Israel’s War Readiness: Prepped as Never Before
JNS.org – A recent report by the Israeli military’s ombudsman fiercely criticized the IDF’s war readiness. It’s a criticism that has touched a nerve among senior military command levels — and for good reason, as war readiness has been at the top of the agenda of the IDF since 2015. The report, by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yitzhak Brick, is the latest installment of an ongoing critical look by him at the IDF’s preparation for war.
The report didn’t go unanswered for long. In recent days, senior IDF officials delivered a presentation before the defense minister, showing him why the IDF was better prepared for war than ever before. According to Army Radio, the presentation detailed drastic improvements made in recent years, and was aimed at rebutting Brick’s claims.
Knesset Member Omar Bar-Lev (the son of former IDF chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev), the chairman of the subcommittee on IDF war readiness, told Army Radio a different story from the one Brick was telling. “The situation is good,” he said. “Is it good enough? The answer is no.”
A military establishment can never quite know if it is prepared for war until one erupts and its preparations are put to the test. Nevertheless, the IDF, under the leadership of the current Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, has been working diligently, relentlessly, and strategically to create a level of war readiness that has probably never existed to date among the ranks, despite ongoing issues and imperfections.
The DNA guiding these preparations can be found in the Gideon multi-year plan, which went into effect in 2015 at the initiative of Eizenkot. Now entering its fourth year, the Gideon plan has created clear improvements in Israel’s war-readiness preparations. The Gideon plan, itself an expression of the official IDF strategy, is a compass guiding the way the military is building up its forces, while at the same time fighting something called “the war between wars” — the ongoing, low-profile campaign to hamper efforts by Israel’s enemies to build up their own force.
The IDF is unique among Western militaries in its need to both build itself up for the future and engage in daily security operations on multiple fronts, located all around the homeland.
As part of the Gideon plan, the IDF has earmarked NIS 7.4 billion for training and defined the level of readiness that each of the three branches — the air force, the ground forces, and the navy — must attain. This set the stage for an unprecedented training program to begin in 2015, representing a major increase in training time for forces. Currently, conscripted forces are conducting 17 weeks of combat training for every 17 weeks that they spend on active security operations as part of their emergency readiness.
Several new urban-warfare training centers are under construction to better replicate the actual conditions that units would face. Existing training bases are being upgraded. The training programs themselves are heavily influenced by the latest intelligence assessments on what the battlefield and enemy will look like.
To enable the units to train this much, the IDF has created new light-infantry battalions, whose exclusive job is border defense. They take the burden off the war-fighting units, which are designed to take part in offensives, freeing them up for essential training.
One of the latest manifestations of the plan is something called the Gideon Brigade combat team, which mixes battalions from the infantry, the armored corps, and other units.
Many additional structural changes have occurred, designed to adapt the IDF to the challenges of asymmetric warfare in the 21st-century Middle East, a reality in which enemies are armed with major arsenals of rockets and missiles, and employ urban-warfare tactics. It is a reality in which non-state actors have state-level weapons.
Guided by the understanding that air power alone will not suffice in any full-scale war, the IDF has been focusing intensively on its ability to conduct a powerful and speedy ground offensive, if necessary. New-generation tanks, equipped with protection systems that intercept incoming missiles in mid-air, and new-generation armored personnel carriers are rolling off the production lines. A new commando brigade has also been set up housing the IDF’s elite special forces, which will be assigned critical roles in any future war.
All of these units have been linked up to a digital military “Internet” network. It allows field officers to scan enemy-held neighborhoods with their smartphones and receive real-time visual data on the location of enemy forces lurking inside the buildings. The field forces can then order precise fire strikes on such targets with the press of a button.
The air force, for its part, has created an unprecedented level of firepower, and is today capable of destroying thousands of targets per day in the event of a full-scale war. Cooperation between the air force, the ground forces, the navy, and intelligence has also been significantly boosted.
Meanwhile, along the border with Gaza, the IDF is expected to complete this year an underground barrier to destroy Hamas’ cross-border tunnel capability. New barriers are going up along the Syrian and Lebanese borders as well. Active air-defense systems are also continuing to undergo developments and improvements, with the latest system, David’s Sling, going online in recent months.
This description of war readiness is very partial, but it provides an indication of the level of preparation taken thus far. Israel is indeed ready for future conflicts.
Yaakov Lappin is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment, military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.