IDF’s achievements in 2017 marred by political attacks
Analysis: The past year proved the State of Israel faces no external existential threat and no real threat to its sovereignty and routine life; the Israeli army, however, was threatened by the blatant and unprecedented attempts to dictate a political agenda and a new set of moral and social values on the IDF and on its top commanders.
Moreover, the Arab states, Iran and Turkey are still engaged in the bloody Shia-Sunni battle, and the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are still ongoing. So in the meantime, they are unable to threaten us. According to Arab media reports, moderate Sunni states even need Israel and are receiving intelligence aid from us which their leaders highly appreciate.
There were other developments which positively affected our national security. ISIS lost its huge Islamic state in Syria and Iraq and turned into a regular jihadist organization. This was mostly thanks to the efforts of the US-led coalition, which has the Kurds as its foot on the ground while all other coalition members provide pretty effective intelligence and aerial aid.
The Russians managed to save Syrian President Bashar Assad from the rebels, and received their own seaport and air base in Syria in return. Some people in the Israeli intelligence community and in the IDF have been saying in private conversations that while Assad's ongoing rule is immoral and bad for the Syrian people, it’s not necessarily bad for the Jews.
Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been unsuccessful in his efforts to advance a political agreement in Syria based on a compromise between Assad and the rebels that would end the fighting. The Kremlin is interested in such an arrangement to stabilize and implement the Russian achievements in Syria, but is unable to do so for now. The Israeli defense establishment isn’t really losing sleep over the Russian failure, although it’s clear it will happen in a few more months or even in a year.
The Russians are maintaining polite relations with Israel based on clear shared interests. Unlike what may be implied from comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers, the Iranians are not beyond the Golan Heights border yet. The land corridor, which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards wish to develop from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to Beirut, is still a vision and an aspiration that have not been realized.
And even if the Shiite-Iranian corridor becomes active, it does not pose a dramatic-strategic threat to Israel as certain senior defense officials have been warning. There are those who believe the IDF already knows how to deal with such a corridor and with its ramifications.
And finally, as ISIS continues its intensive clashes with the Egyptian army in Sinai, it is likely unavailable to harass us.
A wise, restrained policy
The year 2017 was a good year for the IDF. The army, the Shin Bet and the police dealt successfully with lone-wolf terrorism and with the escalation following the metal detectors affair. The intelligence and cyber warfare methods were improved, making it possible to track plans to carry out terror attacks through social media and thwart those plans through arrests and deterrence talks with would-be terrorists.
Using a wise and restrained policy, the IDF managed to create a distinction between terrorists and the uninvolved population, preventing the lone-wold attacks from turning into a popular uprising—in other words, an intifada. The IDF essentially learned and developed ways allowing it to sit on a powder keg in the West Bank and prevent it from exploding, at least from now. This is an unstable situation, however, and the next explosion will arrive and will likely be driven by a religious motive.
In the Gaza Strip, the Southern Command seems to have accomplished Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s mission to come up with a comprehensive and efficient solution to the problem of cross-border tunnels from the strip, providing not only actual security but also a sense of security to the Gaza vicinity residents.
The “war between wars” was quite successful in the past year too. According to foreign reports, the IDF—with the help of the Mossad—prevented the transfer of high-quality, precision-guided weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, prevented the construction of factories and workshops for the production and assembly of such weapon systems in Syria and in Lebanon and prevented the expansion of Iranian-backed militias in the Syrian Golan Heights in a way that would allow them to open a new terror front against Israel from there. Equally important is the fact that the IDF managed to wage this secret war without getting into trouble and without leading us to an escalation or a flare-up.
The cyber system development is making nice progress, and Israel’s active anti-missile defense system is nearly completed. The David’s Sling system, which became operational this year, is the most significant component in defending the Israeli home front from precision-guided missiles and rockets with a heavy warhead launched from Lebanon and Syria. The Patriot missiles complement and support this system’s abilities.
The Arrow 3, the upper layer of the active defense system, is already capable of intercepting ballistic missiles in space, but still has to undergo a few tests to prove its efficiency. The Air Force received the F-35 stealth aircraft (“Adir”) and made them operational, and the Ground Corps has already started arming a third brigade with Namer APCs equipped with the Trophy protection system. This is a significant addition to the force that will fight in constructed missile-laden areas in Lebanon and in Gaza.
Most of the components of the five-year Gideon Plan are being implemented as planned, and the IDF seems to have reached its highest level of fitness and preparedness for war since the early 1990s. The war reserve stores need to be imrpoved, but the ammunition and spare parts inventories are full and the ground forces are back to the 17/17 format—17 weeks of training and 17 weeks of engaging in operational activity a year. Several years ago, this was only a dream. The IDF’s Personnel Directorate seems to be coming up with creative but complicated solutions for the lack of professional and skilled manpower in the army, which will be tried out in the coming years.
1982 compared to 2017
This rather positive picture in most areas is overclouded by the troubled relations between the army and the Israeli society in the past year. The chief of staff and the top command were forced to curb a blatant and unprecedented attempt to dictate a political agenda and a new set of moral and social values on them and on them army, which differ from the values adopted by the IDF upon its establishment in 1948.
Had the IDF adopted this agenda and this set of values, it would have likely had trouble functioning as an army in a democratic state and society and as the army of all people rather than just one of the country’s sectors. This attack was led by politicians from the coalition parties—especially Likud, Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu—and it reached its climax in the Elor Azaria affair. The affair didn’t affect IDF soldiers themselves thanks to the quick and efficient work of the different units’ commanders under the orders of the chief of staff and top generals.
But the political pressure to accept an incident in which a dying terrorist was shot the head while lying on the ground as a norm reached dimensions I have don’t recall seeing before: Starting with politicians’ arrival at the military court in an attempt to influence the judges, through wild incitement on social media to death threats against the IDF chief of staff—all in a bid to set new combat norms which contradict not only the IDF’s spirit but also Israeli law and international law.
The mass protests held during the first Lebanon War in 1982, against the siege of Beirut and then against the Sabra and Shatila massacre, were all held in the political arena. The army itself and its combat norms were not targeted. This time, the IDF and its commanders were the target of a wild attack. And most importantly, they were abandoned by the political echelon (apart from the defense minister) and by the government. Some cabinet ministers even joined the attack.
The Azaria affair wasn’t the only event. During the escalation periods in the West Bank, there were blatant attempt to influence the generals’ operational decisions, especially when the IDF went to great lengths to allow the uninvolved population to continue its routine life so that it won’t be motivated to join and help terrorists.
The attack by national-religious rabbis on women’s service in combat roles was another blatant attempt to dictate exclusion norms on the IDF which contradict the values of social equality and democracy. The demand to exempt soldiers from listening to women sing during official events was another violation of the accepted status quo.
The IDF, under Chief of Staff Eisenkot and with the support of most generals, curbed the attack with commendable public-civilian courage. The truth is they had no other choice. If the military leaders had given in to the politicians’ pressure, they would have risked losing the army’s national character and its ability to contain all tribes of the Israeli society. From a “people’s army,” it would have turned into the army of one political sector, causing all others to shirk military service.
The soldiers’ motivation would have worn out too. Lack of motivation among large groups of soldiers serving in the IDF would have led to negative incidents at times of fighting. Furthermore, there was a need to prevent the army from heading down a slippery slope and later turning into a political tool, and prevent a situation in which Israel would defeat Hezbollah or Hamas militarily but would be defeated—like Serbia at the time—in the “soft war over legitimacy” in the international (legal, conscious, moral and media) arena.
This is what would have happened had the chief of staff not worked to curb the attack. The military leaders should be given credit for exercising restraint and avoiding futile battles and over-dramatization, although the attack was—and still is—a real threat to the IDF’s performance and spirit.