Michael Katz

Defining victory - challenges and solutions

Recipient of the Medal of Courage in the Yom Kippur War, commander of the military academies and former Ombudsman for Soldiers' Complaints.

Major General (res.) Itzhak Brik
June 1, 2022

We won Israel’s wars due to brave combatants, who sometimes sacrificed their lives to defend their families and their country. They fought in extreme situations in the fog of war, their comrades fell, were killed and wounded next to them and they continued to fight, realizing that there was no-one else except for them. They realized that they were the fortification between the enemy and their country. It was clear to every combatant, that‘ there are no free lunches’ and that there is a price for defending the country. They realized that some of them would not return home but this did not deter them from risking their lives, due to deep belief in the rightness of the path and love of the homeland.

Regrettably, today we are witnessing a reverse trend. There is great fear of paying a price; and the defense and political echelons make their decisions, not according to the real needs of the country’s security, but according to the prices we will pay in losses. This is the main factor in the decisions of the defense and political echelons on whether to go to battle: the expected losses that we will pay, not the value or necessity of the campaign for our security or in order to maintain a deterrent.

If you want to absolutely avoid losses in battle, you absolutely lose the army’s deterrence and its ability to win a war. This way of thinking and conduct of the defense echelons will in the end result in much heavier losses in war.

The fighting spirit is affected by this conduct, and with it the motivation to fight. Deterrence collapses, and willingness to take risks drops drastically. We are today in a trend of severe decline in the ground forces also because the combatants feel that the defense echelon does not rely on them and does not make use of them when necessary. According to them, “the IDF senior command relies on the Air Force, the intelligence and cyber units. It ignores the ground forces!"

Particularly the reserves. We have lost our inter-arm fighting ability and become a one-dimensional army of the Air Force that simply cannot win a war alone; we saw this clearly in Operation Guardian of the Walls, when carrying out a deception maneuver according to the original plan was rejected due to fear of losses and thus caused its complete failure.


Completely ignoring the ground forces is one of the reasons that many of the best commanders in the ground forces are not prepared to continue serving in the standing army or to see the army as a career. This creates a dangerous negative momentum, which is very difficult to stop and severely affects motivation and the combatants’ spirit. We are losing the values – according to which we raised generations of combatants – including the value of winning. Consequently, the numbers of losses will increase innumerably in the next multi-arena war.

Military supremacy has no value in a society, in which it is not obvious that soldiers have to be willing to make a sacrifice. The soldiers’ loss of trust in their commanders is a severe phenomenon that has to be prioritized in the public debate concerning the IDF. This is a question that relates to the very existence of the IDF as an effective, deterring army – and particularly, as a victorious army that can defend Israel against the dangers that face it from its enemies. The reason for this is that the loss of trust is only one further expression of the deterioration of the fighting spirit of the IDF’s soldiers, a spirit that existed from the day of its founding, with the help of which it went from strength to strength and without which it will deteriorate from bad to worse.

Studies prove that a strong fighting spirit among the combatants is critical in order to achieve victory in the battlefield. Even an army rich in technology, properly trained and with a high level of professional ability will not win on the battlefield without a fighting spirit: it is what imbues the weapons with life and encourages the soldiers to attack, to strive to make contact with the enemy and to aspire to victory at any price. Anyone who relies solely on technological weaponry, however sophisticated, is making a serious mistake; without the fighting spirit of the soldier who uses them, they are useless.

Strengthening the fighting spirit in the IDF is in my view a supreme national mission, based on two things: sanctifying the value of victory and reviving the ethos of self-sacrifice. I am well aware of the fact that the cultural environment in which IDF soldiers grow up in the present and future does not suit these values; on the contrary, it is an obstacle to both of these things and prevents their implementation. Nevertheless – victory and sacrifice must again become the keystone of the IDF’s values.

The concepts of "mission" and the "value of service", and the readiness to risk life for the state and its citizens, are vanishing from our public lexicon. When I ended my role as the Ombudsman for Soldiers' Complaints in the IDF, I issued a very severe report on the unpreparedness of the ground forces for war. I stand behind every word that I wrote: the Israel Defense Forces in general and the ground forces in particular, are not prepared for war. If we want to live, we must begin immediately to remedy this – and not just concentrate on the fruits of the problem but on its rotten roots: loss of the fighting spirit, dismissal of the value of victory and erosion of readiness for self-sacrifice. These are leading us today to disaster and to lack of military preparedness. Dealing with them will restore the IDF’s power and deterrence that are so necessary for Israel’s continued existence.

Criticisms by the IDF Comptroller, the Defense System Comptroller and the State Comptroller, to which hundreds of senior officers in the reserves and in the regular forces and civilian professionals were partners, raised very severe conclusions and very harshly described an army that is not ready for war in its main systems, i.e. logistics, operational divisions, new war materials(which are not properly maintained and have not been assimilated in many units), an inferior level of training and drilling, control of firing systems etc.

In recent years, a very severe crisis has come into being in the organizational, managerial and leadership culture in the IDF, which has become substandard. This is a crumbling foundation upon which it is impossible to build a victorious army. It consists of failing to draw conclusions, creating an organization that does not learn, not carrying out controls or monitoring, not ensuring that orders are carried out, extremely low standards in many units, not conducting routine properly, not amending or dealing with very severe findings that have come up in audits, loss of professionalism, and this is only a small part of a very long list. To meet the defense challenges in the future, the first thing that the IDF has to do is to amend its organizational, managerial and leadership culture; this organizational culture constitutes the army’s foundation and without repairing it, it is impossible to build the house.

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