It was most appropriate, that on the heels of the success achieved by the Iron Dome antimissile system in the last round of the fighting in Gaza, the Israel National Defense College Alumni Association (INDCAA) devoted its Third annual conference to the topic of "Science and Technology in the Service of Israel's Future and How National Technological Development Serves the Security of the State of Israel."
The alumni whom we will get to later heard lectures about the cutting edge of scientific and technological developments, and their defense and civilian applications.
The conference also addressed the issue of how Israel would address the emerging threat of cyber warfare.
The chairman of the Alumni Association, Major General (reserve) Eyal Ben Reuven, consented to grant Israel National News an interview prior to the start of the conference.
Q: Are we dealing with merely with expanding one's horizons or do members of the Alumni Association sit at decision points and can actively influence acquisition policy?
A: Graduates of the National Defense College occupy many important junctions in the Israeli government and in the business world. These are people who held senior command posts and have moved on to senior posts in the ministries of Finance, Justice and others. We also have on hand senior officers from foreign armies, as well as pupils who are still on active service in the IDF. We are even fostering a National Defense College for youth, given the interest in the topic among young Israelis. Membership in the Alumni Association, however, is limited only to an officer who retires from active service.
Q: I was unaware that foreign officers matriculate at the National Defense College
In each cycle there are between 8-10 students and the courses take place either in English or with simultaneous translation. Ever since I served as commander, I quickly learned that it's not sufficient to study by yourself. In a global context you must get materials from the entire world and therefore we established contact with the American, British, German and South Korean armies about 5 years ago.
Just as we accept students from foreign armies, we also send people to military colleges in the Western countries.
Q: Your program at Haifa University awards an advanced political science degree; how does this equip the student to understand technical topics that will be presented today at the conference?
A: The degree may be in political science, but the emphasis is upon strategic topics and it is a place for cross-fertilization between the Israeli government, and the entire defense establishment. Here senior members of the IDF, the Israel Security Agency, the Mossad and foreign students can sit together and think in depth and out-of-the-box on issues such as the security fence on the southern border or the northern region.
As alumni, they continue to devote thought to the important issues and I, as chairman, try to bring top-flight people to the encounters. For example, when we recently discussed the economy, the lecture was delivered by the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Professor Stanley Fischer and the same will apply today on the technological issue.
For example, the success of iron Dome may bring about a conceptual revolution regarding defense capabilities.
Q: I'm going to ask an impertinent question: in the Second Lebanon War, the IDF was accused of becoming too infatuated with technological developments to the neglect of conventional fighting skills. With all the importance of technological developments, is there a danger of falling into the same trap?
A: This is a very important issue. It is true and the Winograd Commission report backs up that there was an overenthusiasm for technology and Dan Halutz, who was then Chief of Staff, thought that it was possible to conclude the war using only firepower linked up with technology and cutting edge intelligence.
We learned unequivocally that technology still cannot provide a substitute to classic fighting capability involving armor and infantry and we are still far from a point where we can finish up only with technology.
In the last round of fighting, we almost got there, even if there is a debate about whether we should have employed a ground invasion. We are progressing to a point where the balance between land forces and technology is changing and then we will be able to employ less force.
We're still far from the point where we can use precise fire. Therefore, an important point for discussion is where the commanders should be located. Despite the Lebanon war where they gave rise to criticism, use is still being made of plasma screens to get a picture of the battle. It's important to know where everybody is.
However, despite capabilities that we did not formerly possess, the commanders still have to be in front of the force, as in IDF tradition.
The IDF is devoting serious thinking to the topic.
Q: Why do you need an Alumni Association - is this like the alumni of Unit 8200, the Armored Corps or the paratroopers?
A: It's not the IDF that sets them up. These association are formed by people who leave the service and feel the need to get together with their former colleagues. This is a social need and it is a dignified need. Such groups, when they come together, can create good things and raise all sorts of ideas and I welcome these initiatives.
Q: How would you compare the situation in the IDF, where the military college comes in mid-service,, as opposed to the model in the United States where career officers start off at West Point?
A: We are quite familiar with the promotion tracks in the foreign armies. The main difference between us is that in the IDF, in order to be an officer, you must first be a common soldier. There is no situation like in the American Army that you're guaranteed that you will be an officer without going through basic training. Everybody has to go through basic training and then you can study to be a tank commander and if successful, proceed to an officer's training course.
Q: How do you get accepted to the National Defense College?
A: For the IDF, the decision is based on what you have demonstrated in the past, but it is also represents the appraisal about your future. The decision about rotating an officer to the National Defense College takes place at the highest level at the Chief of Staff.
The decision is based on whether the candidate excelled in the past and the evaluation about his future in the Army. Previously the National Defense College had pupils who did not always meet these standards, but now the Army under Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has taken a decision that as of 2014, anybody advancing to the rank of Brigadier General has to pass through the National Defense College.
This means that only people with a potential of reaching the apex of the General Staff pyramid will be selected. The same criteria, by the way, are employed in the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and in the Mossad. In other words, we attract the cream of the crop in Israel and this places the National Defense College on the same level as the American MDU and the French Ecole de Guerre.
Q: So in effect you're saying that an acceptance of a candidate for the National Defense College can be viewed as confirmation that he is being fast-tracked for the top.
I would like you I like to wish you a successful conference and thank you for granting us this interview.