Israel adopts new military tactics, weapons to combat insurgency

Special to World
Thursday, March 25, 2004

TEL AVIV Israel's military has changed its training and weapons development concept over the last two years to adapt to the current Palestinian insurgency war.

Military commanders said the war, well into its fourth year, has resulted in the acceleration and merging of processes in training, weapons development and procurement. They said the aim has been to ensure a rapid response to the changing tactics of Palestinian tactics.

"We started out as one army," Maj. Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal, chief of the military's Ground Forces Command, said. "Now, we have an army with several totally different sets of capabilities."

Addressing the command's LIC-2004 conference and exhibition on Wednesday, Ron-Tal pointed to a series of changes in the military meant to address the continuous conflict with the Palestinians. The general said that since 2002 the Ground Forces Command changed its training doctrine to ensure that troops could enhance capabilities even while they maintained operational duty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This has resulted in the decrease in training to two periods per year.

"Until two years ago, we had a separate operational period and a training period," Ron-Tal said. "Now we have integrated training in areas of mission. You have to prepare yourself during your operational mission."

Other commanders discussed the training of armored and artillery forces in infantry duties. They said these forces as well as their commanders have undergone additional training to fulfill infantry missions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in an effort to increase manpower flexibility.

Commanders said the military has drastically shortened its period of weapons development and procurement. They said that in some cases the period of development of weapons and systems has taken as little as four months. Lt. Col. Yoram Abecasis, chief of LIC in the Weapons Development and Procurement Department, said the acceleration of weapons development was the result of a new organizational structure in which field commanders played a key role in decision-making. Abecasis said the result has sometimes been the introduction of uncertified and even unsafe weapons in the field for operational testing.

In one case, Abecasis said, an unspecified remote-control system was introduced into operations after six months of development. The system was returned for further development after an unspecified period in the field. "We are taking a risk in safety," Abecasis said. "But we are achieving operational capability very fast."

Commanders also initiated a development program to eliminate the vulnerability of the Merkava main battle tank to snipers and attackers.

Commanders said the Ground Forces Command installed a sniper position on the Merkava Mk-3 and Mk-4 tank to prevent attacks from the rear of the tank.

Col. Yossi Turgeman, head of doctrine at the Armored Corps, said commanders had complained that their tanks were vulnerable to snipers and unarmed civilians when the hatches of the vehicles were closed in urban warfare operations. He said the commanders warned that they could neither see threats from the rear of the tank nor swerve its turret in the narrow streets and alleys of urban areas. Turgeman said the sniper position meant to be manned by a member of the infantry forces was established from the escape hatch in the rear of the tank. He said the development project sought to armor the proposed sniper position.

The rapid development of weapons also reflects a close cooperation with Israel's defense contractors, commanders said. They said the intimate relations between the military and the defense industry has resulted in crash development programs even before full funding was obtained.

"The development and fielding of weapons in record time takes advantage of the unique relationship with the defense industry," Ron-Tal said. "We call ourselves one family."

Ron-Tal said the army has created new units to focus on the Palestinian war. He cited the establishment of three battalions for reconnaissance. He said the Ground Forces Command also established special forces units as well as those to operate the armored D-9 bulldozer.

The changes in organization and doctrine have been the result of an assessment by the General Staff that the Palestinian war would continue for another few years. Commanders said the military will be required to fight a continuous war while maintaining its conventional capability.

"The main challenge is to build up while fighting," Ron-Tal said.

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