Spurred by the swift allied military victory in Iraq and the massive and effective use of modern technology weapons systems there, the need for reorganizing military forces is being widely discussed. Is the Israeli army in need of reorganization?
Nothing really new was revealed to the Israel Defense Forces during the military operation in Iraq. For many years now the IDF has kept up with technological advances and their application to weapons systems. The increasingly dominant role of the air force in modern warfare has long been appreciated in Israel, and found its expression in the size and quality of the Israel Air Force and the funds allocated to it in the defense budget.
Israel's ability to integrate operational experience with the development of new weapons systems is probably unrivaled. The IDF is equipped with many of the types of weapons used by the U.S. armed forces during the operation in Iraq and has shown its ability to use these systems when needed. Yet, nevertheless, consideration should be given to an organizational change in the IDF.
For 35 years, until 1983, the IDF's organization remained more or less as it had been during the War of Independence, structured around the concept that the air force (and for that matter, the navy) were no more than auxiliary services to the ground forces, and that coordination between the various branches of the ground forces - infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, ordnance, communications, intelligence and the logistic services - should be handled at the General Staff level.
This organization tended to neglect the need for close integration of the field forces - infantry, armor, artillery, and engineers - in training and acquisition of equipment. Such integration had become a dominant need with the adoption of modern technology by these services, a need that was clearly demonstrated during the Yom Kippur War.
Although this was recognized for years, internal bureaucratic rivalries in the IDF prevented any organizational change from being carried out, until such time as the defense minister in 1983 directed that the Ground Services Command be set up. This reorganization assured close integration in training and acquisition of equipment between the infantry, armor, artillery, and engineering branches of the ground forces. It still left the operational integration at the General Staff level, through the regional commands - North, Central and South.
Under the stewardship of the former chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, additional functions were more recently added to the Ground Services Command, now renamed the Command of the Ground Branches. But operational integration remains at the level of the General Staff, through the regional commands. Is this organizational structure adequate to meet the needs of a modern armed force, considering the latest technology and Israel's changed strategic environment?
Most of the world's armed forces are organized on the basis of a triad - army, air force and navy - with each branch responsible for its training, equipment, and operation. Israel's air force and navy are also so structured. The Israeli ground forces have, however, remained an exception to this day. Because of the importance of the air force in the IDF's force structure and the need for integrating the ground force's operations with its training and equipment acquisition functions, consideration should be given to unifying all of the functions of the ground forces under one ground forces command, including supervision of the regional commands, and putting the ground forces on a parallel organizational level with the air force. It is a subject that should be put on the agenda of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
No doubt such a reorganization of the IDF will meet numerous objections, as was the case when the Ground Services Command was set up 20 years ago. Some of the objections will probably be based on objective criteria, while others may come from senior officers who feel that their status would be affected or that they might be downgraded by the reorganization.
As was the case 20 years ago, it will probably take a directive from the defense minister to carry out such an organizational change. But if it is found to be in the best interests of the IDF, such a directive should be issued without much hesitation.
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