[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: It should be taken into account that the media and
others have embraced Ashkenazi because they see him as the perfect poster
boy for a campaign to retreat from the Golan.
It does sound silly, simplistic, or simply an exhibition of a profound lack
of a a grip on reality, but Mr. Ashkenazi counts himself among those who are
convinced that it is a fantastic idea to retreat from the Golan Heights
because once Assad has the Golan he would have no reason to never ever ever
attack Israel and giving him the Golan would cause him to be less friendly
Is it possible that Mr. Assad might opt to attack Israel because it serves
his domestic interests?
Is it possible that Mr. Assad's minority regime is overthrown?
No. Let's not trouble ourselves with having to actually think.
And why should we bother to think if former COS Ashkenazi, who was a
tremendous COS-drill sergeant, heads a group calling for retreat from the
That's what the retreat from Golan supporters are hoping Israelis will
One thing is certain: some advertising people are going to make money
running the campaign (funded by foreign governments?) and the papers will
make money running the ads.
But it remains to be seen just how willing the Israeli public is to adopt
silly ideas just because a retired COS supports it.]
The Changing of the Guard in the IDF
INSS Insight No. 242, February 20, 2011
The much-publicized conflict between the Minister of Defense and the
outgoing IDF Chief of Staff, as well as the drama surrounding the
appointment of the new Chief of Staff, diverted public attention from the
critical question of the state of the IDF today compared to its state four
years ago, when Gabi Ashkenazi assumed Israel's highest military post. Five
points are particularly noteworthy.
First of all, the past four year period has been among the most peaceful the
country has ever known. The northern border, the West Bank, and in fact all
of Israel’s borders – including the Gaza Strip region since Operation Cast
Lead – were calm sectors with few incidents. While it is true that there are
external explanations for the calm, there is no doubt that the quality of
the IDF’s activity and operational discipline contributed to this state of
Second, by virtually every known parameter, the army’s preparedness has
improved dramatically. Reservists are training more, and their training is
of better quality. The army has undertaken major re-equipment processes. The
frequency of drills and exercises of the upper echelons has increased, and
operational plans, some of which were buried deep in the drawer when the
Second Lebanon War broke out, have been reformulated and brought up to date
so that they are ready for implementation.
Third, the IDF’s five year program, "Tefen," is now entering its fourth
year. Unlike the past, it is actually progressing according to plan – and to
budget. Without a doubt, this has been aided by the IDF's adoption of the
Brodet Commission’s recommendations and the increase in the defense budget,
but smart management of the defense budget – the biggest of all government
budgets – has also been a factor.
Fourth, the IDF’s operational activities have, as far as we know, been
successful. Operation Cast Lead was a successful military operation; the
attack on the Syrian reactor, if indeed carried out by the IDF, was an
impressive operation; we are unaware of many operational mishaps or
multi-casualty incidents; and even the operation to take control of the
Turkish flotilla, which caused considerable political and propaganda damage,
was not terrible if measured by the yardstick of military and strategic
results (the fact is that Israel has not been challenged by another flotilla
Finally, the sense of security and morale is high among the public in
general and within the IDF in particular, as evidenced by increased
volunteering for combat units.
These impressive achievements are qualified by two issues. First, the true
preparedness of the army is in reality an unknown. It can only be measured
by its response to war. Preparedness is not an objective or quantitative
concept; rather, it is contextual. In military doctrine there is no
paragraph assessing the net total of one side’s strength; rather, there is a
paragraph called “relative force,” assessing one side’s strength relative to
a given enemy’s strength in a given scenario.
After the Second Lebanon War and the lapses that were exposed, particularly
in ground fighting, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi decided that it was time
to “go back to the basics” and pay more attention to improving ground
maneuver capabilities of the large land based formations. Was this indeed
what was important? If we take the same arena – Lebanon – as an example, it
is true that had the IDF undertaken a rapid, multi-division operation to the
Litani River in the first few days of the Second Lebanon War, it would have
been able to undermine the core of Hizbollah’s strength. However, if in the
next confrontation the IDF undertakes a similar move, it may turn out to be
less effective, since today most of the rocket launchers are north of the
Litani. Thus, the test is not an abstract level of preparedness, but rather
preparedness as proven by events still in the future. This cannot be
assessed, especially not ahead of time.
The second qualification is the atmosphere in the army, especially in the
upper echelons. While morale and self-confidence are up, the atmosphere in
the upper levels is not one that is open to critique or creativity. In the
first two years of his term, Chief of Staff Ashkenazi worked – and rightly
so – to rehabilitate the military by emphasizing discipline, leaving little
room for multiple opinions. In the latter two years of Ashkenazi’s term,
however, there should have been room for more openness but this did not
materialize. One of the most serious risks in an army (especially at the
General Staff level) is groupthink, and it seems that not enough attention
was paid to this possible pitfall.
In conclusion, the IDF has undergone an impressive change for the better in
the last four years. Not all of the change is attributable to Lt. Gen.
Ashkenazi, but as someone who was capable of saying that the buck stops here
(“it happened on my watch”), it is only right to give the outgoing Chief of
Staff much of the credit for the many positive steps.
One last word: The changing of the guard ceremony, when Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz
took over as IDF Chief of Staff, was also attended by Admiral Mike Mullen,
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United Stats military. This
was not only a nice gesture but also just one example of the extraordinarily
good relations Chief of Staff Ashkenazi fostered with other chiefs of staff,
including regionally (Egypt, Jordan) and in Europe. While the importance of
these relations, based on trust and respect, is far greater in the daily
activities of the military than is readily apparent, its effect during
crises is inestimable. In this sense, the outgoing Chief of Staff proved
that he is not merely a good soldier but also a highly capable military