Israel's new strategy for dealing with its neighbors

Israel's armed forces - the most powerful and best equipped in the Middle East - are changing. Older tanks and aircraft will be retired. Some 4,000 - maybe even more - professional career officers will be dismissed.

A range of other changes over the next five years are intended to make the Israeli military leaner but more effective.

Elements of the plans were set out by the Israel Defense Forces' Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, earlier this week.

Once implemented, they promise what some analysts have described as "a revolution" in Israel's military affairs.

In part, of course, this is all about money. The defence budget in Israel is under growing pressure - social protest has erupted on Israel's streets too. Significant cuts have to be made.

This is one reason why units equipped with older tanks like derivatives of the US M60 will be disbanded, as well as some Air Force units with older aircraft that are much more expensive to maintain.

Streamlining the career military may also save funds in the long run.Shift of emphasis

But what is really going on here owes less to budgetary pressures and more to the dramatic changes that are under way in the strategic geography of the region around Israel.

The Arab world is living through an upheaval that shows no sign of ending. The big military players like Egypt, Syria and Iraq are either facing political uncertainty, full-scale civil war, or have been exhausted by invasion and more than a decade of bitter internal violence.

The Israeli military's five-year plan has been postponed over recent years - partly due to the budgetary uncertainty and partly due to the dramatic changes sweeping across the region.

As retired Brig Gen Michael Herzog, a former head of IDF Strategic Planning, told me: "The prospect of a conventional war breaking out between the IDF and a traditionally organised Arab army is now much less than in the past.

"However, the risk from non-state actors, of asymmetric warfare, and greater unrest along Israel's orders (with the exception perhaps of Jordan) is increasing and it is these threats that the Israeli military has to plan for."

So what will change ? Gen Herzog says there will probably be fewer tanks, but this goes much further than simply changing the IDF's order of battle.

There will be a much greater emphasis upon intelligence and cyber-warfare.

The use of the Tamuz system, a highly accurate guided missile, during recent months against sporadic fire coming from Syrian positions is a pointer to the types of weaponry that will be more important in the future.

Tamuz is actually a relatively old system, recently declassified, but its successors will play an important part in Israel's new order of battle.

"The Israeli military concept has always been to shorten the duration of any conflict, but this has become more important than ever before because of the growing missile arsenals of groups like the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, which means the Israeli home-front is under threat like never before," Gen Herzog told me.

Israel already deploys a variety of defensive measures like the Arrow and Iron Dome anti-missile systems, but improving its offensive capability is seen as the key to managing the tempo and duration of any future conflict.
Most of Israel's major adversaries are no longer capable of making an attack and even regional players like Hezballah are tied down by the conflict in Syria which is blowing back on them in Lebanon.  Jordan is the only somewhat stable country on its border and it is not a real threat to Israel.  Iran remains the major threat to Israel and Israel's missle defense system is its main response to that threat.


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