IDF Top Brass Must Learn From the Mistakes of the Past

In the military sphere, the only things that change are the wars and the characters.

Come November 3, with mid-term elections behind him, U.S. President Barack Obama will have the opportunity to denounce those he views as responsible for the fading of the regional peace process. If he assigns blame to Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak will find it difficult to explain why he doesn't resign. But even the appointment of a new defense minister is unlikely to alter the most senior pairing of Israel Defense Forces commanders, the designated chief of staff, Yoav Galant, and his deputy, Yair Naveh. Only a particularly dramatic development would reverse the appointments.

Galant and Naveh, both former commanders of the Gaza Division, continue the IDF's decade-old tradition of naming the chief of staff and his deputy in tandem, with a clear preference for division commanders charged with routine security operations (the West Bank, Gaza, 91st Division in the Galilee, and the Lebanon Liaison Unit ) over the 36th and 162nd Division commanders in the Armored Corps. This reflects the lessening importance of experience in conscript formations, and it must be considered when weighing the costs and benefits of dealing with Palestinian terrorism over the last decade.

The growing tendency to boast of victory on this front minimizes the price paid in casualties and the indirect price of eroding the IDF's other capabilities. Whoever claims the IDF emerged victorious in the territories between 2000 and 2006 but lost in Lebanon in 2006 must also acknowledge the deleterious impact of the former on the latter.

The current General Staff, in addition to Gabi Ashkenazi, includes three generals who served during the Yom Kippur War: Amos Yadlin, Gershon Hacohen, and Ami Shafran. The next generation, including Galant and Naveh, is familiar with 1973 only through history lessons. A spate of recent articles about the war rehashed old material more than it contributed to a renewed understanding. Unmentioned, but critical to our grasp of that grim chain of events, was the extent to which the political leadership refused to acknowledge the possibility that Egypt and Syria would well exploit the status quo of no peace and no war. That status quo served as the central platform of Israel's ruling party just prior to elections.

There were also missed military opportunities. Gen. (res. ) Uri Naaman, then a young officer in the information gathering department of Military Intelligence, headed a "forewarning committee" responsible for research between 1971-72. Their report, entitled "The Book of Warning Signs" [of war], detailed 150 possible indicators on the Egyptian front and another 100 on the Syrian front. Naaman's commander, Yoel Ben-Porat, instructed his charges to mark in red the most ominous signs. If two-thirds of the indicators were marked, then the war alarm was to have been sounded, regardless of the perceived intentions of the enemy leadership. In 1973, following the resignation of then-MI chief Aharon Yariv, this approach was, for whatever reason, abandoned.

In the run-up to the war, Israeli leaders were trigger-happy in conducting - and at times instigating and escalating - border clashes but hesitant when it came to strategic decisions on war. This explains why the bold operational plan known as Green Light was shelved; it called for the airlifting of landing craft to the western bank of the Gulf of Suez and thus bypassed the Suez Canal front to penetrate it from behind. On August 13, 1973, less than two months before the war, the entire General Staff, including the head of the navy, Bini Telem, was astonished by a military drill demonstrating the landing capabilities in the coral reefs of Sharm el-Sheikh. Had the idea been put into practice, much as Gen. Douglas MacArthur executed his landing at Inchon during the Korean War, it would have spared Israel the hundreds of fallen soldiers who died while crossing the canal to its western bank 10 days into the war.

To protect the armored alignment from being drowned during its short, 30-km. crossing of the canal, Israel needed to establish air and maritime superiority. The complacency of Israel's leadership, which did not foresee another war until 1975, resulted in the failure to put in motion a plan to sail warships around Africa and stationed in the Red Sea. During the war, the leadership was deterred from carrying out the plan despite the success of naval commando units and the Dvir ships. Entreaties from the deputy chief of staff, Israel Tal, and the commander of the front and future navy commander, Ze'ev Almog, did not help.

The IDF's new higher-ups need to know when a red light is flashing in front of them and when they must utilize opportunities for operations like Green Light. They must also know that during a crisis, the political echelon will abandon them to their own devices. The only things that change are the wars and the characters.