TEL AVIV — Israel's high command aims to sharpen the point of its spear with a potentially sweeping conceptual and operational revamp of its special operations forces for pre-emptive as well as rapid response ops near and far beyond its borders.
Proposals under discussion in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Staff include creation of a US Army Ranger-like regiment that combines specialty forces within the regular Army and a new joint special operations command (JSOC) that integrates elite air-, sea- and ground commando forces.
Under the proposed Special Forces Regiment, regular Army specialty infantry such as Egoz (Almond), which belongs to the Golani Brigade, and Rimon (Pomegranate), part of the Givati Brigade, may join undercover units such as Duvdevan (Cherry) from Central Command, the 101st Cobra battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade and the IDF's Maglan special combat engineering force, sources here said.
It was unclear whether the proposed Special Forces Rregiment, a downsized version of the US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, would be organized under the prospective JSOC or just commanded by it while remaining an organizational part of the Army's legacy brigades.
In interviews here, active-duty and reserve officers flagged benefits and drawbacks for each of the proposals, yet roundly concurred that the IDF is committed to cultivating its regular Army special ops forces for more decisive combat against escalating threats of terror, jihadism and regional chaos.
Similarly, the IDF has yet to decide how the proposed JSOC will work with its relatively new Depth Command, an organization it decided to create in late 2011 primarily for the primary purpose of "extending joint IDF operations into the strategic depth of enemy territory."
Depth Command aimed to consolidate historically autonomous elite commando forces such as Sayeret Matkal, the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit; the Shaldag (Kingfisher) airborne commando unit; and the Israel Navy's Flotilla 13 into a single organization reporting directly to the IDF chief of staff.
But experts here said that command is functioning largely in a headquarters role with nominal consolidation of the highly competitive and parochially proud forces it is supposed to control. Moreover, they said operations conducted since its establishment — all of them classified — have been the result of ad hoc, joint mission planning.
Evidence of Depth Command's ad hoc nature, experts here said, is the fact that its commander and deputy commander are general officers in the IDF Reserves and not full-time members of the IDF General Staff.
A prospective JSOC, advocates argue, would institutionalize a more collaborative approach to mission planning and training not only for long-range operations, but special missions much closer to Israel's borders.
Officers here noted that elements from various special forces, including Sayeret Matkal, Maglan and the Navy's SEAL Flotilla 13, worked jointly with regular infantry to detect and destroy tunnels in last summer's Gaza war.
"Elite forces are not only for operating in the depth, but very close to home," a senior reserve commanding officer said. "Less important is the organizational aspect of it all. What's most important is that they all undergo a conceptual revolution."
While elite commando units and specialized regular Army forces should be encouraged to retain their unique capabilities, integration at the conceptual, planning and operational level would provide a more holistic answer to escalating threats, many experts here said.
"We need to be a very sharp edge," Maj. Gen. Nimrod Shefer told Herzliya Conference participants last week. "Perhaps [our forces] will be smaller and won't include all of our order of battle, but they will be strong and sharp against all scenarios and threats that continue to challenge us."
When asked if the IDF General Staff was looking to expand the mandate of Depth Command or is focusing on standing up a regular Army Ranger-like special forces regiment, Shefer replied: "We don't know yet. Could be both."
He stressed that nothing has been decided yet, but that Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, IDF chief of staff, could be in a position to take some decisions by the end of the month.