Emotive Anniversary for Israel’s Intelligence and Military: Taken by Surprise on Yom Kippur 40 Years Ago — Lessons Learned

by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv

[Yossi Melman, co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new history of Israeli intelligence, Spies Against Armageddon, wrote these reflections for the website of the new, privately owned and financed 24-hour video news service from Israel, i24News.tv .]

Israel is commemorating the 1973 Yom Kippur War during which 2,700 Israeli servicemen were killed and thousands were injured.

The heavy casualties on the Israeli side and initial successes of the Egyptian and Syrian armies traumatized the Israeli public. Since then, Israel has struggled to recover and heal its wounds, despite the 40 years that have gone by.

It has become increasingly clear that the 1973 was Israel’s last war in the classic sense.

Ever since the War of Independence in 1948, and because of the country’s small size and limited resources, Israeli strategists had developed a military doctrine that stressed the following points.

*The battle has to be decisive and last just a few days.

*The battlefield must be on enemy territory.

*Israel must take the initiative: Take the lead and search for and destroy the enemy.

*To that end, the key combat tools are the air force and armored formations moving fast with superior firepower. In a sense, this doctrine was based on the German blitzkrieg (lightning war) of World War II.

Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has fought or has been involved in another seven campaigns: The First Lebanon War (1982-2000); the first Palestinian intifada in the West Bank and Gaza (1987-1991); during the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was attacked by Iraqi Scud missiles; the second Palestinian intifada (2000-2004); the Second Lebanon War (2006); and two campaigns against Hamas in Gaza (2009-2010 and 2012).

All these battles and confrontations have undermined the original military doctrine and changed the nature of Israel’s wars. In all of them, Israel did not fight against regular armies but against popular uprisings (in the case of the two Palestinian intifadas) or militia and guerilla forces – the PLO and Hezbollah in the First Lebanon War and Hezbollah again in the Second Lebanon War and twice against Hamas in the last four years.

Large scale battles have been transformed into “low intensity conflicts,” a term that refers to a level of hostilities or use of military power that falls short of a full-scale conventional or general war.

Another significant characteristic of Israel’s recent military campaigns is that the distinction between “the frontline” and “the home front” has diminished. Israel’s densely populated urban areas have been transformed into battle zones. This started in 1991 with Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who launched 39 Scud ballistic missiles against Haifa, the Greater Tel Aviv area and in the direction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona. The missiles caused extensive damage to property but luckily enough very few people were killed or injured.

It was the first time since 1948 that the Israeli home front had been attacked. The Israeli public was shocked and traumatized. Yet for good and justified reasons – namely US pressure and concern for the integrity of the anti-Saddam international coalition – Israel, at the receiving end remained passive and did not retaliate.

The Iraqi attack set a precedent. Israel’s enemies learned that the urban centers are its weakest link. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah rained down more than 4,000 rockets and missiles at Israeli towns and villages. The might of the Israel Air Force and ground forces could not prevent it. The glorious armored and tanks divisions that were victorious in the wars of 1967 and 1973 proved to be useless.

The scenario was repeated by Hamas in its violent confrontations with Israel.

Nowadays, Hezbollah is in possession of some 60,000 rockets and missiles of various ranges. The disintegrating Syrian Army, entangled in its bloody civil war, is armed with a few thousand improved Scud missiles and the Iranians hold some 600 Shihab 3 missiles in their arsenal. Every Israeli city, strategic site, airbase or military installation is within their range.

The next war or wars will involve missiles fired from land, sea and air at populated areas. The future battlefields will take us into cyber-warfare conducted from air-conditioned control centers.

The major instruments that ensure that Israel will remain the strongest military force and maintain its superiority are the air force and military intelligence.

The tank, once the admired machine of the old and classic Israeli wars, is becoming more and more redundant. The Yom Kippur War was probably the last hurrah of this old warhorse.

September 13, 2013

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