The Israeli IDF Isn’t Nearly the Invincible Army It’s Cracked up to Be

But for its hi-tech air force it's really just a giant militia and policing tool

Intro by the author: The IDF ground forces are nothing like what the average American assumes them to be. They are in fact an army that has been very lucky in the enemies that they have faced. Their present employment in the massacre of Palestinians at Gaza is the kind of thing that they are now good at. The fabled hard-assed kibbutzniks of long ago who won against Arab armies are gone, replaced by the Gucci generation. Israel should be wary of committing these people to combat against serious fighters. The Israeli Air Force is the real center of gravity of the country’s armed forces.

“They are in fact an army that has been very lucky in the enemies that they have faced. Israel should be wary of committing these people to combat against serious fighters.”

I worked with and conducted liaison with The Israel Defense Force (IDF) for many years. This activity occurred as part of my regular duties as a US Army officer and later as a civilian executive of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Since my retirement from US government service I have had many business or religious occasions to visit Israel and to watch the IDF in action against various groups of Palestinians all over the West Bank. I have many friends who are retired or reserve members of the IDF. My observations concerning the IDF are based on that experience.

I write here of the ground force. The air force and navy are unknown to me from personal experience except that I know some of their officers from their service in joint (inter-service) assignments like general staff intelligence.

In my opinion, the IDF is an army built to very specifically suit Israel’s individual circumstances, needs, and philosophy. It is in some ways, a singular force. It actually more closely resembles the Swiss military establishment than it does a large standing force backed by reserve units in the way that the US Army is built.

The IDF ground force is essentially a reserve or militia army that keeps most of its forces in inactive status while maintaining a handful of units on active duty as a training base and a force in being to meet short term contingencies.

In this essay I am writing of the “line” of the ground forces as represented by armor, infantry, paratroop and artillery units at brigade level and below, i.e., battalion and company.
The special operations forces are a small part of Israeli capabilities and are manned and maintained on a very different basis. In many ways they are more like a “SWAT” team than a military force.

To understand the IDF ground forces as an institution, there are certain things that must be understood in order to “see” clearly the actual capabilities of this army:

– Because of the heavy reliance on reserve units filled with older, part time soldiers, any mobilization of a large number of ground force units for considerable periods of time places a heavy burden on the Israeli national economy. Mobilized reservists are lost to their jobs. Israeli soldiers are among the strongest and most skilled members of their society. They are typically well employed in the civilian world. When they are gone in military service the economy suffers. This automatically limits the scale and duration of reserve mobilizations.

– Older reserve soldiers serve in units made up almost entirely of similar reservists. These units are hard to maintain at a high level of training and readiness. Only limited amounts of training time and money are available for this necessity. As a result units are often unready for deployment into combat in an emergency. On a number of occasions this problem has caused IDF troops to be committed to combat in a less than “ready” status. In other words, troops have gone into combat with equipment not properly maintained and with insufficient unit training. It must be said that they have typically been lucky in their enemies and that if they had faced more serious enemies, they would have had a much different experience than the ones they had. In the Golan Heights the Syrians gave them a very difficult time in 1973 and in the same war their victory against Egypt featured a renewal of offensive activity under the cover a cease fire which they had accepted.

– There are no career ground force sergeants except as technicians. Unless the system has changed very recently, the IDF ground forces typically do not have career NCOs in the LINE of the combat arms. This is a structural tradition that derives originally from the Russian tsar’s army and which came to Palestine through Russian and Polish Zionist immigrants. This tradition of organization passed through the Hagenah into the IDF. The IDF “line” conscripts what amount to yearly classes of recruits and selects from them more promising soldiers who are given NCO level command responsibilities as; infantry leaders, tank commanders, artillery gun captains, etc. The IDF does have career NCOs but they are typically found in jobs of a more technical nature rather than junior combat command at the squad or platoon (section) level. As a result, junior officers (company grade) are required to perform duties that in more traditionally organized armies would be performed by sergeants. Leading a small combat or reconnaissance patrol would be an example. As a result, a non-reserve infantry or tank company in the field consists of people who are all about the same age (19-22) and commanded by a captain in his mid-20s. What is missing in this scene is the voice of grown up counsel provided by sergeants in their 30s and 40s telling these young people what it is that would be wise to do based on real experience and mature judgment. In contrast a 22 year old American platoon leader would have a mature platoon sergeant as his assistant and counselor.

– As a result of this system of manning, the IDF’s ground force is more unpredictable and volatile at the tactical (company) level than might be the case otherwise. The national government has a hard time knowing whether or not specific policies will be followed in the field. For example, the Israeli government’s policy in the present action in the Gaza Strip has been to avoid fatal shootings whenever possible. Based on personal experience of the behavior of IDF conscripts toward Palestinian civilians, I would say that the Israeli government has little control over what individual groups of these young Israeli soldiers may when given the chance to pick their own targets.

In the Christian Beit Sueur village outside Bethlehem, I have seen IDF troops shoot at Palestinian women hanging out laundry in their gardens. This was done with tank turret coaxial machine guns from within a dirt walled fort a couple of hundred yards away, and evidently just for the fun of it. In Bethlehem itself a lieutenant told me that he would have had his men shoot me in the street during a demonstration that I happened to get caught in, but that he had not because he thought I might not be a Palestinian and that if I were not the incident would have caused him some trouble. I have seen a lot of things like that.

One might say that in war, bad things happen but is the Gaza massacre actually war by any standard. Such behavior is indicative of an army that is not well disciplined and not a completely reliably instrument of state policy. In my travels in the West Bank, it has been noticeable that the behavior towards Palestinian civilians of IDF troops at roadblocks is reminiscent of that of any group of post-adolescents given guns and allowed to bully the helpless in order to look tough for each other. I think the IDF would be well advised to grow some real sergeants.

All in all, I think the IDF ground forces can best be described as a specialized tool that reflects 20th century Zionist socialist and nationalist ideals, and which have military traditions that are in no way reflective of those of the United States. They can also be justly said to have been fortunate in their enemies. The Jordanians gave them a run for their money in 1948-49. Hezbollah delivered a hint of the inherent limits in such a socio-military system in 2006 and now we are seeing whatever it is that we will see at Gaza.

Source: The Unz Review

29 thoughts on “The Israeli IDF Isn’t Nearly the Invincible Army It’s Cracked up to Be

      1. Willy Hansen

        Israel is picking a fight with Iran….and with Syria….and Hezbollah….and even with RUSSIA! They have been dropping bombs and missiles all over Syria…targeting both iranian and syrian forces. And now Israel are threatening Russia…telling them to not get in the way, or else they too will be targeted. All I can say is….good luck with that. Attacking Russia will become the last thing you do in this life mr.Netanyahu. And if Israel choose to use its nuclearbombs against ANYONE…..they will get the same respons from Russia. And that will be the end of Israel. I actually hope that Russia will nuke Israel and blow Tel Aviv to pieces.

          1. Pacificnorthwest

            Israel is a crime against humanity. Boycott the ethno-supremacist apartheid crime scene

          2. jerry

            Impossible to boycott degenerate that you are. They invent way too much for any country to boycott. Even you, the hypocrite, don’t boycott them because if you wanted to, start off with throwing your computer and cell phone in the garbage. Every one has parts invented by Israel. And they are the most valuable parts at that!! Give up on WAZE – Israeli invention that you love. Self driving cars of the future? Not for you hypocrite!! The technology is 90% Israeli. Go back to the stone age jerkoff.

          3. Pacificnorthwest

            Israel is a crime scene. Boycott Israel. The rapidly growing BDS movement is what the Zionists fear most

          4. moosehorn

            Dishonest Zio-Nazis like you are trying to peddle the narrative that the world depends on israhell’s inventions. Pure BS, but yes israhell has the highest per capita contribution to humanity in weapons and inhumanity, the lowest per capita in morality.

          5. jerry

            Sorry that you have such a hard time dealing with reality. Any moron can google this information and see that they are only conning themselves. Israel will be standing long after you are 6 feet under. As for morality, you should only be so lucky as to have any idea what is moral and what isn’t. You’re another loser that can’t handle facts. Ba-bye loser!

          6. moosehorn

            Meh, it is well known what facts mean to azzholes like you.

      2. David Bedford

        No thanks I don’t want no big nose Jew occupying my arse.
        Israel are fast becoming the terrorists in everyone’s eyes for what they are doing in Palestine.

        1. jerry

          Take a trip to Europe and you will find a big nose muzzie occupying your arse, and you better like it, because they love gang banging arses like you. Then tell me who the terrorists are.

          1. Pacificnorthwest

            sounds like you have a lot of experience in that department

        1. jerry

          Face it Pacificnorthwest, you are a pagan, who only believes in yourself, and if your lucky, before you die, you will realize that judgement day awaits you and when you have to face the creator of the universe, you’ll be crappin’ in your pants. Israel and the Jewish people on the other hand, have been blessed by the creator. Anyone who visits Israel can see the miracles they have created in what was once a barren wasteland that few could survive in. They have won wars when the enemy outnumbered them 1000 to 1. They have won wars when 5 countries attacked them at once from every direction. They have created more start-ups per capita than any country including the USA. They have invented more apps, more devices, more technology that is in every cell phone, computer, every drone, every missile, every security system, that guess what? yes PNW, that even you use daily and probably could not live without these days. Thank Israel for that buddy boy.

          1. Pacificnorthwest

            face it Jerry you are a racist who believes in Jewish ethno-supremacism. The only difference between you and the KKK is that you don’t wear a sheet

          2. jerry

            no connection snowflake!!! Jews who believe in the bible and God’s commandments get blessed by God. KKK followers follow no god, and claim to be superior on their own. Jews don’t claim to be superior. It was the Jews in the USA who were at the forefront of black rights. At the forefront of women’s rights. It was Jews who started the ACLU, which fought for everyone’s civil rights. That doesn’t jive with your claim at all. Look it up. Google it. Bottom line, you’re just jealous because with the blessing Jews get, they make you feel inferior. Life sucks when you’re stupid.

          3. Pacificnorthwest

            That you invoke some deity to justify your racism, does not diminish your racism, racist pig.

          4. moosehorn

            The Zio-Nazi have been using the myth of the Chosen People to advance their evil agenda, and sadly, so far it has worked for them among the gullible.

          5. Pacificnorthwest

            More and more people are awakening to the morally repugnant racist core nature of Zionism. And as they do, the veil is being lifted and the ugliness is becoming revealed. Zionism is the functional equivalent of Nazism.

          6. Pacificnorthwest

            and you should lay off the zio-crack. You seem to believe in those zionist lies told to you of an empty land. Israel is a war crime committed in 1948-1949. Nothing more than an on-going crime scene.

          7. jerry

            Face it nazi boy, it’s you who loves the KKK and hates blacks, you who hates god, hates Jews and hates gays. Yet I’ll bet you couldn’t make a woman happy if your life depended on it. You’re a loser. Bye bye loser, hahahahha

          8. Pacificnorthwest

            Zionism is the Jewish brand ethno-supremacism. You are a Zionist who smokes the zio-crack and you probably even believe the Zionist lies you have been indoctrinated with.

            Zionism is the functional equivalent of Nazism. You are far closer to Nazi thought patterns than I am.

            I am a humanist. I find ALL forms of ethno-supremacism to be odious forms of hate speech.

            Zionism is the enemy of all of humanity, including Jews.

          9. moosehorn

            Zionism is a hateful ideology that shall be eradicated.

          10. moosehorn

            Nice try Shylock, we heard the Zio-Nazi myths about the land without people and people without land, and how they made the desert bloom! Israhell is a satanic nation, created by terror and driven by the devil, without US unconditional help it would have been put to its knees long time ago.

      3. moosehorn

        Shylock, you sound like you are so used to being bending over and being serviced.

  1. jerry

    Patrick Lang is a well known muzzie lover. The IDF would make mincemeat out of you in any battle. Why not share the times US soldiers raped women in Iraq and Afghanistan? War is ugly, but the spoils always go to the Victor not the loser. The demonstrators in Gaza should all be shot as they are attempting to enter a sovereign country illegally. And all of Gaza is Hamas, a terror organization. There are no innocent civilians there.

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