Though not often discussed outside military circles, the Israel Defense Force’s secret weapon for successfully protecting Israel against an array of threats is not an F-16 fighter jet or Merkava Tank or even the Iron Dome system. Rather, it is the IDF’s set of core values that have been developed and refined since Israel’s birth. These values are as vital to Israel’s security as any of the military’s physical capabilities. Without them, no amount of firepower would be sufficient to defend the state.
The IDF’s core values include a focus on successful mission completion, achieved quickly, in order to minimize the threat to Israel’s civilians. In addition, the IDF demands that commanders lead by example in the field, believes in the sanctity of human life, and embraces soldiers from all backgrounds These values are the lifeblood of the military, circulating through all of its units and enabling them to function under the harshest of conditions while ensuring the support of Israeli society.
Successful mission completion is one of the most important values among soldiers, regardless of rank. This value is seen as sacrosanct within the IDF. Because of the frequency of combat and because the fighting usually takes place on Israeli soil or very close to it, the stakes are incredibly high. Israel cannot afford to lose a single war. In the past, where commanders were unable to complete their missions, disruption to the overall operational strategy would be the result. That is because if missions are not completed successfully, the homeland and Israeli civilians are at immediate risk. Thankfully, throughout Israel’s history, mission failure has been rare.
Within Israel, areas requiring defense are typically adjacent to a community or to a site of strategic importance. Because of this, the IDF doesn’t have the luxury to engage in wars of attrition. The Israeli military, knowing that losing is not an option, always strives for swift victory. The faster the IDF is able to complete its missions, the faster the Israeli population is out of danger and able to focus their efforts on building a vital, functioning democracy and economy. Yet, due to the complex and changing nature of combat, particularly against non-state, hostile forces like Hamas, realizing this ideal in practice has become much more difficult than in the past. A quick victory was not achieved in Operation Protective Edge, for example. This led to some criticisms within Israel as we have seen in recent reports. The IDF of today constantly reviews and implements the lessons of past conflicts though, working toward the goal of faster victories in future skirmishes.
Another important value that allows the IDF to successfully complete their missions is best described by two iconic words in Israeli culture: “Follow me.” These words embody the value of commanders leading by example, by physically being on the front lines and in harm’s way. This standard sets the IDF apart from many other militaries. It is so ingrained within the ranks that we tragically lose Israeli officers – platoon, company, and battalion commanders – in the battlefield. The IDF’s officer casualty rate is proportionately and comparatively high due to this credo being applied in combat.
An examination of the IDF’s values would be incomplete without focusing on the emphasis it places upon the sanctity of individual human lives. In the midst of combat, the IDF acts to save lives, both civilian and military – including those of the enemy. It prioritizes the use of the most accurate weapons systems and seeks out, checks and re-checks intelligence; not just because of strategic and war winning benefits, but also as part of an ideological drive to save lives and reduce or avoid collateral damage wherever possible. Due to this ethical standard, there have been relatively few cases of IDF soldiers committing war crimes during hostilities. When it has occurred, the stern punishment meted out in response to violations has only helped to reinforce the IDFs value of the sanctity of human life and to deter any future incidents.
Finally, the IDF values diversity. It embraces its traditional role in Israeli society as a melting pot, where soldiers from various ethnic and religious backgrounds fight together for a common purpose. Secular and religious Jews, Druze, Bedouin soldiers – and more – all serve together. Because of its diversity and representation from all groups in Israel, the IDF is the institution with which Israelis most identify. In all public polls, the IDF remains the leading public body in which Israelis place their trust.
The support emanating from the Israeli citizenry is of critical importance and is a strategic asset when confronting outside threats. It enables Israelis to stand together in the face of attempts by enemy forces to demoralize the home front. The IDF’s values reinforce this support. So long as those remain at the heart of its ongoing operations, the military will imbue within its members, and the society it defends, the strength to counter all threats successfully.
Edited by Yaakov Lappin; Co-Edited by Benjamin Anthony & Garrett Fienberg
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.