The prime minister’s office has already hosted 21 Chief of Staff changing ceremonies. The 22nd Chief of Staff of the IDF, who will receive his new rank insignia from Prime Minister Netanyahu (this time as Minister of Defense as well) next week, will be different from his predecessors. In fact, paratrooper Aviv Kochavi (soon to be promoted to Lieutenant General) is not the conceptual successor of Golani alumnus Gadi Eizenkot.
With his character traits and career path, he reminds many of the IDF's 15th Chief of Staff, the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who was the star of the same change-of-personnel ceremony some 24 years ago. Much has been written about the fact that Aviv Kochavi had been marked as a “prince” and as a candidate for the Chief of Staff office from the very beginning of his military career. That much is true, as evidenced by the fact that even while he served as a battalion commander in the Paratrooper Brigade, someone found it fit to send him to attend a prestigious study program at Harvard University, on behalf of the Wexner Foundation.
However, the things we can expect during Kochavi's term as Chief of Staff (including, probably, quite a few operations and rounds of fighting), are reflected primarily by his performance in the senior IDF positions he had filled more recently, where he distinguished himself as a reformer and as someone who always thinks “out of the box.” As the commander of the Paratrooper Brigade at the height of the counterterrorism effort during the second Intifada, Kochavi developed urban warfare methods that were subsequently studied by foreign militaries. As the commander of the IDF Gaza Division, prior to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, he pushed the defense industries and the IDF to implement a concept he called “Fire Canopy.” The idea was to establish above the Gaza Strip a dense network of surveillance and attack resources that would be able to spot and identify countless targets and deal with them in near-real time. Success was very limited, and Kochavi's term opposite the Gaza Strip was clouded by an enemy operation that started through an underground tunnel and ended with the abduction of trooper Gilad Shalit.
Subsequently, as Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate (AMAN), Kochavi was criticized for becoming immersed up to his neck in the collection of targets and in tactical field operations based on real-time intelligence (a lesson from the Second Lebanon War), to the point that AMAN missed, or failed to understand, the larger picture of Hamas’ intentions, and once again – the actual importance of the underground tunnels to Hamas.
Within AMAN, Kochavi had quite a few confrontations with assertive intelligence officers who were not too keen on the extensive changes he introduced under the title ”Ma’ase AMAN” (= Enterprising AMAN). Those changes established Kochavi's image as a reformer. The objective of the program was to adapt AMAN to the dramatic changes that had taken place in the world of intelligence. It included innovations that had already become effective previously, like the establishment of a new territorial desk, the “Regional Desk” within AMAN’s Analysis Division. The new desk deals with phenomena that had never existed in the past, like the process of Islamization and the proliferation of Jihadist warfighters.
Under Kochavi, the IDF Intelligence Directorate led a comprehensive program known as IBW (Intelligence-Based Warfare), intended to deliver tactical intelligence all the way to the platoon engaged in combat on the ground.
However, the highlight of the changes introduced under the “Ma’ase AMAN” program was an initiative titled “Network/Online AMAN,” intended to have all of the elements of AMAN, which prior to that were almost totally disconnected, communicate with one another, and subsequently – with all of the arms of the IDF (in the context of a comprehensive program authorized by Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and titled “Network/Online IDF”). Subsequently, as the general commanding IDF Northern Command, Kochavi pressed on with his plans for cutting-edge “Fire Canopies” on a large scale.
In recent months, as Deputy Chief of Staff, Kochavi prepared for the consolidation of the new long-term program of the IDF, which he would announce. Like the last few Chiefs of Staff (possibly excluding Gabi Ashkenazi), Kochavi will not be an advocate of large-scale ground maneuvers inside enemy territory. The ideas of the concepts from his days as commander of the Gaza Division have been further developed and perfected, while the codenames of the projects currently on the agenda have changed (most of them are still confidential, for obvious reasons).
The Fourth Era
One of the most difficult challenges facing Kochavi involves the fact that not only the regional environment is changing rapidly (as in the case of Syria, Egypt and so forth). Technology, too, has been flying forward at a mind-boggling pace, which makes planning and force build-up processes very difficult to execute.
Existing weapon systems might turn out to be outdated within just a few years, when network connectivity has become really total and quantum computers have become operative, cracking sophisticated codes as if they were basic multiplication table calculations.
To demonstrate how fast technology has been advancing, think of what our life was like before smartphones – only in the last decade.
The pressing need to invest in improving the preparedness of the ground forces according to his own force build-up plans as Deputy Chief of Staff notwithstanding, Kochavi is fully aware of the fact that the most prominent characteristic of fighting in the new industrial era, the cyber era, has to do with information technology and connectivity. Information technology and connectivity make it possible to generate massive amounts of intelligence and stage unprecedented attacks through the physical and cybernetic dimensions.
So, it is reasonable to assume that the IDF under Kochavi will invest substantially in military robotics, subterranean/tunnel warfare and weapon systems/munitions for all altitudes, as well as in attack options involving high-precision surface-to-surface missiles (if the plan of former defense minister Lieberman materializes). The emphasis will be placed on creating the “architecture” that would close fire loops remotely (“Stand-Off Fire,” in the military jargon). UAVs will play an increasingly more substantial role in every mission and ground robots will, at last, become a part of the battlefield.
An extensive network of sensors and strike resources suspended permanently in the air and even a “Robotic Division” sound like science fiction or delusional dreams? Absolutely not, according to the ‘baggage,’ the record and the plans Aviv Kochavi is bringing with him into the IDF Chief of Staff's office.