IDF: Combination of firepower and land campaign can determine duration and outcome of the next conflict

As part of the economic crisis facing Israel, the IDF too is expected to face budget cuts. When the army is forced to make budgetary changes, it must remember: there is no substitute for the capabilities of ground forces, and failure to maintain them could have a very costly outcome.

By Gal Perl Finkel
SOURCE: INSS (Insight No. 1344, July 12, 2020)

In a recent speech, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said that even during the coronavirus crisis, “the IDF continued to prevent and uproot threats,” and to provide Israel with security and stability. This activity, he stated, is likely to be taken for granted, because of the “defense paradox: when there is security tranquility and stability, people are inclined to forget how difficult it is to achieve them,” and they make the mistake of thinking that spending on defense needs can be reduced.

The Chief of Staff warned that many countries, including Israel, have committed this error and subsequently paid a heavy price. His remarks were apparently in response to the economic recession in light of the coronavirus crisis.

In view of the economic and budgetary distress, it is likely that all government ministries, including the Ministry of Defense, will be asked to accept smaller budgets. However, a smaller defense budget is liable to impact negatively on the army’s capability, and particularly the ability of the ground forces, to provide effective security in peacetime and in an emergency, especially in war.

What sort of campaign is the most important? Is it the ongoing campaign between wars, which in part is designed to prevent war, or is war itself the principal campaign? Is the IDF’s primary task to continue its force buildup and improve readiness in preparation for full-scale war?

In today’s region, the opposing sides will usually prefer to stay below the threshold of full-scale war. On the other hand, there are situations that feature a chain of successive responses by the two sides with unforeseen consequences that are likely to culminate in escalation or even war. The IDF must therefore maintain its readiness for both the campaign between wars and for all-out war.

Before the Second Lebanon War, for example, the ground forces’ fitness was severely affected by the 2003 budget cut. However, the theory was that the ongoing intensive operations against Palestinian terrorism would preserve the army’s operational readiness.

This misconception ignored the fact that fighting terrorism is different from what is likely to occur in a campaign like the one in Lebanon. Indeed, the “less than satisfactory” way, as a senior IDF officer put it, that that ground forces operated in the Second Lebanon War demonstrated that neglecting their fitness was a costly decision.

The conclusion is that training the ground army for the purpose of maintaining battle fitness for an emergency requires the continuous investment of resources. This conclusion is also supported by the lessons of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in 2014, which highlighted the same dilemma, although in a less severe way.

The fact that almost the entire regular army taking part in maneuvers fought in this operation was also due to the unfitness of the reserve forces, which did not undergo the necessary training and required a long time to make them combat ready.

There were good explanations for the cuts in both of these cases. The second intifada and the economic crisis on the one hand, and the 2011 social protests on the other, resulted in a decision to cut the defense budget. The IDF, most of whose budget is inflexible and tied to payment of salaries and pensions, regular maintenance, procurement, and force buildup projects, makes cuts where it can, usually in training, based on how it assesses the risk of war.

While the value ascribed to the ground maneuver, which requires a major logistics endeavor and almost always includes casualties, faded, the importance of firepower (mostly precision, but not exclusively) rose.

The reasons are obvious: airpower, for example, is available for immediate and defined action on the other side of the border, and its use falls below the war threshold. Airpower makes full use of Israel’s technological and military supremacy, and utilizes precision-guided weaponry, which reduces the risk to IDF forces and uninvolved civilians.

The IDF currently possesses very effective firepower and intelligence capabilities for combined operations, and the air force is capable of attacking thousands of targets a day. These capabilities were highly impressive against the threat posed by Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2014.

Then too, however, precision firepower, boosted by timely and accurate intelligence, was not enough. The enemy became accustomed to it and learned to evade it, while continuing to launch missiles and rockets at the Israeli home front.

The ground maneuver and firepower did not stop the barrages against the Israeli home front, but they did disrupt and lessen them. The combination of the two is capable of bringing the campaign to a close and leading to a situation in which Israel will be able to force its terms on its enemies – a state of affairs that Israel will seek to maintain for as long as possible. READ THE REST OF THE FASCINATING ANALYSIS HERE