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Defensive Shield: An Israeli Special Forces Commander on the Front Line of Counterterrorism Hardcover – July 17, 2016
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For students of warfare, Middle East enthusiasts or anyone inspired by stories of redemption after a fall from grace, Defensive Shield is well worth reading. --Defense News
Hirsch gives us a detailed account of the exhaustive training and commitment involved in belonging to the Israel Defense Forces, as well as his intense loyalty to his country and family. --Lynn L. Clark, author of The Home Child
About the Author
Gal Hirsch was born in a remote town in the Negev Desert of Israel and has dedicated himself to a military career since childhood. After graduating from a military academy with honors, he volunteered for and was accepted into a prestigious elite commando reconnaissance unit of the Paratroopers Brigade. Rising in the ranks of the IDF, he served among other posts as Chief of Operations in Central Command and Commandant of the IDF officers training school. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 2005 and appointed Commander of the Galilee Division in Northern Command, the position he held during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. After his resignation, Hirsch established Defensive Shield Holdings, which specializes in innovative technologies in defense and security-related sectors for governments and major corporations. From 2012 to 2015, Hirsch was called back to serve in the IDF as a full active reservist, appointed as Deputy Commander of the new IDF Depth Corps. He also teaches at various IDF leadership programs and serves as Chairman of the Israel Leadership Institute.
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Hirsch comes across as very bright but you can imagine that he may have appeared arrogant to his peers and superiors with his novel new concepts and terminology. For example: "With all of my experience, I have yet to find a solution other than maintaining cyclic processes of learning-changing-learning, with increasing speed, in order to baffle the enemy," or "I truly believe that maneuvering without distinct vector patterns and a chaotic and Unpredictable manner could collapse almost any rival system." In fact, his "swarming" and bypassing of strong points is consistent with the shock troops/blitzkrieg tactics the Germans developed at the end of World War I.
The single longest part of the book is dedicated to the second Lebanon War, and the author's actions, decisions, and fights with military bureaucracy and superior officers. Assuming what he wrote is true, it certainly rebuts negative portrayals of Hirsch's role leading up to and in the war. He also makes clear that there was a lot more to the war, including IDF successes, then the battle at Bint Jbeil. Hirsch makes clear that it was the defense minister and chief of the general staff who ordered the conquest of Bint Jbeil for public relations reasons, which meant turning back from the planned advance, and even though the city had already been surrounded and the high ground around it taken.
Hirsch makes the very good point that the only way to get the international community involved enough to impose a cease-fire on Hizbollah, which was firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians every day, was for the IDF to invade Lebanon. The invasion, therefore, was actually a peacemaking move rather than an offensive action on Israel's part. He never makes this point, but implicit in his argument is that the better strategy for Israel would have been just a ground invasion of southern Lebanon, which only occurred in the last week or 10 days of the war, rather than to bomb Beirut and other Lebanese cities in an attempt to get the Lebanese government to pressure Hizbollah to stop firing its rockets at Israeli civilians.
It's interesting to read that in the late 1990s, the IDF's Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI) reinvented the "signaling by escalation" concept that the US had tried and failed with in Vietnam 30 years earlier. Israel found out the hard way that you can't negotiate with an enemy that wants your complete destruction or withdrawal.
It's also interesting that Hirsch's description of "shock and paralysis" efforts in 2002 during Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank presaged Donald Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" concept a year later in Iraq. Yet he does not draw the obvious conclusion that his eventual decision to destroy the Palestinian Authority's military and police infrastructure – destroying the enemy's forces – should've been done all along.
He does contradict himself on a fundamental matter. He says repeatedly that what matters are "missions", not "plans". And get several times he states that he wanted to implement "the original Magen Ha'aretz plan that I knew and valued." It's hard to tell from this whether Hirsch was as hide-bound by an existing plan as were his commanders.
Likewise, he criticizes higher command's tendency to break up organic units. Yet throughout his description of his division's actions in the Second Lebanon War, he frequently mentions his own detaching of battalions from brigades and companies from battalions, and assigning them to other units.
He makes a statement that I can't understand. He makes an aside about "those who believe that 'no day was better than yesterday." This seems to echo the motto at the US Navy SEALs' training center, "The only easy day was yesterday". I can't believe he would criticize fellow special forces operators," so his comment is lost on me.
My minor peeve: despite numerous mentions of the Nahal infantry brigade and it's 50th Battalion, for some reason the brigade does not appear in the book's index, even though the Givati brigade, which played a much lesser role in the narrative, does.
There are a lot of finger-pointing and blaming after the war, so it's not a surprise Hirsch takes the opportunity to tell his side of story. If you have some basic knowledge of war, you will see why Hirsch sometimes explains in DETAIL of certain decision or event. But this is of course common in memoirs, this is still a good book overall.