|Israel Resource Review
||3rd June, 2005
Ushering in a New Era in the
IDF: Dependence on Air Force Capability
Middle East News Line Analysis
of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon ushers an Israeli
doctrine that plays down the Palestinian insurgency and
envisions air power as the leading element against ground threats.
Israeli defense sources as well as Western diplomats said incoming Chief
of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Helutz, who entered his position on July 1, has been
authorized to reduce manpower and other assets employed to fight the
Palestinian insurgency. The sources said the military's priority in 2006 --
in wake of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West
Bank -- would be Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons arsenal.
"The new policy would favor the air force and intelligence over the
ground forces, particularly the Armored Corps," a defense source said. "In
many ways, the ground forces would support the air force rather than the
Under Helutz, the sources said, the army -- which lost about 50 percent
of its procurement budget since 2002 -- would be reduced in both manpower
and organization. They said this could include the elimination of one of the
three regional commands.
The incoming chief of staff, the sources said, envisions the air force,
rather than the army, as leading operations against such short-range threats
as Palestinian insurgents in the Gaza Strip, the Iranian-backed Hizbullah in
Lebanon and Syria. Helutz and his aides regard the combination of air power
and real-time tactical intelligence as effective against virtually any
adversary while reducing the need for large numbers of ground forces and
"Tanks and bulldozers are out," Brig. Gen. Amir Eshel, air force Group
Air Commander, told a conference on May 31. "The air force and special
forces are in. The method of warfare is undergoing a deep change."
A leading challenge of the military would be to improve intelligence to
ensure a stream of targets for both the air force and special forces. Air
force officers said that in 2001 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suspended air
strikes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of a lack of targets.
The sources said that while Ya'alon has encouraged cooperation between
the air force and army, he has disputed plans to marginalize the ground
forces. They said Ya'alon disagreed with the assessment by Sharon and
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz that Iran's emerging missile and nuclear
capabilities constitutes the leading threat to Israel. Both Sharon and Mofaz
were said to have assessed that the Palestinian insurgency did not represent
a strategic danger to the Jewish state.
In contrast, Ya'alon warned that the Palestinians comprised the leading
threat to Israel. He argued that the Palestinian war has succeeded in
eroding Israel's resolve and paved the way for unilateral withdrawal from
the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The general said the continued Palestinian war
was also undermining Israeli deterrence against Arab states, including
"The Palestinians don't see our withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a
choice, but as running away," Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who cited
Ya'alon, told a gathering of the ruling Likud Party on Thursday.
The outgoing chief of staff did not dismiss the importance of Iran's
nuclear weapons program. But the sources said Ya'alon maintained that Iran
marked a greater challenge to the United States and its Gulf Arab allies
than to Israel.
"In the end, Sharon decided he wanted somebody who was more in tune with
his thinking," a Western diplomat familiar with the dispute said. "Helutz
agreed with Sharon's assessment that Iran, rather than the Palestinians,
marked the leading threat to Israel."
On the eve of his departure, Ya'alon warned of a new Palestinian
insurgency campaign that would seek to press Israel into additional
withdrawals from the West Bank. Ya'alon said the Palestinian offensive would
begin in the West Bank and quickly spread to Jerusalem, Kfar Saba and Tel
Aviv, which could come under Palestinian missile attacks.
"There is a high probability of a second terror war," Ya'alon said.
"Terrorism will return in all its forms -- shooting attacks, car bombs,
suicide attacks, mortars, and Kassam missiles."
[On Thursday, Israeli authorities reported the capture of two Islamic
Jihad would-be suicide bombers. Authorities said the Jihad operatives sought
to blow themselves up in Jerusalem.]
Officials said that under Ya'alon the military drafted plans for the
capture of the Gaza Strip in wake of the Israeli withdrawal in August 2005.
They said the military envisioned the Palestinian launch of Kassam missiles
from newly-obtained insurgency positions in the northern Gaza Strip in an
attempt to strike critical facilities in the Israeli port city of Ashkelon.
Still, Sharon and Mofaz rejected Ya'alon's stress on the Palestinians.
The sources said the prime minister regarded 2007 as a watershed for the
Middle East and the likelihood of a regional war. Sharon was said to
envision a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq as emboldening Iran and its
allies to launch a massive attack against Israel.
As a result, the sources said, Sharon has sought to ensure support from
the United States in any regional crisis. The sources said Sharon's plan to
withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank was meant to
persuade President George Bush that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would
not be related to future Middle East regional tensions.
Helutz's role would focus on preparing Israel's military to face the
Iranian missile and nuclear threat, preferably in cooperation with the
United States, the sources said. They said Helutz would enhance and
intensify intelligence against Iran and prepare the air force for long-range
"We are advancing in controlling territory from the air," air force
commander Maj. Gen. Eliezer Shkedy said.
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