Israel Defense Forces (IDF): History, Structure, Weapons – The IDF is considered to be the most powerful military force. Moreover, there is no doubt that Israel is a nuclear state, despite official Tel Aviv denials in various ways that it possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): History, Structure, Weapons
MilitaryEzyInfo.com – Since the end of World War II, the Middle East has been a major center of global instability for decades. Over the past 70 years, the region has witnessed more than a dozen full-scale wars that have killed tens or hundreds of thousands of people. And that’s not counting the smaller conflicts that for one reason or another were called “police” operations while turning a blind eye to the massive use of military aircraft and armored vehicles in those conflicts.
Most of the Middle East conflicts of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of this century have to do with Israel – a country that only appeared on the world’s political map in 1948. The Jewish state has been at war since its inception – five Arab countries invaded its territory the day after independence. Then, they were smashed to pieces.
In its short history, Israel has resembled a fortress under siege, surrounded by hostile neighbors, some of whom have made the physical destruction of the Jewish state their official ideology. Frequent rocket attacks, acts of terror, the “intifada,” and kidnappings were the reality of Israeli life. Nearly a quarter of the national budget is spent on defense, and all citizens, including girls, are conscripted into the army. Israel has always been at the forefront – the true outpost of the Western world in the region.
With a population of just over 8 million, Israel is surrounded by some 200 million Muslims. At first glance, this balance of power seems completely hopeless for the weakest party, but for the Israeli army, conventional logic doesn’t work. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers are winning at every turn. There have been tactical failures in the history of the Israeli army, but not a single strategic failure. Otherwise, the State of Israel would probably not exist at all.
Today, the IDF is considered to be the most powerful military force in the region. Moreover, there is no doubt that Israel is a nuclear state, despite official Tel Aviv denials in various ways that it possesses weapons of mass destruction. Currently, the Israeli army is considered one of the most powerful armed forces in the world.
However, before describing the IDF, it is important to talk about its history, as it is inextricably linked to the history of the country it so valiantly defended.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): History
The history of the Israeli military began even before the establishment of the Jewish state in the Middle East, in the 1920s. After the first Jewish settlements appeared on Palestinian land, military self-defense forces were established to protect Israelis from Arab mobs. By the start of World War II, they were strong enough to become a major force in the region, and not only the Muslims, but also the British, who officially ruled Palestine, had to contend with them.
On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence, and the following day, five Arab nations (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon) declared war on the newly formed nation. Today, it is known in Israel as the “War of Independence.” The Arabs have a much more eloquent name for this conflict – “Nakba”. It should be noted that the fighting in Palestine began in 1947 and was carried out by Jewish and Arab paramilitary organizations.
On May 26, 1948, the head of the interim government, David Ben-Gurion, signed a decree establishing a national armed force, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It included all the Jewish secret paramilitary organizations: Hagana, Etzel, and Lekhi.
In this war, the Jews were able not only to defend the independence of their country but also to greatly expand its borders.” The War of Independence “led to a mass exodus of Arabs from Palestine, while some 800,000 Jews were expelled from Muslim countries, mostly settling in Israel.
For a long time, no one was surprised by the high level of equipment in the Israeli army; today, the IDF’s weapons are among the most modern and advanced in the world. But this was not always the case. During the War of Independence, the IDF suffered from a severe shortage of weapons (especially modern weapons) and ammunition. Jews were forced to use weapons that were obsolete from World War II or to establish manual production.
In 1956, the Suez War erupted between Israel and Egypt, which ended in a complete victory for the Jewish state in March 1958. The conflict did not result in territorial changes between the opposing sides.
Ten years later (1967), the so-called Six-Day War erupted between Israel and the Arab League of Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, and Jordan. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also ended in total victory, with the Israeli air force playing a key role. The Arab air force was destroyed in a matter of hours, followed by the defeat of the coalition ground forces in six days. This victory gave Israel access to the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula, as well as the West Bank.
The fourth Arab-Israeli conflict was the so-called Armageddon War, which began on October 6, 1973. The first was a surprise attack by a joint Syrian-Egyptian force in the Sinai and the Golan Heights. The raids (which Israeli intelligence “overslept”) allowed the Arabs to seize the initiative and make significant progress at first. Later, however, the Israelis regrouped and drove the enemy completely out of the Golan Heights, and in Sinai, they succeeded in encircling the entire Egyptian army. Subsequently, the United Nations passed a cease-fire resolution.
Both sides suffered heavy losses in the conflict, although the Arab League suffered several times the number of casualties. A similar pattern was seen in the loss of armored vehicles and aircraft.
The Doomsday War had serious political implications both inside Israel and far beyond its borders. It led to the resignation of Golda Meir’s government and the imposition of an oil embargo on Western countries by OPEC members, which tripled the price of oil.
In 1982, the First Lebanon War began with the Israeli army invading Lebanese territory in order to defeat Syria and the Soviet-backed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) occupied southern Lebanon until 2000.
Of great interest was the operation of the Israeli Air Force (Operation Medvedka19 ), which, thanks to new tactics, succeeded in destroying the most powerful Syrian air defense system in Lebanon in the shortest possible time and with few casualties.
If we think of the Israeli Air Force, we should think of Operation Opera in 1981. Its purpose was to destroy an Iraqi nuclear reactor that could have been used by Saddam Hussein to produce weapons of mass destruction. As a result of this airstrike, the reactor was destroyed with no losses on the Israeli side.
In 2006, the Israelis had to wage war in Lebanon again. This time, they went up against Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group considered by many countries to be terrorists.
This was preceded by several operations against Hezbollah militants and the Palestinian Arab Intifada in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. As is customary, the IDF conducts more or less major operations against Hamas or Hezbollah every few years.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): What You Need to Know
Israel’s military doctrine took shape almost immediately after its independence in 1949. This document reflects very clearly the geopolitical realities of the young Jewish state.
It states, inter alia, that Israel will always wage war against an enemy that exceeds its numbers. At the same time, the cause of any future conflict was not a territorial dispute, but rather the rejection of the Jewish state’s presence in the region. At the same time, the country’s military doctrine rightly points out that Israel cannot wage a long war because it can simply bury the country’s economy. The size and configuration of the country’s territory deprived the Jewish state of strategic depth, lacked natural defensive borders, and made it more difficult to protect itself from aggressors.
All of the above statements have been repeatedly confirmed in many subsequent conflicts.
The Israeli army has a conscription system, and all citizens of the country, male and female, who have reached the age of 18, are obliged to serve in the army. It is three years for boys and two years for girls.
Married men and women are exempt from conscription due to their state of health, as well as immigrants who have reached the age of 26. Girls (for religious reasons) may perform alternative service, but this is not common among Israeli youth. Orthodox Jews (males) are given a grace period (which can last for many years) to complete their education, but they often give up this right to serve in the army. In some cases (e.g., gifted students), they are also given a grace period to complete their education.
Soldiers may sign a contract after completing their fixed term of service. Contractors hold most of the command and administrative positions in the Israeli army.
The main difference between the IDF and most other armies in the world is that women are required to perform military duties. Israelis are forced to take this step, not because life is good. It allows more men to be released for military service in order to somehow compensate for the numerical superiority of their opponents. Girls serve in all branches of the army, but they rarely participate in combat operations. About one-third of women were discharged from the military altogether for a variety of reasons (family, pregnancy, religious motivations).
Only during the 1948 War of Independence did women participate more or less actively in combat operations. But the situation in the state of Israel at that time was critical.
Both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel were subject to conscription. The Druze took pleasure in serving, and their number in the army was considerable compared to the total number of people in this ethnoreligious group. Bedouins are highly sought after in the IDF and are highly valued as experienced pathfinders and scouts. In general, Muslims and Christians can join the armed forces as volunteers.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Structure of the Israeli Army
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) consists of three categories of forces: naval, air, and land. In general, the armed forces are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense, which formulates defense policy, handles strategic planning, oversees weapons development, procurement, and production, and handles many other administrative issues. It should be noted that the Israeli Ministry of Defense is the richest institution in the country.
The operational management of the army is the responsibility of the General Staff, which is divided into six directorates. Each branch of the military has its own command.
The country’s territory is divided into three military regions: southern, central, and northern. After the First Persian Gulf War, a rear ministry was established, whose tasks included civil defense. The direct administration of the forces lies with the regional commands, and the clan commands of the forces primarily perform administrative functions.
It is very difficult to state the exact number of IDF troops and the amount of military equipment in active service. Most commonly, the figure of 176,000 is referred to in public sources as the total number. These are soldiers who work on a regular or overtime basis. To them should be added an additional 565,000 people in reserve. The total mobilized resources of the country are 3.11 million, of which 2.5 million are suitable for military service.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Army
The foundation of the Israeli army is the army, which consists of two armored divisions, four infantry divisions, fifteen tank divisions, twelve infantry brigades, and eight air mobility brigades. The structure and strength of these units may vary depending on the operational environment.
According to The Military Balance (2016), the Israeli army is in service with 220 Merkava-4s, 160 Merkava-3s, and 120 Merkava-2s. This vehicle is considered one of the best main battle tanks in the world and, in addition, it was specifically designed for the Middle East theater of operations. In addition to the Merkava, obsolete armored vehicles such as the M60A1/3 (711), T-55 (over a hundred), T-62 (over a hundred), Magah-7 (111), and M-48 (568) are in service. The data for obsolete armored vehicles is from 2011, and their numbers may have changed slightly since then.
In addition, as of 2020, the IDF has approximately 500 M113A2 APCs (made in the U.S.), 100 APCs Namer, 200 APCs Akzarit, 400 APCs Nagmakhon, and 100 Ze’ev wheeled APCs. All of the above vehicles are designed and built-in in Israel. The wheeled reconnaissance vehicle RBY-1 RAMTA (300 pieces) and the German-built RHBZ TPz-1 Fuchs NBC reconnaissance vehicle (8 pieces) should be mentioned separately.
Artillery units are in service.250 M109A5 SAU (USA), 250 81mm M113 self-propelled mortars developed jointly with the Americans, 120mm Keshet self-propelled mortars, and the American M270 MLRS (30 pieces). Particularly noteworthy is the Israeli MLRS, which the Israeli military-industrial complex has made significant progress in developing in recent years: the Lynx MLRS is a multi-barrel rocket launcher capable of launching missiles of various calibers (122 mm, 160 mm, and 300 mm), as well as a launcher for the Delilah-GL cruise missile and the LORA ballistic missile. The exact number of such launchers in service with the Israeli military is unknown.
The anti-tank weapons used by the IDF include the third-generation Spike series of anti-tank guided missiles, as well as the Pere and Tamzi self-propelled anti-tank missile systems and the MAPATS mobile launchers. The number of systems in service with the Israeli army is unknown.
The IDF attaches great importance to unmanned aerial reconnaissance assets, and the Israeli military-industrial complex is well advanced in this direction, with Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles actively exported and considered among the best in the world.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Navy
The Israeli Navy is headed by a commander with the rank of Vice-Admiral and has five directorates, which are divided into divisions within the Navy.
The Israeli Navy has three bases, Haifa, Eilat, and Ashdod, as well as several locations.
The Israeli Navy has five Dolphin diesel-electric submarines built in Germany, three Saar 5 frigates built in the United States, Saar 4.5 and Saar 4 missile boats, and various types of patrol boats.
The Israeli Navy has a special unit, Shayetet 13 (13th Naval Flotilla), which is designed to operate behind enemy lines. It is considered to be one of the most elite and combat-capable vessels in the IDF. The personnel, composition and activities of the 13th Flotilla are highly classified.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Air Force
The Israelis are proud of their Air Force, and with good reason. The Israeli Air Force is considered to be the most powerful fighting force not only in the region but also in the world.
IDF military aviation is divided into several types: tactical, fighter air defense, transport, and intelligence. There are 33,000 men serving in the IAF. There are 57 airfields in the country.
The basis of Israel’s air power is made up of various types of American F-15 and F-16 fighters. Its numerical data varies widely. According to 2014 data, the IAF has: 53 F-15s (19 A, 6 B, 17 C, 11 D; some F-15As in storage), 25 F-15I and 278 F-16s (44 A, 10 B, 77 C, 48 D, 99 I).
Also in storage are obsolete fighters: more than a hundred American F-4E and eight RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft, 60 of their own production “Kefir”. Noteworthy are the American attack aircraft – the latest villain AT-802F (8) and 26 vintage A-4Ns.
The Israeli Air Force has 7 RC-12D reconnaissance aircraft, 2 Gulfstream-550s, and 11 refueling aircraft.4 KC-130N and 7 KC-707 and 70 transport aircraft.
Among the training aircraft, it is worth mentioning 17 German Grob-120s, 20 American T-6A, and 20 TA-4 combat trainers, as well as one of the latest Italian M-346s (according to other data, there are 8).
The main attack helicopters of the Israeli army are the American AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra (about 50 helicopters of each type). Transport and multipurpose helicopters are represented by the following machines: 19 (according to other data48) ON-58B, 10 SN-53A, 39 S-70A, 10 UH-60A. Eurocopter Panthers (5 or 7) are used for maritime patrols.
The Israeli Air Force began receiving the newest American fifth-generation F-35 Lightning IIs. A total of 20 of these vehicles were ordered. There are reports that the Lightning has been used to launch attacks on Syrian territory, which neither Syrian nor Russian air defense systems have been able to prevent.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF): Nuclear Weapons
Israel has never officially confirmed (nor denied) the fact that it possesses weapons of mass destruction. However, most experts believe that Israel’s military does possess nuclear weapons, and there is ongoing controversy over the number of nuclear warheads and the characteristics of the means of delivery of nuclear weapons.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter suggested in 2008 that Israel has more than 150 nuclear charges. Representatives of the Federation of American Scientists believe that the IDF possesses 60 missiles with a single nuclear charge. U.S. military intelligence spoke of 80 allegations in 1999.
The Jewish state is believed to have been developing nuclear weapons as early as the mid-1950s, and to have been “mass-producing” the charges since 1967, producing about two per year. Nothing is known about the testing of Israeli nuclear weapons.
In 2002, it became known that the Dolphin submarine, purchased by Israel in Germany, could carry nuclear-tipped missiles. The ground component of Israel’s nuclear triad is the Jericho ballistic missile with a range of 6,500 kilometers.