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Authors: Michael Bar-Zohar,Nissim Mishal

No Mission Is Impossible

BOOK: No Mission Is Impossible


For my comrades who fought at my side

The living and the dead

Conquerors of Sinai in the “Six Days”

Bravehearts across the Suez in “Yom Kippur”

Defenders of the North in “Peace for Galilee,”

Carrying the dream of peace in their hearts.

—Michael Bar-Zohar

For my grandchildren

Idan, Yoav, Or, Guri, Noam and Noa

I am praying that you'll see, one day,

The dove of peace with an olive branch.

—Nissim Mishal




ince Israel's Independence War, its army has been involved in two never-ending combats. A combat on the front lines with Israel's enemies, who never give in, and an inner combat—the effort to conceive and apply strict moral and humane principles, unequaled by any other army.

The combat with Israel's enemies has been and will remain uneven. In 1948, the year the Jewish State was created, its population numbered 650,000 people, who had to face an invasion by five Arab nations numbering more than 30 million. In 2015, when the Israeli population had risen to 8 million, made up of 80 percent Jews and 20 percent Israeli Arabs who don't serve in the army, the population of the states surrounding it had reached 140 million, and the gap continues to grow. Egypt and Jordan, who have signed peace treaties with Israel, should be taken out of this equation, but a new, redoubtable power has joined the enemy camp: the 75 million–strong Iran, whose fanatic Islamist leaders have sworn to wipe Israel off the map, with conventional or unconventional weapons.

The IDF (Israel Defense Forces), therefore, has had to develop military techniques to compensate for the alarming gap between it and the Arab armies. This has been accomplished by equipping the army with the most modern and sophisticated weapons, many of them conceived and produced in Israel; by basing its war strategy on containment of the enemy on two fronts while concentrating the main effort on a third; by building a formidable air force and excellent intelligence services; and, especially, by forming several units of special forces, composed of deeply motivated volunteers, centered on physical and mental excellence, rigorous training, and, most of all, inspired by creative, inventive planning to surprise the enemy and to hit them at the most unexpected and vulnerable points, allowing a small number of soldiers—sometimes just a few—to carry out a mission normally requiring companies and battalions. This is how Unit 101, the paratroopers; the special commandos such as Sayeret Matkal, Shayetet 13, Kingfisher, Duvdevan, Shimshon, Maglan; the commando units in every IDF brigade; and others were created. The experience and the tactics of these select units would later be shared with the main bodies of the army. “We could not resist you,” a captured Egyptian general admitted after the Six Day War. “You are an army of commandos!”

he battle for moral conduct in times of peace or war is based on an ethical code originating in the Haganah underground, which operated before Israel was even created. The concept of “purity of arms” was forged by the Haganah, meaning that combatants' weapons shouldn't be soiled by hurting civilians, women, children or unarmed enemy soldiers. Several trials of IDF soldiers, in the past and present, have been based on that commandment. A famous court ruling speaks of a “black flag” flowing over any military order that counters the law; the soldiers should oppose it rather than execute it. This concept is enforced by the IDF, and any infractions, including some during the last confrontation with the Palestinians in Gaza, are brought before the courts.

As it tries to protect enemy noncombatants, the IDF strives to protect its own. A principle conceived under fire in the Independence War was
never to abandon a wounded or stranded soldier in enemy territory but to rescue him at all costs. Rescuing endangered Jews and Israelis abroad has also become a major commandment, be they terrorist hostages, as in Entebbe (1976), or a community at risk, as the Ethiopian Jews in 1981 to 1991.

Another distinctive term is “Follow me!” The officers in the combat units should not only instruct and train their men and women; they should always be the first to engage the enemy, charging ahead of their soldiers, giving them a personal example of courage and devotion. “Follow me!” has become the battle cry of the Israeli Army and explains the large proportion of officers among IDF war casualties.

he moral values, the strong motivation, the special training, and the unorthodox strategy of the Israel Defense Forces have come together to produce a soldier for whom no mission is impossible.

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