Dr Roni Bart

Government must decide now on IDF priorities in next war with Syria

In case of war, most military efforts should be directed at targeting Syrian missile, rocket arsenal

In the event of war against Syria, Israel will face a fundamental question: Should most efforts be directed at the Syrian missile and rocket arsenal in order to remove the threat against the home front, or should we focus on defeating the Syrian army, and as a result of that, end the war?


The decision must be taken by the government and not by the army. This will determine emergency plans, equipment, training, and the use of force. By not making this decision, the IDF would be forced to prepare for the two alternatives and the decision will have to be taken only upon the outbreak of war under non-optimal pressure conditions.


There are three reasons to choose the first option:


First, the army’s job is to protect the country’s citizens – in light of the number and range of Syrian rockets and missiles, hundreds of civilians may be killed. Secondly, the perception of victory or defeat will be determined based on the state of the Israeli home front. Achievements on the war front will not overshadow the sense of failure and image of weakness to be created by sustained and grave home front damage.


Thirdly, the missile and rocket arsenal built by Assad Sr and enhanced by his son is the main arm of the Syrian army through which it hopes to achieve strategic balance vis-à-vis the IDF’s ground and air superiority. Therefore, this strategic arm must be the main target and we should act against it using the anti-missile Arrow system, “hunting operations” by the Air Force, and the extensive use of airborne troops using helicopters deep in Syrian territory.


The second option has a different rationale: There is no way to destroy all the missiles and rockets, and certainly not the rockets that threaten Israel’s northern half, as Syria will always maintain significant firing capability. Therefore, the way to bring about an end to the fire would be to win the war in the classic manner (overtake territory and destroy the enemy army,) thus causing Syria to end the fire.


The gist of the effort, therefore, should be directed at a ground maneuver in order to breach Syria’s defense positions en route to Damascus. In addition, occupying territory is a clear indication of victory and is commensurate with the army chief’s declaration that the next war should end in an unequivocal manner.


No existential danger

We are not talking about choosing between two “pure” alternatives, but rather, a decision on the character of the main effort. Because such war does not present a danger of defeat, and certainly not an existential danger, the first option – protecting the lives of citizens – is better.


Moreover, despite the IDF’s tendency to go back to the ethos of a winning ground maneuver, it is not even clear whether Syria can be “defeated” through occupation and destruction. The Syria army is skilled when it comes to retreat battles and holding patterns, and the dense defense positions between the border and Damascus will require a battle that would exact a high human toll and take time, while the home front continues to sustain blows.


In order to more effectively address the short-range rocket arsenal, push back the Syrian ground threat, and etch a perception of victory, it would be good to advance about 10 kilometers (roughly 6 miles) to the east and also capture the Syrian Hermon mountain.


It is not necessary to decide to adopt the option preferred in this article. Yet it is important for the Israeli government to scrutinize this issue at this time already. Even if it prefers to avoid a decision now, at least when the time comes decision-makers will be deeply familiar with this complex and critical issue.


The writer heads the US desk at the Institute for National Security Studies



פרסום ראשון: 09.09.07, 21:59
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