Leadership: Reorganizing Israeli Forces

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August 21, 2007: As a result of the 2006 Lebanon war, Israel has decided to shift more money and effort into upgrading its ground forces. This will mean less money for the air force, and a delay of several years in getting the new U.S. F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.

Even before the 2006 war broke out, the army and air force were having many disagreements on future threats, and how to deal with them. The basic problem was a different outlook on planning and risk. The air force sees warfare as a much tidier, and predictable, affair than does the army. In this respect, the air force and navy are closely aligned. Both are technical services, who are used to exercising more control over their forces than do army generals. The army sees warfare as more unpredictable, and has adapted to that unpredictability. The Israeli army generals were skeptical of the air forces ability to take down Hizbollah from the air, and the army guys proved to be right.

During the last decade, air force generals have come to believe they have a decisive weapon in the form of smart bombs. These were actually developed and used, with success, at the end of World War II. But by the 1970s there were laser guided bombs. Very accurate, but very expensive. By the end of the 20th century the price had come way down, and the air force believed it was now the dominant service, with an unbeatable weapon.

This is the attitude that got the Israelis in trouble last Summer. That all began when, for the first time, an air force general became Chief of Staff (head of the Israeli armed forces.) He went along with air force plans to crush Hizbollah from the air. But here the Israeli air force fell into the same trap that had gotten the U.S. Air Force into so much trouble over the years. Despite the best efforts of Israeli intelligence, Hizbollahs efforts to secretly build bunkers in southern Lebanon were largely successful. The Israelis knew Hizbollah was fortifying the areas along the Israeli border, which Israel abandoned in 2000 (in an effort to bring peace to the area). Israel knew something was going on, but depended largely on aerial reconnaissance (jets, UAVs and some spy satellites) to identify what Hizbollah was doing. Based on this intelligence, the Israelis worked out plans for they would deal with Hizbollah, via air and artillery attacks, if war came. War did come during July, 2006, and it was quickly discovered that Israeli intel had missed many of the bunker complexes. These were then discovered, with some difficulty, by Israeli ground troops.

Not only are the Israeli ground troops getting new weapons and equipment, but two more armored divisions are being formed, using Merkava II tanks that were put into storage several years ago. This indicates some concern that Syria might be tempted to try another war with Israel, perhaps in cooperation with Hizbollah and Iran. This sounds like a real long-shot, but when dealing with dictators and Islamic militants, the insane becomes more probable.

 


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