Editor’s note: To read Part I of this three-part article series, click here.
Conceding Israeli control of the 34-mile-wide area known as Judea and Samaria to any of Israel’s actual or even potential enemies means a return to the pre-1967 nine-mile waistline across Israel’s coastal strip and a security border of 223 miles to patrol and defend. Retention of said territories means a mere 62 miles of security border to patrol and defend. It also means Israeli control of vital mountain passes, the 4,200-foot high ground overlooking the Jordan Rift Valley, and the minimal strategic depth between the Jordan River and Israel’s highly populated and industrialized coastal plain.
To comprehend why this is so important to Israel’s security, it is necessary to understand the difference between Israel before mass mobilization and afterwards.
When Israel fights a war, it must take into account many factors: weapons technologies, tactical knowledge, motivation and education of the soldiers, etc. However, the prime factor is still numbers. The best equipped and most superiorly trained army cannot win if it is hopelessly outnumbered. This has always been an issue for Israel.
The IDF, as every responsible army, must be prepared for every eventuality. Israel cannot afford to lose a war. According to reports, the latest annual IDF General Staff exercises dealt with various combinations of possible attacks from different fronts including south (Gaza and Egypt), north (Lebanon and Syria) and east (Iran). Other possibilities were also taken into account, but those were the major ones.
In each of these possibilities, strategic depth is a critical factor. In the south, Israel has already given up its strategic buffer areas, and if the IDF were to fail to take the battle into enemy territory (basic IDF doctrine), the fighting would be within easy range of major Israeli population centers.
In the north, the Golan Heights are, as always, critical, and in the northeast and east, Judea and Samaria are not only vital for defense, but would also serve as passage ways for mobilization and logistics. (The Cross-Samarian Highway, for example, was originally planned by the IDF General Staff following the 1967 Six Day War as the major connecting artery to the Jordan Valley from the coastal plain.)
Despite the immense security risks Israel faces, the Jewish State’s small population means it doesn’t have the security of a large standing army despite the immense security risks it faces. For that reason, soldiers who have completed their mandatory service, continue in the reserves – especially in combat units – well into their forties, contributing up to over a month or more of service each year for both training and active-duty assignments. In short: the army reserves constitute the backbone of the IDF’s manpower needs.
IDF doctrine encompasses a number of basic security truths. Among them are that Israel cannot afford to lose a single war, we must have a credible deterrent posture including territorially, and that the outcome of war must be determined quickly and decisively. Proper preparation means Israel’s small standing army must be equipped with an early-warning capability, coupled with an efficient reserve mobilization and deployment system.
Israel, prior to mobilization, is basically a relatively weak country militarily in terms of all out war with more than one front involved – which is a distinct possibility that the IDF planners seriously take into account. Post-mobilization Israel, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
Israel has the potential to mobilize hundreds of thousands of reserves which more than triples the manpower of the Israeli army. This considerably alters the ratio against the enemy. While exact figures are classified, suffice to say the combined Arab armies outnumber Israel’s standing army by a ratio of approximately 15 to 1. Whereas after a full scale call-up of Israel’s reserves, the ratio is reduced to less than 4 to 1.
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