The IDF’s “mystique”

Below, J. L. notes that Operation Cast Lead was partly a response to the perceived loss of IDF prestige following the 2006 Lebanon incursion. I guess this is right, but I feel like every recent Israeli military operation – from the 1982 Lebanon invasion to the Intifada and so on – has provoked a new round of hand-wringing about the IDF’s declining reputation.

Not coincidentally, the ’82 invasion marks the end of open warfare between Israel and the Arab states and the beginning of a new phase of asymmetric conflict. I very much doubt that Israel’s ability to defeat its neighbors’ conventional militaries has declined since the 1970s, but because the IDF is now fighting small terrorist cells or diffuse insurgent groups, even tactical successes get obscured by the messy nature of low-level conflict.

The larger lesson is that counter-insurgency is difficult to do well, even with a highly-proficient military. The IDF hasn’t gotten worse at fighting – its missions have become more difficult and metrics for evaluating military success are now harder to come by. The fact that insurgent groups can make even the IDF look bad is another point in favor of the United States avoiding future foreign occupations at all costs.

 

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12 thoughts on “The IDF’s “mystique”

  1. It’s worth noting that the hand-wringing about Israeli IDF atrophy actually goes back to 1973, when a fore-warned Israeli military was still taken off-guard on Yom Kippur and only with US intervention managed to avert complete disaster. Images of rusted tanks and unprepared soldiers led to a lot of anxiety about the need for constant preparedness, which (if I can remember what my parents have told me) is a big reason behind why Israeli soldiers are now constantly in their uniforms with their weapons with them at all times.

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    • Are you saying Cast Lead wasn’t a mainline IDF operation? It seems to me it was a fairly conventional combined arms operation.

      In any case, Counter-Terrorism is not quite congruent with Counter-Insurgency, at least in US doctrine.

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      • From what I understand about Cast Lead, Shin Bet ran the intelligence side of things, spies etc. and IDF ran the tactical side. Where they intersected, the military intelligence directorate (which really isn’t part of the military at all ) cooked up strategy and feds it to the politicians for perusal.

        The Americans haven’t run a decent COIN operation in years. Every time they get a few good operators, they’re reduced to bagmen for Our Bastards.

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        • Given that there is no legally controlled territory in USA restive enough to require a counterinsurgency, one wonders how the few good operators can be “reduced” to their entire purpose of propping up questionably legitimate US clients

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              • An insurgency, by definition, arises as a reaction to an established regime. USA props up client regimes and is tarred by them. This from Jake Tapper: many groups within Egypt refused to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she’d said Hosni Mubarak was a personal friend.

                “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States,” Secretary Clinton told the Arab language satellite channel al Arabiya during a 2009 interview.

                American COIN has done yeoman’s work attempting to suppress various insurgencies but I cannot find a single recent instance where the USA’s meat eaters have backed good government. In Afghanistan, we are propping up the hugely corrupt Karzai regime.

                Truman used to say he wanted one-handed advisers, because they all kept say “on the other hand”. On the one hand, Jimmy Carter baldly refused to do dirty deals yet it’s the Carter administration under Brzezinski which started backing the Taliban. On the other hand, every other American president winds up cuddling up to the dictators because they’re the Powers-that-Are.

                I contend American COIN has become the bagmen for tyrants, simply because history shows this to be true. Could it be otherwise? Well, sure, we could be on the side of the angels, but angels are in awfully short supply.

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              • … but if you assert the only insurgencies worth suppressing are intent on overthrowing our own legally controlled territory, our country, the USA, I can agree with all that. The question arises, how much reciprocity do we owe our allies, suppressing their insurgencies? That’s where the trouble starts: who’s an ally?

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