Strategic Attrition Still the Goal of Israel's Enemies
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, chief of staff of Israel's Defense Forces, spoke at the 12th annual Herzliya Conference of the threats and challenges Israel will face this year. This prestigious security and policy gathering, which took place this week in Tel Aviv, was attended by political, diplomatic, and military leaders from all over the world.
New to this arena, as the 20th chief of staff to serve in the IDF, Gantz explained that Israel's history proves that the enemy's tactics have been intended not always to defeat the Jewish State, but sometimes to create a situation of strategic attrition. Today, as in the past, new adversaries are looking for ways to harm Israel's population centers. For five decades, Israel has had to struggle, often combatting terror, along with conventional military operations. "I ask myself every day and night: what challenges do I have to contend with? What challenges do we all have to contend with?" Gantz stated.
After 63 years of independence, defending this tiny democratic state in a hostile Middle East is still a challenge, especially because of Iran's continued threat to destroy the Jewish nation.
Gantz is in charge of assuring that Israel's security on all fronts is as relative today as it was when Israel barely defeated its enemies during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The loss then was great, as it was during the state's War of Independence. But the Zionist dream has encouraged Jewish young men and women to move to Israel and help in the development of a strong army. Gantz pointed out that only in strength can the IDF see a clear, decisive victory over Israel's enemies today. "In 2012, the statement that every young man must take up arms is one that is still relevant."
Not shrinking back from defining the capabilities of Israel's adversaries, Gantz spoke of the extraordinary munitions firepower that can cover all of Israeli territory. "Our enemies are trying to create a fire system that skips over the defense capabilities of the state of Israel and aims directly at Israel's strategic depth." In skipping over that line of defense, terrorist forces like Hezb'allah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza now have the capability of reaching Israel's home front with massive quantities of weapons. These arms have been stored in large munitions warehouses close to Israel's northern and southern borders.
Gantz explained that it is not only a matter of the enemy using missiles capable of hitting most of the Israeli home front. "They want to offset our forces. They know about our advanced technologies, and they want to offset that capability." Gantz also spoke of surface-to-air missiles, mobile launchers with a broad range, and long-range anti-tank missiles in the hands of Israel's foes. "We are seeing the scramble of GPS messages. It enables them to disrupt our naval capabilities," he warned.
Israel keeps a watchful eye on the arsenals of its opponents. For example, Gantz is aware that Hezb'allah continues to receive massive arms shipments from Syria and Iran. To the disappointment of Israeli leaders, Russia is increasing its power status in the Middle East by selling sophisticated anti-tank missiles to Syria. Reports indicate that the laser-guided Kornet and new shoulder-to-air missiles are now in the hands of Hamas in Gaza, most likely originating from Libya. Israel's air superiority is also in danger because of the growing military build-up in the Middle East.
Furthermore, Israeli generals like Gantz wonder whether WMDs in Syria's arsenal, including massive stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, will end up in the hands of terrorists. Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is losing control over parts of the country, and the IDF worries about who will take control.
Israel's armed forces are working on long-term plans that include new fortifications along the country's southern border. However, this is stretching the IDF's resources during a year of defense budget cuts. Yet for Israel, it is essential for the IDF to retain a military qualitative edge over its immediate neighbors. According to Gantz, "[t]he Middle East is the most armed area in the world. And even worse news is that we are the target of those munitions. I think we need to take care of that matter."
Of special concern is the lack of confidence Israel has in the international forces operating in southern Lebanon. The IDF is keenly aware that not only is Hezb'allah after Israeli military targets, or hitting Israel's home front, but the organization is also working against neutral peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, located south of the Litani River.
Another problem for Gantz to solve is that Hezb'allah terrorists know that the IDF abides by a moral code which keeps commanders from conducting retaliatory strikes that could cause too much collateral damage. This happened during the Second Lebanon War. "They exploit civilian areas. In Lebanon, there is a living room and a missile room, and it is in the same house, exactly. This can, of course, make it difficult for us to act," Gantz pointed out. The IDF has a moral injunction to protect Israel's civilians and minimize civilian casualties in enemy territory.
That moral code, however, is seen as a weak point in Israel's defense operations. The IDF is looking for ways to deal with this kind of vulnerability. According to Gantz, "[w]e need to make sure we have a neighboring military intelligence capability in order to find the room where the missiles are, and not just the house."
In addition, the IDF has to take into account the diplomatic and media backlash that would result if there were too many deaths or injuries caused by striking back at enemy targets in civilian areas. The goal of terrorist groups like Hezb'allah is to aim at Israel's population in order to sow destruction while, at the same time, attempting to damage Israeli defense operations.
Gantz confirmed that Israel's adversaries know they can't win, but they do seek to attain strategic attrition. "They understand it will be a difficult battle, and not a long one, but they will try to damage us as much as possible in order to create these achievements."
With continued instability in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring, the IDF, under Gantz's direction, is taking a cautious approach, waiting to see how things settle. He implied that the military threat to Israel, of new Islamic forces in the region, is unclear at this time. "During a time of instability there is a time of real risk[.] ... We need to keep an eye on this as much as possible."
If the region becomes embroiled in increased Islamic radicalization, Gantz admitted, "We might find ourselves with numerous armies, armed to the teeth, facing us. Therefore, we must be alert to that kind of situation."
Israel, under the direction of Gantz, is working to strengthen the home front in 2012, along with increasing IDF defensive and offensive capabilities. Covert operations to stop Iran's nuclear program will likely increase. Israel will also go after arms-smuggling. Already, Gantz has called on Western nations to board and detain naval vessels suspected of shipping weapons to terrorist groups that are a direct threat to Israel.
At his post, this new general of Israel's armed forces will be watching closely, looking for every opportunity to defend the homeland of the Jewish people. He is bent on recruiting every young Israeli to serve his nation, while searching for every means to protect Israel's greatest resource in difficult and troubling times ahead -- its military might.
C. Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.