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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mideast Crisis To Drive Future Needs

This article originally appeared in Defense News, but you can now find it here. Note particularly General Ganz's comments.

Hat Tip: Yisrael in Shilo

Mideast Crisis To Drive Future Needs
Israel Wants More Active Defenses, Better Intel

While the final chapters of the 2006 Lebanon war have yet to be written, far-reaching lessons are already evident to one member of Israel’s high command who authored the first draft of the nearly five-week-long work in progress.

For example, Israel needs to better defend its civilians against rocket attack, while its troops need better armor and active defenses against anti-tank missiles, and systems to detect and destroy tunnels.

What has come as a surprise to many here and abroad is what appears to be a faltering, underwhelming display of Israel’s reputed military might.

That’s because Israel’s war against the Syrian- and Iranian-supported Hizbollah is not being executed as originally planned, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Gantz, commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Army Headquarters, told Defense News in an exclusive interview.

According to Gantz, broader “legitimate and reasonable” considerations by Israeli political leaders served to alter the timing in which the four planned phases of the war have been executed. The former paratrooper stressed the psychological and societal factors underlying the government’s reluctance to re-enter the Lebanese quagmire, Israel’s own version of America’s Vietnam.

Instead of the rolling, sequential campaign initially conceived — up to a week of standoff air-land battle, a three- or four-day intensive ground control assault, more than a month of what he called “cleansing” operations and another two to three weeks to return to the border — IDF ground forces still have not begun full-strength ground maneuvers, Gantz said Aug. 10.

“We planned for a bullet train, but what we got was an urban bus with several stops,” he said of the planned nine- to 10-week operation which should have driven down the rocket threat to Israel’s homefront within two to three weeks.

While unstated, Gantz seemed to blame himself and the system for the huge disconnect between war planning and reality.

“The concept I described was divorced almost completely from other [political] considerations, which were perfectly legitimate, but not necessarily operationally correct,” he said.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched its offensive July 12 after the Shiite militia attacked an Israeli outpost on the Lebanese border, killing eight soldiers and abducting two.

At press time, more than 80 Israeli troops had died in fighting, most at the hands of a highly trained and motivated enemy using sophisticated anti-tank weapons, good communications, knowledge of the local terrain and a network of tunnels. Forty Israeli civilians have perished under a barrage of more than 3,500 rockets and missiles fired by Hizbollah.

Hundreds of civilians in Lebanon have been killed in the course of Israel’s bombing campaign across the country to destroy Hizbollah and its store of rockets. Israel claims it has killed nearly 400 Hizbollah fighters, a count that the Shiite militia refutes. Few have been captured, said Reserve Brig. Gen. Shuki Schacur, deputy commander of the Northern Command, “because they fight to the death.”

It remains unclear how much longer Israel has to press its offensive as diplomats at the United Nations race to halt the fighting and station multinational peacekeepers to calm the region in hopes of fostering a long-term settlement.

‘Introspection and Debate’

As the commander of the special liaison unit operating in south Lebanon with the IDF’s own Lebanese Christian proxies, Gantz and his men were the last Israeli troops to vacate the war-torn country in 2000 after a costly and publicly divisive 22-year occupation.

For the past five years, as corps commander and then top boss of Israel’s entire Northern Command, Gantz had been studying the enemy, managing periodic eruptions and planning for the war against Hizbollah now unfolding.

While many in Israel, including those in leadership positions, had arrogantly dismissed Hizbollah as a terrorist gang, Gantz was one of the few who eyed the enemy with professional respect.

“When we started this planning, I said I didn’t want to deploy a single soldier there,” he said.

“My force was the last to leave and I couldn’t stomach the thought of going back. … But after months of careful study, I understood that if we didn’t put in three divisions, we wouldn’t get out of the situation with any meaningful advantage.”

Gantz firmly refutes those who faulted Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, IDF chief of staff and former Air Force commander, for a misplaced reliance on the air campaign.

“There was absolutely no one in any military leadership position who claimed airpower alone could deliver the goods,” he said. “But the political level wanted to maximize the standoff firepower and the air campaign and, if there wasn’t any other choice, to implement the ground war.

“From the aspect of building and fortifying [domestic] legitimacy, I recognize this kind of introspection and debate [leading up to the Aug. 9 Cabinet decision for a large-scale ground offensive] had to be done, despite my professional military opinion that it should have been done three weeks ago,” Gantz said. “But now that we have the domestic legitimacy, we need to get on with the big offensive. … All the rest will have to wait for serious evaluation when it’s all over.”

Immediate Lessons Learned

What is painfully clear is the need to defend against high-trajectory rockets and short-range missiles, said Gantz, who now is entrusted with designing, training and equipping Israel’s land combat force.

“Now we have no active defense against Katyushot and short-range rockets, and we will need to invest in this area,” he said.

Gantz and others, like Uzi Eilam, a retired IDF general and former military research-and-development director, acknowledge that even the most capable system will be unable to defend completely against the type of salvos that have terrorized Israeli citizenry over the past month.

Nor, they say, will Israel be able to afford enough systems to completely cover broad areas.

“But at a minimum, we need to have a robust, deployable capability to defend highly populated and strategically sensitive areas,” Gantz said.

Eilam admits that Israeli decision-makers within the General Staff and Israel’s Ministry of Defense, himself included, “didn’t give proper respect for this threat.”

He said Israel’s defense establishment will be forced to include new parameters in the cost-benefit calculations driving military development decisions.

“This war surely has taught us that we need to start calculating all those nonconcrete benchmarks, such as damage to morale and deterrence,” Eilam said.

Another huge lesson that Gantz said will require extensive assessment is the desired balance between airpower and other precision, stand-off strike systems and ground-maneuver capabilities.

Citing the U.S. military’s campaign to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, “The Americans fired 40 Tomahawks and delivered an awesome air offensive, but in the end, it was the guy on the ground who pulled Saddam out of the ground,” he said.

Gantz also said the General Staff will have to rethink its traditional tendency to target reserve force training for the first hit when confronted with difficult funding priority decisions. Likewise, he said, training for active-duty forces should not suffer as much during budget-cutting exercises.

“In the beginning of this war, we took a battalion [Givati infantry] from Gaza and moved them north, into an entirely different doctrinal, technological, threat-driven theater,” Gantz said. “We pounced on them and equipped them with all the tools they need in a matter of hours. And even though they performed superbly when they got into the war, it shouldn’t have to be done this way.”

Lesson on Reserves

Another immediate lesson drawn directly from the fight is Israel’s need for more war reserves.
“This is an entire field onto itself, and engineers and statisticians will have to figure out what are our optimum requirements. … The emphasis here is not on quality, which we have, but on quantity,” he said.

As for new weaponry, Gantz agreed with many former defense officials that the MoD should expedite development of an active protection system to defend tanks and armored vehicles from the type of anti-tank missiles and rounds used so effectively by Hizbollah forces. Gantz also said Israel will have to give higher priority for armored heavy mechanized forces and other ground vehicles.

Israel’s MoD has developed and tested the Trophy active protection system, developed by Rafael, and another system, the Iron Fist, by Israel Military Industries, but funding constraints have slowed the transition to procurement.

Referring to Trophy, the more advanced of the two systems, Shmuel Yachin, a retired brigadier general and former military research and development chief, said, “If we would have had a budget decision in time, we could have had a few dozens of tanks with this system fighting up north.”

Finally, Gantz acknowledged a priority to develop capabilities for detecting and destroying tunnels, a threat that has confounded Israeli troops in the north and in Gaza. And while the threat differs in the two theaters, Gantz said more efforts will be needed to determine a mix of capabilities needed to deny the enemy this effective underground warfare capability.

New Systems Deployed

The greatest achievement, said Gantz, is the Northern Command’s ability to quickly equip brigade and below echelons with the IDF’s new Tzayad, or Hunter, digitized command-and-control system. He noted that Northern Command’s brigades were not scheduled to begin receiving these capabilities until the end of this year.

“It’s unbelievable, but we went from zero to five, almost six digitized brigades during the war fighting,” he said.

Gantz said results were immediately discernable in the ability of the digitized brigades to apply firepower “much smarter and more effectively.”

He credited technical representatives of Elbit Systems and other industries, who were deployed just inside Israel’s fighting front, for working around with the IDF to integrate these needed capabilities.

Another Elbit system, the Skylark tactical unmanned aerial vehicle, saw operational fighting for the first time. Imagery from the Skylark was used to actually locate and destroy many Hizbollah launchers, Gantz said.

“Our ground forces had their own independent overhead imagery, which gave them a capability they never had before,” he said.
The bottom line - as I see it - is that the civilian (political) echelon, with no military experience declined to implement the strategy that the IDF wanted to implement. While there were several IDF failings as described, they pale compared with the civilian failings.


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