Over the years American Generals and Admirals, certainly those on the joint chiefs of staff, were less ready to go to battle or war than their civilian superiors. They saw all the drawbacks, inadequacy of forces, unacceptable casualty expectations, difficult logistics, disbelief that their civilian superiors would permit them to do everything necessary for victory. This is not only a recent phenomenon.
During the American Civil War (1861-5) Pres. Lincoln suffered from the disinclination of his northern generals to attack rather than stay in their defensive positions. Once he wrote to one of his commanding generals, “If you will not be needing the army over the weekend, I should like to borrow it.”
When he finally found in Ulysses S. Grant, a general who was prepared to attack, others complained that Grant was a drunkard. Lincoln responded, “Tell me what he drinks so I can send cases of it to my other generals.”
For many years, Israeli generals were considered the opposite, more ready to go into battle than their civilian governments. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol hesitated on the eve of the Six Day War, Ezer Weizman tore off his epaulets and threw them on the floor in disgust.
In 1976 the IDF conceived and carried out the daring Entebbe raid, rescuing over a hundred Israeli and Jewish hostages of an Air France flight kidnapped by bloodthirsty terrorists who threatened to kill them one by one. They didn’t tell Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the mission was impossible and he had no choice but to negotiate with the terrorists. They gave him a plan and carried it out brilliantly.
In 1981 when Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor threatened Israel with atomic destruction, the IDF did not tell Prime Minister Menachem Begin that it was impossible to overfly so many Arab countries to reach the target at the extreme limit of the air force’s capability. They made a plan and carried it out.
But in recent years something has changed. In the Second Lebanon War the senior officers commanded from behind their plasma screens instead at the fore with the famous rallying cry, “Follow me!” Second rate officers turned excellent soldiers into second rate troops with second rate results.
Military doctrines which failed for the Americans in various parts of the world were adopted by the IDF and failed here too. Zero casualties became the main aim of military actions, which immediately put victory out of grasp.
Thus for over five years the IDF did not give successive Israeli governments a military option to free Gilad Schalit. Either they were “eyeless in Gaza” or they were afraid of casualties in an action, or both.
Paradoxically, during this time the U.S. armed forces carried out an “Israeli style” raid in Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden.
Junior and middle range Israeli officers, many of them wearers of knitted kipot, are as good or better than ever, but the IDF General Staff needs to reverse its “Americanization.”