Israel Defense Forces

Status: Continuous Education for Generals — no doctrine  

The legacy of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is marked by revered reflexive commanders from Yitzhak Sadeh, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon to name a few. Despite dating before the Israeli State, the IDF attempted to turn this informal reflexive legacy into a more formal one in the 1990s up to 2005 and then back again from 2013 to this day.

1941-1995: Informal

During the occupation of Southern Lebanon (1982-2000) and the first intifada (1987-1993), the IDF could easily win battles. Nonetheless, a phenomenon seemed to curse the IDF without precedent. Winning battles seem pointless in changing the political status quo over time in comparison to previous wars. Senior officers reached the consensus that planning methodologies developed for conflicts against states led them to wage wars that no longer existed on the ground. The intricacies of contemporary conflicts demanded new methodologies.

1995-2005: ‘Avant-Garde’

Rejecting old methodologies was easy, developing new ones was not. The IDF under the leadership of General Amnon Schachak approved the initiative of three military intellectuals — BG. (ret.) Shimon Naveh, BG. (ret.) Dovik Tamari and Dr. Zvi Lanir — to tackle this issue. They founded an internal think tank, the Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI), dedicated to both research & development and professional military education. Naveh and his colleagues developed both a methodology called Systemic Operational Design (SOD) and a course for senior officers called The Advanced Operational Command and Staff Course (AOCSC). Both aimed at unleashing the reflexive capacities of officers for enhancing efficacy and military professionalism.

As the traditional military literature was partly to blame for IDF failures to adapt, Naveh and his colleagues departed from it. They found inspiration in various sub-fields sharing a more or less neopragmatic epistemology (Rorty). The Systemic part of SOD supported a holistic understanding of the environment building on systems thinking (Bertalanffy, Capra, Checkland). The Operational part of SOD supported the operational level as a space of translation between strategy and tactics building on Operational Art (Lawrence, Sevchin, Tukhachevsky). The Design part of SOD supported shaping both material and discursive realities into a preferred ones building on architecture (Alexander, Lawson, Tschumi) and postmodern social theory (Deleuze & Guattari, Foucault, Lyotard). The IDF approved a SOD informed doctrine in 2005. This signaled more a desire for external credibility, especially from US armed forces, than proper implementation since rare are IDF officers relying on doctrine.

2005-2012: ‘Exile and Camouflage’

Despite leading to unanimous operational successes in Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002 and in the Disengagement of Gaza in 2005 (see below), SOD suffered institutional resistance up to its suppression after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. On the one hand, mustering critical capacities could not only be narrowed down toward improving operations. Senior officers relied eventually on the same capacities to question the most cherished conventions in the IDF, thus challenging leadership. On the other hand, the institution could not keep up with the new concepts of AOCSC graduates. While some of the latter failed to translate these concepts down the chain of command, others would simply rely on terminology without paying attention to substance. As a result, the IDF disapproved the SOD informed doctrine it just approved months earlier. Fashionable SOD informed concepts turned into taboo, leading supporters to use them clandestinely. Naveh left Israel for US armed forces where he would find a more receptive audience.

2013-2017: ‘Revival’

Removing SOD would not resolve the problem identified in the 1990s. Operations after operations, the IDF would back to square one. The IDF won battles easily, but failed to change political status quo. The combined leadership of Benny Gantz (2011-2015) as Chief of Staff and Moshe Ya’alon (2013-2016) as Minister of Defense lay the ground for a new attempt. The General Staff came to the conclusion that the IDF would be in a better position to tackle this problem by improving generalship. They provided a space for Naveh and Ofra Graicer to do so in the form of the General Course, a three days a month mandatory course for IDF generals and senior security officials since 2013. (See Ofra Graicer’s profile for more details)

Operational Examples

(1) Operation Defensive Shield, West Bank, 2002:

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(2) Operation Yad l’Achim, Gaza, 2005:

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