One of the most significant lessons we had as trainees of Class #24 of the National Defense College, was a lecture delivered by Brig. Gen. (res.) Dovik Tamari, who insisted on demonstrating to us the importance of conceptualization. He used the old child’s play “Chinese Whispers” (“Telephone”, or “Broken Telephone”) which effectively demonstrates how a misunderstood word can attain numerous and often amusing interpretations.
The problem with the military profession is that a misunderstood word, as well as the use of incorrect terms and concepts, can – heaven forbid – lead to personal injury and loss of life. For this reason, I find myself compelled to correct the recent verbal swell which concludes that the era of old wars is over, and that from now on there are “different” wars.
The objective of this article is to serve as a counterweight to the article “End of the Classic War Era” by Colonel (res.) Atai Shelach, published in Issue 24 of Israel Defense Magazine.
Firstly, I would like to say that in a dynamic world things change as a result of the emergence of new technologies, through which things may be accomplished faster and more accurately. Along with the technological changes, there is a learning opponent out there, who analyzes our weaknesses and attempts to reinforce the elements that would give him the advantage.
My primary assertion against the claim that “standard” wars are over is that all the way up to the level of the brigade commander – as he and his troops are the actual war (they are the ones who shoot, advance, evacuate casualties and so forth) – the “war” remains the same war, more or less. The changes that do take place are changes in the tactical dimension, which affects and is affected by combat techniques and the manner in which power is employed. I do not claim that all wars or prolonged military operations are carbon copies of one another, but I do claim that the difference between them is much smaller than what people may think.
I belong with those who believe that the written word is highly valuable and that terms and concepts, including the manner in which they are interpreted, have tremendous power. Therefore, it is our duty to clarify very thoroughly, with regard to all operational levels, the significance of the message “the old wars are over.”
Just to emphasize, technological progress enables the individual tank to operate so that each round it fires will be more accurate, more lethal and based on better intelligence. Owing to technology, it can even operate in a more effectively protected manner. Eventually, however, it still performs the same combat tasks of movement and fire in built-up areas, almost exactly as the various armored units performed such tasks during the First Lebanon War, more than a generation ago.
The same applies to the infantry. Admittedly, today’s infantrymen face the subterranean medium, against which new combat techniques and possibly even new weapon systems are required. However, for the individual infantryman there is not much of a difference between the way in which his predecessors had climbed up Golani Ascent on Mount Hermon during the Yom-Kippur War and what the troopers of the same brigade did during Protective Edge, as far as individual and detail combat tactics and drills are concerned. Eventually, for the warfighters on the ground, a war is a war, and big words do not convert combat into something else.
Most of the new dimensions of the battlefield, like cyber warfare, the ability to receive and process information in a prompt, accurate and focused manner, and even advanced systems that help understand the battle picture or significantly improve accuracy by employing precision fire resources, will not change the basic character of combat.
The strategic and operational echelon should invest additional time and resources in an effort to understand the manner in which the nature of combat operations and the new and other elements added to them are changing. However, the operational and tactical echelons on the ground must continue to deal with the adaptation of combat techniques to the new threats, while being fully aware of the fact that combat operations are not conducted through correspondence.
The right thing to do will be to take those new elements of the battlefield and analyze the effect they have on the entire chain I have outlined here, namely – to ask what the operational significance of the cyber world is and how it affects each echelon. In accordance with the answers and findings, operational concepts and combat techniques should be revised and updated, and new operational ideas should be discussed and implemented.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel is the former head of Israel’s Counter Terrorism Bureau. He served in the IDF for nearly 30 years, during which he served as the IDF Ground Forces attaché in Washington, among other roles