April 13, 2007:
The Israeli armed forces admitted
that many of their reserve units were not ready for combat last Summer, when
Israel went into south Lebanon to get at Hizbollah. The last time the IDF
carried out a large scale combat operation was in 1982, over two decades ago.
Since then, the IDF has been engaged largely in police type stuff, mainly
against the Palestinians. At the same time, reservists did not like getting
called up for active duty a lot. But reservists were needed for security duties
in the Palestinian territories and on the Lebanese border. So combat training
for reservists was cut back in many units. This saved money, and meant less
time in uniform for reservists. It was popular, and critics (who knew this made
reservists less combat ready) could safely be ignored. There were some pretty
vocal critics to this over the last twenty years. They were brushed aside with
the observation that Israel's likely enemies were in even worse shape. This is
true, but it does not change the fact that the Israeli reservists who were sent
into Lebanon last month did not perform as professionally as Israeli troops did
in the 1980s. This was particularly true with tank, artillery and engineer
units. These units have often been used as infantry in the last decade, to
assist in counter-terror operations. This meant that their primary skills,
operating tanks, artillery or engineer equipment, were not kept current.
This situation was particularly acute in northern
Israel, where reservists were often sent to central Israel over the last few
years, to help stem the Palestinian terrorist bombers (who were particularly
active from 2000-2005.) Otherwise, things were pretty quiet for the Northern
Command, which watches the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
Cutbacks on reservist training are being reversed,
especially for the non-infantry units. The Israelis need fewer infantry for
counter-terrorism work now, because the security fence going up on the West
Bank border, which has reduced the need for troops to patrol this frontier, and
keep the suicide bombers from sneaking in.
Israeli reservists only get a few days of training
each year, and when that is sacrificed for a counter-terrorist emergency,
skills corrode. The army wants to increase this reserve training to ten days a
year, but will probably only get the money for five days.
The United States has also taken many artillery,
tank and engineer troops and transferred them to infantry duty in Iraq.