Israel's historic victories came about due to brave warriors ready to sacrifice their lives to defend their families and their country. They fought knowing that there was no one else to do the job, that they were the only barrier between the enemy and their country. They realized that some of them would not survive, but this didn't deter them from risking their lives.
Regrettably, those attitudes are in retreat. Today's discussion on whether to go to battle focuses on a war's potential costs and casualties, rather than a campaign's intrinsic value or its necessity for Israel's national security.
The fighting spirit and motivation of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been deeply affected by this defeatist mind-set. Material and technological military supremacy is meaningless if fighters are not prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. The greater the desire for loss avoidance, the lesser the army's ability to win wars, and ironically, the higher its casualties. As the IDF loses its founding emphasis on winning, the number of casualties grows exponentially.
We have seen a severe decline in the ground forces' morale and capabilities, especially among the reserve forces. Having lost its combined-arms fighting capabilities, the IDF has become far too reliant on air power. But an air force on its own cannot win wars; that requires soldiers on the ground, as was starkly illustrated during the 2021 Gaza war. The IDF refrained from fully executing its long-conceived strategic deception plan, involving a large-scale ground incursion into Gaza, for fear of casualties. The resulting partial and haphazard execution resulted in complete failure.
The disregard of ground forces is one reason why many of the IDF's best commanders do not wish to continue serving in the army or no longer see military service as a career. This, in turn, creates a dangerous difficult-to-stop momentum that negatively affects motivation and fighting spirit. Soldiers' loss of trust in their commanders endangers the IDF as an effective, deterring force, not to mention its ability to defeat multifaceted and multi-front dangers.
On concluding my role as the IDF Ombudsman for Soldiers' Complaints, I published a damning report on the ground forces' unpreparedness for war. That remains the case today: the IDF in general, and the ground forces in particular, are not prepared for war. To make matters worse, reports by the comptrollers of the IDF, the defense establishment, and the State, based on testaments by hundreds of senior officers in the regular and reserve forces as well as civilian professionals, exposed far-reaching deficiencies in the IDF's preparedness in almost every key operational sphere from logistics to the number of operational fighting divisions, to absorption and maintenance of new weapon systems and military equipment, to inferior levels of training and drilling to control of fire systems, and so forth.
All these deficiencies are a corollary of the acute crisis that has engulfed the IDF's organizational, managerial, and leadership culture in recent years, as crises manifested in many arenas: the inability to learn and draw necessary conclusions; failure to implement effective controls and monitoring mechanisms that ensure the proper execution of orders; extremely low standards that prevent routine operations of many units; failure to redress, or even address, severely negative findings of repeated audits; and lack of professionalism. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
By way of meeting Israel's future defense challenges, the IDF must, first and foremost, change its organizational, managerial, and leadership culture. This is the edifice on which the army is built, and its immediate repair is a must if the IDF is to revert to its past self as a hugely victorious force.
Such deficiencies are leading Israel to a disastrous lack of military and strategic preparedness. Redressing them will restore the IDF's power and deterrence that are so indispensable for Israel's continued existence. A progressive decline in the fighting spirit, a spirit which had characterized the IDF from its inception and which underlay its spectacular past exploits, means it is bound to go from worse to worst.
These existential problems must be rectified without delay at all levels, beginning with its root causes: the loss of fighting spirit, erosion of the readiness for self-sacrifice, and abandonment of the goal of victory. Strengthening the IDF's fighting spirit is a supreme national mission, which should be predicated on two main foundations: reviving the ethos of self-sacrifice and sanctifying the value of victory.
True, the cultural environment these days in which young Israelis grow up is not conducive to these values. Such concepts as "mission" and "value of service," and the readiness to risk one's life for nation and country are vanishing from the Israeli public lexicon. Nevertheless, sacrifice and victory must be revived as the cornerstone of the IDF.
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak Brick, recipient of the Medal of Courage in the Yom Kippur War, is a former commander of the military academies and former Ombudsman for Soldiers' Complaints in the IDF.