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Israel Needs a Large Army — Not Just Advanced Technology (PART ONE)

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) train the northern reserve paratrooper brigade to boost readiness along the northern border. Photo: IDF

What are the lessons for IDF force build-up following the Hamas attack on October 7 and the Iron Swords War? A recent article by Prof. Azar Gat concludes that “there is no need to increase the scope of the forces and the existing force build-up should be continued, the main [element] of which is investments in technologies that are the key to the advantage of the IDF on the battlefield and for the current achievements.”

We do not agree with this conclusion, and believe it to have negative strategic consequences. The continuing inability of the IDF to realize the goals of the current war is mainly the result of a lack of ready and available maneuvering units, a lack that military technology cannot compensate for no matter how good it is. If the IDF is to be able to fulfill its responsibilities, it needs more well-trained maneuver divisions to resurrect the territorial defense organization as well as maintain technological superiority.

More than half a year after October 7, the Iron Swords War is still going on. Before after-action investigations have been completed, experts have already begun to draw conclusions about key strategic aspects of the war.

One central aspect concerns the future force build-up of the ground forces. Should the number of divisions and brigades be increased? What level of readiness and competence must they have? How does the concept of territorial defense fit into the army? What is the right balance between investment in advanced technologies and the size of combat forces available at any given time?

In his recent article, Prof. Gat warns against drawing incorrect conclusions from the October 2023 failure. He notes that “Since Hamas’s attack and the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip, the public discourse has been impressed by the view … that the IDF is too small given the threats; that reliance on technology has led to dangerous neglect and reduction of the ground forces; that the air force is disproportionately funded at the expense of the ground forces; and that there is a need to increase the defense budget significantly and permanently, beyond covering the expenses of the war.”

In his view, “These claims are misleading and even damaging, both militarily and economically.” Gat also claims that the forces that were in the Gaza Strip sector on the morning of October 7, which included about 400 fighters and 12 Merkava 4 tanks, could have, had they been in position, thwarted the Hamas attack. Combat helicopters and helicopters on standby, combined with the forces of the standby units, would have completed the defeat of Hamas, according to Gat.

Gat’s bottom line claim is that there is no need to increase the scope of the maneuvering forces. It is necessary, he says, to invest more in resurrecting the territorial defense organization and continue building the existing force, the main elements of which are investments in technology that are the key to the IDF’s advantage on the battlefield and to the current achievements.

While we take issue with his overall conclusion, Gat is right in two key matters. First, territorial defense forces must be rebuilt so they can provide an immediate response to an all-out attack or targeted raid on a civilian settlement until the arrival of military forces. Many plausible scenarios, including a ground attack on several fronts or several sectors on the same front by many invading forces, would keep the military forces too busy to rapidly reinforce every civilian settlement in the areas being attacked even if the army is ready, and this is even more true if the enemy achieves surprise. Properly equipped and trained forces organized on a local basis in each settlement would be able to provide a reasonable response to a wide range of scenarios of this type until the army is able to provide forces to support them.

Secondly, Gat is absolutely right that a proper balance must be maintained between defense spending and the state’s ability to continue to maintain a growing and developing economy, for both civilian and military reasons. Maintaining a large well-equipped and well-trained army requires a well-balanced and strong economy. An overstretching of resources to defense could lead to an economic collapse.

One of the lessons learned by the IDF and the Israeli governments from the Yom Kippur War was that if the regular army had been larger, the enemy’s initial achievements would have been radically diminished. Furthermore, Israel’s ability to conduct a protracted war required an increase in reserve forces and larger stocks of ammunition, spare parts and other essential commodities. However, the extent of the increase in Israel’s military, which was 2-2x the 1973 figures, was too large to be financed by the Israeli economy. This was one of the reasons for the collapse of the Israeli economy in the first half of the 1980s.

Our dispute with Gat is about the optimal balance point. Gat claims that the current war proves that the size of the IDF’s ground force is sufficient, and that there is therefore no need to increase it. We believe, to the contrary, that the war proved and continues to prove that the size of the existing force is insufficient. Had it been larger, we would be in a better operational situation today, which would also have had a positive effect on Israel’s political situation.

Even discounting the effect of the surprise on the outcome of October 7, 400 soldiers and 12 tanks are not sufficient to hold a front that is about 60 kilometers wide. So the question arises: Why was this the size of the force that was left on that front? The answer is that over the past two years, many forces have been diverted to fight in Judea and Samaria (Operation Breakwater) due to a sharp jump in the frequency of attacks there and the need for a significant increase in forces to address the increase and reduce it.

We further ask: How many soldiers, tanks and other military equipment were deployed on the other borders of the State of Israel on October 7? Was the situation on the Lebanese border better than on the Gaza border? The answer is no. There too, the size of the force deployed across the front was tiny compared to what was required. That being the case, what would have happened if, on that day, not only Hamas had attacked Israel but Hezbollah as well? And what about the Golan Heights? After all, Hezbollah does not stand alone. Iran and its other proxies stand behind it.

Part of the solution is the regular recruitment of more reserve units, but this will not suffice — due, among other things, to cuts in reserve units that have concentrated reserve days among a relatively small group of people.

Responding to the events of October 7 as they occurred, or as they could have occurred in a much more severe manner (i.e., on several fronts at the same time), is not the end of the discussion. After mobilizing all possible ground forces of the IDF, Israel was facing war on only two fronts, and it immediately became clear that it lacked ground forces.

As long as the threat of a major Hezbollah offensive remained relevant, it was not clear whether the fighting in the north would remain at the level of low-intensity attrition or escalate to high-intensity fighting. The IDF was thus unable to concentrate enough forces to properly attack Gaza. Instead of attacking the Gaza Strip simultaneously in all, or at least most, of its sectors, the IDF was forced to carry out a sequential attack, an act that took a lot of time and had negative strategic and political ramifications.

Today, after more than six months of fighting against an enemy substantially weaker than the IDF, the IDF’s achievements are good, but not enough. The task of destroying Hamas and the organizations that help it remains uncompleted. Meanwhile, most of the reservists had to be discharged to ease the pressure on both their personal livelihoods and the national economy, so the size of the active fighting force has been greatly reduced. A larger ground force on October 7 would have made it possible to ensure a solid front against Hezbollah, including the possibility of a simultaneous all-out multi-sector attack across the entire Gaza Strip.

There are of course other considerations that prevented Israel from attacking the entire Gaza Strip at once (among them the need to leave quiet areas into which the population could be moved), and there are further reasons why the war was prolonged and taken from high-intensity warfare to the low-intensity warfare that is taking place now. However, the lack of sufficient ground forces was the main inhibiting factor. Had the IDF begun the war with more ground forces, the scale of the achievement by the time it became necessary to release the reserve forces, after about four months of mobilization, would have been greater and would have reduced the time needed to conduct the low-intensity combat phase in which we are now engaged.

Furthermore, the first offensive phase could have been conducted with larger forces that could have operated in several sectors at the same time. Had more units been available, the IDF could have sequenced their mobilization in turns in order to maintain a higher intensity of action over a longer period of time while conducting the multi-sector offensive.

Dr. Eado Hecht is a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a lecturer in the master’s degree program in Security Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Prof. Eitan Shamir is Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Will Hostage-Taking Journalist Abdallah Aljamal Be Added to CPJ ‘Casualty’ List?

The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar, June 8, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon

One day after Israeli security forces rescued four Israeli hostages from their Gazan captivity, both the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency) confirmed that three of the hostages had been held captive in the family home of Abdallah Aljamal.

Aljamal, who was killed during the raid that freed the hostages, had previously served as a spokesman for the Hamas-run Gaza Labor Ministry and, as a journalist, had contributed to Al Jazeera, and served as a correspondent for The Palestine Chronicle.

His last article was published by the Chronicle one day before the Israeli rescue operation.

Abdullah Al-Jamal was not a “freelance contributor” for the Palestine Chronicle. As the outlet itself has repeatedly stated, he was in fact its “correspondent in Gaza.”

They clearly changed the bio to try and avoid legal repercussions

— Eitan Fischberger (@EFischberger) June 10, 2024

With Abdallah Aljamal’s death as part of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, it begs the question whether he will be added to the running list of “journalist casualties in the Israel-Gaza war” compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Since the start of the war, the CPJ’s list of journalist casualties has been used by a variety of news outlets, activists, pundits, and politicians to highlight the seemingly disproportionate number of Gaza-based journalists killed during Israel’s counter-terrorism campaign, and to question whether Israel is purposefully targeting reporters and other media workers.

However, as noted earlier by HonestReporting, a significant number of the journalists who appear on the CPJ’s list were in some way affiliated with Hamas and other anti-Israel terror organizations.

As of this writing (June 10, 2024), close to 50% of the 103 Palestinian journalists listed by the CPJ either worked for news outlets affiliated with terror organizations, or were active members in these organizations themselves.

While he was working as a so-called “journalist,” Abdallah Aljamal also held hostages captive for Hamas.

Shockingly, his death qualifies him for the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (@pressfreedom) list of media workers killed in the conflict.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) June 9, 2024

If Abdallah Aljamal is added to the CPJ’s list, this will only highlight the problematic nature of the list by including terrorists and kidnappers among the ranks of killed Palestinian media workers, and will serve to further debunk the libel that Israel is targeting journalists in order to stifle their reporting capabilities.

If Aljamal is not included on the CPJ’s list of killed Gaza-based journalists, it will ultimately need to be asked what separates him from the likes of Hamza Al Dahdouh, Mustafa Thuraya, and Mohammad Jarghoun — all three of whom are accused of being active members of terrorist organizations and who appear on the list.

In either case, the mere possibility that Abdallah Aljamal, a Hamas member who helped hold three Israeli civilians hostage, will be added to the CPJ’s list of killed journalists is a cold reminder of the interaction between terrorism and civilian life in Gaza, the influence that Hamas has over the media in Gaza, and the untrustworthiness of outlets that turn a blind eye to these salient factors.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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Missile Barrage Hits Northern Israel, Emergency Services Report

Firefighters respond to a fire near a rocket attack from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, near Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel, June 14, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israeli emergency services reported dealing with a string of fires in northern Israel on Friday after dozens of missiles were fired from southern Lebanon into the area around the border town of Kiryat Shemona.

The military said that warning sirens had sounded in northern Israel and emergency services said teams were searching the area, where they reported there was property damage but no casualties.

Television footage on Friday showed damaged buildings and cars as well as brush fires in several locations caused by strikes or falling debris amid heatwave conditions.

The Israeli military has exchanged regular fire with Hezbollah forces across the border in southern Lebanon ever since the start of the war in Gaza in October.

Neither side has appeared to wish a wider conflict, but there has been growing worry that the steady intensification of strikes could push the situation out of control with the risk of a wider conflict in a region that has already seen direct exchanges between Israel and Iran.

The latest salvo came after an Israeli strike killed a senior commander from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, drawing the heaviest bombardment of northern Israel since the start of the war in October last year.

Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated from their homes on both sides of the border, creating growing pressure to resolve the stand-off, but diplomatic efforts have so far proved fruitless.

On Friday, the Israeli military said fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems had intercepted 11 of the 16 drones launched by Hezbollah against Israel in the past 72 hours.

“The Israeli Air Force is continuing to operate at all times to thwart terrorist activities and protect Israel‘s skies from any threat,” it said in a statement.

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G7 Warns Iran Over Continuing Nuclear Program Escalation

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a family photo as they arrive to attend a dinner at Swabian Castle in Brindisi, Italy, June 13, 2024. Photo: Italian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

The Group of Seven leaders warned Iran on Friday against advancing its nuclear enrichment program and said they would be ready to enforce new measures if Tehran were to transfer ballistic missiles to Russia, according to a draft communique.

“We urge Tehran to cease and reverse nuclear escalations, and stop the continuing uranium enrichment activities that have no credible civilian justifications,” the statement seen by Reuters said.

Iran has rapidly installed extra uranium-enriching centrifuges at its Fordow site and begun setting up others, a UN nuclear watchdog report said on Thursday.

Iran is now enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to the 90 percent of weapons grade, and has enough material enriched to that level, if enriched further, for three nuclear weapons, according to an IAEA yardstick.

Iran must engage in serious dialogue and provide convincing assurances that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, in full cooperation and compliance with the IAEA’s monitoring and verification mechanism, including the Board of Governors’ resolution of 5 June,” the G7 said.

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

The leaders also warned Iran about concluding a deal to send ballistic missiles to Russia that would help it in its war against Ukraine, saying they were prepared to respond with significant measures if it were to happen.

“We call on Iran to stop assisting Russia’s war in Ukraine and not to transfer ballistic missiles and related technology, as this would represent a substantive material escalation and a direct threat to European security,” they said.

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