Daily Israel Report

Expert: 'Smaller, Smarter' IDF may be a Stupid Idea

A similar line of thinking and planning preceded the Second Lebanon War, "and the army paid dearly for it."
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 7/19/2013, 12:00 PM

IDF CoS Gantz with Nachal soldiers
IDF CoS Gantz with Nachal soldiers
IDF Spokesperson

The IDF's newly announced plans for a “smaller yet smarter army” are not necessarity smart in themselves, according to Prof. Avi Kober, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

“The IDF must take into consideration that a smaller military comes with a price, writes Kober, “as even the low-intensity conflicts for which the IDF is preparing require a large number of troops to enable the army to succeed.”

Kober explains that the IDF’s new multi-year plan is based on the assumption that there are no large-scale wars on the horizon, and that the army can make budgetary cuts by reducing its order of battle. The “new” casualty-averting IDF will rely heavily on airpower, firepower, intelligence, and cyber warfare.

However, Kober points to what he calls “the troop-density paradox,” according to which low-intensity challenges actually require more troops than high-intensity ones. In addition, he claims, a large number of troops is required to destroy a sophisticated guerrilla force and capture the terrain from which guerilla warfare is conducted.

“The bottom line is that numbers are important,” even when dealing with guerrilla terrorism, he explains. The U.S. and NATO were successful in Bosnia and Kosovo because they maintained a relatively large ratio of troops to local residents in the area of operations. They were less successful when the ratio of fighters to residents was low – as in Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“In asymmetrical conflicts,” he says, “it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to rely on a small number of troops using high-tech equipment to destroy a sophisticated guerrilla force, capture the terrain from which guerilla warfare is conducted, achieve decisive victory on the battlefield, or destroy rockets launchers used by insurgents against populated areas.”

Israel has already made the mistake of relying on a “small military in the recent past,” he warns. In the leadup to the Sexond Lebanon War of 2006, an IDF general said that “Conventional war is no longer our top priority,” and the IDF reduced the number of reservists activated, cut nearly in half the days reservists served per year, and lowered the maximum age for reservists from 46 to 40.

“In the war the army paid dearly for these changes,” says the professor.

In conclusion, says Kober, ”no matter how operationally or technologically sophisticated an army is, a force operating in low-intensity conflicts must be large if the army wishes to be effective. Reducing the number of military brigades and dissolving reserve infantry units could weaken the IDF’s efficiency in coping with low-intensity challenges. Moreover, a large number of troops are needed to deal with multi-front scenarios, the chances of which may increase in the future.”

Kober, a former senior officer in the IDF planning branch and Ministry of Defense national security department, specializes in Israeli security and combat doctrine, and force structure.