Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 12:07 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 14 Aug 2018 | 12:07 | SYDNEY

Israel Defence Forces all at sea


Rodger Shanahan


2 June 2010 14:25

I have written elsewhere that Israel's inability to see challenges to its authority in anything but purely existential terms has led to a rigidity of thinking that erodes its ability to deter opponents.

The latest incident on the high seas involving the Israeli military again highlights some increasingly worrying professional shortfalls. Whereas Israeli military and security forces used to be synonymous with tight planning, elan, skill and audacity, there is growing evidence that this is no longer the case.

As the capabilities of its opponents has improved, the traditional strengths of Israeli planning seem to have deteriorated. During the 1980s and '90s, the IDF became largely an occupation force in the Palestinian territories and southern Lebanon. And as the Russians, Americans, British, French and many others have found out over the years, no military does occupation of hostile territories well.

Years of being occupied with occupation appears to have degraded Israel's ability to plan and execute offensive operations. What else to make of the following comparisons:

  • In 1967 the IDF displayed audacity and skill in conducting an outstandingly successful pre-emptive strike against several states on several fronts. In 2006, with air and naval supremacy, Israel could not successfully prosecute a war on a single front against Hizbullah, a well-trained, highly motivated force that possessed neither armour nor artillery support.
  • Hollywood made a movie about Operation Wrath of God, Israel's campaign of the 1970s to track down and kill those responsible for the Munich massacre. In 2010, a large team of operatives is identified and photographed using forged passports of friendly countries in a not-unfriendly third country while assassinating a mid-ranking Hamas official.
  • In 1976, Israeli commandos flew 4000km to Entebbe in Uganda to rescue over 100 hostages; they killed all the hijackers, a number of Ugandan troops and destroyed 11 MiG fighters. In 2010, Israeli commandos storm a ship with humanitarian supplies underway just outside Israeli territorial waters; the assaulting force is taken by surprise and ends up killing 10-19 members of the protest flotilla.

The IDF chose the time and place of the assault, presumably had good intelligence on the target and had rehearsed attacks against ships underway. Yet the IDF claims it was surprised by the reception its forces received; some of the assaulting force had pistols taken from them by people on the ship. From some of the IDF's best trained troops, this is not the kind of military operation to inspire confidence.

The incident also raises broader regional security questions. If Israel contemplates military action against Iranian nuclear sites because it sees them as an existential threat, what confidence should we have that the Israelis are capable of doing it effectively? And if they don't, what will be the Iranian response?

I know that, in the security field, one's successes are often never known, but failures are very public. However, in the past few years, Israel has displayed repeated weaknesses in both its operational-level planning and tactical-level execution. Not a good characteristic in a force which may be planning to attack scattered nuclear facilities in a far-off country.

Photo by Flickr user emingus, used under a Creative Commons license.