Special Operations: September 16, 2004


After five years fighting the Palestinian "Second Intifada," the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has made a number of evolutionary changes to transform itself from a force designed to fight short, rapid conventional wars, to being able to manage a continuous low-intensity conflict. The Israelis prefer the term "sub-conventional warfare" as it encompasses low-intensity conflicts, counter-terror operations, and various forms of guerilla warfare. 

Over the past 15 years, Israel has fought a range of actions from the unarmed first uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza from 1987-1992 and 18 years of guerilla warfare in South Lebanon from 1982-2000. Today, Israel is involved in continuous fighting in the West Bank and Gaza as a pre-emptive measure to disrupt terrorist bombings within the State. It is a far cry from the traditional strategic doctrine of inflicting short and decisive blows against threatening or invading forces, with Syria being perceived as the main threat. Armor and Air Force jets were the primary tools of force and (deterrence). 

Instead, the primary force deployed in the West Bank and Gaza is the light infantry, with helicopters playing a key supporting role. Heavy armor and warplanes have a supporting role. Instead, even armored and artillery units get in-depth training in urban warfare skills, once the sole providence of special forces units. The IDF has established mock-up Palestinian villages and is building a larger urban training center in the Negev to allow battalion-size exercises. 

However, senior Israeli officials are worried that the IDF is losing some of its basic skills in conventional warfare. Some troops have never been trained in certain "conventional" (i.e. traditional conflict) scenarios and an effort is being made to retain conventional skills, putting all troops through a conventional battalion exercise and some will get a brigade-size exercise. 

Another change has been to shift the IDF force structure from a small regular army based on a large reserve force into a larger and more professional army with a smaller role for reserve units. More infantry battalions were established and a number of reserve tank units traditionally the heart of IDF ground combat power have been shut down, with hundreds of tanks decommissioned. In addition, the discharge age for reservists has been lowered from 45 to 40, freeing up 60,000 slots. Reservists will be called up for training in case of national emergency (i.e. if Syria comes calling), but will no longer be called up for routine operational activity. 

Finally, information warfare and PR spin is playing a major role in IDF operations. Commanders speak frequently about the impact of operations on public opinion and operational orders now regularly include a media appendix dealing with the operation's likely perception in the media and how it should be presented to the public. Doug Mohney


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