Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The IDF Gets it Right. Mostly.

Today's release by the Foreign Ministry of Israel of "Gaza Operations Investigations: Second Update" is worth a read. The report makes clear that Israel legitimately cares about reducing civilian casualties. However, it is too strongly focused on the tactical level, while ignoring strategic and doctrinal considerations.

This is not unexpected considering both the conduct of the IDF in Operation Cast Lead and the IDF's history. A focus on tactics has positioned Israel as the country with the world's best counter-terrorism techniques, and a leader in tactical weapons. Yesterday's successful test of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and the 205 million dollars the Obama administration gave to fund it, are signs that Israel is a leader in the tactical elements of warfare.

Tactics are pervasive in IDF history. Most Israelis serve at the tactical level and understand better than most Americans ever will the kinds of technical and logistical challenges combat brings. Israel's military victories have all been described in terms of tactics. Thinking of Israeli military success conjures the brilliance of landing aircraft in the darkness of Entebbe, bombing Egyptian airfields during the pilot's breakfast time in 1967, and targeting the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq with pinpoint accuracy.

But overlooked in contemporary Israeli military planning are critical considerations of the larger strategy and doctrine. The ineffective blockade on the Gaza strip, which causes hardship for 1.5 million people to without tangible security benefits for Israel is a prime example.

This disparity has become more pronounced as Israel shifts from fighting conventional states to non-conventional actors. The strategy of a war is to use force to defeat the enemy. But how to execute this strategy is much clearer when the "enemy" is Egypt or Syria, and much harder when the "enemy" is Hamas, or IHH activists attempting to violate a naval blockade.

Doctrine too has gone underexamined. The principles of counterinsurgency are sorely lacking in Israel's approach to the occupied territories and southern Lebanon. While today's report from the Foreign Ministry emphasizes protecting civilians, it views this protection as a moral consideration rather than a strategic asset. Foreign policy is seen as the art of public relations to keep an antagonistic world at bay, rather than a critical component of Israel's long-term security.

The cost of these oversights has been paid in human blood.

The soldiers of the IDF are not to blame for these oversights, and they are not to blame for Israel's losses. They are constantly asked to do the impossible, and many times succeed in doing so. With few exceptions, they are good, hard-working, dedicated, moral individuals.

And it is their commitment to the IDF and Israel's security which obligates Israel's political leadership to take responsibility for Israel's security by reexamining its strategy and doctrine. Israel's leadership should better integrate the political and military considerations of defense. Specifically, it should:

1) Include counterinsurgency in its planning. The inefficacy of trying to "flip" a population by the strategy of denying it basic needs is evident after 5 years of a failed Gaza policy. Alienating Israel's Arab population by underfunding their villages and suggesting they should swear loyalty runs contrary to everything we know about minority communities in democracies. Israel needs to be not just good at COIN, but the best at COIN.

2) Examine the global political impact of its doctrine and strategy, not only its tactics. Israel must consider the hearts and minds of not only the target population but the international community as a whole. Do first, spin later has not served Israel as an effective PR strategy. Explaining why commandoes followed the ROE raiding a ship full of civilians means nothing to a pubic who find the Gaza blockade morally questionable in the first place. Israel should understand that the international community will judge Israel by what it does, and not by what it says.

3) Israel should more strongly support a Palestinian security force to protect civilian populations. Protecting civilians is not just nice. It's effective for achieving security interests. For Israel, it will be very hard to win the hearts and minds of a Palestinian population which for over 60 years has viewed Israel as the enemy. However, use of a Palestinian security force which can hold sovereignty over Gaza and the West Bank will be an effective means of strengthening the desire of moderate Palestinians for rights and economic opportunity while isolating insurgents and terrorists. Even if the force is seen as Israel-backed, it need only be dominant and effective at providing people with their basic needs. The Sahwa in Iraq are one of many case studies.

Better integration of Israeli political and military planning will go a long way in helping Israel to achieve its long-term security objectives. It will help improve Israel's standing in the international community. And it will allow Israelis and Palestinians the chance for self-actualization they have never had, and so rightfully deserve.

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