The Israeli Army

A few weeks ago I gave an interview to a French periodical concerning the state of Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Today, 19 April 2018, being Israel’s 70th Independence Day, I thought this topic would be of interest to the readers of this blog.

 

Any comments welcome

 

Can you give us an overview of the actual situation of the Israeli armed forces?

One could argue that, taking a grand strategic perspective and starting with the establishment of the State of Israel seventy years ago, some things have not changed very much. First, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) remain the armed organization of a democratic country, one in which it is the politicians who decide and the military which obeys. Second, the objective of the IDF was and remains to defend the country, a outrance if necessary, against any military threats that may confront it. Third, Israel remains in a state of war with several other Middle countries; nor is there any way in the world it can bring the conflict to an end by defeating them and compelling them to make peace against their will. Fourth, the occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights notwithstanding, Israel remains a small country with very little strategic depth. Fifth, the lack of strategic depth implies a heavy reliance on intelligence to detect threats before they materialize. Sixth, and for the same reason, Israeli military doctrine remains basically offensive, with a strong emphasis on destroying the opposing armed forces.

How is composed the Israeli military apparatus?

The Israeli military still retains the basic structure it assumed in 1949-50. It is made up of 1. A standing army, consisting of officers, NCO’s, and conscripts, numbering about 176,000 men and women altogether; and 2. A considerably larger number of reservists, who bring the total to about 620,000. As these numbers show, the IDF places heavier reliance on reservists than most modern armed forces do. Many reservists, moreover, serve in their own units and are expected to go into battle almost immediately and not after a period of organization as is the case in most other countries.

In charge of the IDF is the chief of staff, a lieutenant general. Under him is the general staff, including the divisions of manpower, operations, intelligence, computers (C4I). technology/logistics, and planning. Like most modern armed forces, the IDF has ground forces, an air force and a navy. Each of these three has its own general staff. There are three territorial commands: north, south, and central. There is a home defense command as well as a long-range command intended for “deep” operations in the enemy’s rear. Just recently the establishment of yet another command, armed with surface to surface missiles and apparently meant to supplement the air force, on missions up to 300-500 kilometers deep into enemy territory, has been announced.

Can you explain in detail which are the weapons currently owned by Israel?

The IDF is one of the most modern forces in the world. The ground forces rely on heavy Israeli-designed and produced tanks (the Merkava), of which there have now been four successive generations). It also has modern, heavy, armored personnel carriers (produced, in Israel, on a Merkava hull and undercarriage) as well as various kinds of surfaces-to surface missiles, multiple-launch rockets, and artillery The infantry, including a paratroop brigade and special operations units, has modern personal arms (the Tavor assault rifle) as well as machine guns and various anti-tank missiles.

The air force is in charge of a number of earth-circling intelligence satellites. It also has a number of medium and intermediate range (1,500-5,000 kilometer) ballistic missiles capable of reaching well beyond the Middle East. Combat power in the air consists mainly of US-built F-15. F-16 and F-35 fighter-bombers. Other important weapon systems are attack helicopters, AWACS aircraft, and tankers. A very important element are anti-missile defenses, a field in which Israel is a world leader.

Traditionally the Navy has been the least important among the three services. However, the need for a second-strike nuclear force as well as the discovery of enormous reserves of gas under the Mediterranean, which need to be defended, has caused this situation to change. Currently the Navy has a number of corvettes armed with various surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles. These ships are sufficiently large to carry helicopters for over-the horizon work. Four more corvettes are on order in German shipyards. The Navy also has five submarines (with a sixth on the way) which, according to foreign sources, can launch sea-to-land cruise missiles over a range of up to a thousand miles or so. That, incidentally, should be enough to reach a target as far away as Tehran from positions opposite the Syrian coast.

About the nuclear: can you give us an overview of their allocations and actual potential?

These matters are secret. After all Israel has never openly admitted to having nuclear weapons in the first place. All one can say, on the basis of foreign sources which have long been discussing the issue at length, is as follows.

First, the number of warheads in Israel’s nuclear arsenal is probably in the low hundreds. Yields may vary between 20 kilotons, the equivalent of the device dropped on Nagasaki back in 1945, and a megaton. There have also been rumors about tactical nukes, but they have never been confirmed. Whether the larger warheads are fusion-based or simply boosted fission-ones is unknown.

Second, the delivery vehicles that can carry these weapons include fighter-bombers, various kinds of surface-to-surface missiles, and submarines. Between them, these weapons and these delivery vehicles should enable Israel to wipe any enemy in the Middle East and beyond off the map.

Third, absolutely nothing is known about the doctrine that governs the use of the weapons in question. In other words, about their strategic mission, the circumstances in which they may be used, the way in which they may be used, the targets against which they may be used, and so on.

About new generation weapons (drones, long range missiles), what is the situation? Are the Israeli armed forces still greater than its neighbors?

Israel technology in all these fields is as good as any available in the world. The more so because it is assisted by joint programs not just with the US, the largest weapon-manufacturer of all, but with and several other advanced countries. Israeli computers, satellites, optical- and communications equipment, radars, and drones are excellent. However, there is no room for complacency. Israel’s enemies, including both state- and non-state ones, are doing their best to challenge its superiority. As they do so, some of them are supported by Russia. Which is why constant vigilance and innovation are required.

In its short history, the State of Israel often fought and won wars in which it was outnumbered and trapped: is this because of its only technological superiority or is there also a strategic and tactical factor? 

Starting in 1948 and ending with the 1973 war inclusive, the most important factor behind Israel’s victories has always been the quality of its troops. Both in terms of education—Israel, unlike its enemies, is not a third-world country but a first-world one with educational, technological and scientific facilities to match. And—which is more critical still—in terms of motivation and fighting morale.

After 1973, and especially the 1982 First Lebanon War, things began to change. Education, technical skills and scientific development continued to improve, turning this a nation of less than eight million people into a world center of military (and not just military) innovation. There are, however, some signs that, as some of its former enemies concluded peace with it and its own military superiority came to be taken for granted, motivation suffered. To this was added the need to combat terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank—the kind of operations that contribute nothing to overall fighting effectiveness and any even detract from it.

Can the logistic organization represent a decisive factor – militarily -?

Logistics, it has been said, is “that which, if you do not have enough of, the war will not be won as soon as.” As recently as the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah in 2006, so heavy was expenditure of air-to-surface missiles and other precision-guided munitions that the IDF had to apply for US aid even as hostilities were going on. This situation which has its origins in budget constraints, may well recur.

Furthermore, in all its wars from 1948 on the IDF has enjoyed near-absolute command of the air. As a result, it was able to attack enemy lines of supply whereas the enemy was unable to do the same. The buildup of reliable and accurate surface-to-surface missiles in the hands of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran may very well change this situation, causing supply bases and ammunition dumps, as well as communications-junctions and even convoys on the move to come under attack. This scenario, which is not at all imaginary, is currently giving the General Staff a lot of headaches.  

We know that the intelligence is the decisive element to ensure strength to Israeli Armed Forces: can you explain what is this strength?

Israeli technological, tactical and operational intelligence has always been very good. Two factors help account for this fact. First, there exists in Israel a large community of first-class experts (known as Mizrahanim, “Easterners” who know the countries of the Middle East, their language, culture, traditions, history, and so forth as well as anyone does. Many members of this community spend their periods of reserve duty with the IDF intelligence apparatus.

Second, modern intelligence rests on electronics, especially various kinds of sensors and computers. As the famous Unit 8200 shows, these are fields where nobody excels the IDF. Nobody.

That said, it is important to add that Israeli top-level strategic and political intelligence is nowhere as good as it is on the lower levels. Starting at least as early as 1955, and reaching all the way to the present, IDF intelligence has often failed to predict some of the most important events. That included the 1967 war, the 1973 War, the 1987 Palestinian Uprising, the 1991 Gulf War, the “Arab Spring,” and the outbreak of the 2011 Syrian Civil War.

Compared to its actual friends, which are its strengths and weaknesses from a military point of view?

As I said, strengths include a well-educated and highly skilled society, excellent technology, and vast experience in fighting various enemies (though some of that experience is now dated). The chief weaknesses remain the country’s relatively small size and lack of strategic depth—Iran, for example, is eighty times as large as Israel. Perhaps most important of all, there is reason to think that motivation, though much higher than in the NATO countries, is no longer what it used to be.

If the situation between Israel and Iran (or Hezbollah in Lebanon) comes to a showdown, which could be the reactions of some States as Turkey, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or USA?

Hard to say. Iran will use Syria as a forward base for fighting Israel. Assuming the regime stays, Saudi Arabia will probably retain its ties with Israel, at least unofficially. Ditto Egypt. Turkey will probably not engage in a shooting war with Israel, but it will support an anti-Israeli coalition in other ways while at the same time fighting the Syrians (and the Kurds). Russia will try to support Hezbollah and Syria, but without becoming deeply involved. The US on its part will support Israel and Hezbollah, but without directly taking on the Russians.

There seems to be a fear about a large scale conflict; militarily, what do you think that Israel could put in place?

With its vital infrastructure—power plants, fuel depots, factories, and the like—exposed to precision-guided missiles launched by Hezbolla Syria and possibly Iran, Israel will find itself in a difficult situation. As well as doing its best to protect these assets by means of its highly-developed surface-to air missile system, it will mount air- and missile attacks on enemy air defenses, missile launching sites, and infrastructure targets (one Israeli officer has recently warned that, should Hezbollah get involve in a war with Israel, the latter would bomb Lebanon back into the Stone Age). One can also expect Israeli commando raids against military targets which, for one reason or another, cannot be tackled by airpower on its own.

All in all, not a pleasant prospect.

I Am Ashamed to Be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli.

And not because the IDF killed some fifteen residents of Gaza during the demonstrations that took place on the 30th of April. I was not there, and neither was any of my acquaintances. So I cannot say whether the killing was “justified”—whether, in other words, the soldiers who opened fire really were in danger of their lives. Although I must say that, since the demonstrators did not carry weapons and since a great many of them were women and children, the number seems quite high. The more so because not a single Israeli was killed or injured.

Most of my readers not being Israelis, I cannot blame them for never having heard the name of Kobi Meidan. I myself hardly open my radio except to listen to classical music; hence I cannot say I am terribly familiar with the name either. I think I once talked to him over the phone, but that is all.

Mr. Meidan is a journalist. He works for Galei Zahal, the military broadcasting station that is one of the most popular in Israel. Referring to the demonstrations, he wrote that he was ashamed to be an Israeli. Please note that he did not say so while on the air. He did so on Facebook, in his capacity as a private individual in a free country.

No sooner had he done so than all hell broke loose. All over the country people demanded that he be fired. His direct superior, the station’s commander, held out for a time. However, pressed by his superior, minister of defense Avigdor Lieberman, he ended up by surrendering and threatening Meidan with dismissal.

Meidan in turn surrendered and apologized. His apology was accepted, so everything is fine now. Everything, except that, from now on, Mr. Meidan will surely be careful to look over his shoulder every time he puts a line on Facebook. As will a great many others. Everything, except that freedom of speech, the most precious thing on earth, has received a powerful blow. One that is by no means the first of its kind, and one that is very unlikely to be the last.

Here is a story I heard some time ago.

How many views do fifty Frenchmen have? Fifty. How many views do fifty Israelis have? A hundred and fifty. And how many views do fifty Germans have? One.

Further comment, superfluous.

That is why, for the benefit of Mr. Lieberman and others, Israeli and non-Israeli, of his ilk, I want to repeat, loud and clear:

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

I am ashamed to be an Israeli

And also for Mr. Meidan.

You Could Be Next

The man in the photograph, Boaz Arad, used to be an Israeli artist. A good one, as I think you can see for yourself. He was also a charismatic teacher in his field. The fact that he was single did nothing to diminish his popularity. But last week, following an article in which a nameless female student was quoted as saying that he had harassed her, he killed himself.

He left behind a letter (in Hebrew) I want you to read:

“This female journalist calls me and says she has heard complaints about my romantic involvement with students at Telma Yallin [an Israeli art school, MvC]. She does not provide names. She does not provide facts I can respond to. She does not explicitly mention sex, just drops hints about it. The complaints mention romance, not sex. But the journalist interprets this as sex between a man and a woman.

Under any legal system in the world, there is such a thing as a statute of limitation [the alleged sexual encounter took place two decades ago]. Under any legal system in the world, a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But there are cases in which the law must be circumvented. Suddenly [the man] is weak. I have to stand up against unspecific accusations and defend myself. But given how powerful the media are, who will believe me? How can I look anyone in the eyes? How can I fight back?

At Telma Yallin I met wonderful young people. With some of them I am still in touch. In some cases the ties became stronger [but only, as Arad made clear in an interview, after the girls were over sixteen, which is the legal age of consent in Israel; and only after they were no longer his students]. Who can stop a liaison that is growing stronger? There was nothing there that had to be concealed.

For years on end there was gossip about me. And I, instead of denying it, became paralyzed.

And then there is xxxxx, who has never been known for truthfulness. She accused the school of allowing me to participate in a show even though some female students had complained that I had harassed them. I never had an affair with a student. Investigations both at Telma Yallin and Bezalel [another art school, MvC] showed that there never has been a complaint. But xxxxx is convinced I am guilty. She will get her pound of flesh. And to hell with the truth. For years she has been active behind my back, trying to shame me. The great warrior for justice. Goodbye, Ms. xxxxx. I have no doubt that you are behind all this. You have left plenty of evidence in your wake.

I’ve had a wonderful life filled with teaching and art. Now it has all been turned into muck.

How can I look anyone in the eye? Who will allow me to teach? Who will put my work on show?

All I ever was is gone.

Goodbye to my wonderful family. Goodbye to my wonderful students.

My apologies to anyone I may have hurt in this letter.

I love you.

Boaz.”

The Fourth Reich is Rising

The Fourth Reich is rising. Not in Germany where, in spite of the recent elections, most people seem to have has learnt their lesson. But in Israel. The country which claims to be the only one in the Middle East which is democratic and in which free speech is allowed (nice of the authorities to allow free speech, isn’t it?). The country where my parents, having narrowly escaped the Holocaust, (see on this my post, “How My Family Survived the Holocaust,” 17.12.2015) immigrated. The country in whose military four of my five children have served. The country for which several of my relatives, acquaintances and students have died. The one in which I have spent practically all my life and which I have always loved.

No longer. For almost two years now a 33-year old Arab-Israeli (and self-proclaimed Palestinian) poet, Ms. Dareen Tatour, has been under house arrest. Far from home and relatives, with electronic cuffs on her leg, and without access to either a computer or a cellphone. Her trial got under way in April 2016, and has still not come to an end.

Did she kill an Israeli? No. Did she try to kill an Israeli? No. Did she assist terrorists or fail to betray them to the Israeli authorities, as those authorities, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, demand? No. Did she engage in any other out of God knows how many activities Israel has prohibited? No. So what why did the police knock on her door at 0400 in the morning, and what are the charges which could cost her eight years in jail?

Saying what she thinks. As by putting the following poem, originally written in Arabic, on Facebook.

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil,* they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali** called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.

 

* Hadil al Haslamon, a 18-year old Palestinian girl who attacked—so the Israelis claim—a group of bullet-proof wearing, heavily armed, heroic Israeli soldiers with a kitchen knife and, like so many others, somehow managed to die after being shot “in the legs.”

** Ali Kosba, a Palestinian teenager who threw rocks at an Israeli military jeep, shattering its windshield. Trying to run away, he was shot in the back and killed by a heroic Israeli colonel who, according to the military spokesman, “felt in mortal danger” of his life.

What to Do?

While tensions in Korea have gone down, those in the Middle East, specifically along Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, are going up. As a flurry of consultations in Tel Aviv, Washington DC, and Sochi shows, they are higher today than at any time since Israel invaded Lebanon back in 2006.

That round, let me remind you, got underway when Hezbollah, apparently in the hope of freeing some of its prisoners who were being held by Israel, kidnapped some Israeli soldiers and killed several others. This led to what the Israelis call the Second Lebanese War, which ended with a smashing Israeli victory. Not because Hezbollah was finished—it was not—but because, for what is now more than a decade, it lost its will to take on Israel. And not because Israel’s forces performed particularly well—especially on the ground, they did not. But because their sheer firepower, mercilessly delivered over a period of some six weeks, taught Sheikh Nasrallah, his Hezbollah organization, and Lebanon’s population in general a lesson they did not quickly forget.

Now, with the Syrian civil war perhaps—perhaps, I say—finally starting to wind down, the situation is changing. Hezbollah’s recent victories against Daesh and other anti-Assad organizations have raised its morale and made it feel more confident in its own capabilities. Behind Hezbollah is Iran, which is intent on gaining some kind of presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and is using its anti-Israeli policy as a sort of battering ram to enter the Arab world. And behind Iran there is Russia. Like Iran, Russia wants a presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Unlike Iran, it has no particular reason to oppose Israel, let alone engage in hostilities with it. Especially because doing so may very well cause complications with the U.S. On the other hand, it also has no particular reason to restrain Iran or Iran’s client, Hezbollah.

In my post of last week, My Meeting with Mr. X, I argued that never since 1945 have two nuclear powers engaged each other in earnest. Instead calm—albeit often a tense one—has prevailed. So, first of all, between the superpowers. So, later on, between the Soviet Union and China. So between China and India, and so, since at least the 1999 “Kargil War” (which in reality, was not a war at all, only a skirmish between minuscule forces over impossibly difficult terrain along an impossibly difficult border), between India and Pakistan. In all those cases, to quote Winston Churchill, some form of peace has become the sturdy child of terror. Hence the idea, presented to me in a half-joking, half serious, manner, of periodically assembling the world’s heads of state so as to show them the damage nuclear weapons can really cause.

So what to do? I am not worried about an Iranian nuclear arsenal. As I have argued before, there is excellent reason to believe that such an arsenal, far from leading to war between Israel and Iran, will force both sides to behave more responsibly than they do now. Not to speak of preventing Benjamin Netanyahu from ever realizing his threat to attack. Rather, the real crux of the problem is formed by the fact that Hezbollah, unlike Israel, does not possess a nuclear arsenal. Paradoxically, but as also happened during the October 1973 War (and, some say, the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falklands), it is precisely this fact which, in a certain sense, gives it a free hand and enables it to confront the Israelis without fear of nuclear retaliation and escalation.

So following the logic of my friend, Mr. X, here is what I propose. Let Israel, or anyone else who is feeling generous, hand Nasrallah a few bombs. Big or small, old or new, as long as they have the word NUCLEAR written on them in giant letters it does not really matter. Complete with their safety devices, so as to put responsibility for anything that may happen squarely on his shoulders. Without ifs and without buts.

And then, as the Jewish prayer has it, there will be peace upon Israel.

Fifty Years Have Passed

The coming Monday, June 5th, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The one, let me remind you, which led to the Israeli occupation of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank (East Jerusalem included). That is why I thought the time had come to take a second look at it. In doing so, my starting point will be a book, Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan towards Peace, which I published in 2004. What did I get right, and where did I go wrong? Does the central thesis, namely that, seen from a security point of view Israel could easily afford to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, still hold?

The background to the book was formed by the Second Palestinian Uprising, or Intifada. Starting in October 2000 and lasting until 2005, the Uprising was carried out mainly by suicide bombings, claiming the lives of 1,137 Israelis as well as 6,371 Palestinians before it was finally quashed, with considerable brutality it must be said, by then Prime Minister Ariel. Sharon. The number of injured is unknown, but must have been much larger still. In addition, tens of thousands of Palestinians saw the inside of Israeli jails where some of them still remain. The economic damage to Israel was estimated at about 15 percent of GDP; that inflicted on the Palestinians, at perhaps 40 percent. Going abroad during that time, I could not help noticing how, at Israel’s only international airport, there were often more security personnel than passengers.

The way I saw it in 2004, and still see it now, the advent of ballistic missiles has greatly reduced the relevance of territory and, with it, the value of the “strategic depth” long seen by Israel as the main reason for holding on to the occupied territories. In any case, the age of large-scale Arab-Israeli conventional warfare was clearly over. Not only because the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan held; but because, as both the 1956 and 1967 wars had shown, should Egypt’s military try to confront Israel in the Sinai then all they would be doing would be to put their necks into a noose. Should Egypt lose a war in the Sinai, then it would lose. Should it win, then it might face nuclear retaliation. Israel is believed to have as many as 100 warheads and delivery vehicles to match. By targeting the Aswan Dam, the people in Jerusalem have it within their power to turn Egypt into a radioactive lake within rather less than an hour of the decision being made.

Having been heavily defeated in the first Gulf War, Iraq was out of the picture and remains so today. This left Syria which, however, was much too weak to take on Israel on its own and has become even weaker since. At that time as now very few Arabs lived on the Golan Heights, explaining why its occupation by Israel never met strong resistance or drew much international attention. Consequently holding on to it was, and remains, relatively easy and need not preoccupy us here.

In what was surely the most daring move in a remarkable career, Sharon, against howls of opposition, built a fence around the Gaza Strip, demolished the Israeli settlements there, and pulled out. It cost him his life, but he effectively put an end to attempts by suicide bombers to enter Israel proper. To be sure terrorism, now in the form of underground tunnels and rockets, did not come to a sudden end. As if to prove the fact that the role of territory was declining, the rockets in particular gained in range and power, causing much trouble. This kind of terrorism was only brought to an end during the second half of 2014 when a massive Israeli military operation (“Protective Edge”) inflicted many casualties and enormous destruction. Since then an equilibrium, albeit an uneasy one, has prevailed in southern Israel. As is shown, among other things, by a tremendous real estate boom in that part of the world.

This in turn suggests that, had Israel launched the operation in question a few years earlier, it might have spared both itself and the other side considerable grief and trouble. Looking on the withdrawal from Gaza from the perspective of 2017, it appears to have been a great success. It rid Israel of some two million unwilling Palestinians, leaving them to govern themselves as best they can and forcing their leadership into what, in practice, is some sort of accommodation.

During the Second Intifada a beginning was made in constructing a wall around the West Bank as well. A measure, incidentally, which this author of had proposed, in public, as early as 1993. But two reasons have prevented its completion. First, through East Jerusalem, which Israel claims for itself, passes the only highway connecting the two “bulges” that forms the West Bank, making it all but impossible to seal off. Second, the Jewish settlers in the Bank, supported by a considerable part of the Israeli government and public, fear that, should the wall be completed, it would herald at least a partial withdrawal from that region as well. And with good reason; doing so was something both Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, actively contemplated.

Whether, had Sharon not died in harness and Olmert not been forced to resign, they would have been able to dominate Israeli politics to the point of carrying out such a withdrawal will never be known. At present any attempt to proceed in this direction is certain to be stopped by Israel’s right-wing government and public. Still the example set by Gaza refuses to go away. Hovering in the background, it is a constant reminder that an alternative to present-day policies does exist.

As Defending Israel argued, and as events since then have clearly shown, the most important problem the West Bank poses to Israel is neither “strategic depth” nor terrorism. The former is rendered all but irrelevant by the advent of ballistic missiles, peace with Jordan, the demise of Iraq, and the Bank’s topography which makes an attack from east to west almost impossible. The latter could be solved by the construction of a wall and a withdrawal. The real threat is demographic. Six and a half million Jewish Israelis cannot go on forever governing an Arab-Palestinian population now numbering some two and a half million and growing fast. In this day and age, indeed, the very idea of an occupation that has now lasted for fifty years is simply crazy. Either pull out, unilaterally if necessary, or risk Israel becoming an apartheid state—which, I hate to say, in many ways it already is.

Finally, East Jerusalem. A story, probably apocryphal, dating to the first months after the June 1967 War illustrates the problem very well. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol is touring East Jerusalem. All around him people are beaming with happiness, but he alone keeps a gloomy face. Mr. Eshkol, they ask him, why all these sighs? In response he says that getting in was easy (as indeed it was). But getting out!

And so, indeed, it has proved. There is no way in the world Israel can be persuaded to give up the Old City and its immediate surroundings, the place which, whatever UNESCO may say, gave birth to the Jewish people well over 3,000 years ago. Nor, given the historical record, is there any reason why it should. But Israel should be able, and willing, to let go of many East Jerusalem neighborhoods that were recently joined to the city and have absolutely nothing to do with holiness. Such as Sheik Jarach, Dir al Balach, Ras al Amud, and quite a few others. All are inhabited exclusively by Palestinians and all are poor and underdeveloped. As in the case of Gaza, a withdrawal from them, even if it has to be carried out unilaterally and even if it only leads to a modus vivendi rather than peace, would be a blessing, not a curse.

With the 1967 war’s fiftieth anniversary coming soon, what is the point in waiting?

Guest Article: Israel – The Price of Independence

Dr. Eitan Shamir*

On May 2nd of this year, Israel will be celebrating its 69th Independence Day. As always, the cheerful opening celebrations on the evening of May 1st will begin within hours of the memorial ceremonies for the fallen soldiers carried out that very morning, during Memorial Day. On Memorial Day, the nation is sunk in grief, remembering some 23,500 fallen members of the Israeli security forces and 5,150 civilians who lost their lives to ensure Israel’s national survival, freedom and prosperity.

As always, the ceremonies will include a reading of a poem by Natan Alterman (1910-1970), one of Israel’s best known poets. Its title, “The Silver Platter,” is attributed to Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann. Just two weeks after the UN decision, on November 29th, 1947, to partition British Mandatory Palestine, and amidst the rapidly escalating Arab attacks on the Jewish community, he declared that “the state will not be handed out to the Jewish People on a silver platter.” Thus foreseeing the great sacrifice in lives that the community in question would have to make in its pursuit of statehood. Four days later, on 19th December 1947, Alterman published the poem. As the years passed, it gained status as a national canon epitomizing the sacrifice the nation has asked from its members:

 

And the land shall again be peaceful, the red eye in the sky

Slowly dimming over smoking frontiers,

And the nation will rise, heart torn but still breathing,

To accept this miracle, this one and only miracle…

A ceremony it will prepare, standing before the crescent moon,

Facing them dressed in joy and terror.

And then towards them will walk a young woman and man

Slowly marching toward the congregated nation.

Dressed in dirt and battle-gear and heavy shoes

They will ascend the path, treading quietly.

They will not have changed their garb nor wiped their brow,

Nor cleaned any trace of their days in labor and nights in battle.

Exhausted, but never resting,

Still in the dew of Hebrew youth…

Silently the two will approach and then stand perfectly still

Revealing no sign whether alive or shot.

And then the nation shall ask, tearful and amazed,

“Who are you?” And the two quietly will answer:

“We are the silver platter

On which you have received the Jewish State”.

Having spoken they will fall at the nation’s feet, covered in shadows,

And the rest will be recounted in the chronicles of Israel.

 

Each year, shortly after the sun sets, Memorial Day comes to an end, giving way to Independence Day and causing the country’s mood to shifts all at once. Hundreds of thousands of people join public celebrations complete with fireworks, food stands, music and dancing. A stronger contrast than the one between those two days would be hard to imagine.

This phenomenon of a sudden switch of national mood, from one extreme human emotion to its complete opposite, might seem peculiar, and a stranger might not appreciate it. Indeed, each year there are Israelis, especially among the families of the fallen, who argue that the abrupt extreme change in mood is abnormal and that more space should exist between these two days, allowing for a more gradual transition between the emotions they represent.    

However, Israel’s founding fathers created these two days as inseparable twins for a good reason. They wanted to make sure the nation remembers that its freedom was acquired and is being maintained at a dire cost; that before the nation begins to celebrate it must pause to pay tribute to the Silver Platter. One cannot be without the other.

Since Alterman wrote his poem in 1947, the State of Israel has gone through profound changes. One such change is Israel becoming a technology powerhouse. If, in the past, Israel’s main export product used to consist of oranges, then today it is high technology: a wide variety of software- and hardware related products. Included among these products are “apples.” Though not the kind one can eat, but rather the new model iPhone 8 that has been mostly developed in Israel.

These technological developments have affected not just the methods by which Israel wages its wars but also the way the Israeli public perceives the wars in question. In the past when a reference was made to Israel’s qualitative edge, what was meant was the quality of its field commanders and combat training; today it means Israel’s technological advantage. Technology is expected to deliver a solution for every security challenge, from rockets to tunnels.

This expectation leads to a perception that wars have become – or should become – a “clean business.” The heroes of our era, argue certain self-proclaimed pundits, are the men and women behind the keyboard or joystick. In other words, “cyber warriors.” These new military professions “should be elevated” above all the rest, they argue, as they represent the future. The prestige and status society reserved for its combat soldiers, those who operate in the line of fire, killing and risking being killed, should be shared with these new cyber warriors. The IDF prestigious definition of “combat soldier,” they continue to argue, should include soldiers who operate systems that can definitely shoot, even though their operators are located in secure places, very far from harm’s way.  

While cyberwar and technology are indeed important, even crucial, this entails a grave danger as the new ethos could affect young recruits who are led to believe that self-sacrifice is not needed on today’s battlefield. If, in the past, the best and brightest felt that their first calling was a combat unit, this is slowly changing. Sadly, as the recent wars in Gaza, Iraq & Syria remind us, war is still very much a bloody affair of soldiers “running around with rifles shooting each other” as one observer commented. I often show my students a scene from Spielberg’s “Band of Brothers” in which a company of American paratroopers fight house to house to recover a small village in Normandy France, 1944. There are always a few students who approach me after class and say, “this is exactly what we experienced in Gaza and Lebanon”.

Blood is the currency of war, said Clausewitz. Vast technological change notwithstanding, for those who engage the enemy at the front little has changed. Unfortunately, on its 69th birthday, while Israel celebrates its many astonishing achievements, it is still embattled, and will continue to face war and bloodshed for the foreseeable future. The struggle and the sacrifices necessary to uphold the state have not ended, and before we celebrate, let us not forget the Silver Platter that enabled us to do so.

 

* Dr. Eitan Shamir is a Senior Research Fellow with the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA Center) Bar Ilan University. He is author of Transforming Command (2011) and Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies (2017) with Beatrice Heuser.

Guest Article: Air Forces – Balance of Power in the Middle Eas

By: Karsten Riise

Air forces are of colossal importance in the Balance of Power between states. Without air superiority, a state is open for huge devastation from potential adversaries. To get a clearer picture of the Balance of Power in the Middle East, I therefore decided to focus on the balance of assets for air superiority in the Wider Middle East – see figure 1:

Figure 1

Methodology

My methodology in figure 1 is straight forward: Only high-end fighter (or multirole) aircraft in service are relevant for the contestation of air space. It is assumed high-end fighters in service have received all technical upgrades for high-end status. Light or older fighter aircraft are shown, but may quickly be eliminated.  To keep the methodology robust, I focus on the sheer number of high-end air superiority fighters. Only easily available, open sources have been used.

Readiness is a significant quantifiable factor which has not been easily available. If a modern air force has a normal readiness of for example 70%, it may well be, that Iran, due to lack of spare parts, lack of instruments, lack of trained pilots and technicians, may have a readiness of only 35%. If that is the case, the effective force of Iran would be only half of what her number of 44 high-end units indicates, bringing Iran’s total force down to 22 comparable “units of force-level”.

The “qualitative factors” like pilot-training, support-structures, leadership, configuration of bases, communication, support from other assets (ground-sensors, AWACS, satellites) etc. can be decisive. Also lethality and availability of modern munitions (e.g. air-to-air missiles) go into this. A “quality-factor” is difficult to measure, but it is still possible to say something in general about “quality” level. If USA=100 in “quality-factor”, it is generally accepted that Israel’s “quality-factor” is probably quite above 100, that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are probably a bit below 100, and that Iran is very much lower due to lack of training, and other modern assets. In this analysis, I will not measure “quality-factors”, just point to them.

Overview

Figure 1 brings up four issues for my discussion: First, Iran’s obvious lack of air power against all of her many competitors. Second, the enormous increase in GCC air power, not least in Saudi Arabia. Third, the balance of power in relation to Israel. Fourth, the issue of nuclear weapons.

Iran – vacuum of air-power

Iran has only got 44 high-end aircraft to disperse, and they may not all be upgraded to deserve “high-end” status. Due to lack of training, spare parts etc. it may well be that Iran’s readiness factor is only half of her neighboring countries, which means that her 44 units may only count as a “force-level” of 22. These 22 units of “force-level” have to be split up in (minimum) 3-6 sectors to defend a vast territory of 1,6 million km2, leaving only a meager 3-7 units of modern “force-level” per defense sector. It is obvious, that Iran does not possess any of the air assets necessary to protect her air space, not even against the air force of her smallest neighbors. Deficits in other “qualitative” combat factors like pilot-training only reinforce this conclusion. A few S-300 anti-air missiles may serve as a “trip-wire” for point-defense, but without a comprehensive, layered integrated air defense system, a few S-300 do not change the overall picture of a nearly undefended air space. The regional stability risk, therefore, seems not to be that Iran becomes “too strong”, but rather, that Iran in terms of air defense is a power-vacuum, which could invite intrusion from any of her numerous competitors. Iran does possess a substantial number of surface-to-surface missiles of considerable range, which are often cited (especially by USA sources) as a “threat”. But you cannot win a war with surface-to-surface missiles alone, and all of Iran’s competitors have got effective Patriot missile defenses. In view of Iran’s lack of air power, Iran’s surface-to-surface missiles are a stand-alone capability. Iran’s missiles must merely be seen as a deterrent, in other words a defensive capability, which stabilizes the region, because Iran’s missiles discourage attack on Iran. Iran also possesses a capability of armed speed-boats, land-to-sea missiles etc. which can obstruct the oil traffic in the Persian Gulf. This marine capability, like Iran’s conventionally armed land-to-land missiles, must also in the overall context be seen as a deterrent, discouraging attack on Iran, but not a capability which gives Iran encouragement for a very adventurous strategy. As it will appear below in figure 2 and 3, Iran is not investing an overly great portion of her economy in military.  

Is this “good” or “bad”? Well, anyone reserving a “right” to attack Iran, may think it is “good”.  Given the troubling experiences in the region of turning a functioning country into havoc and chaos, it may arguably also be “bad”.

GCC – enormous increase in air-power

All the GCC countries relative to their size possess very large quantities of high-end air assets. The GCC total is 409 aircraft, and with 349 units more on order, this group is on way to an inventory of 758 units. In comparison, France and Britain have a total of 369 high-end units, according to the same sources. Even the smaller GCC-states have by a wide margin plenty of assets against Iran. Saudi Arabia alone has got 222 units, and 156 more on order, for a total of 378 units. An additional order of 72 Eurofighters is under consideration, which could bring Saudi Arabia up to 450 units. According to GlobalSecurity.org, Saudi Arabia has also asked for 100 units of F-35 “stealth” fighters. If Saudi Arabia is denied F-35 from the USA, she may instead choose to buy J-31 “stealth” fighters from China. That might bring the Royal Saudi Air Force up to 550 units. Saudi Arabia also possesses 13 units of E3-sentry AWACS. In comparison, NATO for patrolling all its Eastern flank from Norway to Turkey (4,000+ km) has got about 16 similar units.

The question comes up, why Saudi Arabia invests in air superiority assets on such a large scale. Air force may be the most expensive part of Saudi Arabian military spending, and Saudi Arabia’s military spending of 13.7% of GDP in 2015 is the third the highest in the world after Oman (and South Sudan, not shown) – see figure 2:

Figure 2

Oil prices have been high for many of the preceding years. Surplus money may tempt military spending. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s high air force investments are felt now that oil incomes have been depressed the last few years, and Saudi Arabia also wants to invest huge sums of money in diversifying her economy to achieve a broader economic footing to prepare for her “post-oil” era in due time.

Intentions are never known for sure, and may even change. I will go through a range of seven theoretical types of thinkable intentions. First, air forces have prestige. But the “bling” factor can hardly explain investment on this scale. Second, “defense against Iran” can be ruled out as a reason, because the Iranian air force is so small, ref above. Third, the Saudi Arabian and GCC assets are so numerous, that an offensive strategy (for example against Iran) may be a possibility, especially if the Patriot systems (which all the GCC countries have) are effective to defend against possible retaliatory missile strikes. Fourth, protection of Saudi Arabia against internal revolts, might theoretically be thought of, but the Saudi Arabian air force seems bigger than needed for that. Fifth, Saudi Arabia might seek the role of a great regional power. For the general role as a regional power, Saudi Arabia will need a strong navy to complement her air force in power-projection. And according to the open sources used here, Saudi Arabia actually has got an ambitious navy program with 7 frigates, 4 corvettes, and contemplates buying 2-3 destroyers, including the powerful American Arleigh Burke class, plus the advanced Freedom class littoral combat ship. Submarines are missing. For power projection, Saudi Arabia also has 2 tanker aircraft, 3 more tankers on order, plus a number of heavy transport aircraft. Saudi Arabia also has a satellite program, but her missile force seems not built out. Sixth, Saudi Arabia might not rule out, that a conflict with Israel could erupt one day, willingly or unwillingly, perhaps just due to misunderstandings. Here, however, Israel is in possession of the “great peacekeeper” in form of nuclear devices. Seventh, we may look at the timing of Saudi Arabia’s increase in military spending – see figure 3:

Figure 3

The acceleration in Saudi Arabian military spending started 2004/2005, after the USA war for “regime change” in Iraq. It might be thinkable, that Saudi Arabia wants to have an “insurance policy”, that such an American action should never be turned against Saudi Arabia. To make this effective, Saudi Arabia would need to add aircraft from non-US suppliers, and (better) to have themselves the kind of “devices” which Israel has in possession. All this is of course theoretical, because the surge in Saudi Arabian military spending since 2004/2005 also to some degree coincides with a higher general level of oil prices.

The balance

Iran’s air force is not a threat to Israel – probably not even Iran’s missiles, due to Israel’s layered missile defense systems. However, figure 1 shows that Israel soon will have 366 fighter aircraft against 1,046 fighters from the GCC-countries, Egypt and Jordan – and they are out to buy more. These countries are not Israel’s enemies, and Israel has good practical relations with all of them. Still, a numerical disadvantage of 3:1 is something to think about, even taking into account Israeli historical superiority in training, her satellites etc. – but above all, her nuclear weapons.
 
Israel being free from major conflict hinges on Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. This will also apply, if more sides possess them. Nuclear weapons, however, do not hinder that “Low-Intensity” War will continue.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor

CHANGE NEWS &
CHANGE MANAGEMENT

Karsten Riise is Master of Science (Econ) from Copenhagen Business School and has university degree in Spanish Culture and Languages from University of Copenhagen. Former senior Vice President Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Mercedes-Benz in Denmark and Sweden with a responsibility of US Dollars 1 billion. At time of appointment, the youngest and the first non-German in that top-position within Mercedes-Benz’ worldwide sales organization.

Karsten Riise can be reached at Changemanagement.dk@gmail.com

Articles on www.academia.edu

My Country, More Wrong than Right

I am an Israeli. And proud of it. Several times on this blog I have praised my country’s virtues. As I tried to show in my book, Land of Blood and Honey (2010), over the last century no country on earth has achieved more. Demographically—there are now a hundred times as many Jews living here than there were in 1914—economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, culturally, you name it. When I first arrived I was just four years old. Not only have I spent almost my entire life here, but I very much hope my children and grandchildren will do the same.

That is why I am worried, more than worried, about certain things that have been happening in my country. Today, I want to share my worries with my readers.

* Some months ago, the Knesset passed a law which enabled a majority of 90 to vote and dismiss any one of its 120 members simply for speaking their mind about certain topics. For example, saying, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once did, that, if he or she were a Palestinian, he might join a terrorist movement against Israel, might cause the trigger to be pulled. As if speaking up is not what the members of Israel’s parliament, like those of any other legislative assembly in democratic countries around the world, have been elected for.

* Israel has some forms of communal settlements in which members have the right to vote on which new residents to admit. This has been used to bar Arab citizens. Though a court order has reaffirmed the right of Arab citizens to join the settlements in question, that order has never been implemented.

* For years now the police has been demolishing houses built by the Bedouin in the Negev. In the latest incident of this kind, mayhem broke out and a Bedouin as well as a policeman were killed. All because the government has suddenly decided that the permit to settle the area, issued sixty years previously, had been illegal.

* Bezelem (In the Image: after a sentence in the book of Genesis, according to which God created man “in His image”) is a voluntary Israeli organization. For many years now, it has been collecting and publishing evidence about the way Israeli troops in the West Bank, both IDF and Border Police (in practice, there is hardly any difference) have been treating and mistreating the local Arab population. In 2013, its tax-free status was revoked.

* “Shovrim Shtika” (Breaking the Silence) is a somewhat similar organization. The difference is that it is made up of officers and soldiers who spent time serving in the Occupied Territories. As the name implies, it too has something to say about the chicanes to which the local population has been and is being subjected. Recently its members’ right to speak in schools and certain public buildings has been curtailed.

* Another organization whose tax-free status has been subjected to re-examination is Amnesty, the largest of its kind world-wide. In the end its status was re-established, but just for one year.

* As some of you will have heard, last week a high court decision issued a long time ago was finally carried out. Amidst scenes of considerable violence Amona, a West Bank settlement that had been built on private Palestinian Land, was demolished. So far, so good; no sooner had Amona been taken apart, though, than the Knesset passed a law that officially “regulated” the status of thousands of other Jewish houses built on private property in the West Bank. This is not just contrary to international law: it is robbery, pure and simple.

* Last not least, Israeli law has an arrangement known as BAGATZ, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Under this arrangement any citizen or organization—not just the parties involved in a legal dispute—has the right to approach the supreme court as a court of first and last instance, asking it for a resolution against government actions that, in their opinion, violate the law. It was a BAGATZ that ordered Amona to be evacuated. And it is a BAGATZ that will hopefully counter the “Regulating Law” just passed. What I find worrisome, very worrisome, is the attempts of certain right-wing politicians to curtail the power of the BAGATZ and/or change the system by which supreme justices are selected in such a way as to make the court more compliant.

What did the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir say? Often it is not those who criticize their country who love it the least.

 

PS Last week this site had a technical problem which blocked access for a few hours. Thanks to all of you on Facebook who inquired and took the trouble to let me know. As we Dutch say, het geeft de burger moed (it gives the citizen courage).

Welcome, Mr. Secretary

At one point during his election campaign, President-Elect Donald Trump promised to spend the first hundred days on the job restoring the U.S military. And following the endless unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, restoring it certainly needs. Now he has come up with the man who is supposed to do the restoring: four-star Marine Corps General (ret.) James Mattis.

To imitate the language of the Old Testament, I shall not list “the rest of the General’s acts, and all his might, and all that he did.” They can easily be found on the Net. A few points, however, are worth taking note of. First, he is immensely experienced, having made his way up by participating in practically every war the U.S has fought from 1972 on. Second, as a high-ranking Marine he is intimately familiar with operations “in the air, on land and sea” (the Marine Corps anthem) and not just with one of the three as so many army, navy and air force generals are. Third, along with general David Petraeus he was responsible for America’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Precisely that which, in this day and age of what I once called “non-trinitarian warfare,” is the most important and the most necessary of all. Fourth, he cares for his troops. Fifth, he is a man of considerable learning such as is rarely found among his fellow officers (having lived with them, I should know). Last not least, he has no fear of speaking his mind. A quality which, in today’s politically-correct world, is as hard to find as diamonds.

Entering office, the General will have his work cut out for him. Two issues on which he has expressed himself in the past are Iran and “the Middle East” (meaning, of course, Israel and the Palestinians). So let me start by venturing to provide him with some cautious advice on both of those. Re. Iran, I think that the present agreement with that country is as good as can be had. It is good for Iran, good, for the Middle East, good for the U.S, and good for world peace. Why re-open a (nuclear) nest of hornets when, judging by everything that has happened since Tehran re-started its nuclear program back in the early 1990s there is no need? The more so because, by doing so, the US will be widely seen as untrustworthy, a problem which will surely complicate efforts to deal with similar issues such as, for example, North Korea. And the more so because it will be pushing Iran into Putin’s welcoming arms.

As to my own country, I agree with outgoing President Barak Obama that fifty years of occupation are enough and more than enough. The present situation is untenable for the world, for the US, and, not least, Israel itself. Surprising as it may sound to outsiders, many, perhaps even most, Israelis are aware of this fact. However, they are prevented from doing what has to be done—in one way or another, get the devil out of the Territories—by the country’s complicated internal political divisions. As they say, four Jews, five opinions! So I strongly suggest that the new Secretary of Defense should put his weight behind the attempts to impose some kind of enforced solution. One which, while not perfect, will at least extinguish many flames and dispose of many sparks (as our mutual acquaintance Clausewitz puts it in On War.)

Important as these issues are, they only comprise the beginning. As readers of the present blog as well as my book Pussycats will know, I see the military crisis the U.S (and other Western countries, including, in many ways, my own) is undergoing primarily as a spiritual one. Not, in other words, one that is occasioned by lack of money. And not as one caused by defective organization, inappropriate doctrine, insufficient equipment, inadequate training, and so on. To repeat, it is the spirit, eroded partly by a whole series of unsuccessful wars and partly by domestic factors, which has been lacking and which must be restored.

Here I want to quote some little-known words General Mattis uttered two years ago (according to the Washington Times, 25.5.2014). The text of his remarks goes as follows:

I would just say there is one misperception of our veterans and that is they are somehow damaged goods. I don’t buy it.

If we tell our veterans enough that this is what is wrong with them they may actually start believing it.

While victimhood in America is exalted I don’t think our veterans should join those ranks.

There is also something called post traumatic growth where you come out of a situation like that and you actually feel kinder toward your fellow man and fellow woman.

We are going to have to have young people in our country who are willing to go toe to toe with this because two irreconcilable wills exist.

There is no room for military people, including our veterans, to see themselves as victims even if so many of our countrymen are prone to relish that role.

Coming on top of some other courageous words General Mattis has spoken over the years, it is probable that, in the entire U.S military there is no one more suitable to carry out the necessary repairs than he is. Repairs, let me repeat, whose nature is predominantly spiritual, not material.

And so I wish him good luck in what is surely going to be a very difficult task.