IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s cryptic remark Monday, June 6, that “The Israeli Air Force will next month dramatically change its mode of operation,” meant that a decision has been taken to start directing the IAF’s fire power against military and terrorist targets in the Syrian and Iraqi arenas – in particular the al Qaeda forces foregathering ever closer to Israel’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Jordan. By aerial fire power, the general meant not just warplanes but also Israel’s long-range unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters.
He was lecturing to the Herzliya meeting of the Interdisciplinary Center’s policy and strategy institute.
On May 28, foreign sources were quoted as reporting that the Israeli Air force had shut down its last AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters squadron, which had served manly for strikes against armored and ground targets. Instead, lighter and cheaper drones have been commissioned for use against those targets.
Asked what he meant by “a dramatic change in the IAF’s mode of operations,” Gen. Gantz replied: A different kind of enemy is at our door. It is “more mobile, better at concealment and comes from farther away.”
If we count the jihadists present in the northern part of the map (.i.e., north of Israel) and add them to those scattered in the south and east (Iraq, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula), we come to a total of 50,000 armed Islamist fighters, he said..
So how do we handle them? Two divisions? That may work for the Gaza Strip. But this enemy is widely scattered and not susceptible to our usual military tools. Still, we are obliged to deal with this menace and “we also have the opportunity to do so.”
That was all the chief of staff was ready to say on the subject.
He made it clear that conventional military divisions are obviously no use for combating Al Qaeda’s 50,000 terrorists because they are not a standing, regular army deployed on fixed front lines. They move around stealthily in deeply remote desert regions and wadis, which are often unmarked even on military maps.
But they do have command centers, some of them mobile, and are beginning to take over strategic points in Syria and Iraq, including main road hubs, bridges, small towns and oil fields and pipelines.
The intelligence to support aerial combat against these targets is also different from the kind which supported the IDF hitherto.
Gen. Gantz touched on this when he said: “We understand that we must turn to a method of warfare that hinges on intelligence, which means bringing our intelligence into those places.”
In other words, before Israeli aerial vehicles approach jihadist targets, Military Intelligence Corps combat field units must be on hand, operating over broader stretches of terrain than ever before.
All this adds up to the IDF and IAF undergoing a process of radical change in its military-air-intelligence strategy, which, say debkafile's military sources, brings them close to the American methods of operation in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be introduced after the US troop withdrawal at the end of the year.
It is safe to assume that the two armies will work together in close rapport in the war on Al Qaeda.
The Gantz doctrine has not been accepted by all of Israel’s generals and commanders. On May 21, former Navy Chief, Brig. (Res.) Elie Merom made bluntly critical remarks on what he referred to as the “monopoly on firepower in depth” which Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon proposed to award the IAF. He said this imbalance was unhealthy, that the air force has many limitations and putting all one’s eggs in one basket is asking for glitches and uncertain consequences.
Merom added: “These days, automatic fire can be initiated from any platform just as well and accurately as from airplanes. It’s also cheaper.”
A kind of competitive dispute has sprung up among the IDF’s top generals and commanders over whether it is the task of the armed forces to define and locate targets for the air force to strike, or whether other combat units can manage to provide firepower of the same quality, efficacy and precision as the air force.