ANALYSIS: Policing in Gaza has blunted IDF fighting abilities

By Ze'ev Schiff


Av 28, 5766

One of the main conclusions of the war against Hezbollah will be the
fact that the fighting abilities of the ground forces deployed by the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon have been blunted by years of police action in the territories.

Most units, in their training and operations, followed fighting doctrines of police forces and not of standing armies. Hezbollah trains, fights and is equiped as an army, utilizing some of the most advanced anti-tank missiles and other weapons.

The character of the IDF - known for its blitzkrieg methods, encircling
movements deep inside enemy territory, and the ability to bring about a quick and decisive conclusion to the fighting - has been spoiled by years of involvement in operations that tied it down, emotionally and politically.

This included missions to stop terrorist cells, dealing with suicide bombings, the use of light weapons for the most part, and closures and sieges imposed on large population centers. Many of the IDF's reservists operate alongside the Shin Bet security service personnel to carry out arrests of wanted Palestinians. Battalions of reservists stood guard over Palestinians in detention centers.

In many ways, the IDF became the standing army of the Shin Bet. This is not the army that Israel knew in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 or the 1982 Lebanon War, which were both followed by a public commission of inquiry. Many of the advantages and operational qualities of the IDF have been lost over the years because the army has been fighting the wrong war  from a military point of view.

It would have been better, for example, had the war against the Palestinians been handled by the Border Police, allowing the regular army and its reservists to train for a different type of warfare.

It turns out that many of the commanders in Lebanon learned their trade in the fighting in the territories, and they thought in terms of fighting the Palestinians. The "Palestinian model" guided the way IDF units fought the bloody battles at Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail. The units entered the battle and withdrew, similar to the way they operate in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF was also surprised in Lebanon by the amount of anti-tank missiles
fired by Hezbollah. The immediate reaction in the territories is to take cover in the closest home. In Lebanon, many soldiers were killed when anti-tank missiles penetrated walls behind which IDF troops had taken cover. Two weeks into the fighting, a specific order went out on how and where to take cover.

In Lebanon, soldiers fought in bunkers just like the Americans in Vietnam. A Hezbollah prisoner, who was part of an anti-tank missile team, said that during their training, they were allowed to fire as many as 15 anti-tank missiles. These are very costly, and the IDF doesn't even dream of such training, even though the experience is invaluable.

Another example is the deployment of the Golani Brigade from the Gaza Strip to Lebanon. It turns out that this excellent fighting force lacked officer expertise in coordinating with artillery batteries, something that they don't have to do very often in their policing duties.