Last June, speaking at the Israel Multinational Missile Defense Conference, former Minister for Homefront Defense Matan Vilnai said, “It is very difficult for the IDF to accept changes… it is apprehensive of dramatic changes and system-wide innovation.” He noted that fortunately, the political echelon assigned the issue of missile and rocket defense to the IAF.
With this statement, Vilnai praised the IAF for its ability to adapt to new concepts and promptly assimilate and operate vital systems, and stated that the IAF does not “suffer” from a lack of innovative thinking and system-wide changes.
However, a lack of new concepts and dramatic changes does exist in the IAF. Upon examining the IAF as an advocate for involvement in the space field, or even in the field of missile and rocket defense, we see that it neither initiated nor led efforts to further these fields. For various reasons, including budgetary priorities and assumption of responsibility, the IAF did not even show enthusiasm to undertake any activities.
Moreover, the IAF has difficulty taking on other tasks besides its primary ones, such as defending national airspace and achieving air superiority. In other activities, it is merely a supporting or participating element. Its strategic thinking focuses on being “the long arm” and on its early warning and deterrence capabilities and it does not play a major role in affecting Israel’s over-all military strategy.
Israel faces numerous threats. Middle Eastern political changes turned Turkey into a hostile state. Doubts surround the peace agreement with Egypt; and the Syrian regime is no longer stable. Thus, we must adopt new, creative ways of thinking and develop fresh concepts with a wide range of alternatives.
At the Fisher Institute’s recent conference, former IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan, spoke on the topic of “The Role of the IAF and the Challenges and Threats It Faces.” In response to a question on how he built up the IAF for its strategic role, he noted, “One should remember that in the end, the IAF must carry out mission orders, load munitions, and deliver them to the target at the specified time.”
At the last conference on the same subject, IAF Chief of Staff Hagai Topolanski said, “One should remember that the IAF is primarily an industrial plant. It generates and receives targets, and its job is to destroy them.” In my opinion, such concepts belong to the days of the War of Attrition (1970). Statements claiming that the IAF is “airborne artillery” were true back in 1970, but even so, only to a limited extent. Today, in an age where technology makes generational leaps in years, the global scene has changed dramatically and global legitimacy plays a major role, new and creative ways of thinking are vital.
To gain new insight, we must invest in a profound and exhaustive study of military professionalism. I often hear that “we have no one to learn from,” “our threat is different,” and “everything has changed.” Senior officers scarcely attend symposiums and seminars as interested observers. In meetings with senior foreign officers, we explain and rarely ask questions. We seldom read professional studies and, most notably, we rarely write.
Writing necessitates a profound and creative conceptual effort, and the writer must be able to express his or her thoughts clearly - capabilities and traits are regrettably in very short supply in Israel.
The IDF was established on the basis of initiative, creativity, innovation, and the courage to think differently. We must not allow it to lose these vital traits. As a small nation surrounded by vast threats, our lives depend on it.