Israel’s Armed Forces Undermanned, Under-equipped for War
Since the beginning of the week, Israel’s top military commanders have been poring over the situation of the Israeli Defense Forces in a workshop called by Ehud Barak who took over as defense minister two months ago. Some of their most alarming findings were presented by Barak at his first news conference in Tel Aviv Monday, Aug. 21 in advance of the ministry’s presentation of its budget requirements.
Not all of the findings were news after disastrous deficiencies were brought to light in the ill-managed 2006 Lebanon War against Hizballah. But the negligence was now frankly traced to 1994 and 13 years of budget slashes by one government after another, including the one headed by the defense minister himself. They have left Israel’s armed forces deprived of the three security capabilities which Barak deems essential to Israel’s survival in a hostile environment: deterrence, early warning and victory.
To restore these capabilities, Barak outlined a program, the highlights of which are to reconstitute two disbanded reservist divisions, improve tank armor to withstand armor-piercing missiles and effective, active interception measures to protect the population against enemy rocket fire.
debkafile‘s analysts note that, for the present, the IDF offers early warning – but not deterrence; the burning drive to prevail over the enemy was seen wanting in the Lebanon War and missing in dealing with the plague of missile and mortar attacks from Gaza, the daily fare of the neighboring Israeli population.
Senior officers told our sources: “The IDF is not only short of funds to meet its objectives, but also lacks sufficient manpower. It would take at least 10 years to rebuild and retrain the armed forces. The question is: what do we do in the meantime?”
According to debkafile‘s sources in Jerusalem, prime minister Ehud Olmert refuses to approve funding for two additional armored reservist divisions, for accelerating the development of the Iron Dome system against short-range missiles and rockets, for fitting Israeli tanks with an extra layer of armor against anti-tank missiles, and for manufacturing the new Nimrod armored personnel carriers that would make the infantry much more maneuverable in the terrain where combat is foreseen.
The new defense minister is also calling for a long IDF operational arm which can strike deep inside hostile territory in such places as Iran, Syria, Lebanon and, if necessary, beyond. debkafile‘s military analysts report that the continuing budget deficiencies which hobble Israel’s military at large, also deny it the air power, missiles, submarines and specialist training for such long-range capabilities.
The under-training of special operations units was starkly conspicuous in the Lebanon war, in particular the Baalbek raid. Military experts agree that if Barak wants to achieve a swift victory against Syria in the event of war, IDF forces must be able to move very fast and take the battle across the lines deep into hostile territory so as to seize the initiative from Syrian commando forces. They may find they are also up against Iranian Revolutionary Guards flown in to back up the Syrians.
The manpower for such missions is in short supply at present.
debkafile‘s military sources point to four factors which need to be taken into account in the immediate future:
1. The rapid arming of the Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah armed forces financed by war budgets estimated as threefold or four times that allocated the IDF.
2. The danger of a simultaneous war flare-up on three of Israel’s borders. The IDF is better prepared for a multi-front conflict than it was a year ago, but the population remains defenseless against possible rocket attacks.
3. Israel’s policy-makers have not kept up with the rapid development of weapons technologies in the world, which is drawing on experience in the Iraq War and other conflicts. Hizballah, too, has made great strides forward. The fact is that interceptor systems for short-range missiles, such as the Iron Dome which Israel has tardily decided to develop, have been proved ineffective for protecting a civilian population. The American and Japanese armies have dropped it and gone back to tactical mobile high-energy laser weapons for countering rockets, artillery shells and mortars. Israel’s military industries began to pioneer this type of weapon a decade ago, but were forced to abandon their work by, yes, loss of government funding.
4. The long neglect of Israel’s military capabilities must be attributed largely to unrealistic fixations at the top of Israeli governments on peace prospects with the Palestinians and Syria and their failure to factor in Iran’s creeping domination over the military and diplomatic strategies of its allies and proteges. Even now, Israel’s leaders are blinding themselves to the fact that Tehran’s undivided focus on annihilating the Jewish state governs the policies of three of its neighbors, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinians.
Barak’s stress on deterrence, early warning and victory is timely and right but unworkable so long as the heads of Israeli government and society refuse to rearrange their priorities. Soldiers will not be inclined to fight to win in a climate of concessions to active hostile forces, budget cuts and indifference to their needs.
As one high-ranking military source put it, “The IDF is the people’s army. Unfortunately it now mirrors a people whose leaders’ top priority is a strong economy and who allow a select affluent elite to exempt their sons and daughters from military service, while the bulk of the fighting men are put up by the majority low-income classes.”
To make the doctrine held by Barak work, the IDF must be able to call on highly proficient soldiers of all ranks, who can devote their attention wholly to operating complex systems and are not distracted by worry about their impoverished families at home. For high-tech weapons, a sufficiency of high-quality manpower is required.