The Israeli army and long-time military reputation

Sic Semper Tyrannis has an interesting description/analysis of the IDF's army.
It's very much focused on the small unit level (plus some political implications) and you could read Martin van Creveld's book "The Sword and the Olive" for additional hints on the IDF.

I planned to write a mini article like "The IDF army is overrated" since a year, but waited for a moment when I'm especially willing to provoke the inevitable right-wing trolls that appear at such articles.

The IDF was successful in 1967 and 1973, but had really, really serious problems in 1973 despite air superiority (the Arabs achieved strategic surprise, though). It didn't implement combined arms tactics (armor/artillery/infantry cooperation) completely till the Yom Kippur War and had many shortcomings at that time.
Its track record post-1973 is a rather mediocre one and it had changed itself very much as early as the late 70's.

Israel and its army are in my opinion a warning example that military reputation of long gone decades should not be valued highly. The French were Europe's terror in 1815 but began a string of military disappointments less two generations later. The Red Army of the early 20's was beaten by the Polish Army, but was the second most powerful army since the mid-30's (despite the embarrassment of the Winter War).

Extrapolations from the past are prone to ignore changes - we should not base our national/collective security policy on questionable things like 'military reputation'. It's necessary to evaluate thoroughly and to communicate the results to the public (which needs to be convinced to afford the military, after all).



  1. As Douglas MacGregor has continually pointed out, fighting Arabs isn't particularly difficult. They don't stand and fight, they prefer rhetoric. Every army is shaped by its opponent. The IDF has always fought weak opponents.

  2. Well, I've heard the strangest claims about the IDF, and those reflect the completely distorted reputation.
    Someone even claimed that the IDF could defeat all of Europe's armies.
    I doubt that the IDF's supply would even reach much beyond Turkey's border without collapsing.

    Keep in mind that this overestimation came from a citizen with interest in military affairs and voting right.

    Underestimation/overestimation of power has done much harm to mankind - easily visible in stories of defeat.

    Know your enemy ... - there's an appropriate Sun Tzu line for this. Sun Tzu should probably have written a similar line about allies/friends.

  3. "Someone even claimed that the IDF could defeat all of Europe's armies."

    Entirely possible, but not because the IDF is so strong... Yes, a very cheap shot, but not without some truth.

  4. Keep in mind that Germany's and Switzerland's mobilized strength would still approximate IDF mobilized strength - and IDF ammunition reserves would probably not be sufficient to beat either.

  5. You don't win wars with big armies, you win wars with good armies.
    Germany's isn't, the Swiss might be.

  6. I suggest we step very lightly here.

    We have no idea how "good" the 2008 Bundeswehr line units are.

    Hell, to be honest, we have no idea how good the American Army line units are, considering we have not fought a peer foe since Vietnam, and our record there suggests that without massive arty and tac air our infantry battalions were about as good as the NVA's better line units, although our company and junior field grade commanders tended to make mistakes that suggested a poor grasp of tactical situational awareness and a VERY poor understanding of the value of terrain.

    Since then? Who?

    The Syrians and Egyptians made a pretty good showing against the IDF's ground units, but that's hard to translate into 2008 terms. The IAF in 1973 was sandbagged by SAMs which modern antiradiation missiles have done a lot to disarm, and as Sven points out, the Israeli tankers got hammered in SAGGER traps for a long time before figuring them out. The recent tank losses in Lebanon suggest that the IDF is still struggling with their infantry-tank team drills.

    I would add that where the historical record does suggest comparisons it is between the IDF and the European "constabulary" armies of the Victorian Era, who rested on their laurels for the century between Waterloo and Paschaendale by thumping Bronze Age tribesmen. By the time 1914 arrived practically everybody in Europe above the grade of sergeant was useless for fighting industrial war, they'd spent so much time playing colonial warlords. The Occupation has been a poor training aid for the IDF. The only question is, how poor? But without a genuine peer foe, we are hard put to genuinely assess the quality of the IDF against a European foe...or of the Europeans aganst the IDF.

  7. One thing I would bet on, tho - I still wouldn't want to fuck with the Finns.

  8. It's always a matter of "will to fight" when making these comparisons. The NVA did a great job with not much more then small arms and mortars. This bodes ill for any Western army save the US and some units of the British army. I'm not aware of anything the Euros will fight for these days?

  9. The Europeans are willing to fight for their own sovereignty and their alliance. That's it.

    I sense rather little taste for adventure expeditions and that's a good thing in my opinion.

    These expeditions yield very little for high expense and distract us away from domestic challenges.

  10. What you are all leaving out is that Israel is obligated to operate with great restraint because of her ties to the US. If left to her druthers, Israel could essentially clean out the middle east. You are focusing on where Israel has passed and failed without considering the political implications of each. Unfair.

    In warfare you have to consider much more than might and strategy. That should be obvious.

  11. Not to mention it has a 60 year history. Pretty impressive record considering.

  12. Many powers in history believed that they had such or similar capabilities.
    Most got more than a bloody nose.

    It's not just the USA that holds Israel back.

    Europe could easily strangle Israel to its knees if Israel decided to go medieval.

  13. Bloody nose or otherwise, if Israel maintains a defensive stance (I don't think it has any ambitions to march into France anytime soon), she will prevail. Israel has insatiable spirit and pride and all of her citizens serve honorably.

    Do I think Israel could take over the world? Certainly not. But I pity the over-zealous buffoonery that tries to take Israel from her people.

  14. Well that's what you get when you require just about everyone to serve some time. With nearly every 18 year old serving, they need to water the training down to a nearly comical level to maintain those numbers. I'll tell you from experience in joint exercises when I was in the Marines (only a few years ago) the IDF is a freaking joke. Sure there are decent units here and there but 90% of their forces make even the laziest, poorly-trained National Guard units look like Rambo.