SNAPSHOT: THE IDF AS NEVER SEEN BEFORE
By Yoav Limor and Ziv Koren
Gefen Publishing House, $50, 244 pages
Last weekend’s dramatic escalation in rocket firings by Hamas against Israel’s bordering communities and the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) powerful and surgically precise retaliatory aerial bombings against Hamas’ targets in Gaza, highlight the importance of understanding the nature of the IDF and its role in Israeli society.
Yoav Limor’s and Ziv Koren’s “Snapshot: The IDF as Never Seen Before” is an insider’s glimpse into the inner workings of the IDF (as well as how it operates with the country’s other security agencies), with the authors’ unparalleled photographic and informational access to the IDF’s elite units and their activities. “Snapshot’s” more than 200 photos of the IDF’s units in action were shot by Ziv Koren, one of Israel’s top military photographers, and the book’s text was written by Yoav Limor, one of the country’s leading defense journalists.
The book’s chapters cover important aspects about the IDF: How IDF units combat terrorism, and the tactical differences between combating terrorist groups and lone wolves; how they defend Israel’s borders and the benefits of the border fences they have established, including monitoring border activity by adversary terrorists via closed-circuit video cameras; and how they operate in the “shadow war” to pre-emptively prevent their adversaries’ from crossing the red line by achieving new military capabilities that could threaten them in a new war.
Pre-emptive activities include the aerial destruction of nuclear facilities of Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007, as well as bombing Hezbollah’s current attempts to acquire advanced rockets and warheads via Syria. The book also shows how IDF Special Forces units engage, when necessary, in the targeted assassinations of their adversaries’ top terrorist managers in Arab countries or in intercepting in mid-sea vessel deliveries of armaments intended for Palestinian terrorist groups.
And it features IDF’s “world-class” cyber warfare capabilities, as embodied by its famous Unit 8200 (the equivalent of America’s National Security Agency, or NSA), which was “allegedly” responsible for slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program by infecting its centrifuges with destructive viruses, as well as other spectacular cyber operations.
Also covered are important related subjects, such as the expanding roles of women in the IDF, including in selected combat units; the contentious relations between the IDF and Israel’s Jewish religiously orthodox establishment; and the role of the IDF in providing emergency medical assistance in human disaster crises in far-flung regions around the world, such as Nepal’s earthquake in April 2015 — including, in the recent period, in a great irony — providing urgent medical care to jihadi fighters and their families affected by Syria’s brutal civil war (once recuperated, they are sent back across the border).
Mr. Limor explains that Israel no longer faces an existential military threat to its existence due to the IDF’s military superiority against any Arab (or Iranian) state adversary. However, he also points out that a “major disadvantage is that there are no magic solutions” to the unconventional threats facing Israel because “in the age of civilian-supported terror and guerrilla warfare easy victories no longer exist. The solutions that the IDF can propose are partial and temporary.”
In the current military conflagration with Hamas, a militarily unconventional adversary, the author observes that “We could wipe Gaza off the face of the earth, but that’s not going to happen. We could also occupy it, as we did twice in the past ” But the solution, he argues, “lies in deterrence” and, most importantly, in the IDF’s knowing “what is expected of it.”
This is a significant challenge, the author writes, because “Today, Israel has no clear strategic plan” due to the fact that “The politicians refrain from making the decisions that the IDF needs to set and fulfill goals.” As a result of the absence of such strategic planning by the country’s political echelon to formulate a diplomatic-military solution, the current Hamas conflagration along the Gaza border is likely to continue, with the IDF conducting the best warfare it can muster under such difficult circumstances.
Mr. Limor observes that a significant internal threat facing the IDF is the socio-demographic composition of its future recruits. At its inception, he writes, the “IDF was a melting pot” with everyone serving in it on an equal basis. Today, however, “only 51 percent of eighteen-year-olds serve. In less than two decades the number of draftees will decline to one-third of the eligible population” because most of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population virulently opposes IDF service for their Torah-studying youth, and it has a higher birth rate than the secular Jewish population.
The book’s detailed and illustrated portrait of the IDF makes it an indispensable account of one of the world’s top military forces and its evolving role in Israeli society.
• Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH) in Alexandria, Va.