How the IDF Is Preparing for Multi-Front War: Yaakov Lappin, BESA, Feb. 19, 2018— An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) plan designed to get it prepared for the challenge of multiple-front warfare is entering its third year.
How Israel Could Take the Fight Directly to Iran: Charles Bybelezer, The Media Line, Feb. 17, 2018— The conflagration this past weekend between Israeli and Iranian forces is being billed as a new stage in the longstanding, albeit to date largely covert, war between the two adversaries.
Israeli Bombing Syria ENHANCED US National Security: Yoram Ettinger, Jewish Press, Feb. 15, 2018— Sinai strikes are a reminder that Israel should never count on Arab states to guarantee its safety. It’s the other way around.
Syrian Downing of F-16I Begs Question: Why Didn’t Israel Deploy F-35s?: Barbara Opall-Rome, Defense News, Feb. 14, 2018— As the Israeli Air Force continues to investigate the Feb. 10 loss of an F-16I to Syrian anti-aircraft fire…
One Step Ahead: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 2018
IDF Acknowledges Serious Hezbollah Missile Threat to Israeli Natural Gas Rigs: Algemeiner, Feb. 7, 2018
U.S. Air Force Weighs International Squadrons to Strike Terror Targets: Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2018
US May Boost Marine Corps Force in East Asia: Jeff Daniels, CNBC, Feb. 9, 2018
BESA, Feb. 19, 2018
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) plan designed to get it prepared for the challenge of multiple-front warfare is entering its third year. The ability to operate effectively on multiple battle fronts simultaneously will be crucial for Israel’s ability to deal with unpredictable, explosive events that can begin on one front but quickly spread to others. According to Israeli intelligence assessments, none of Israel’s enemies wants a full-scale war any time soon (and neither does Israel), but the growing tension in the region means incidents can quickly escalate.
During a speech given to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya at the start of January, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot identified the five fronts that pose threats to Israel’s security. He noted that a “big, strong Iranian umbrella is hovering” over all five of these sectors. The first is Lebanon, where Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, has built up a major capability. Based on a relatively simple concept, Hezbollah’s assets in Lebanon are designed with strong layers of defense around them, combined with an ability to heavily strike the Israeli home front with projectiles. This is a model the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah believe can challenge Israel’s military superiority.
Eisenkot named the second front as Syria, which has undergone drastic changes over the past year. Members of a Russian-led coalition, consisting of Iran, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias, view themselves as the victors in Syria’s conflict and seek a presence on the Golan Heights. Iran has plans to establish an air, ground, and naval presence in Syria. “The danger to us is significant,” Eisenkot said.
The West Bank forms the third threatening sector. Hamas seeks to orchestrate terror attacks from there and divert “fire” away from Gaza, which it rules. Unorganized terrorism and ISIS-inspired lone attackers remain threats here too. Gaza is the fourth sector. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas and other armed Palestinian factions have built up terrorist guerilla armies, armed with arsenals of projectiles. These forces are embedded in a densely populated urban jungle. The Sinai Peninsula, where ISIS remains highly active, is the fifth sector.
Beyond the five fronts, Iran to the east – its nuclear ambitions and regional hegemony efforts – continue to threaten Israel. The potential of reaching a high level of escalation “is immediate,” Eisenkot cautioned. The IDF’s preparations for multiple-front war rest on several capabilities. The first is Israeli intelligence supremacy. This gives the military a high-quality picture of enemy assets and activities and the ability to launch mass, precision strikes in the event of a war. The second key capability is robust air power.
During a speech delivered to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in 2017, former Israel Air Force Chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel stated that Israel’s air power remains its most generic military force, giving it the flexibility to deal with multiple fronts quickly and simultaneously. “Speed – physics – still has a significance,” Eshel said. Threats, whether asymmetrical forces or older classical enemy divisions, can appear in bordering areas, or thousands of kilometers away. “When these approach, they can become a big problem. The solution of air power… arrives within minutes to hours,” Eshel said.
With no other military force able to respond this quickly, the IAF remains Israel’s first port of call in multiple-front warfare. Eshel said the IAF must be able to operate in three main sectors simultaneously, presumably referring to the north (Lebanon and Syria), the south (Gaza), and the east (Iran). “In the morning, aircraft can be over the northern front. By noon, they can be to the east, thousands of kilometers away. And in the evening, they could be operating over Gaza. No other force can do this,” he said.
The IAF is structuring itself to deal with symmetric and asymmetric threats, near and far, all at the same time. In addition, the idea of a preemptive strike, if necessary, is making a return to military high command due to new air capabilities. The IAF’s strike rate has “doubled twice” in recent years, Eshel said, meaning that several thousand targets can be hit within 24 hours, every 24 hours. This degree of air power is unprecedented in military history.
The days in which the IDF relied mainly on air power to wage a full-scale conflict are long gone. In line with the IDF’s multi-year plan, a major effort is underway to improve war readiness among ground forces. This year, enlisted operational forces are set to begin training for 17 weeks to match every 17 weeks of active security missions. This division of labor is designed to bump up combat readiness significantly, and not to let routine missions erode combat readiness.
In addition, the IDF has been creating light infantry brigades and deploying them to the borders with Egypt and Jordan. Their mission is solely limited to border security, thus freeing up enlisted combat forces, which would take part in ground maneuvers, for more war training. To counter the threat of armor-piercing RPGs and anti-tank missiles, which are highly prevalent in Gaza and Lebanon, the IDF is mass producing modern armored personnel carriers (APCs) and tanks. These are the tracked Namer and the wheeled Eitan APCs. The latter can travel 90 kilometers an hour on roads, giving it the ability to leap from one battle front to another.
Israel is also mass producing the Merkava 4 tank. On all these platforms, the Defense Ministry is installing Rafael’s Trophy active protection system. This gives the armored vehicles the ability to intercept incoming missiles and to instantly detect and share the location of enemy cells that are firing at them, enabling rapid, accurate return fire. As the IDF strengthens its ground war abilities, various command levels are training to improve their ability to launch multi-front attacks simultaneously…
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The Media Line, Feb. 17, 2018
The conflagration this past weekend between Israeli and Iranian forces is being billed as a new stage in the longstanding, albeit to date largely covert, war between the two adversaries. For the first time, Iranian troops perpetrated a direct attack on Israel, initially by sending a drone across the border from Syria and then by firing the anti-aircraft missile that downed an IDF jet which had reentered Israeli airspace after conducting a retaliatory mission.
The events were significant both because of the success in downing the Israeli warplane, the first such occurrence in decades, but also because it evidences Iran’s growing foothold in the Syrian theater, a development that Jerusalem vehemently opposes and has vowed to prevent at all costs. Overall, Iran’s actions suggest that it feels sufficiently emboldened to use its own forces to harm the Jewish state.
The incident constitutes a strategic shift, according to Lt.-Col. (ret.) Yiftah Shapir, a career officer in the Israel Air Force and the former head of the Military Balance Project at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, “as it marks the first occasion that the Iranians openly engaged Israel, whereas previously this was done via its proxies. It may be,” he qualified, “that the Iranians misjudged the [intensity of the] Israeli response and that the status quo will be restored for a period of time.”
By contrast, Saturday’s flare-up was not the first time that Israel directly struck Iranian assets. In December, the IDF reportedly destroyed a military facility being built by Tehran in al-Kiswah, just south of Damascus. Notably, in 2015, Israeli strikes killed at least six Iranian troops in the Syrian Golan Heights, including a general in the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Also targeted was Jihad Mughniyeh, son of the notorious former Hezbollah operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh, who was himself killed in an Israeli-attributed 2008 car bombing in Syria.
Furthermore, the Mossad has been implicated in the assassination of multiple nuclear scientists on Iranian soil, not to mention the deployment of the Stuxnet cyberweapon, a computer worm developed in conjunction with Washington that wreaked havoc on Iranian nuclear installations even after being discovered in 2010. So whereas the latest confrontation along the northern border was in some ways exceptional, it does not inevitably entail a long-term escalation or that the conflict be brought out into the open, although these are both distinct possibilities.
In fact, while the political and military echelons have made clear that Israel is not seeking an escalation, its so-called “red lines” – namely, the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria – continue to be violated; this, despite the IDF having conducted well over 100 cross-border strikes to protect its interests over the past 18 months. Additionally, Iran has started construction on a subterranean facility in Lebanon to manufacture long-range precision missiles that could allow Hezbollah to target, with great accuracy, critical Israeli infrastructure in a future war. Taken together, these developments raise the question of whether Israel’s deterrence vis-a-vis Tehran and its Lebanese proxy may be weakening, which would necessitate modifying its military strategy…
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Jewish Press, Feb. 15, 2018
Israel’s unique contribution to US’ national security and US defense industries was reaffirmed on February 10, 2018, by Israel’s effective military operation against Syrian-based Iranian-Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries, early-warning radar stations, a launching-base of unmanned aerial vehicles and a command-control bunker. While Israel lost one F-16 combat plane, its air force demonstrated exceptional capabilities in the areas of intelligence, electronic warfare – especially radar jamming – firepower capabilities, precision, maneuverability, penetration of missile batteries, early-identification and destruction of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles and their mobile controller, etc.
Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) are analyzing the lessons of this recent operation, most of which will be shared, promptly, with the US – the manufacturer and provider of most of the systems operated by the IDF – as has been the case with a multitude of Israel’s military operations and wars. For example, much of the battle-tactics formulation in the US Army Headquarters in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas has been based on the Israeli battlefield experience.
The February 10, 2018 Israeli Air Force operation against Syrian-Iranian military targets has reinforced the legacy of the late Senator Daniel Inouye, who was the Chairman of the full Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee. Senator Inouye considered Israel a moral ally of the US, as well as the most effective battle-tested laboratory of the US military and defense industries – a primary outpost, in a critical region, sparing the US billions of dollars, which would be required to deploy additional US military forces to the area.
Senator Daniel Inouye, who was also the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, contended that the flow of Israeli intelligence to the US exceeded – quantitatively and qualitatively – the flow of intelligence from all NATO members combined. Chairman Inouye maintained that Israel’s battle experience – shared with the US – enhanced US national security, yielding billions of dollars to the US treasury.
For instance, the shared-lessons of the June 1982 Israeli destruction of 19 Syrian-operated advanced Soviet surface-to-air missile batteries and 97 Soviet combat planes, saved the US’ defense industries 10-20 years of research and development, enhanced the competitiveness of US military systems in the global market, increased US exports and expanded US employment. Moreover, the lessons of the Israeli military operation upgraded the capabilities of the US Air Force and the US’ posture of deterrence, exposed the vulnerabilities of advanced Soviet military systems – which were deemed impregnable until then – undermined the regional and global Soviet strategic stature, tilted the global balance of power in favor of the US and prevented the loss of many American lives.
When visiting the General Dynamics plant (currently, Lockheed-Martin) in Ft. Worth, Texas, which manufactures the F-16 and F-35, I was told by the plant manager that the US manufacturer was privy to an almost daily flow of operational, maintenance and repair lessons drawn by Israel’s Air Force, which generated over 600 upgrades, “worth mega-billion of dollars.” Common sense suggests that similar mega-benefits are afforded to McDonnell-Douglas, in St. Louis, Missouri, the manufacturer of the F-15, which is also operated by the Israeli Air Force.
In Dallas, Texas, a retired US combat pilot suggested to me that “a most productive time for US combat pilots are joint-exercises with Israeli pilots.” Responding to my doubts – since Israeli pilots fly US-made planes and are not smarter than US pilots – the US combat pilot elaborated: “Israeli pilots fly, routinely, within range of the enemies’ radar and missiles, and therefore always fly under a do-or-die state of mind, which results in more daring and creative maneuvers, stretching the capabilities of the US plane much more than done by US pilots.”
The February 10, 2018 Israeli Air Force operation highlighted the US-Israel mutually-beneficial, two-way-street, featuring Israel’s unique contributions to US national security and defense industries. It provided additional evidence of the exceptionally high rate-of-return on the annual US investment in Israel, which is erroneously defined as “foreign aid.” Israel is neither foreign to the US, nor is it a supplicant; it has been an unconditional, productive junior partner of the US in the liberty-driven battle against rogue regimes.
Defense News, Feb. 14, 2018
As the Israeli Air Force continues to investigate the Feb. 10 loss of an F-16I to Syrian anti-aircraft fire, experts here are privately questioning why, given the operational circumstances that denied Israel the element of strategic surprise, it did not opt to deploy its newest front-line fighter: the stealthy F-35I. In early December, the Air Force declared initial operational capability of the nine F-35s now in its possession. And from the aerial activity reported by residents near its home base at Nevatim, southern Israel, the aircraft are accruing significant flight time.
Yet none of the operational F-35s were part of the eight-aircraft force package tasked with destroying an Iranian command center in central Syria. The command center was reportedly operating the unmanned Shahed 171 drone that Israel says penetrated its airspace in the early morning of Feb. 10. Nor were they tasked to lead the follow-on wave of strikes on 12 separate Syrian and Iranian assets in the punitive operation launched later that day in response to the F-16I downing. But why not?
Perhaps these costly stealth fighters are too precious to use. Or perhaps the Israeli Air Force is not sufficiently confident in the aircraft or its pilots’ proficiency in operating the fifth-generation fighter.
Given pledges by Syria and its Hezbollah allies of “more surprises” should Israel venture additional attacks on Syrian soil, will the Israel Air Force opt to use these front-line assets next time around?
The official answer to all these questions, according to Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, is: “No comment.” Unofficially, former Israeli Air Force officers offer a spectrum of explanations and conjecture, including: Anemic operational experience by the service’s F-35 pilots; Failure thus far to integrate required Israeli weaponry in the aircraft’s internal weapons bay; The need to reserve these assets for only the most strategically significant missions against a much more sophisticated array of enemy air defenses.
However, all conceded — and on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing investigation — that the Air Force miscalculated. By failing to anticipate the threat from saturation attacks by Syrian-based air defenses — however antiquated those SA-5 and SA-17 missiles, which were deployed to support the Syrian government, might have been — Israel suffered not only the loss of its first fighter to enemy fire in 36 years, but a serious blow to its carefully crafted and well-earned aura of invincibility.
With the acknowledged benefit of 20/20 hindsight, some in Israel are wondering where the F-35 was. “They were sure the F-16I could easily survive the environment, as it has done so many times before,” a retired Air Force major general told Defense News. Another former officer surmised that the weaponry Israel used in that initial strike on the T-4 airfield in central Syria was not yet integrated into the weapons bay of the F-35 stealth fighter. “If it was determined to use our own special weapons for this particular scenario and this specific formation, what good would it do to hang it under the wings? You’d lose the stealth,” the officer said.
The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, refused to specify which missiles were used in the initial attack on the Iranian command-and-control trailer, but multiple sources point to the Israeli SPICE, an autonomous, all-weather, precision-attack weapon that the Air Force is well-practiced in delivering at standoff range. In conjecture officially denied by Conricus, the IDF spokesman, one officer suggested Washington may have discouraged or even vetoed Israel’s use of the F-35 at this point in the multinational program out of concern that Russian and Iranian specialists in Syria could gather information on its radar-evading capability and other characteristics. “That would be highly unlikely and would set a dangerous precedent,” a former U.S. ambassador to Israel told Defense News. “Once delivered, these aircraft are wholly owned and operated by the Israelis.”
Retired Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Abraham Assael, IAF Reserve Brig. Gen. Abraham Assael, CEO of the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, was the only officer who agreed to be identified by name. According to the former fighter pilot, the Air Force had no reason to risk “strategic assets” against what was termed a “strategically insignificant” target. “In the past, everything went very well, so why jeopardize something so valuable and precious in an operation that used to entail no significant obstacles?” Assael said.
He cited the small number of F-35s in Israel’s possession and the relatively meager operational experience accrued on the aircraft as reasons for not including them in the Feb. 10 strike operations. “If they thought that the targets were so strategically important, I’m sure they’d consider using them. But they weren’t. So why risk use of the F-35s at such an early point in their operational maturity?” “Glitches and mishaps happen,” he added. “So now they’re investigating, and it could be one of the lessons will be that in this new strategic environment, we’ll see the F-35 called into action.”
One Step Ahead: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 17, 2018—Israel is no slouch at cyberwarfare. The Jewish state has been under incessant attack from its inception and has had to grapple with myriad enemies.
IDF Acknowledges Serious Hezbollah Missile Threat to Israeli Natural Gas Rigs: Algemeiner, Feb. 7, 2018—A senior IDF naval officer confirmed this week that Hezbollah — Iran’s proxy Shi’ite terror organization based in Lebanon — now possesses missiles that could cause serious damage to the natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea that provide Israel with 60 percent of its electricity.
U.S. Air Force Weighs International Squadrons to Strike Terror Targets: Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2018—The U.S. Air Force is considering forming international squadrons of low-cost fighter planes to strike terrorist targets in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, allowing deployment of higher-tech jets to areas requiring their advanced capabilities.
US May Boost Marine Corps Force in East Asia: Jeff Daniels, CNBC, Feb. 9, 2018—In a move seen as largely signaling to China, the Trump administration could soon boost its military presence in East Asia. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday the Pentagon is considering increasing its Marine Corps Expeditionary Units in East Asia as it draws down its deployments in the Middle East, citing unnamed military officials.