Uzi Moskovitcho on the far right
Uzi Moskovitcho on the far right Photo by Alon Ron
Text size

The entire government and defense establishment spent the week preoccupied with extensive exercises for the home front, in preparation for a potential war. And this begs the question: What's happening on the other side of the equation?

If our point of departure is that any future confrontation - certainly one in the north - will involve thousands of missiles and rockets bombarding Israel's civilian population, what can the Israel Defense Forces do to stop the salvos - a challenge the IDF failed to meet in the 2006 Second Lebanon War?

Last month, Brig. Gen. Uzi Moskovitch concluded his stint as commander of the 162nd Division, a large armored formation that includes numerous regular and reserve infantry, armor and artillery units. Four years ago, the division fought (and was contained ) in the central sector of southern Lebanon in the unfortunate battle of Wadi Saluki. It's safe to presume that every significant combat plan in the coming years will have to rely in part on the 162nd.

Moskovitch, who speaks cautiously, does not think there is a big risk of a war in the north this summer. He does, though, believe such a confrontation will occur in the coming years. Hezbollah, he says, has improved. "No one is sitting idly, and that's true for them, too. But ultimately, the 'delta' [the disparity between the improvements on each side] will be in our favor."

That being said, Moskovitch does not foresee a speedy victory. "Forget victory. That's too philosophical a notion. If you state something like, 'There will be no steep-trajectory [long-range rocket] fire on the home front in the second week of the war,' I will tell you that there's no chance of that. There will be fire.

"We try too hard to categorize Hezbollah based on models," he continues. "They are not an army, not a guerrilla organization and not a terrorist organization - but, rather, all three. They have terrorism's combat morality when it comes to firing rockets, though they have never invaded an Israeli community. They operate by guerrilla methods, and they have army-level rocket-launching capability. It's the hybrid war that military thinkers around the world are now talking about. Hezbollah has deep roots in Lebanon. They are not like Fatah, which was ensconced there until 1982. The organization's combat zone is in southern Lebanon, its nerve center is in Beirut, its logistical rear is in the Lebanese Bekaa, its operative rear in Syria and its strategic rear in Iran. And all of that has an authentic, strong support base in Lebanon."

Should a confrontation occur, Moskovitch says, "We need to deal the organization a serious blow in each arena, aside from what we define as outside the game. Lebanon will be hard-hit in a confrontation. We will also be able to tackle the popular elements of the [organization's] support to some degree.

"What will this accomplish? As in other rounds of fighting - Operation Defensive Shield, Operation Cast Lead - you have to inflict significant damage to lengthen the pause between this round and the next."

Since the war in 2006, the IDF has again sanctified the offensive maneuver, the ground thrust by infantry and armored troops deep into enemy territory. Training for these maneuvers had been neglected, something that had drastic consequences in that war.

Moskovitch, a tank man who has commanded three armored divisions in the past six years, also backs this approach. "If I thought that clinging to this maneuver were something Pavlovian, I would say so," he maintains. "But that is not the case. The fact that the maneuvering went badly in 2006 does not mean that we have to sanctify the opposite. Maneuvering is almost the only way to inflict serious damage in the combat zone. It will not be simple. It's not certain that we will have 34 days, like last time, with the whole world wanting us to beat them into a pulp.

"The land forces' mission will be to deliver a harsh blow to Hezbollah, a multi-system blow to all the organization's components. To that end, maneuvering will take center-stage. The firing [precision air and ground fire] will succeed to whatever extent that it does. In any event, there will be no repeat of what happened in 2006, when the targets ran out after a few days due to insufficient advance intelligence."

The intelligence question

In the next confrontation, if there is one, one question will again be how much advance intelligence to share with the field forces.

"It's a real quandary: between the benefit of having each company commander know what awaits him, and the risk of having him leave some sensitive document in the garbage. I think our division has found the proper balance. There was a general policy, and it gave me some latitude. Clearly, if you reveal too little, people have to absorb a great deal in the staging areas, which causes excessive pressure. In certain things, the GOC Northern Command, Gadi Eizenkot, gave me a freer hand. Still, I didn't want to move things into the field, because I know what crates in a field battalion look like. It's not the polished headquarters of a division."

In Operation Defensive Shield - when the IDF re-conquered West Bank cities in the spring of 2002 - Moskovitch was the commander of an armored brigade in the regular army. "There was no serious resistance then, apart from Jenin," he says. "We moved very quickly from holding ground to attacking the terrorist infrastructures. In Lebanon, if there is a flare-up, it will take longer to seize the ground, and the results will also depend on how much time we have to mop up the area. In Ramallah we seized 10,000 rifles, and there wasn't a room that wasn't searched. I don't assume it will be like that in Lebanon. The proportions will be different."

Moskovitch, 46, has been in the Armored Corps for his entire army career, apart from one staff post (operations officer of Central Command ). The IDF is sending him to a U.S. military college for a year. He has been the commander of the 162nd Division for the past two and a half years. His innate cynicism, a relatively rare trait in the IDF's upper ranks, liberates him from any attempt to curry favor or assume an establishment tone.

During the 2006 war, Moscovitch was the commander of the Tze'elim base in the Negev, the central ground forces training base. "The war was a ringing slap," he says. "As a system, we did not really understand what we didn't know. We did not imagine the scale of the disparities into which we plunged ourselves. Maj.-Gen. Yishai Bar was one of the lucid voices warning about the training neglect. The fact that Yishai was then the president of the IDF appeals court shows that sometimes the perspective of an outsider is useful.

"Like the horse and the oats, we got used to eating a little less every day. We thought this was the reality and that there was no other solution."

This resembles what President Ephraim Katzir said after the Yom Kippur War: "We are all to blame."

"I agonize about the overall picture. We were all there, and it was a good group of people. But I look mainly at myself, as a member of the directorate. At some stage you get accustomed. There are no shekels. There's foreign aid [American aid]. We use shekels to pay for 5.56 mm bullets and for reservists' training days. So we cut back from one training exercise a year to one every three years. We got used to that. On the ground, we did not monitor the fitness of the units properly. There was no red flag, like a squadron commander has when a pilot does not fly a particular course for a certain amount of time, after which he is operationally disqualified."

Ground operational fitness is not an exact science, he adds.

"In the air, it's quantifiable. Capability is measured in terms of a pair of planes, at most a formation. Now we have a computer system that measures fitness and stockpiles for the ground forces, too. It can also show red flags, though not with the mathematical precision you have in the air force.

"It sounds trivial, but it's not. After the war, I headed a sub-team that examined the reservists' fitness. I asked the team to find out the last time battalions that fought in the war had taken part in a training exercise that involved fire. It took us more than two months to come up with the data, and we had to summon people who were no longer in the IDF in order to find the computer files. It sounds idiotic.

"The answer we got was equally surprising. It had been four years and 10 months since the last fire exercise. Many reserve units were neglected; the brigades that trained more frequently did better. At the extreme end were units that hadn't trained for almost six years. That was a huge shock - for me, too. I had been at Tze'elim for quite a few months when the war broke out, and until then it had never occurred to me to even ask the question. No one at Army Headquarters had asked: What are the figures about the training exercises of the Northern Command units, which indeed were later called up for the war?

"That, after all, is an indicator of our situation. It's hard to judge in retrospect, but some people say we should have dismissed 2,000 career people and cut salaries, in order to train more."

Moskovitch adds: "After the war, our self-confidence was undermined. It was very important to return to training. It took a year and a half for the regular army to restore the bulk of its professional standard, to re-accumulate the necessary critical mass. For the reserves, it was a little more than two years. I can say, at least from what I saw in the 162nd Division, that we won't find our jaws dropping in astonishment again in light of a professional disparity, as happened after the last war."