Opinion

The IDF's Much-needed Revolution of Consciousness

The bloody doctrine of 'containment' must give way to decisive victory, which will cause the enemy to lay down its arms. Only then can peace be imposed upon it

File photo: An Israeli soldier sits in an army Merkava tank during a military drill in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, February 12, 2019.
Jalaa Marey/AFP

This week it was reported that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is planning a “victory workshop”, with the participation of members of the army’s general staff and selected brigadiers general. They will discuss how they define a “victory,” and how to attain it.

Has Kochavi finally come to the realization that despite its force and power, the IDF has not had a genuine victory since the 1973 Yom Kippur War? Does he recognize the fact that because the army has not fully completed even a single military operation, we must engage in endless rounds of combat in the north and in the south?

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At a farewell for Kochavi’s immediate predecessor, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, held by the senior command, Col. Roman Gofman stood up and put an abrupt end to the smug atmosphere. “General,” the commander of the celebrated 7th Armored dared to say to his departing commander: “I wanted to tell you that we are ready and we want to fight, but you are not activating us. For a long time there has been an extremely problematic pattern.” Gofman later addressed Kochavi: “In the current situation we have a lot to offer, in the Gaza Strip, in Lebanon and in Syria. Anywhere it’s needed. ... There is only one problem,” Gofman repeated. “You are not activating us.”

According to more than a few battalion and brigade commanders (and division commanders), the “current situation” is characterized by an unwillingness on the part of the senior command — and the political leadership — to reach a decisive outcome in the military encounters with the armies of terrorist organizations. A decisive outcome is only possible through the deployment of large ground forces that do not settle for (and sometimes, as in the Second Lebanon War, beg for) a cease-fire. The outgoing deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen Yair Golan also warned that the ground forces are being neglected, according to remarks attributed to him that were reported by Ynet news website.

Generations of senior officers, trained on a doctrine of “containment,” did not give Israel a genuine military victory. At the graduation of an officer training course in 1955, then-Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan said that “the quality of the demands we make of ourselves has a special significance.” Hezbollah is threatening Israel with tens of thousands of missiles. The air force can only destroy some of them. “The demands we make of ourselves” in facing this enemy must be destroying its forces in a comprehensive ground operation that ends only when this is achieved. It will exact a toll, but if fully completed it could be the last operation, after which we will not need to battle that terrorist army again, with the blood cost it entails. This also applies to Hamas in Gaza.

At the Bahad officer training school and in in-service training for junior and midlevel officers, the terms “victory” and “the demands we make of ourselves” are mentioned, but usually as theoretical concepts, applied mainly in special forces’ operations. Neither these forces, nor even the air force, are capable of causing the enemy to lay down its arms. Only a large, determined and winning ground force can do this. And only when the enemy lays down its weapons can peace be imposed upon it. That is how most of the world’s peace agreements were achieved.

The chief of staff would do well to clarify his understanding of “victory.” The IDF must have a revolution of consciousness: that is, to abandon the endlessly bloody doctrine of “containment” and to reclaim the goal of attaining victory for the purpose of ending the wars. Once we achieve decisive victory over Hezbollah and Hamas — and there’s no doubt that it’s possible — we can divert some of the defense budget into health, education, welfare, infrastructure, public transportation and hundreds of other areas that are being neglected as a result of the huge sums being allocated to the armed forces. It’s not beyond our reach.