EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This study explores the evolution of the order of battle, material holdings and capability of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) since their establishment seventy years ago. During this period, the IDF has transitioned from an ill-equipped and low-quality militia to a dominant regional military power. Recent cutbacks in the IDF’s order of battle notwithstanding, Israel can still deploy ground forces equipped with the world’s largest concentration of operational armored vehicles. It has an exceedingly advanced tactical air force capable of generating nearly 2,000 daily fast-jet combat sorties, and is protected by the world’s most advanced and dense national air defense system. It has an effective coastal navy that deploys exceptionally well-armed, advanced small combatants and attack submarines; it has a significant strategic and tactical nuclear capability; and it likely maintains the world’s third-largest inventory of nuclear weapons.
By way of understanding this extraordinary development, the study describes the evolution of each of the IDF’s combat arms while explaining how Israel’s longstanding, all-encompassing, national military doctrine, and resulting use of universal conscription and compulsory reserve service, have permitted a relatively small country of limited resources to generate vastly disproportionate military capability at a remarkably low annual budgetary cost.
Assessing the current state of Israel’s military forces and its short- and long-term implications, the study argues that the IDF has been seriously underfunded in recent years with the attendant decline in the readiness of its current reserve forces. It also argues that the IDF’s order of battle has been too deeply cut and that its force structure has been overly optimized to address the current threat of non-state asymmetric warfare. Most significantly, it argues that the IDF is not giving due consideration to potential future changes in the stability of currently non-hostile neighbors and, therefore, has seriously underestimated the probability of large-scale conventional warfare in the foreseeable future.