Israel's Blitzkrieg: IDF Doctrine, Principles, and History

After the critical escalation of tensions in the Middle East caused by the unprecedented attack of Hamas on Israel, which resulted in the largest loss of Israeli civilians since the formation of the state, the main task became dealing with the Palestinian grouping. After the definite intentions of the political elite in Israel to finally eliminate the threat from "Hamas", a ground operation in the Gaza Strip was not a matter of if, but of when. The principles and organization of the IDF will be the primary focus of the analysis rather than this operation. It is imperative to comprehend the "army mindset" in order to make informed decisions with operations this complex, fraught with uncertainty and high danger. The maxim, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy" comes to mind in light of this.

Israel has engaged in intense conflicts in the region almost every decade since its independence. The historical context represents very well the evolution of the IDF to what it is now.

The birth of the IDF

The historical walk begins with the first Arab-Israeli conflict immediately after the withdrawal of the British Mandate and the declaration of Israel's independence on May 14-15, 1948. Violence in the region actually began during British rule, but it escalated after the withdrawal and the rejection of partition on the land under a UN resolution for a separate Palestinian and Jewish state. The USSR and the US quickly recognized Israel, unlike neighboring countries. Thus the new state quickly found itself at war with Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and with volunteers from other Arab countries. The IDF's baptism of fire is also the most difficult test it faces. In addition to the fact that the entire army is literally being created as the conflict unfolds, the balance of power is not at all on Israel's side. An example of this is the British-trained Arab Legion in Jordan. All the paramilitary formations and militias that function on the territory of Israel are effectively united in what comes to be called the IDF, while the mobilization is extremely intensified. As immigrants are mobilized upon arrival. Considering that World War II had ended only 3 years earlier, many of the volunteers had tangible military experience. The intensity of military actions is proven by the "strange" ways of acquiring weapons. One of the biggest collaborators was communist Czechoslovakia, the most curious thing that Israel acquired from Prague was the first aircraft of the Israel Air Force Avia S-199. The S-199 is a slightly modified version of the German Messerschmitt Bf-109 G fighter (the Bulgarian Air Force operates the same aircraft through the Air Force). And ironically, Israeli pilots operating German aircraft faced the British Spitfires of the Egyptian Air Force, just 3 years after the end of WWII. Israel and the IDF survive their baptism of fire.

Less than 10 years later, during the Suez Crisis (1956), Israel participated with the Franco-British coalition for the return of the Suez Canal, which Egypt had nationalized. Israel quickly occupied the Sinai Peninsula (Sinai) and Gaza, but the political situation turned against the coalition. The USSR and the USA sided with Egypt and the Anglo-French operation failed, Israel returned the taken lands, and the UN placed a peacekeeping force between Egypt and Israel.

The next 2 decades would become the most important successes for Israel. In 1967, Egypt expelled UN forces from the border with Israel and signed a military agreement with Jordan. This alliance, joined by Syria, vastly outnumbers Israel not only in manpower, but also in armored vehicles and aircraft. The Israeli Air Force launches a pre-emptive strike with Operation Focus against the Egyptian Air Force, starting the Six Day War. Within a day, Israeli planes effectively destroyed Egyptian forces at their airfields by surprise attack across the Sinai. This is repeated against Jordan and Syria, with Israel occupying Gaza and Sinai from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the entire West Bank from Jordan. This lightning victory thanks to air power will be remembered, making the air a major aspect of Israeli defense to this day.

The next decade saw the start of the Yom Kippur War (1973). The new Arab coalition between Egypt and Syria, apparently learning from the success of Israel's surprise attack a few years ago, launched a surprise attack on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. This attack caught the IDF completely by surprise, a logical parallel to the Hamas attack weeks ago, which resulted in high casualties. Israel manages to resist the attacks, with casualties for the Arab coalition several times higher, while the IDF loses 1000+ armored vehicles and over 2000 men. Egypt regains the Sinai in exchange for recognition of Israel, while the occupation of the Golan Heights is maintained.

The following decades saw a shift in hostilities, reducing high-intensity conventional conflicts to asymmetric group warfare. This change marks another important point in Israel's defense strategy. The Lebanon wars (1982 and 2006) and Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (2005) reinforced this shift, with operations taking on the appearance of counterterrorism rather than decisive and swift battles between equal adversaries.

Objectives, strategies and doctrine of the IDF

An important thing that defines Israel's defense thinking is the complete lack of strategic depth. Strategic depth is most easily described by the ground that can be allowed to be given to the enemy when attacking. An example of this would be Russia during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and beyond. The Russians have the luxury of allowing themselves to lose hundreds of kilometers of ground without it being catastrophic, while in Israel even breaking through the first line of defense would result in extraordinary losses. This was seen with an attack by "Hamas", as after even a small breakthrough, hundreds of victims and material losses were inflicted. When one end of the country can be reached in about 2 hours, the freedom to choose where to retreat and stop the enemy is extremely limited. This limited reality puts Israel in a position where it cannot afford to lose a war because that would destroy the country. A 1981 RAND assessment put Israel in a situation where "one loss would destroy the state, a decisive victory cannot resolve the conflict completely, setting up a future of perpetual wars."

This sums up the IDF's main strategy around speed, decisive action, at best fighting in foreign territory, away from urban centers, and a tendency to normalize relations with at least some of the hostile units (Egypt after Yom Kippur).

The 2016 IDF doctrine defines 5 defense principles:

A. Reliance on a defensive security strategy based on ensuring Israel's security by creating effective deterrence, neutralizing threats and avoiding confrontation.

B. Offensive military concept - the basic assumption is that the enemy cannot be defeated by going on the defensive. Therefore, it is necessary to use offensive force to achieve clear military results. The use of force will be carried out with determination to achieve political objectives, acting in accordance with the rules of international law with an emphasis on the rules of war and the preservation of Israel's legitimacy.

C. Strategic Cooperation - strengthening relations with the United States and developing strategic ties with other key countries in addition to establishing and strengthening support centers around the world.

D. Strengthening Israel's regional status - strengthening peace agreements and maximizing the potential for cooperation with moderate elements in the region.

E. Maintaining relative advantage based on quality of human resources, advanced technological capabilities (weapons) and various types of intelligence.

An example of Israel's diplomatic attempts at normalization is the advanced stages of talks with Saudi Arabia. A normalization of relations between the two countries would signal the rest of the Arab states in the Middle East and would have a positive effect on Israel's legitimacy.

The main threats to Israel's existence are Iran, Syria and the groups.

"The dangers facing Israel are - countries - distant (Iran) and near (Lebanon), failed states and states in the process of disintegration (Syria); sub-state organizations (Hezbollah, Hamas); terrorist organizations not linked to a specific country or community (Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, ISIS and others).”

The national objectives and use of force are described as follows:

When the political echelon determines that it must use the military, it must draw up the following guidelines:

A. What are the objectives and strategic conditions necessary to end the conflict?

B. What is the role of the military and how is it integrated into achieving these goals?

C. Under what contingencies will the force be used?

D. Determination of additional efforts (political, economic, media, social) and the role of the IDF in relation to them.

7. Instructions from the political echelon require clarification and constant dialogue between the higher military echelon (Chief of the General Staff) and the political echelon. The instructions from the government are the basis for the strategic thinking processes in the General Staff, but it is also influenced by them - there is a mutual impact.

Outside of Israel, the IDF's logic is defined by increasing attempts to impose Sharia rule in the Middle East and Israel. This is seen in the attempts of Islamic movements to replace regimes where governance is weak. Also, constant monitoring of issues in Western countries that have an effect on Israel.

The use of military force is built around deterrence, intelligence, defense and victory. The goal in peacetime and wartime of the IDF is to act as a deterrent to violence, if the enemy does not dare to attack, it does not need to strike back. This builds to an even greater degree of intelligence. The failure of intelligence on the Hamas attack becomes all the more frightening given the extreme importance attached to it. If the first 2 principles were successfully applied, the other 2 would not be of such importance. The Gaza situation now makes defense and victory absolutely imperative after deterrence and intelligence have failed. Defense and victory are logical to the details described from the beginning. The enemy must be pushed out as quickly as possible and no territorial losses allowed. As the victory must be decisive in order to preserve the security of the state in the future.

At the strategic level, a situation must be created in which a cease-fire is reached or a political settlement is imposed on the enemy from a position of strength, based on his military defeat or his inability and unwillingness to continue fighting. The IDF defines the main ways to defeat adversaries such as Hezbollah and Hamas as:

I. Eliminating the enemy's capabilities by destroying his forces.

II. Reducing the effectiveness of enemy capabilities against the Israeli home front.

III. Accomplishing objectives that the enemy considers valuable.

IV. Crushing the enemy's will to continue fighting.

This approach is based on components of well-defined offensive actions against the enemy's weak points, using relative advantages, emphasizing momentum, speed and initiative, the combination of which results in "shock and awe". is a military strategy based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy's perception of the battlefield and destroy his will to fight). They are intended to damage the adversary's decision-making, disrupt the effectiveness of its operations as early as possible both in time and in terms of the resources at its disposal and using minimal IDF resources. The most appropriate approach for this is maneuver operations.

The historical experience and the principles around which Israel structures its defense can be described as a lightning war ("blitzkrieg") that pays attention to technological superiority and firepower, aiming for definite and quick results with as few losses as possible. This provides important clarifications on how the IDF could conduct its potential operation in Gaza. What will he aim for with it and what does he intend to achieve. /BGNES


Georgi Vasilev, editor in BGNES News Agency