On Monday (Feb. 7), the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke at the 11th Annual Herzliya Conference, an annual conference discussing global policy and touching on contemporary security and strategic issues the IDF is facing.
According to Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi, the recent events in Egypt are the result of a much gradual but deeper change, a change brewing from beneath, which was only recently brought to the surface. “Peace with Egypt is a strategic asset for Israel without a doubt. I hope there will be stabilization over there, but it’s hard to say what will happen,” said the Chief of the General Staff.
According to Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi, the various intelligence agencies were surprised by the revolution in the streets of Egypt, but not alarmed they had no prior warning. “No intelligence system has a crystal ball,” said Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, while noting that the IDF Intelligence Branch did not predict the outburst of protests any better than the Egyptian military did. “As soon as the protests started, the Egyptian Chief of Staff rushed back to Cairo from Washington D.C. He didn’t know this was happening. The characteristics and components of the regimes surrounding us, together with the fact that these nations center their activities around social media networks, changes the situation,” added the Chief of Staff.
“Beyond the strategic importance of Egypt, there are great tensions that exist within the Middle East—between a new world and an old world, between radical agents and non-radical,” said the Chief of Staff who said, in his opinion, that we can and should emphasize the strength and stable character of Israel. “Israel is an asset to the entire West, an island of stability in the Middle East,” said the Chief of Staff.
The Radical Axis is getting stronger
Addressing the other regional dangers, which constitute strategic and security challenges to Israel and the IDF, said Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi, “The radical camp is getting stronger, a sign that could be seen long before the protests in Egypt, just by looking at what is happening in Lebanon and Turkey. Iran is behind the majority of the funding, the arming, the training and the equipment of most of the terrorist movements in the region—and not just in the region,” said Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi, adding that the reason for this can be attributed to the weakening of the moderates and traditional leadership in the Arab world, as well as a changing perception of the US’s influence in the region.
“When you look at the region, you understand that the IDF must be prepared for a confrontation on more than one front,” said the Chief of Staff. “The axis of radicals consumes a huge amount of resources that the IDF has. The number of threats has grown and we need to be ready for all the different types of threats, in order to build up military strength accordingly,” he added.
Maj. Gen. Ashkenazi, part of the generation of young commanders who found themselves fighting during the Yom Kippur War, understands that today’s reality is completely different. “In those days, the meaning of losing was losing Israeli territories, in the North or in the South. I don’t doubt Hamas or Hezbollah’s abilities, but they cannot conquer territories,” said the Chief of Staff. In this current reality, he explained, “We are dealing with a situation in which most of the fighting is taking place on the Israeli home front.”
Unparalleled ability in defining and hitting targets with great speed and accuracy
The Chief of Staff added that Israel’s enemies in the region, including Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas, have their own concept of 'resistance'. “They understand that confronting the IDF on the traditional battlefield has an expensive price to pay. Therefore, they changed the perception of the way in which they operate and chose to move to urban areas, from which they fire high-trajectory weapons at Israel. They operate from within civilian populations, which we avoid harming as much as possible, but their perception is that we do and we have to deal with it in every way: both in explaining to the world and to our allies, and in building a perception of action and power accordingly.”
According to him, the IDF will have to organize the home front in Israel as an organized civilian home front which will be able to cope in a better way than it did during the Second Lebanon War. “We are working with the home front, and in the perception of its security too,” stressed the Chief of Staff. He noted that at the same time, the IDF operates for the protection of the home front by means of technologically advanced defense systems, such as the Iron Dome and David’s Sling, which were designed to protect densely populated centers and strategic spots.
However, the Chief of Staff stressed in his speech that one should not make do with the current situation. “We need to continue to build impressive firing ability. The IDF has a particularly impressive firing ability, for it has unparalleled ability to define targets and hit them with great speed and accuracy. But however impressive the fire, we cannot rely on it alone in responding to the enemy. Our firing ability is able to strike critically and locate the targets – but it is not sufficient.”
F-16 is not sufficient, also need the M-16
According to him, “if in our perception of security, the necessity of short wars is still relevant, and I think it is, it is not enough to build firepower. I wish we could resolve this with the Air Force and UAVs, but we must have a significant offensive maneuver force, especially on ground, in order to ultimately succeed in targeting those terror organizations decisively. We cannot make do with just firing from a distance. Fire can accomplish many things, but defending or holding territory is not one of them. Thus we need also the M-16, the F-16 is not sufficient.”
In addition to these components, the Chief of Staff noted the power and effectiveness of the Military Intelligence Branch. “Most of the time, war is silent and beneath the surface, but we need to be ready. Our use of fire is very accurate, 84% of the use of fire during Operation Cast Lead was accurate, taking into consideration reducing the number of innocent casualties. But all this impressive deterrence would not be effective unless there are targets with higher military value, and the Intelligence Branch led directives to change these targets significantly” the Chief of Staff said.
The Chief of Staff added that “all this is not enough without the high quality of human resources. If the IDF has an advantage, it is the exceptional quality of its people who comprise it: soldiers in their mandatory service, commanders who are part of the chain of command, and reserve soldiers. After four years, I am satisfied with the quality of human resources that we have and with their ability to carry out impressive missions. Despite what is being said about Israel's education system people are amazed when they meet our soldiers —the young soldiers are of excellence, and we need to continue to help them develop.”
The IDF is stronger than all the threats surrounding it
Chief of Staff Ashkenazi also discussed the fact that the “age of those in the military profession continues to rise. We are increasing the age of our command – the age of company commanders today is that of battalion commanders 20 years ago. The training is more substantial and the reservist component adds focus to our forces.”
In closing his speech, and in light that his term is coming to an end, the Chief of Staff chose to conclude with a few words regarding his tenure as Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces. “I am completing four years in office. It is a great privilege to command this army. I feel that I had a big privilege because I was already discharged once and then given the rare gift to have a second chance. The IDF today is strong, deterrent and of high quality. It is determined and understands the mission and its responsibility,” said the Chief of Staff.
"The IDF is stronger than all the threats surrounding it…I leave with a feeling of fulfillment and security. People know that the IDF does not belong to anyone, but at the same time belongs to everyone. This is how they operate, and will continue to operate."