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Israel's New Army Chief Has an Ambitious Plan

But there's one obstacle in Aviv Kochavi's way

Amos Harel
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File photo: Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (R) takes part in a Givati Brigade, February 2019.
File photo: Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (R) takes part in a Givati Brigade, February 2019.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Amos Harel

Three months into the tenure of Aviv Kochavi as chief of general staff, his plans for the IDF are starting to become clearer. The general outline has been marked out and preliminary steps have already been taken. But whether the ideas being formulated by the general staff go forward is dependent on others.

First, the next cabinet will have to make time to discuss them, after the coalition negotiations and the assignment of portfolios. Then – and this is the most important hurdle – budgetary adjustments will have to be made before the new five-year plan can be approved.

It seems as if Kochavi is expecting abundant resources to be allocated toward his procurement plans. But it’s the politicians who will decide how much of a priority military procurement will be compared to other pressing issues, from hospital overcrowding to the failing public transportation system.

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It is reasonable to assume that the next decade will see a continuation of the instability in the Middle East that intensified with the shake-up in the Arab world at the end of 2010. This is accompanied by the increased threats of rockets and missiles aimed at the Israeli home front, the development of the terror groups surrounding Israel (Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, Hamas) into organizations almost at the level of armies, and the technological changes that put advanced threats at their disposal, some of them purchased on the private market. These can range from navigation systems to malicious computer programs.

Over the past decade, the countries of the region have been primarily preoccupied with themselves, with civil wars against the background of power struggles between the dominant camps in the Middle East: the Shi’ite axis lead by Iran, the Sunni axis, the Islamic Brotherhood movements and friendly regimes (Turkey, Qatar, and for a short time, Egypt as well), and radical Sunni organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaida. In the main, Israel has been maneuvering between these camps with considerable success.

These trends, along with the Iranian nuclear threat being deferred by the signing of the Vienna agreement in 2015, allowed the Israel Defense Forces to focus its multiyear Gideon plan on long-term processes, with less concern about a possible war with one of its neighbors or a confrontation with an outer-circle state like Iran.

But a long-term plan must also take into account the possibility of the nuclear threat returning (if Iran decides to abandon the nuclear agreement, a step it hasn’t yet taken despite the United States’ withdrawal from it a year ago), as well as a possible regime change in those countries in Israel’s immediate surroundings.

Kochavi gave a hint about his intentions in his inaugural address on January 15, when he spoke about the need to improve the level of the IDF’s “lethality.” This is a military term that makes civilians hearing it uncomfortable, but there’s a lot of logic in it. In short, it means the pace at which enemy targets are destroyed. The point is to prepare the army for the greatest possible achievements in war – causing maximal harm to the enemy and seizing control (if necessary) of territory, in the shortest possible time with the fewest possible casualties. All this must take place while maneuvering through dense urban environments in which the enemy is hiding in the heart of civilian populations, while aiming at least some of its fire at Israeli population centers.

In his multiyear planning, Kochavi has established two basic principles – readiness and change. To improve readiness, preparedness for a large-scale military operation or even war has been upgraded (with the most relevant theater being the Gaza Strip). In this, Kochavi is continuing the steps taken by his predecessor, Gadi Eisenkot, to beef up training, munitions stocks and supplies. He has also decided to accelerate the pace of preparations for a confrontation in Gaza, despite the ongoing efforts to reach an arrangement with Hamas, to update plans in all theaters and to conduct more in-depth research into targets to attack in wartime.

The principle of change is based on a series of measures, among them changing the concept of how the IDF should operate during a war, developing multi-force maneuverability (in which the air force and the other forces are more involved in ground operations), creating a uniform computerized communications system for all the branches and forces, and the broader use of war simulators for large units.

Moving forward, however, depends to a large extent on a dialogue with the security cabinet and the government, and obtaining budgets – and all this is meant to happen before the IDF gets another real test. The most recent results, from the failures during the Second Lebanon War to the frustrating draw in Operation Protective Edge, were far from satisfactory. Today, even the army admits it.