Three years after the missed opportunities of the Second Lebanon War and less than one year after the accomplishments of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the IDF is gearing for the next war, which is unlikely to spare central Israel.
Four of the Israeli Defense Forces senior commanders spoke to Ynet about the challenges of the armed conflict looming ahead.
"We are not heading towards war but we are getting ready for one – there's a big difference," says Combat Intelligence Corps Commander Brig.-Gen. Eli Polack. A veteran of the intelligence community Polack said the lessons learned form the summer of 2006 are extensive and that the IDF has since upgraded its training, weapons and operational battle plans.
"The most important thing is the fundamental change the army underwent since then, both inside and out."
Today's soldiers know what they are up against, says Armor Corps Commander Brigadier-General Agai Yehezkel. "No one thinks encountering the enemy will be a walk in the park, and we're making the effort to bolster field commanders' confidence.
"Everyone knows we cannot afford a repeat performance the likes of the Second Lebanon War. There's a newfound understanding that when you go to war – you war until the very end."
The war, they all agree, was somewhat of a life-changing event as far as the military was concerned; and the different approach to military campaigns was evident during the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
The future, however, is a different story altogether.
Nevertheless, said Yehezkel "Every commander is well aware of the difference between Gaza, with its minor, though dramatically-seeming firepower, and what might happen in the north. The challenge will be dealing with asymmetric fighting, which amplifies the innate firepower of explosives and anti-tank weapons, along with long-range rocket capabilities.
Knowledge is power
Chief Artillery Officer Brig.-Gen. David Savisa agrees: "The enemy's capabilities have improved on every level – quality, quantity and range. The premise is that the entire country will come under threat. The military rear as well as the home front will become vulnerable and we are gearing up for such a scenario. We will know how to keep (the threat) to a minimum."
As for the possibility that Tel Aviv might come under fire, Yehezkel said that in such an event, "The military will need to be given the leeway to ensure that the majority of Israel is out of missile range."
Engineering Corps Commander Brig.-Gen. Moshe Shelly was more specific: "Firing at central Israel will carry devastating consequences for the perpetrator. I believe – I know – who ever will be responsible for it will be made to pay a hefty price, and I believe the enemy, Hezbollah, is aware of that as well.
"You have to remember that the IDF's capabilities are tenfold higher of what it used in Gaza. The destruction it can introduce is formidable."
Polack (R), Yehezkel (M) and Shelly (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
When asked – in view of near constant threats exchanged between Jerusalem and Hezbollah – what might spark a new conflict, Savisa said the IDF is unlikely to be the first to pull the trigger: "Anyone who thinks that there is an instant solution that can destroy tens of thousands of rockets at once is daydreaming.
"We have to make (the enemy) realize that firing isn't worthwhile, we have to target their motivation and I think we're doing a good job at that."
Change starts form within
One of the complex issues the IDF has had to face is the unconscionable use terror groups make of civilians population.
"The enemy will most likely continue doing that, leaving us no choice but to inadvertently harm innocents," said Savisa. "We've learned how to deal with that, how to separate civilian elements form military targets and the extensive use of precise fire (systems) greatly minimizes civilian casualties.
"The battlefield will never be sterile and we will do anything to hit our targets. We have nothing to apologize for. Many more civilian lives would have been lost had we deployed differently or used less force (in Gaza), and that's the message the other side got – civilians cannot be used as shields."
The best example of how society views the change the military has undergone can be found in youth motivation, they say: The IDF's combat units have never been more popular among teens joining the armed forces – some even tripling the numbers of new recites asking to join their ranks.
The new recruits, they added, are technologically savvy and are very aware of military workings. Parents involvement, they noted, also steadily increases.
Cut from a different cloth
The IDF has found itself in the eye of several public storms recently, pertaining to abuse among the ranks and conduct unbecoming by officers. The public criticism, the four said, is more than legitimate.
Israeli society, they noted, is within its rights to demand the top echelon of leadership – military included, and especially those charges with protecting their children and the country – be cut from a different cloth.
When asked how Gilad Shalit's abduction and lengthy captivity affects their troops, Shelly said the matter is somewhat of a non-issue: "When you're a part of an operational unit it's all about the mission.
"The soldiers don't waste time on things like probabilities – they trust their training and that of the people around them."
Polack, however, said that he believes that amongst themselves the troops do discuss the issue. "Any one of them might have his own concerns. A lot of things can happen when you go into battle and abduction may not even be the worst case scenario."