Moshe Ya’alon, 63, just appointed defense minister in Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, spent most of his long years of military service in elite paratroop units, before rising to chief of staff from 2002-2005. He was an outstanding commander of Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli equivalent of the American SEALs and its top commando unit.
It was during his stint as chief of staff, that Ya’alon developed the habit of gathering around him at weekends a group of valued and high-performance commanders for brainstorming sessions. He drew on this regular small and intimate “think forum” to provide extra depth and multidimensional thinking for his perspectives on current situations.
This custom persisted after he shed his uniform and went into politics in 2008 as Netanyahu’s Vice Premier and Minister for Strategic affairs. The support team he has put together since of senior players from Military Intelligence and the Mossad has kept him up to date for policy decisions in a constantly shifting environment.
Ya’alon has chosen to break with some of his predecessors, like Ariel Sharon or Ehud Barak, who as defense ministers acted as virtual chiefs of staff themselves. He prefers to delegate, entrusting the management of the armed forces to the reigning chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, and leaving the IDF’s high command and its operational tactics in the hands of professional soldiers, in the same way as he means to leave the running of Israel’s sophisticated military industries to professional executives.
The defense minister’s motto: Delegate
By delegating these tasks, Ya’alon will draw a strong line between the professionals and himself as senior policy-maker. It leaves him free to focus on finding the right answers for three overriding issues vitally affecting the country’s national security:
1. Iran’s nuclear aspirations;
2. Designing Israel’s final boundaries after disposing of extremist threats;
2. Shaping the defense budget around the enhancement of Israel’s military might.
The new defense minister is very clear on his approach to Iran, which is that Israel must do its utmost to win American partnership before proceeding to attack Iran and its nuclear facilities.
Only if Washington rules out any form of attack and Iran is on the verge of obtaining an operational nuclear arsenal, must Israel and the IDF undertake an offensive on its own, independent of a US role.
A swelling stream of intelligence reaching the US and Israel in the last few months attests to Iran’s rapid progress in piling up enriched uranium and developing weapons for the delivery of nuclear weapons.
It has brought Ya’alon around to the conclusion that 2013 will be the decisive year for action. And if Washington decides against a military strike, it will be up to the Israeli prime minister to authorize a solo operation.
To secure its borders, Israel must reclaim S. Lebanon and Gaza positions
Along with the perils of a nuclear Iran, the new minister perceives the unresolved wars on Israel’s doorstep with the pro-Iranian Shiite Hizballah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip as abiding threats to its borders that will ultimately foist on Israel the need for military initiatives.
The advent of the Syrian civil war, now entering its third year, and Hizballah’s active combat on behalf of the Assad regime, have strengthened Yaalon’s long conviction that unfinished business with Hizballah since the 2006 war ended without a decision, and with the Palestinians over Israel’s unconditional disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, are destined to blow up one day in Israel’s face.
Israel’s border with Lebanon will never be peaceful, he believes, until the Hizballah militia is defeated and disarmed (as mandated by UN Security Council resolution 1731 but never carried out) and sections of southern Lebanon south and north of the Litani River are recaptured.
Yaalon, who fiercely opposed the Gaza disengagement plan executed by Ariel Sharon, then prime minister, maintains that this tiny, militant enclave will continue to menace Israel militarily and strategically so long as the IDF does not recover its former positions in the southern region and cuts the enclave off from Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.
Cyber unit as important as air force and navy
Extensive planning for the restructuring of the Israel Defense Forces from the bottom up is partially completed, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report.
The defense minister proposes the substantial downsizing to the minimum of the IDF’s ground and armored forces in stages, starting with the heavy Chariot 4 tank and large Tiger troop carrier units. He maintains it is time to do away with the classical divisions, brigades and professional corps like artillery and replace them with small, self-contained armies which would operate independently of one another.
Each mini-army would be equipped with its own attack helicopter, tank, artillery and special forces units and self-supply facilities.
At the same time, Ya’alon plans to substantially expand the Navy, Air Force and Missile Arm for securing Israel’s airspace and territorial waters. Defending these strategic spaces will also call for special forces units.
He ascribes equal importance to the establishment of a new cyber warfare command, our military sources say, and plans to earmark for this new unit a generous allocation in the next defense budget.