Ex-fighter pilot tasked with leading Iran fight promoted to major general
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Ex-fighter pilot tasked with leading Iran fight promoted to major general

Second officer, Brig. Gen. Tomer Bar, also goes up in rank as he takes over newly restructured position focused on developing new fighting techniques

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF Brig. Gen. Tal Kalman (center) is promoted to the rank of major general on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Brig. Gen. Tal Kalman (center) is promoted to the rank of major general on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

Two top IDF officers were promoted to the rank of major general on Thursday as they prepare to enter newly formed positions on the General Staff as part of the military’s multi-year plan, the military said.

Former fighter pilot Maj. Gen. Tal Kalman, who was promoted from brigadier general, was slated to lead the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, an entirely new position on the General Staff, which will focus principally on Israel’s fight against Iran.

Initially dubbed the “Strategy and Iran Directorate,” the military changed the name in order to slightly widen the scope of the position to include other countries in the region that could present a threat to Israel, though the focus will still primarily be the Islamic Republic. The “third circle” refers to the three levels of direct threats facing Israel, the first being small terror groups on Israel’s borders, like Hamas; the second being larger threats, like the Syrian army and Hezbollah; and the third being countries that do not share a border with Israel, like Iran and Iraq.

The other officer to be promoted from brigadier general on Thursday, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, will take command of the IDF’s rejiggered Planning Directorate, which has been renamed the Force Design Directorate and is tasked with overseeing the development of new combat and weapons techniques, specifically in tactics and techniques that require cooperation between the various branches of the military.

The promotion ceremony, which was held in the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv, was presided over by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar is promoted to the rank of major general before he takes over as head of the newly reformed Force Design Directorate on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The creation of these positions, along with other changes to the structure of the Israel Defense Forces, is part of the military’s multi-year Momentum Plan.

“The creation of these two directorates will help focus the entire IDF on two matters: the first, strengthening the process of multi-dimensional force-building, which represents a force multiplier in the multi-year Momentum Plan; and the second, directing attention to the field of strategy and to ‘third circle’ countries,” Kohavi said at the promotion ceremony.

Before he entered the position, Kalman, a former fighter pilot, previously led the IDF’s Strategic Division.

Kalman’s Iran directorate will focus not only on Israel’s efforts to counter Tehran, but also on the development of the military’s larger strategies and international relations.

As such, the IDF’s Liaison Unit, which maintains relations with foreign militaries, will be moved into the new directorate, along with the Planning Division. Currently, these two units are part of the IDF Planning Directorate.

In his speech, Kalman said he hoped to expand international cooperation in the fight against Iran.

“I am happy and proud to receive the challenge of creating the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate. It is a unique opportunity to strengthen the General Staff’s strategic muscle, to adapt and strengthen the General Staff efforts against the Iranian threat and to [maintaining] the IDF’s dominance in the national campaign against Iran and to expanding the IDF’s influence and international cooperation as an element of national security,” he said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the view of Kohavi, just as there is a major general whose primary mission is overseeing the fight against Hezbollah — head of the Northern Command Maj. Gen. Amir Baram — and one for countering Hamas — Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi — so too should there be a major general responsible for Iran.

“We want someone to wake up every morning with Iran set above his highest joy,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters earlier this year, referencing a line from Psalm 137 regarding the importance of Jerusalem.

Kalman’s directorate will be responsible for countering Iran and other “third-circle” countries only, not proxies such as the Hezbollah terror group, which will remain the purview of the IDF Northern Command.

Bar’s new Force Design Directorate will work to develop new fighting techniques using aspects of all branches of the military. It is meant to complement the current system, in which each branch of the IDF is responsible for developing and implementing its own tactics — allowing for techniques that use both air power and ground forces, for instance.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Sky Riders unit work on a Skylark drone during an exercise. Photograph undated. (Israel Defense Forces)

Bar will also be able to work with the Defense Ministry and defense contractors to develop and acquire new weaponry and equipment.

Earlier this year, Kohavi presented the main aspects of his Momentum Plan to the military’s top officers. It is meant to serve as a overarching guide for the IDF’s planning and development over the next five years, succeeding the five-year Gideon Plan created by Kohavi’s predecessor, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

The guiding principle of the Momentum Plan is to take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology — in order to ensure the Israeli military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah.

The military plans to use this superiority to win any future war as quickly as possible, with the understanding that the longer a conflict drags on, the more the result will look like a loss regardless of who is victorious on the battlefield.

The implementation of the Momentum Plan has stalled to an extent in recent months, as it required an increase to the defense budget — to purchase new missiles, drones, armored vehicles, air defense batteries, helicopters and ships — something that seems highly unlikely given the the country’s, and the world’s, current economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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