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MG (Res.) Eyal Ben-Reuven: The Israel national security doctrine needs to be updated and institutionalized

Sitting Down With MG (Res.) Eyal Ben Reuven

Interviewed by Oren Tokatly – INDCAA Website Editor, 9th class
Translated by Marshall Grant

Rosh Hashanna 5775, September 2014

Major General (Res.) Eyal Ben Reuven is a frequent visitor to the INDC Alumni Association’s website. Eyal was the Commander of the IDF Colleges between 2004 and 2006, was active in reviving the foundation’s activities and since 2009 has served as its chairman. His service in the IDF included commanding a corps, serving as the Ground Forces Command Chief of Staff, and he commanded both a reserve and standing division. In the Second Lebanon War he held the position of Deputy Commander of the Northern Command, a post he still holds today as a reserve officer, along with his civilian job of Land Systems Chief Coordinator in Israel Aerospace Industries.

So it is natural that following Operation Protective Edge, we asked to sit down for a frank discussion with Eyal.

Q: Hello Eyal, following Operation Protective Edge we uploaded a new article written by MG (Ret.) Isaac Ben Israel to the website, covering the subject of updating Israel’s security doctrine. You recently expressed your thoughts on this issue in the media. What are your thoughts? Is this the time for a theoretical discussion on Israel’s security doctrine?

A: Isaac’s article is excellent, it shows that we had an exceptional national security doctrine due to its relevancy, which was created and shaped by past leaders, such as Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion. This doctrine was valid until the 80s, but reality has changed and the doctrines that were drafted in the past are no longer valid. Today we are lacking a cohesive and defined doctrine, and we still don’t have an official binding document. The results of this type of discourse and document are not theoretical at all, but very practical. The national security doctrine needs to derive from the political conception and the definition of national interests, from which national force building will evolve. The more reality changes, and it’s clear that it is significantly changing, the national security doctrine needs to changed and modified. In the absence of a solid and compelling doctrine led by the political echelon, facts are determined on the ground. It is actually the military that is the most dominant factor as they are responsible for the staff work, and there is no other body that can counterbalance it. The National Security Council is supposed to be in charge of this matter, but doesn’t even come close to doing so. We need to adopt the American system, where every president is required by law to prepare and present a document in which he explains his theories and opinions, and from that point on, this is the document that directs and obligates him and his government. It starts with analysis, examining the alternatives and deep consideration of the implications involved. Later, this is presented to the public and receives its support, and at the end of the process there is a cohesive, clear and binding direction. The plan for action is derived from this procedure – which is not a one-time process. The American example also requires continued, routine examination in light of the changes that take place over time.

Q: Do you thing that the campaign, or operation, or war that just ended – by the way, what was it? Would it have looked different if we had had such a document concerning the security doctrine?

A: I am of the opinion that Protective Edge was a war. We know what an operation is: we go in, we carry out our operations, and we leave. There are no ceasefires and there is no renewed combat, its duration was long, large parts of the country were under the threat of fire for extended periods of time, the national public relations arrays were called into action, there was end-to-end support of the public and politicians, and the county’s budget is required to change as a result. These are all characteristics of war and it has to be treated as one, along with its implications.

The national security doctrine is supposed to provide a clear direction to where we are going and why. In Protective Edge we were witness to a decision making process, that in my opinion, was the result of the opponent’s action and not from initiation evolving from a clear Israeli security doctrine. This was why there we found material disagreements among decision makers due to their reactive responses, and for not taking the initiative as was required.

Q: Give an example of changes in the region that require changes in the national security doctrine and the way the campaign was managed.

A: I will mention two main changes: the first – in our day and age, we are seeing less combat between countries as we have seen in the past, but there is more war between countries and organizations. These organizations, mainly terror organizations, understood that the sensitivity towards civilians and the value of life is democracy’s Achilles heel. This is why they are directing their attacks towards civilians and even turning their own civilian population into human shields.

I will also add the change taking place in the international arena. It isn’t enough that one superpower will stand behind you, as it was in the past. When the economy is global and the relations and interests stretch across the world, international legitimacy is one of the components of national security. In today’s media world, the war is in a lot of ways a war for the story. This is true for your own public opinion, against the enemy and the entire world – all on different levels.

The real challenge needs to be in preventing wars. If you failed in this preliminary stage, and you go to war, then the definition of its objectives need to point for a short duration. The war’s objectives need to be achieved as soon as possible, before damage to civilians grows and the media turns their suffering into the main issue. We should never reach the point of “a limitation of force” – this is the point where the use of force is no longer effective. This is not what we saw in Protective Edge. There needs to be maximum and rapid force operation to reach the point of decisiveness as soon as possible, and on time. When there is a tie, or it can be presented as a tie, the other side perceives this as an achievement and that increases their motivation for belligerency.

Q: And what about the motivation of opponents in other arenas? How do you see the implications of Protective Edge in the northern arena?

A: There is a correlation between the two arenas, and we need to look beyond the darkening northern skies. We need to prepare and be ready for this kind of outbreak or another in the north as well, and we need to modify our force and abilities to quickly crush any northern terror activity. We need to reach our core objectives as quickly as possible, for example enemy commanders and leaders, rocket launching infrastructure, communications, etc. There needs to be defensive arrays for civilians. On this issue, I would like to mention the recommendation of the Meridor Committee, which provided a boost for the development and priority of defense systems. I believe that protecting civilians is the most important element in the heart of any strategy, but at the same time, it is also our duty to continue to develop the IDF’s offensive capabilities in all its branches – air, sea and especially the ground. Removing the civilian population from the circle of violence needs to be an important element in the national security doctrine and in the way force is enacted by decision makers. We cannot take it for granted that civilians will leave areas that are adjacent to the battlefield.

Q: One of the important elements in this round of conflict was the handling of the tunnels. MG (Res.) Ya’akov Amidror, who served in the past as Director of the National Security Council and the Commander of the IDF Colleges (before you), admitted in all fairness during the war, that even though we have known of the tunnel’s existence for years, but until Protective Edge the leadership didn’t understand or internalize their significance. In 2008, an article was published in Ma’arachot, the IDF journal, which analyzed the Gaza tunneling phenomena. The article was based on a paper written by an INDC graduate and claimed that combat in the subterranean dimension is significant and dramatic, and that the IDF needs to fundamentally reexamine its doctrine. When I read the article, I thought of a question I want to ask you as a former Commander of the IDF Colleges: Is there anyone outside of the INDC who methodically reads the papers written by INDC graduates? Do we not have a repository of outstanding ideas and knowledge at our finger tips that is not being properly taken advantage of? And if this the case, then we, and I allow myself to say "we" – INDC graduates, should establish a team that will read these papers in order to contribute to the thought process, but mainly to identify warning signs ahead of time.

A: I agree. There is no doubt that INDC graduates, who come from a wide variety of disciplines, are knowledgeable and experienced; we have important and interesting potential that can contribute to the thought process that is so very important to Israel. I am less convinced of the openness of the defense establishment to outsiders, but we need to be optimistic. As far as we are concerned, we will certainly be a part.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the INDC graduates and their families, the security forces and all of Israel, a Happy New Year – a year of health and success, and may this be the year we will advance towards decreasing the potential of violence in our region.

O.T.: Thank you very much EyalI wish you too a Happy New Year.

Rosh Hashanna 5775, September 2014

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