The statement made by the Vice President of the USA this last week at the AIPAC convention in Washington ("Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed in the coming months, the United States of America will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal…") reflects the fact that the deal with Iran has reached its final stretch, and will expire sooner or later. The regional arms (and nuclear) race has been in progress for some time anyway.
Meanwhile, no one should be lulled by the state of tranquility that has developed in the northern part of Israel since the dramatic weekend last month when an Israeli F-16I 'Sufa' fighter and an Iranian drone were shot down and major air-defense objectives of the Syrian military were attacked. There are still seeds of war on the ground – an Iranian determination to consolidate their military foothold in Syrian territory, and an equal Israeli determination to prevent it.
The tranquility of last week can be misleading along the side roads opposite the Gaza Strip, too: construction of the new security system designed to face the underground tunnel infrastructure is going on continuously, and the message that Israel would no longer tolerate attacks from the territory of the Gaza Strip has been reinforced, once again, by similar messages conveyed to Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Egypt.
All of the above notwithstanding, the next explosion can occur at any minute (it can, naturally, take place in the Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem or even within the 'Green Line' – as was the case with the recent car ramming attack in Akko). In the Judea and Samaria district and Jerusalem, the attacks and riots will intensify as the 70th Anniversary of Israel's independence (the 70th anniversary of the 'Nakba', as far as the Palestinians are concerned) draws nearer, especially if the USA opens its embassy in Jerusalem at that particular time.
Annual Training Exercise
The USA and Israel will take advantage of the quiet but tense spring to conduct the traditional annual joint training exercise – Juniper Cobra 2018. The public relations campaigns of past Juniper Cobra exercises had masked quite a few controversies and a lot of friction regarding the coordination between the armed forces (and the states).
In anticipation of this year's exercise, the USMC USS Iwo Jima has already anchored opposite the Israeli shore, carrying 1,400 marines and 1,100 sailors, plus 25 aircraft and three hovercraft.
Officially, Juniper Cobra 2018 is to focus on the improvement of defensive capabilities against a combined ballistic attack. In addition to the aerial cooperation, other exercises will take place, in which some 650 US marines who have already gone ashore will participate, among others. Informally, the primary lessons drawn from these exercises normally deal with the coordinated employment of missile defense systems, in anticipation of the day when a regional war involving the launching of thousands of missiles will take place (but in the hope that it never will).
The Intelligence Complex to Relocate to the South?
On another level: within the Israeli defense establishment, an on-going controversy is intensifying with regard to the relocation (or more precisely – the lack thereof, at least for the time being) of the units of the IDF Intelligence Directorate (AMAN) to the Negev.
Evidently, the government decided to relocate the best technological units of the IDF from bases to be evacuated in central Israel to the Beersheba area. This process is intended to leverage the vision of positioning Beersheba as an international cyber technology center. The relocation of units from the IDF C4I Directorate is progressing, but the relocation of the massive technological units of AMAN, including the evacuation of the camps around Gelilot, is seriously delayed.
The Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Defense (IMOD), Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Adam, has recently decided to upscale an IMOD administration, originally established for the purpose of managing the relocation of the IDF to the south, to an organization placed in charge of national projects and the interfaces thereof with Israeli society. This includes the evacuation of such major bases as the Personnel Directorate base, the Tel-HaShomer base and other bases, and the relocation thereof to a new military complex near Ramla (a project codenamed "Ofek Rahav" = "Broad Horizon").
Unfortunately, the plan of relocating the units of AMAN to the area known as Likit (near Shoket Junction, to the east of Beersheba), is simply stuck. Leading the opposition to the relocation to Likit are outgoing AMAN Chief Maj. Gen. Hertzi HaLevi, and the Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi (who had served as the Head of AMAN). The greatest concern of the IDF is the transportation and accessibility issue.
For most troopers, the new base should be an "open base" – which means that the people serving there will go home daily, as is the case today at the Gelilot base. The new base will have accommodations for 5,000 troopers, but the remaining 10,000 will have to find a way to commute from their homes to the base and back to their homes every day. The main problem is the fact that there are no plans for a railway line to pass anywhere near the new base, nor for a light railway line that could transport the troopers from the Beersheba area. The greatest concern of the IDF authorities is that the relocation of the units of AMAN to the south will lead to a major brain drain. Internal surveys conducted by AMAN have indicated that more than 50% of the members of that directorate would not be willing to serve or live in the south.
At IMOD they intend to go ahead with the plan regardless of the position of the Head of AMAN and the Deputy Chief of Staff, and do not support the initiative calling for plans for an alternative location for the intelligence units, closer to Beersheba. The Head of the IDF Planning Directorate, Maj. Gen. Amir Abulafiya, also concentrated the various aspects of the IDF's plans in the context of this massive project, and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot has recently defined the formal position of the IDF: to adhere to the plan to relocate the units of AMAN to Likit, provided the transportation problems have been resolved (sources in the IDF claim that the maximum travel time to the new bases should be 70 minutes rather than more than two hours one way, in the absence of efficient mass public transit service).
Based on this position of the IDF, the final decision on this issue is being escalated to the Prime Minister, who will hold a special meeting to discuss this issue on March 28.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit has stated that "the IDF regards the relocation to the south as an important strategic and national process, and has already completed the relocation of numerous units, including the training and C4I complex. The relocation of the intelligence complex, which is expected to complete the process, necessitates a proper solution to the various aspects of a transportation and accommodation envelope for the thousands of servicemen and women expected to serve in the new complex. On this issue, the IDF and its commanders have a clear and uniform position, which has already been presented several times. The issue is a top priority for the elements in charge of it within the IDF, who intend to see it through at the earliest possible time."
A Quiet Revolution
The IDF is currently undergoing a 'changing of the guard' process at the top echelon. Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan has entered the office of Commander of IDF Central Command, having replaced Maj. Gen. Roni Numa. Maj. Gen. Hertzi HaLevi will soon enter the office of Commander of IDF Southern Command. Maj. Gen. Tamir Heiman will replace him as Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate (AMAN).
The most interesting and surprising appointment took place last month when Brig. Gen. Lior Carmeli was promoted to Major-General and appointed as Head of the C4I & Cybersecurity Directorate, replacing Maj. Gen. Padan. The surprising aspect of this appointment is the fact that Carmeli had risen through the ranks of Sayeret Matkal and AMAN and in fact, he was naturally destined to be appointed as Head of AMAN (his career up to that point had been very similar to that of Maj. Gen. HaLevi, the outgoing Head of AMAN). Instead, Maj. Gen. Heiman, who had risen through the ranks of the IDF Armored Corps, was appointed as Head of AMAN – an Armored Corps man at AMAN, after nearly twenty years.
These surprising appointments may be attributed to the "quiet" changes the Chief of Staff is introducing with regard to the manner in which the cyber setups of the IDF are being employed. In fact, the IDF C4I & Cybersecurity Directorate is evolving into a de-facto cyber arm. This was reflected in statements made by the Chief of Staff at the ceremony where the new Head of the C4I & Cybersecurity Directorate replaced the outgoing Head: "Nadav has concluded two years as Head of the C4I Directorate. During that time, we redefined the C4I Directorate as a force employment command and a major change has been introduced regarding the cooperation with the Intelligence Directorate toward the development of our cybersecurity potential.
"The appointment as Commander of IDF Central Command reflects, more than anything, my great appreciation for you as a combat commander, as a senior commander in an environment where the challenges are numerous and highly complex, and I am convinced that you will contribute to your new position from your capabilities, from your command and administrative experience, and that you will cope with the challenges effectively so as to provide security and a sense of confidence to an environment that is being challenged 24/7. Now over to Lior, who has recently concluded a term as division commander during a very complex period. You bring along your extensive command experience and mainly your depth of thought, your humanity and your creative and subterfuge skills. You led your division with a level head to dominate a very, very complex reality and after a few months, I think that very creative solutions have been found, which reflected the command-intelligence-technological capabilities and mainly the human potential.
"Your appointment to this position is a reflection of the huge appreciation we have for you and mainly of our expectations for the future – leading the C4I Directorate toward new challenges. Today we concluded the second phase of our cyber preparations – we face massive C4I challenges and require a robust ability that would provide the IDF with superiority in information, superiority in know-how, as a structural element that enables us to be a more effective and more advanced military organization that functions optimally to provide security and a sense of confidence to the inhabitants of the State of Israel."
At the bottom line, a quiet cyber revolution is underway in the IDF, and for obvious reasons, the public is not aware of all of its details.