again.

Though Dr. Van Creveld might be referencing the Carter doctrine, where the USA made opposing sides in a conflict both militarily dependent upon America and as such unlikely to go to war against each other.

Blogger SciVo May 09, 2018 8:04 AM  

Of course, since people in general, and politicians in particular, are not logical, and have a natural tendency to want to put off until tomorrow things that can more profitably be addressed today, that does not mean logic will dictate events.

You're not wrong, but that's a consequence. Better to say that most of the time, most human behavior is dictated by avoiding badfeelz, followed by seeking goodfeelz.

This reframe does not change the fact that important decisions will have little if anything to do with logic. What this mental model provides is a simple way to know whether situational inertia will be overcome.

Put yourself in the decision-maker's shoes and imagine whether his worldview provides an emotional rush at the thought of a particular action; if so then he will probably do it, otherwise not. (The kind of rush interacts with his character, as shown by his habits; then the nuance matters of whether the rush is a lusty anticipation, or a stubborn spite, or a sadistic glee, or whatever, as he might reject it.)

I think that national character is a real thing, and that a people will act as a metaperson with its leader & founding as a kind of analogue of the prefrontal cortex & childhood. So that's why groups are even more banal in their decision-making than individuals, because the cognitive executive function is organically just a sub-subsystem (part of the leader's brain) instead of a subsystem.

Blogger Peaceful Poster May 09, 2018 8:07 AM  

According to Thomas Wictor (see his Twitter timeline), there are some incredible, positive developments happening quietly in the Middle East. The level of cooperation between Middle Eastern nations, including Israel, is unprecedented.

The God Emperor is leading the way.

Not sure if Thomas is totally credible, but amazing if true.

Anonymous Anonymous May 09, 2018 8:13 AM  

"From the Game Theory perspective, this would tend to indicate that another Middle Eastern war is likely sooner rather than later..."

From the Israeli perspective, what would be the strategic goal of a war at this point in time?

And can such an objective be attained by other means?

From where I sit, Israel's key strategic interest at the moment seems to be in containing Iran -- halting the progress of its nuclear program and promoting the sort of regime change that could realign it into a friendlier (or at least less-hostile) pose.

It seems that the Israelis have concluded that they can pursue these goals more effectively by working with President Trump to increase sanctions and trade pressure on the Iranian regime, and by launching covert pinpoint technical attacks on the nuclear program, such as Stuxnet, than by ground invasion. A shooting war in Syria would not seem to further these goals. Moreover, I would guess that the Israeli Air Force strategic planners have informed their government that they lack the technical means to deal a decisive blow to Iran's nuclear program through airstrikes, so they haven't repeated the sort of bombing raids they undertook in the past in Iraq and Syria.

So I don't see the Israelis going out in search of a war.

I could see the Iranians trying to foment a proxy war against Israel through Hezbollah or Hamas in order to strike back at Israel and force a negotiation at which they could reclaim the benefits of Obama's nuclear deal, and/or dissuade Israel from further covert attacks on their nuclear installations, but that would be an Iranian choice to escalate, not an Israeli choice.

To make an analogy: just because the U.S. / Mexican balance of power currently favors the U.S. more than it plausibly will going forward (Mexico has been on a long-term economic growth trajectory which has been narrowing the per-capita GDP gap with the U.S.) doesn't create a sufficient condition making another Mexican American war particularly likely in the next few years. We'd need to have some specific purpose for that war in mind which we currently lack.

Now, if Mexico doesn't quietly begin controlling those central American "convoys" of migrant invaders more rigorously, we might yet find a good reason to invade. But by the same token, some small tweaks to our financial and trade regulations could plausibly put enough pressure on the Mexican government to fix things, that a resort to actual tanks and guns would still be quite a remote possibility.

Anonymous Anonymous May 09, 2018 8:17 AM  

So when does (((our bestest friend))) plant another false flag like they did with 9-11?

Blogger sykes.1 May 09, 2018 8:33 AM  

Israel not only lacks strategic depth, it lacks manpower. Regardless of its quality, the very small number of ground troops Israel can muster severely limits its offensive reach.

Then there is the issue of quality of its ground troops. W. Patrick Lang points out that Israel's army is organizationally defective, and its infantry is unreliable and poorly disciplined:

There is also the issue that the Army is comprised almost entirely of reservists, and that the Israeli economy grinds to a halt when the Army is deployed.

Blogger Azimus May 09, 2018 8:35 AM  

...this would tend to indicate that another Middle Eastern war is likely sooner rather than later...

I have not been following events in Iraq since the government forces drove the Kurds out of Kirkuk, but counting the Iraq conflict as a war, and whatever is happening in the tattered remains of Libya, when you add Syria, low intensity military operations in PA, the insurgency in Sinai of Egypt, Afghanistan (on the periphery of ME) and Yemen, that makes seven "wars" already, with Israel actively playing a role openly in two.

But as far as I can tell, none of them are declared wars, except by the ISIS-types.

So my only beef with the above statement is to say, I don't believe a war will be declared... so how will we know that this new war was started? The dividing line between "war" and "peace" is difficult to make out these days...

Blogger English Tom May 09, 2018 8:37 AM  

So I don't see Israelis in search of another war.

The Israelis will get the goys to die for them. See: Israel's nuclear and foreign policy - Israel Zahak (1995). Israeli public opinion has been geared toward war with Iran since 1992. Two possibilities:
1. Israel would destroy Iran alone.
2. The West would be 'persuaded' to destroy Iran.

We know how persuasive our Jewish brethren can be!

Blogger English Tom May 09, 2018 8:39 AM  

As soon as it is convenient for them. Which means pretty soon. Another Hollywood false flag production coming soon to corral the you into doing (((their))) dirty work.

Blogger English Tom May 09, 2018 8:45 AM  

There is an interesting 3 part series called: how Hezbollah defeated Israel (in 2006). Apparently elements of Israel's much vaunted Golani brigade fled the field. This isn't encouraging for future events.

Better war sooner than later. This is true from Israel's perspective. Another 10 years and a Haredi majority in Israel's demographic make-up means Israel's manpower problem will be acute.

Blogger pyrrhus May 09, 2018 8:51 AM  

Iran is not only 80x larger than Israel, and quite some distance away, but it is a Russian neighbor and ally. Meanwhile, Russia is quite angry at NATO's encroachment on its borders.
So tiny Israel has not the slightest chance of conquering any part of Iran, and will not try...
But of course, if Israel could convince its idiot ally, still would not happen.Russia will never tolerate an American military presence in Iran, and the American military's readiness levels are sinking like a rock.

Blogger Mr.MantraMan May 09, 2018 9:05 AM  

They wisely put emphasis on the air force, the big dumb golem by the name of 'Murca supplies the grunts.

FTR I support Israel, what kind of white zionist would not?

Blogger Lazarus May 09, 2018 9:05 AM  

"The US on its part will support Israel and Hezbollah,..."

That does not make any sense. Hezbollah is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

Unless he is referring to Operation Cassandra

former President Obama administration allowed the terrorist group Hezbollah to continue a multinational drug running and money-laundering operation to fund terrorism in order to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.

I doubt Trump will do that.

Blogger VD May 09, 2018 9:08 AM  

Another 10 years and a Haredi majority in Israel's demographic make-up means Israel's manpower problem will be acute.

Not necessarily. The Haredi are serving in the IDF. The larger problems are the continuing decline in morale, the continuing influence of feminism, the continuing decline in a technological edge, the growing threat that laser weaponry provides to air power, and the continuing decline in US global power.

The US will pay less and less attention to the Middle East as Chinese influence grows in Asia and Africa. And AIPAC's influence over Congress is already waning.

Blogger CarpeOro May 09, 2018 9:30 AM  

I'd put my money on MVC being correct. With Israel on the one hand:
1) A military constrained by geography to be peremptorily offensive
2) Decreasing technical edge
3) Decreasing morale edge (don't forget what Napoleon said)
4) Shifting demographics point toward a less intelligent recruiting pool
1) Long term theocratic Muslim regime (40 years almost)
2) Possible nuclear power
3) Economic stagnation, growing population
4) With strong political connections across the Fertile Crescent increasing their influence
The ME and world in general:
1) Multiple internal conflicts in the ME with outside participants backing each side
2) ME fueled by petro-dollars, which have been fluctuating toward the downside
3) Islamic tenet of jihad and/or oppression of non-Muslims
4) Global debt bubble

All in all, a powder keg with at least two of the pivotal players looking at a closing window of opportunity. Israel because of their fading edge, Iran because external wars are the best way to let off pressure on the regime in a violence prone nation.

Blogger S. Misanthrope May 09, 2018 9:33 AM  

I wonder if part of the decline in morale comes from becoming part of the Middle East culturally . The Israelis I know (in the US) often display a lot of sympathy particularly for the Iranian people, who are not in control of the Iranian government. They have Muslim friends from various countries, some that have been or are enemies of Israel. They have one foot in the West and one in the ME culturally it seems. Hard to go to war against a regime like Iran when the soldiers you have to kill remind you of your friend at the kebab shop.

Blogger KPKinSunnyPhiladelpia May 09, 2018 10:19 AM  

Israel has only one problem, and it's Iran.

The PLO and Hamas are manageable. The first is so corrupt it's easy to work around them and Hamas is an annoyance -- sometimes a deadly one, but an annoyance nonetheless.

The collapse of Syria will be seen as catastrophe for Israel, as it allowed Iran to "come to the rescue" of Assad and the Alawites. A pre-civil war Assad regime was horrible, but a post-civil war Assad regime is beyond diastrous in that the exchange of bodily fluids with the Mullahs means an alliance too terrible to contemplate.

As van Creveld has noted, Israels postition has to be OFFENSIVE, and more clashes and battles with Hezbollah. It's going to be ugly, especially if the IDF is not up to the fight.

The only hope Israel has now is that the Mullah regime collapses, and that Iran can somehow revert to some form of a more or less secular state. That's a very very low probability event.

Blogger Hammerli280 May 09, 2018 11:04 AM  

I've been anticipating a campaign against Iran for a while. Especially if the Israelis and Saudis are on the same side - and it looks like they are.

The simple fact is that the Middle East has adjusted to the existence of Israel. The Palestinians have proven problematic house guests, and I doubt anyone would cry overmuch if the Israelis bulldozed Gaza into the sea.

Which leave Iran as the major regional troublemaker. And I would not be surprised if an air campaign were launched against their regime...or some serious covert action to destabilize it. A coup would be ideal.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd May 09, 2018 11:36 AM  

VD wrote:The Haredi are serving in the IDF. The larger problems are the continuing decline in morale, the continuing influence of feminism ...

So, if we're going to blame the poz on the Jews, then the Israelis, who face an existential threat from the poz, have to answer the Jewish Question.

Or maybe we (and the Israelis) just accept that you cannot maintain Western Civilization without Christ. I guess that would be an answer to the JQ.

Blogger steve brown May 09, 2018 12:07 PM  

@22 I hope you are correct! I also hope Trump will demand support from the UK & France. We and the Saudi's should band together to insist on that coup or overthrow.

Blogger Peaceful Poster May 09, 2018 2:41 PM  

Or maybe we (and the Israelis) just accept that you cannot maintain Western Civilization without Christ. I guess that would be an answer to the JQ.

The Jesus Question

Blogger DonReynolds May 09, 2018 4:35 PM  

"IDF intelligence has often failed to predict some of the most important events. That included the 1967 war..."

Simply untrue, the proof of which is the fact that Israel attacked FIRST in the June 1967 war. The opening shots fired during that war was the surprise air blitz of Egyptian airfields after the routine morning patrol flights. They were not expected and much of the Egyptian air force was destroyed on the ground. Yes, they then had air supremacy, but not before.

"Furthermore, in all its wars from 1948 on the IDF has enjoyed near-absolute command of the air."

Simply false. The Israeli air force was practically non-existent in the 1948 war. There were some WWII-era German aircraft that were crated in Czech and smuggled to Israel, but there was no opportunity for even contested air space in 1948.

Blogger DonReynolds May 09, 2018 4:49 PM  

The fundamental Israeli problem is....they can only lose ONE war. No matter how many wars they win or fight to exhaustion or fight to a standstill, they cannot survive losing any war. The moment they lose, they will cease to exist....politically, militarily, and physically.

Israel's neighbors can suffer defeat in war. They can be humiliated. They can lose enormous amounts of military hardware in the dessert and the arms suppliers will train and supply replacements in a short while. This has happened several times in the last 70 years and it does not matter if the arms suppliers are British, American, French, Russian or Chinese or a combination of many others. All that Israel's neighbors need is more warm bodies to put in uniforms and money to pay them, which their birth rate guarantees. All that is missing is more weapons for the new fighters.

Blogger Mr.MantraMan May 09, 2018 6:59 PM  

Frisky time on the Golan

Blogger LP999-16 May 09, 2018 7:20 PM  

Thank you Dr. Van Creveld!!!

Blogger Michael O'Duibhir May 09, 2018 8:41 PM  

The Israelis and the Saudis--which one of them will knife the other in the back first?

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