ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Civilianization of the IDF

Civilianization of the IDF

26 March 2007

By Israel Ne'eman

Over the past few years one of the greatest security threats to the State of Israel has been the civilianization of the IDF and military thinking. And it does not begin with Defense Minister Amir Peretz. In the 1990s the misplaced euphoria of Oslo led many to believe that universal military service would be something of the past. After all the Palestinians would be our friends any minute now and if there arose a military challenge the air force, the standing army and commandos would handle everything. On the level of continued participation and integration within Israeli society the army was to be marginalized. Essentially professionals would be the backbone of the IDF as reserve manpower was to be eliminated.

Secondly, by the end of the nineties continuing attacks by the Hezbollah into the Israeli controlled south Lebanese security zone led to the development of the Four Mothers grass roots movement which demanded Israel’s unilateral withdrawal to the international border. The Four Mothers and their supporters “reasoned” that if you do not attack your enemy, he will not attack you. We also entered an era where humanism was taken to its ultimate goal of individual human rights, whereby a soldier’s life was as important as that of a civilian. Lastly, over the past decade or so Israel’s high tech success was grafted on to the military. We would now have fully managed high tech push button computer warfare with all the latest plasma screens in air conditioned tents.

Nowadays anyone serving in the reserves wants to be there. Reluctant reservists do not truly exist any more. Reservists add valuable civilian concepts and skills to army thinking, but keep in mind they are serving in the military. When in civilian life they often use military thinking or techniques to succeed in their professional spheres. Most important, a large part of the Israeli population is directly connected to the IDF, understand military considerations and see themselves at home when in uniform. They still are the army’s best connection to the populace as they are part of civil society. Furthermore, reserve officers and senior sergeants often hold pivotal positions in their civilian jobs thereby making the link between the civilian and soldier that much closer.

Even if professionally run, once the reservists are forced out of the picture the army becomes just another department in a civilian ministry (defense) to be used as sparingly as possible since to do so costs money. Its professionals can be compared to civilian experts with “soldiering” defined as a job. It is no longer a people’s army representing the nation. The commitment of the average enlistee can be expected to drop considerably, after all the military is not his chosen profession and in the end the professional soldiers become bureaucrats. One will find very few bureaucrats willing to take the courageous steps necessary to “win a war.”

The naïveté of the Four Mothers and their supporters bordered on fantasy yet their influence led to the withdrawal and demands that the army take no offensive action, even should Hezbollah fire across the border. Everyone should play it safe. Sort of reminds us of what mothers told their sons who joined the air force in WWI, “Fly low and slow, that way you won’t get hurt,” advice that is terrific if one is not in the military. We are speaking of the same period when parents’ committees were set up to defend soldiers’ civil rights and the average battalion commander spent 20% of his time dealing with parents complaints and inquiries about their sons instead of planning for the next war (which can be considered militaristic). True, soldiers should not be abused in the military as had been in several cases, but mom and dad do not need to get involved should he be punished with extra guard duty or docked leave time due to infractions or slovenly behavior. The combat officer corps became more worried about what the parents would say or be reported in the press about their lack of civil behavior and neglected the need to instill in their soldiers the need to destroy the enemy in combat (yes, admittedly “politically incorrect”). And lest we forget, a soldier is trained as such to defend his country and its civilian population, not the opposite. No one wants him to sacrifice his life, but he is on the front lines and is expected to endure the dangers of combat to ensure his nation’s security.

Finally we have hi-tech success. Just model the army after a computer or electro-optic firm in Tel Aviv and we can win, just like in the market place. All one needs is good managers. If we now manage wars, then there is no such thing as “winning”, “crushing the enemy” or “going for total victory”. One can manage a diplomatic offensive or economic crisis but not a war. The job of a general is to win a war, not be a combat “manager”. But speaking in “politically correct” civilian terms is more palatable to those who would prefer to avoid reality.

The Four Mothers syndrome is characterized by rosy (warm and fuzzy?) dreams which are shattered by rocket fire when one prefers to avoid reality, especially when it involves the Hezbollah, a Khomeinist organization dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel and the enslavement of Jews in a second class citizenship role known as the “dhimma”. As for the managerial army, they found out the war was beyond their control when certain critical parts of the battlefield were just to the right (or left) of their computer screens.

Words have meaning and those meanings are internalized by all. Armies are supposed to strive for victory. The new Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is said to understand this. Let us all hope so.