In shakeup, IDF to create new general position to counter Iran

Chief of Staff Kohavi to restructure Planning Directorate into department focused on developing and rolling out new combat doctrines

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: IDF troops near the Israel-Syria border, in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Illustrative: IDF troops near the Israel-Syria border, in the Golan Heights on January 3, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday announced “significant changes” to the makeup of its General Staff, including the wholesale creation of a new Iran-focused directorate and the restructuring of an existing department.

These changes — part of the military’s multi-year Momentum Plan — will go into effect this summer and have been approved by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters.

The General Staff, made up of 24 brigadier and major generals, will remain the same size, despite the creation of a new position on it, by having the current commander of the Military Colleges, Maj. Gen. Itai Virob, serve simultaneously as the head of the IDF Depths Corps, which is responsible for the military’s operations beyond Israel’s borders.

Zilberman said a commander of this new directorate — to be known as the Strategy and Iran Directorate — has not yet been chosen, though a selection committee is due to meet shortly. The actual formation of the unit will wait until a leader for it is chosen, he said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi presents his Momentum Plan to the army’s top brass in February 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

It was also not immediately clear how large this new directorate will be, Zilberman said.

The 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 this new directorate, along with the Planning Division. Currently, these two units are part of the IDF Planning Directorate.

In the view of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv 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 there should be a major general responsible for Iran.

“We want someone to wake up every morning with Iran set above his highest joy,” Zilberman said, referencing a line from Psalm 137 referring to the importance of Jerusalem.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on November 13, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The directorate will be responsible for countering Iran only, not its proxies, like the Hezbollah terror group, which will remain the purview of the IDF Northern Command.

Currently, the issue of Iran is divided between various parts of the military: Military Intelligence, the Operations Directorate, the Planning Directorate, the Air Force and others.

“This will strengthen our strategy because now a major general will be responsible for it,” Zilberman said.

The commander of this new Iran directorate will answer directly to the chief of staff, he said.

As part of this restructuring, the Planning Directorate will be transformed and renamed the Force Design Directorate. It will be 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 — an area that Kohavi sees as being of great and growing importance.

Kohavi’s Momentum Plan deals extensively with this issue, envisioning a far more integrated military.

“There are lots of new changes, someone needs to be responsible for this,” Zilberman said.

This new Force Design Directorate will complement the current system, in which each branch of the military 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 in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Force buildup works well within branches of the military, but not as well between branches of the military,” Zilberman said.

The commander of this directorate will also be able to work with the Defense Ministry and defense contractors to develop and acquire new weaponry and equipment.

Maj. Gen. Muni Katz, who is currently the head of the IDF Depths Corps, will remain in his position until his retirement this summer, at which point he will be replaced by Virob.

By having Virob responsible for two positions on the General Staff, the number of members will stay the same, Zilberman said.

Last week, 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 plan calls for large-scale acquisitions of new missiles, drones, armored vehicles, air defense batteries, helicopters, and ships alongside the upgrading of existing equipment. It will not come cheap, requiring a significant budget increase — made yet more difficult by the lack of a fully functioning government.

The guiding principle of the Momentum Plan, known in Hebrew as Tenufa, 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.

To do so, the IDF believes it must significantly improve its ability to identify enemy targets and strike a many as possible as quickly as possible. His plan will therefore also involve improving the quality and quantity of equipment and weaponry and making those capabilities available to a larger number of troops through better communication and accessibility.

“Carrying out the multiyear Momentum Plan will allow the IDF to significantly increase its capabilities. The plan will increase the lethality of the IDF… [it] will create conditions to shorten the duration of a war,” Kohavi told top officers last week.

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