The two top ministers in the new Netanyahu government both have big plans. While overlapping at some points, the two will certainly butt heads on others. Finance Minister Yair Lapid in particular has his eye on deep cuts in defense spending to reduce the budget deficit. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon plans to do away with such ambitious military programs as the Chariot Tank Mark 4 and the “Tiger” APC. But his blueprint for restructuring the Israeli Defense Forces will definitely cost big shekels.
Yaalon’s innovative blueprint is influenced by a pervasive new concept that the big Arab armies which attacked Israel in the past have been relegated to obsolescence by the Arab Revolt and the decline of the Egyptian and Syrian armies – the first crippled by economic calamity and the second, debilitated by more than two years of fighting a civil war. Ergo, according to this concept, Israel is now for the first time in its 65 years no longer menaced by a large professional army capable of waging a full-blown war.
Is full-scale war really outdated?
This concept is criticized by debkafile’s military sources as far from fail-safe and short-sighted.
If fails to take into account the threats of a nuclear-armed Iran and its armed forces launching a war of extinction against Israel in the course of 2013; and a Lebanese Shiite Hizballah hugely expanded into a fully-fledged military force, armed with tens of thousands of missiles.
That the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s secret militia designed on the lines of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards may link up with the still robust sections of the Egyptian armed forces cannot be ruled out; or a mutiny in parts of the Syrian army for joining forces with radical Islamist rebel groups to wage jihad on Israel.
The IDF is already being drawn into its first covert activity in Sinai and South Syria. In the current incendiary climate, full-scale combat could erupt on three of Israel’s borders, Egyptian Sinai, southern Syria and Lebanon.
And to the east, the sudden fall of the Hashemite throne could drag Israel into an unforeseen conflict on an unforeseen scale.
Taking advice from spymasters
In 2008, when he was appointed Minister for Strategic Affairs in the former Netanyahu government, Yaalon, 63, carried over the work methods he cultivated as chief of staff. He gathered around him a brains trust of valued advisers, consisting mostly of senior players from Military Intelligence and the Mossad, rather than army generals like his predecessors. These spymasters and undercover mavens kept him up to the minute with input and insights for his policy decisions in the constantly shifting regional environment.
Ya’alon has also chosen to break with another of his predecessors’ practices by strictly delegating his department’s many tasks. Management of the armed forces is left to the incumbent chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, and his professional GHQ, and the running of Israel’s sophisticated multibillion military industries to professional executives.
This leaves the minister free to perform as policy-maker and find the right answers to the country’s core national security issues, which he sees as standng up to a prospective nuclear Iran, attaining a budget matching his ministry’s program and the restructuring of Israel’s military assets.
Get the US aboard an Iran strike
Yaalon’s perspective on Iran is clear: Israel must do its utmost to win America as partner before embarking on an attack on Iran and its nuclear facilities.
But if Washington rules out any form of attack and Iran is on the verge of acquiring an operational nuclear arsenal, it will be up to Israel to embark on a unilateral offensive – even without American participation.
A swelling stream of intelligence has reached the US and Israel in the last few months attesting to the speed with which Iran is amassing enriched uranium and developing nuclear-capable weapons.
Ya’alon has therefore started coming around to the conclusion that, if in the course of 2013, Washington still holds back from military action to curb Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon, Israel may find it has no choice but to go it alone.
Alongside the perils of a nuclear Iran this year, the new minister perceives the unresolved war on Israel’s doorsteps with the pro-Iranian Shiite Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006 and Hamas’s seizure of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s 2005 disengagement as two dangerous pieces of unfinished business. He has long believed that both radical terrorist groups are crouched for the right moment to pounce and overrun Israel’s borders. Ultimately, he believes, Israel will be forced to settle these issues by military initiatives before they blow up in its face.
HIzballah’s involvement in the Syrian war on behalf of the Assad regime, Yaalon believes, has boosted the radical Shiites’ confidence in its ability to vanquish Israel. He is certain that the Lebanese-Israel border will never be peaceful until Hassan Nasrallahy’s Shiite army is decisively defeated and disarmed (as mandated by UN Security Council resolution 1731) and sections of southern Lebanon south and north of the Litani River are recaptured by Israeli forces as a buffer.
The IDF’s radical overhaul
Yaalon’s planning for the revolutionary overhaul of the Israel Defense Forces from the bottom up is in its final stages, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources first reported (in Issue 580 of March 22).
The crux of the proposed new structure is the substantial downsizing in stages of the IDF’s ground and armored forces, starting with the heavy Chariot 4 tank and large Tiger troop carrier units. He believes the time has come to do away with the classical divisions, brigades and professional corps, such as artillery and tanks, which characterize a conventional army, and replace them with small, self-contained armies capable of operating independently.
Each such mini-army would be equipped with its own attack helicopter, tank, artillery and special forces units and self-supply facilities.
In contrast, the Defense Minister aims to expand the Navy, Air Force and Missile Arm for the key task of securing Israel’s airspace and territorial waters. Special Forces units will additionally secure these strategic spaces.
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.
The sum total of Moshe Yaalon’s redesign for the IDF will scarcely entail savings in Israel’s defense spending. The reverse is more likely.