Friday, May 13, 2016

The Newest Tool in the Toolbox of IDF - Or Heller


by Or Heller

The first training exercise of the new commando brigade simulated a single offensive effort, intended to take the enemy off balance by staging an aggressive thrust deep into the enemy dispositions. Or Heller on the major challenges the brigade is expected to face, both domestically and outside of Israel's borders

A unit's shoulder badge should tell you everything about the unit it represents, like the lone tree in the badge of the Golani Infantry Brigade or the stylized numeral seven in the badge of the Seventh Armored Brigade. The shoulder badge of the new commando brigade, which is very different from the established badges, should, likewise, tell you the whole story: it depicts an upright commando knife at the center and a two-pronged attack arrow that may arrive from the air or from the ground into the depth of the enemy's territory. The knife and the arrows form the Hebrew letter Kof (the first letter in the word "commando"), and the black and white colors represent the fact that the commandos operate 24/7, during the day and especially during the night.
In early February 2016, the vision several previous IDF Chiefs of Staff had attempted to advance until the present IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, came along and made the final ruling, has materialized at last in the establishment training exercise of the new commando brigade, held in the Jordan Valley.

It is by no means a simple task taking four special operations units, each trained to acquire different specialized skills, each possessing a different tradition and a different command structure, each wearing a different beret – and cast them all together to form a single brigade. That, precisely, was the challenge that faced Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin, commander of the IDF 98th Division (the elite paratrooper division) assigned to command the new brigade. Gordin commanded the recent exercise alongside the commander of the new commando brigade, Col. David Zini.

The IDF called this exercise Leil HaGsharim ("The Night of the Bridges"): four days during which the four special operations units, Duvdevan (= Cherry Tree), Maglan (= Ibis), Egoz (= Walnut Tree) and Rimon (= Pomegranate Tree) joined forces in staging a single offensive effort, designed to take the enemy off balance by staging an aggressive thrust into the depth of the enemy's dispositions. The commando brigade trained in the Jordan Valley, but what they had in mind, presumably, was actually located further north – Hezbollah. In the next war, in the face of Hezbollah's 140,000 rockets and missiles and the devastating potential this arsenal has with regard to the Israeli rear area, strategic installations and IDF bases, the new commando brigade will be one of the first forces marching into the depth of the enemy's territory in order to disrupt the launching of that arsenal.

Brig. Gen. Uri Gordin knows a thing or two about special operations units. He had advanced through the ranks of Sayeret Matkal (the IDF's elite GHQ special operations unit) all the way to the position of unit commander (between 2007 and 2010). The IDF Chief of Staff at the time, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, awarded him a personal Colonel rank as the commander of Sayeret Matkal pursuant to a special operation for which the unit was commended. Two months before the outbreak of Operation Protective Edge, Uri Gordin had become the commander of the Nahal Infantry Brigade, and led this brigade in the fighting against Hamas in the northern sector of the Gaza Strip. One year after that operation, in July 2015, Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot decided to promote Gordin and appointed him the commander of the IDF Fire Formation – the elite 98th Division.

Even after four days without much sleep, Brig. Gen. Gordin sounded fully alert when he told us about the establishment training exercise. "This is the brigade's first training exercise. We called it 'Night of the Bridges' and this name reflects the concept of an on-going sequence of operational activities by small forces, intended to gain a significant achievement opposite the enemy. The commando brigade is news to the operational elements of IDF – a clear and direct reinforcement to the operational edge of the military.

"To my understanding, the brigade is radically different from the Nahal Brigade I commanded during Operation Protective Edge and radically different from Sayeret Matkal I had commanded during Operation Cast Lead. All of the units making up the brigade took part in the operational activities of the fighting during Operation Protective Edge, each under command of a different brigade. They executed missions assigned to them by the various infantry brigades – missions that could have been assigned to any one of the other battalions. Through this unification, this fusion, we are determined to come up with something different, to adapt the missions to the operational capabilities or vice versa – to add a new and significant tool to the toolbox of IDF.

"The very establishment of the new brigade enables us to view the operational challenges differently – in a more focused, more diversified way, with operational solutions we can offer vis-à-vis the challenges. At the same time, we are in the process of developing a new capability. This is the first product, and although it is highly significant it is still the first product in a process of learning and developing new capabilities. Initially, we are engaged in fusing different capabilities, in advancing and developing an operational concept and operational plans."

Is the context of this training activity a specific one? Does each battalion execute a different mission? Is it a combined operations effort? What will the wartime employment of the new brigade look like?

"The brigade consists of four operational units plus a medical unit and a communications company, and they operate cooperatively – sometimes jointly and sometimes individually, vis-à-vis the missions and the challenges. When they departed for the training exercise on the first day, they all arrived in the staging area and from there they embarked on a sequence of almost four full days of operational activities, at times in close geographical proximity and at other times less closely."

What is the primary weapon system in use and what is the basic formation of the brigade? Is it a squad, a platoon or a company?

"Firstly, the primary weapon system is our people. These are special operations forces made up of warfighters who had received substantial, extended training and are capable of rising up to the challenges and to improvise on the ground – but also to maintain a relatively extensive range of capabilities in different combat situations. Regarding the basic formation, to our understanding, we develop it so that even at the team level they will be able to execute a relatively extensive range of missions. On the other hand, we understand that in the context of the more significant missions we will require a more substantial Order of Battle, and in that case our basic formation will be a troop. But I think that the main thing I would like to say is that what we have here, primarily, is a force possessing a very high degree of operational flexibility, made up of elements ranging from small detachments to large joint forces up to two or three units operating jointly within a given space. This will yield a very substantial and highly-focused strength."

How do you avoid losing the specialized undercover operation skills of the Duvdevan unit or the special weapons and tactics of the Maglan unit? How do these specialized skills fit into the joint operations of the units?

"Firstly, if there is one risk or concern in this process, it must be this issue – that we might adversely affect the independence of the individual units. We are intensively engaged in an effort to preserve their strengths and advantages. The initial impression of all of the units at the preliminary debriefing session we conducted was one of empowerment. With regard to the other context, I think this is the first time that IDF have regarded this tool as a different tool, and owing to the very assumption that it is different, then every time we face a challenge we think how to implement the response using this tool of commando forces that would operate as commandos rather than as infantry. This is a tremendous opportunity to build up a force and to find solutions of this type, as opposed to the manner in which the potential of these units was utilized as they were employed as a standard force."

Is the commando brigade regarded as a maneuvering brigade within the IDF OrBat?

"We will not be another maneuvering brigade. We will be a brigade of commando units that operate in the manner of commando units, which operate against high-value objectives, which attempt to achieve the desired result by focusing the strength on specific, significant points, on the challenges presented by the other side – the enemy. I think that the manner in which we employed the special operations units in the past was grossly inadequate and far below their true potential. I think that the very fact that we combined it and created a new perspective enables us to develop capabilities that we never had before as well as to come up with operational configurations that are different from anything we had in our plans to this day."

Gordin regards the establishment of the new brigade as an important strategic move. "It is an organizational decision that is nothing short of historical," he says. "A separate brigade of special operations units, somewhat reminiscent of the US Army JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), operating out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Like many other ideas in IDF, in this case, too, we closely observe what the Americans are doing."

"A Structured Commando Iron First"

The new commando brigade incorporates four special operations units: Maglan – which employs specialized weapon systems behind enemy lines, the undercover operations unit Duvdevan – which operates (in disguise) primarily against wanted terrorists in the territories, Egoz, originally established in the 1990s to constitute a guerrilla warfare unit against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Rimon, reestablished in 2010 (and adopting the name of the mythological Rimon reconnaissance unit that operated in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s) as a desert commando unit assigned to deal with the challenges presented by ISIS and other hostile elements along the Egyptian border and in the Gaza Strip.

The challenge is substantial. IDF Chief of Staff Eizenkot took four units associated with different regional commands and with different other units, possessing radically different specialized skills, methods of operation and functions, and subordinated all of them to the same commander – Col. David Zini, who had advanced through the ranks of the Golani Infantry Brigade and commanded the Egoz unit in the past. During Operation Protective Edge, Zini was rushed to replace the commander of the Golani Brigade, Col. Ghassan Alian, who was injured during the battle in Sajaiyeh. David Zini's lifelong dream – as an officer who had advanced primarily through the ranks of the Golani Brigade – was to become the commander of that brigade. However, last summer he was summoned by the No.1 veteran of the Golani Brigade, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who had been Zini's commanding officer for many years and knows him very well, who told Zini: "You are not getting Golani. You are getting something that is more difficult than Golani."

The people of the special operations units are concerned, deeply concerned. The people of the Egoz unit are worried about their guerrilla tactics and doctrines being changed. The people of the Duvdevan unit are worried about their undercover capabilities being tampered with. Decades-old combat traditions are suddenly put to the test. Such units build themselves up over many years on Esprit-de-Corps and symbols, and suddenly all of the cards are placed back in the deck, then reshuffled and dealt again.

Nevertheless, we see that the "real" elite units, the most select ones, remain outside of the commando brigade – they remain in the IDF Intelligence Directorate, in the Air Force and the Navy or under the Depth Corps HQ. Right now, the new commando brigade must consolidate a combat doctrine that would be suitable to the new battlefield. No more cumbersome, regular armed forces made up of armored divisions equipped with Soviet-made arms – but ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas. Organizations lacking a traditional military center of gravity, organizations blended into the civilian population. "The idea is to create one structured commando iron fist capable of operating in large formats and over long periods of time behind enemy lines," said a senior IDF officer.

IDF have logged an extensive history of commando operations since the dawn of their existence. The idea of uniting the commando operations has been around since the days of the eighth IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen Haim Bar-Lev, who was opposed to the establishment of a single commando HQ. IDF reviewed the idea again in 1982, but that review was interrupted by the breakout of the First Lebanon War.

In 1986, another attempt was made to establish a commando and depth HQ under command of Maj. Gen. Doron Rubin, but that initiative was interrupted by Operation Kachol VeHum ("Blue & Brown") in Lebanon and the idea was set aside once again. 

During the Second Lebanon War (2006), frustration ran high owing to the inadequate employment of the special operations units of IDF. Tal Russo was appointed as special consultant for commando operations to IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, and a combined operation by Sayeret Matkal and the Shaldag Unit was staged into Baalbek in Lebanon on August 2, 2006. The Israeli Defense Minister in those days, Amir Peretz, regarded Operation Had VeHalak ("Plain & Simple") as "the operation that would change the face of the war", but in effect, it was no more than a 'bragging trip' – a round trip into the depth of the Lebanese territory on board helicopters.

The question now is whether the new commando brigade would succeed in making a difference on the battlefield. It will never be out of work. 

Or Heller


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

No comments:

Post a Comment