Government fails to provide strategic direction for IDF, Knesset panel charges
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Well trained, but for the wrong missions

Government fails to provide strategic direction for IDF, Knesset panel charges

Defense subcommittee protests lack of national security strategy, finds flaws in army’s streamlining Gideon Plan

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

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Avi Dichter, left, and chair of the Defense Outlook and Force-Building Subcommittee MK Ofer Shelah speak at a meeting presenting a report on the military's five-year Gideon Plan to the public, at the Knesset, on September 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Avi Dichter, left, and chair of the Defense Outlook and Force-Building Subcommittee MK Ofer Shelah speak at a meeting presenting a report on the military's five-year Gideon Plan to the public, at the Knesset, on September 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel’s lack of a cohesive security strategy over the past five years led to some of the military’s failures in the 2014 Gaza war and continues to challenge the IDF today, a Knesset subcommittee responsible for the country’s overall defense outlook said in a damning report released Monday. It blamed the political leadership for failing to provide clear strategic guidance for the military.

The report focused on the IDF’s Gideon Plan, a five-year program that is poised to enter its second year and is meant to streamline the military and ensure its preparedness for the types of conflicts it is liable to confront in the near future.

The subcommittee, which is under the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, looked into both the drafting of the Gideon Plan and its implementation.

The report was prepared by the chairman of the subcommittee, Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah — a persistent critic of the current government’s security strategy — and by the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, along with five other Knesset members from across the political spectrum.

IDF soldiers train with the Tavor, an Israeli developed assault rifle (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers training (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

The subcommittee’s central criticism revolved around the fact that the military determined its own needs for the multi-year plan, rather than the political leadership dictating to the army what it needs to do.

The report found this situation problematic both for hierarchical reasons and because the military is not necessarily best suited for determining its goals in practice.

“Gideon was designed ‘from the bottom up,’ by the IDF and from within it: This is without a written national defense outlook that was approved and presented publicly,” the subcommittee wrote.

A Knesset committee report on the IDF’s five-year Gideon Plan is presented to the public, at the Knesset, on September 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A public, 30-page version of the report was released on Monday. A full, 54-page classified version, which includes additional information, was also presented to the relevant defense bodies, Dichter said.

The report praised certain elements of the implementation of the Gideon Plan, including the military’s increased emphasis on exercises and training for conscripts and reservists. But it also found some areas that might be problematic in the future and need to be closely monitored.

Shelah also noted that many aspects of the Gideon Plan have yet to be fully implemented and it is thus impossible to determine if they were successful.

Generally, however, the report claimed that while the military has succeeded in crafting an impressive fighting force, it does not always prepare itself for the correct mission.

“Over the years, the IDF built a high quality, strong and valuable response — but it does not always address the real need. A deep change is needed in the army, not only in its capabilities but also in its outlook, in order for it to be in line with its true missions,” the subcommittee wrote.

In a statement, the IDF responded to the report saying that it received the full report and “a detailed response to its contents has already been sent.”

The military said the “lessons of the report will be learned” and that it “praised every process of examination and oversight.”

Syrians walking past a giant poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid/ File)

The subcommittee also noted other shortcomings in the Gideon Plan, notably that it does not include the “tectonic shift” that is Russia’s renewed presence in the region, as it was penned before Russian President Vladmir Putin deployed troops in Syria, Shelah said.

“What can we do, what do we want, what are our options in a war” are all aspects of the plan that need to be revisited in light of Moscow’s return to the Middle East, the Yesh Atid MK added.

The report called for the government to revisit the plan and change it if necessary, as well as to start the process of putting together thoughts for a plan to succeed Gideon, which ends in 2020.

“The subcommittee calls for the [government] to immediately begin the process of designing, validation, and approval of a national defense outlook, from which the IDF’s implementation and operational outlook can be taken,” it wrote.

“This process needs to be carried out with the prime minister and defense minister at the head of it,” the subcommittee said.

Both Dichter and Shelah noted the importance in a democracy of presenting the public with information about the country’s large-scale security strategies.

Shelah said that while some aspects of the country’s defense strategies needs to remain classified, “the defense strategy needs to be public.”

From right, Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, Defense Outlook and Force-Building Subcommittee chairman MK Ofer Shelach and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman MK Avi Dichter speak at a meeting presenting a report on the military’s five-year Gideon Plan to the public, at the Knesset, on September 25, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, who is a member of the subcommittee, did not sign off on the public report, but did on the classified report, as crucial information was left out of the former, which he said gave it a “political bent.”

(Likud MK Yoav Kish also did not sign the public version of the document, but he was not present at the announcements of its publication and did not give his reason for not doing so.)

Shelah said that more important than the fact that a potentially superior strategic plan may come of his subcommittee’s efforts is the ongoing dialogue between the military and political levels that was required in the writing of the report.

To make his point, the Yesh Atid MK cited a quote from former US president and general Dwight Eisenhower that is often repeated by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot: “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Shelah praised the military for its openness and willingness to cooperate with the subcommittee and for readily providing it with all relevant information. “That doesn’t always happen,” he said.

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