Is the IDF Prepared for Combat? And How Much Does it Matter?

Photo: IDF

Is the Israeli military ready for war? Depends on who you ask. This question has been the source of a fierce debate between the IDF Ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, and former IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. Brick claimed that the IDF is ill-prepared for war while Eizenkot argued the opposite. This debate is not over although both generals retired from office.

The IDF’s readiness for war is, of course, a crucial matter, considering Israel’s conflict with both Iran and the Arabs. However, Israel’s strategic situation has improved significantly in recent decades. Its main foes in the wars between 1948 and 1982 were Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. The combined strength of those states might have been able to defeat Israel and by that to put its survival at risk.

Yet Egypt (since 1979) and Jordan (since 1994) have peace with Israel. It is a cold peace but a quite stable one. Israel also has security cooperation with Egypt and Jordan against common foes. Iraq (since 2003) and Syria (since 2011) lost most of their power following civil wars and growing instability.

Israel mostly faces non-state organizations nowadays – mostly Hamas and Hezbollah – hybrid forces which are much weaker than the Arab militaries that fought Israel in the past. For example, in the 1973 war, the Egyptian military had 800,000 men. Hamas and Hezbollah have together around 10 percent of the manpower Egypt had in 1973, not to mention the fact that back then Israel also had to confront Syria and other Arab states, mainly Iraq. Furthermore, those Arab states had thousands of armored vehicles, hundreds of aircraft and dozens of warships. Hamas has none of that while Hezbollah has several armored vehicles. Both groups have no aircraft (aside from UAVs) and no warships.  

Admittedly, both groups – particularly Hezbollah, which is stronger than Hamas – can inflict casualties and damages, but a war with Syria alone, before it lost its strength, might have cost Israel much more. Even if, in the worst case scenario, Israel loses a war against Hamas and/or Hezbollah, those groups can’t jeopardize the survival of the Jewish State. Besides Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran, too, is a sworn enemy of Israel. But the Shi’ite state is too far away and its military is not that strong, and without a nuclear weapon, it can’t destroy Israel. Therefore, some might assume that it does not matter that much if the IDF is not that ready for combat since there is no real threat to Israel, as opposed to the times when Arab states were more powerful.

Egypt still possesses a huge military that might challenge the IDF, but the probability of such a confrontation is quite low. Israel will probably face in battle only Hamas and/or Hezbollah, and maybe also some pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq. All those groups do not pose an existential threat to Israel, but the Jewish State should not underestimate them. If the IDF does not manage to win or at least to handle well those groups, the Israeli deterrence will take a hit, not only regarding non-state organizations. Israelis will also feel less secure, which might have all kinds of negative ramifications for the state.

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