Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted during the early summer and the majority of editing occurred in August, well before the tragic events of October 7th. After careful consideration, the editorial team has decided to publish the article without significant change. Since the founding of War Room, our editorial policy has always been to publish enduring pieces that are as interesting a year from publication as when they first appear. In line with that policy, we have not asked the author to revise the article to reflect the current situation in Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, and the West Bank. The author’s underlying message remains the same, even though the subject has taken on additional urgency over the last few weeks. Please keep these circumstances in mind as you read this article.
[T]he IDF and the United States can continue to learn from each other in addressing more novel shared challenges
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and U.S. Army both have a long history of practicing combined arms maneuver. Indeed, lessons from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War helped the U.S. Army develop the AirLand Battle doctrine of the 1980s. Even now, one study notes the 1973 war has continued relevance for future operations. Similarly, the IDF and the United States can continue to learn from each other in addressing more novel shared challenges. One mutual problem is dealing with rivals’ anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities when conducting a potentially costly major land offensive while trying to limit collateral damage. Proper training can compensate for the lack of combat experience against these new capabilities.
According to the Congressional Research Service, anti-access “is defined as any action, activity, or capability, usually long-range, designed to prevent an advancing military force from entering an operational area. Area Denial is defined as action, activity, or capability, usually short-range, designed to limit an adversarial force’s freedom of action within an operational area.” The 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy emphasizes the rivalry with China. U.S. Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in late February 2023, “Our goal is to avoid fighting a land war in Asia….I think the best way to avoid fighting that war is by showing China and countries in that region we can win that war.” Demonstrating this capability requires the U.S. Army to prepare to overcome the A2/AD strategy in case of a war with China or other foes like Russia. The IDF faces powerful Arab non-state actors; the strongest of these is Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon. Hezbollah has created its own A2/AD strategy, aimed at slowing down the IDF while inflicting heavy casualties.
Dealing with A2/AD strategy
An A2/AD strategy is meant to prevent U.S. forces from approaching an area, such as during a war with China, to cripple U.S. operations. Similarly, Hezbollah could use A2/AD against Israel. With these common problems, the U.S. Army and the IDF can assist each other in defeating their foes.
The IDF learned many lessons from its previous war with Hezbollah in 2006. In the next war, Israel’s impressive airpower capabilities might not be sufficient to suppress Hezbollah’s fire. The IDF might have to launch a massive ground offensive. However, due to its high sensitivity to casualties, Israel might hesitate to conduct a large-scale ground attack. A similar concern could influence whether and to what degree the U.S. Army will launch a massive offensive to defeat its rival’s A2/AD approach.
Prior to the current operations responding to the October 7th attack, the last time the IDF ran a relatively massive land campaign was in the 2014 war in Gaza. It remains to be seen whether the lack of combat experience among many participating soldiers will result in increased casualties or prolonged operations. The U.S. Army has to deal with a similar problem since many of its soldiers have also not participated in a major campaign. The last time the U.S. Army confronted a conventional army in large-scale combat was in Iraq in 2003. Training can assist in overcoming this lack of direct experience. In contrast to the IDF, Hezbollah relies on battle-hardened combatants who fought in the Syrian civil war. The U.S. Army faces enemies like Russia, which now has battle-hardened troops from the war in Ukraine.
Hezbollah’s A2/AD strategy depends mainly on using their positions in populated and urban areas, forcing the IDF to fight it way to key positions while reducing collateral damage to a minimum. The U.S. Army has similar problems, and so can adopt some Israeli solutions. For instance, the IDF Merkava Mk 4 tank features battle-proven active defense systems that destroy anti-tank projectiles before they reach their targets. It is now installed in U.S. tanks, too. Of course, the learning can go both ways. IDF elite infantry units like the 89th Commando Brigade might conduct air assaults deep inside enemy territory, as U.S. crack airborne units can do.
For both the IDF and U.S. Army, there are more than just technological challenges to overcome.
Yet, despite all the efforts to improve IDF readiness, it struggles with severe problems in manpower, logistics, etc. For example, some of the IDF reserve units are not well equipped and trained. The U.S. Army also has problems with manpower, particularly in attracting new recruits. In addition, the IDF and the U.S. Army should not rely too much on technology, such as in gathering intelligence, because enemy actions might disrupt the use of various platforms. Israel learned this the hard way on October 7th, when Hamas managed to neutralize part of its technology. For both the IDF and U.S. Army, there are more than just technological challenges to overcome.
The “U.S. Army’s Multi-Domain Task Forces (MDTFs) represent the critical centerpiece in operationalizing the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept… intelligence gathered from collection platforms such as satellites, aerial platforms, adversary communications and cyber networks feeds the MDTFs and combatant commanders with information necessary to maintain situational awareness.” In addition, in a “major war with China, the United States homeland would be at risk as well, with both kinetic attacks and non-kinetic attacks” such as cyberattacks on the power grids or on pipelines. The U.S. Army will then “provide defense support to civil authorities.” The IDF has similar challenges in preparing to fight Iran and its partners, like Hezbollah,
On March 13, 2023, Lieutenant General Michael Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “in fact, the inclusion of Israel presents many collaborative and constructive security opportunities.” One way for the IDF and the U.S. Army to work together is to overcome their enemies’ A2/AD strategy. The IDF and the U.S. Army can learn from each other how to improve their ability to conduct a large-scale ground attack in various terrains. They need to accomplish their tasks, such as seizing key spots, even if they absorb significant casualties. At the same time, they should try to reduce collateral damage. Training must be practical and realistic, particularly if it is to make up for the lack of experience in conducting offensive operations in high-intensity combat.
Ehud Eilam has been dealing with and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the Israeli military and later on he worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, as a researcher. He has a Ph.D and he has published six books in the U.S & U.K.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.
Photo Description: Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade jump into the night skies of northern Italy with the Dolomite Mountains in the background.
Photo Credit: LTC John Hall, USA