No intelligence or military pundits in the West or the Middle East can predict exactly when the next round of combat between Israel and Iran will begin. It could burst as suddenly on the scene as did the Lebanese war in mid-July, but most experts fix on some time in the coming year. Two sensitive timelines are December 2006 to February 2007 and the summer months between May and August 2007.
These predictions do not leave the Israel Defense Forces nearly enough time to bone up on the lessons of the Lebanon War, remedy the defects and re-configure for the coming campaign. The IDF is faced with Herculean tasks, say military experts in the West and Israel, for which the high command must first overcome the fallout it has suffered from that war.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts say the Israeli army needs go straight to the essentials by launching crash programs for redesigning its capabilities and add new ones in the light of the lessons learned in the Lebanon war.
The first priority is the complete overhaul of Israeli ground forces.
Smaller units with greater mobility
- The conventional IDF infantry units of companies, battalions and brigades proved outdated, ineffective and ungainly when they came up against the combat techniques which Iranian Revolutionary Guards instilled in Hizballah fighters. While Israeli ground forces claimed the upper hand in every hand-to-hand battle with the Hizballah, the Lebanese Shiites moved strength between sectors with greater agility. The IDF’s movements were relatively slow and reinforcements often arrived too late, often by 48-72 hours.
- When they did arrive, Israeli troops were found to be untrained in methods of countering Iranian combat tactics, which are based on a well-camouflaged, fortified bunker system which drew on a mishmash of military doctrines borrowed from the Japanese in World War II, the Viet Cong and North Korea.
- Specifically, Israeli troops had not been taught to handle two coordinated enemy groups, one of which fought from the bunkers and the other sprang out from well-camouflaged spots outside. They found that capturing such a bunker was only the first step in the battle; fresh mobile Hizballah units armed with the latest anti-tank missiles fell on the Israelis trapped underground. This gambit forced the Israeli force to abandon the fortified tunnel at speed while incurring heavy casualties and regrouping to capture them anew.
- The Lebanon War therefore taught the IDF that its conventional combat formations are too cumbersome; needed today are units able to provide environmental protection against the fast-moving Iranian outer forces, on the one hand, while also functioning within the primary battle arena amid reciprocal cover, on the other. A high degree of mobility between points must be preserved.
- Such tactics call for many more field officers and commanders per unit – often double or triple the present numbers – than the classical companies, brigades and battalions.
- The IDF is therefore confronted with the need to train many thousands of fighting men as commanders, as well as teaching them new combat methods and the use of new weapons systems able to contend with the new Iranian assault arms. In Lebanon, the IDF was up against anti-tank rockets used on a massive scale, especially in night combat, as well as short-range Iranian surface missiles.
- One key decision taken by the defense ministry in Tel Aviv without delay was to restart production lines for the Merkava tank and armored vehicles – both for better protection for the troops and for higher mobility.
- DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that another decision taken is to extend the use of all-terrain vehicles ATV’s such as Honda manufactures from elite units to armored infantry as a standard form of transport. This would also provide an answer to Hizballah’s increasing military use of fast motorbikes.
- Reservist ground units must catch up on years without training. Some of the units fighting in the Lebanon War graduated from their last courses in the use of tanks in night warfare in 2000.
- Military intelligence researchers working on the type and scale of the next round of warfare agree that the IDF can expect to find itself up against large-scale Syrian and Iranian commando units dropped behind Israeli lines. The IDF will therefore need to deploy combat troops in large numbers on the front lines and further to the rear. They must be swift and mobile enough to anticipate and taken on the dropped enemy troops.
This project of remodeling Israel’s ground forces cannot be accomplished in short order. It requires between 18 and 24 months. Even with as many short cuts as possible, at least 6-10 months will be needed to fully prepare the infantry for the next war. Therefore, Israel’s war planners have come to terms with the impossibility of preparing all the necessary forces fully in time for the next round. In battle they will have to fall back on the talent for improvisation to meet changing combat situations which Israeli fighters demonstrated in the IDF’s younger days.
Missile warfare will dominate the next conflict
Israel’s air force, navy and artillery units will also need to undergo adjustments, judging from the findings on the Lebanon War and intelligence evaluations of the chances of a second round of fighting erupting on the same front.
One key finding is that Hizballah’s forces, command structures and logistical system came out almost unscathed from Israel’s massive air assaults and dense artillery bombardments – and carried on functioning. Therefore, there was not much point in hurling vast quantities of ordnance of every type, including laser-guided bunker busters, onto Hizballah strongholds.
The most important prediction is for a war dominated by missile warfare, with the enemy using quantities, power and ranges of missiles well beyond anything experienced by Israeli military leaders and home front, even in the war of summer 2006.
Iran and Syria both possess large quantities of medium- and long-range surface missiles of Russian, Iranian and Syrian manufacture. The task to destroy them before they land in Israel will fall to the air force, intelligence and special operations units.
This is all the more important given that the Israeli population has no protection against a high-grade missile assault and would take heavy casualties and damage.
In the Lebanon war, the three key branches of the armed forces failed to synchronize in combat operations; the transmission of orders and intelligence from the General Command to field units was held up by all sorts of snags and faults.
The IDF needs time to achieve smooth interaction between the various branches of the armed forces. It may not have as much time as it needs.