by Ari Lieberman
From technological breakthroughs to operational successes, the IDF shows why it’s at the top of the food chain.
2017 was a busy year for the Israel Defense Forces. There were threats emanating from both north and south, above and below ground, from state and non-state actors. There is of course, always room for improvement but the IDF can reflect on the past year with satisfaction in the knowledge that it protected its citizens from genocidal threats and improved its tactical and strategic capabilities by successful integration of new, technologically advanced weapon systems. Let us review some of these achievements with the caveat that there are some successes that are understandably not talked about in open circles or shared with the general public.
Gaza Tunnels – Israel has always been cognizant of the challenges posed by tunnels dug by Hamas terrorists or its affiliates but its recognition of the emerging threat came to sharper focus with Operation Protective Edge in 2014. During that operation, the IDF uncovered and destroyed some 34 tunnels. The 2014 Gaza war forced Hamas to prematurely reveal its hand. Had the war not broken out when it did, it is probable that at some later date Hamas would have carried out a mega attack in Israeli territory involving mass murder and kidnapping. The war pre-empted Hamas’s plans. The tunnel challenge compelled Israel to invest more resources in developing technologies to counter the threat and that investment is paying dividends. This past year, Israel caused a number of tunnels in the midst of construction to collapse. In December, the IDF destroyed a Hamas tunnel that it had been monitoring. In October, the IDF destroyed a tunnel belonging to the Gaza-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad, killing 12 PIJ and 2 Hamas operatives. In the meantime, Israel is in the midst of constructing an anti-tunnel barrier equipped with sophisticated sensors. As the work progresses, the IDF expects to uncover more tunnels.
Iron Dome – Since the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has been wary of firing rockets into Israel for fear of Israeli retaliation. However, following America’s surprise recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Hamas turned a blind eye toward the nefarious actions of other Gaza-based Islamist groups and failed to prevent them from firing rockets. Iron Dome once again proved its mettle intercepting a number of rockets, downing only those rockets determined to have the most menacing trajectories. In November, the Israeli Navy announced the deployment of the Iron Dome system on its sea platforms. The Israeli Navy is tasked with protecting Israel’s vast sea lanes and offshore gas platforms. Iron Dome will significantly enhance the Navy’s ability to perform this vital role.
F-35 Adir – Israel has taken delivery of the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber, the first air force outside of the U.S. Air Force to do so. Israel currently operates nine of these 5th generation fighters and plans to acquire a total of 50. The plane is already believed to have been put to operational use. Some have criticized its prohibitive cost but the aircraft’s stealth characteristics and sophisticated avionics ensure that both plane and pilot will survive even in the most challenging of circumstances thus justifying the cost. There is currently nothing in the world that matches the F-35 in terms of the plane’s advanced technological features and stealth characteristics. The Russians and Chinese are at least eight years behind in this regard.
Golan Threats – Israel is keeping close tabs on its enemies to the northeast. Periodically, fighting across the border on the Syrian side results in spillover into the Israeli side and when that happens, the IDF is always ready. Israel holds Assad responsible for maintaining quiet along the border and any disruption is generally met with an immediate and devastating response. On June24 and 25, the IDF destroyed two Syrian tanks, two artillery pieces, an ammunition truck and a heavy machinegun outpost in response to spillover fire. On July 1, Israel destroyed a Syrian artillery position in response to two errant shells. On October 21, the IDF destroyed three artillery pieces in response to five projectiles landing on the Israeli side. The Syrians are aware of Israel’s capabilities and it appears that the swift and devastating Israeli actions in response to Syrian transgressions have had the desired effect on Assad. He’s been behaving himself, more or less.
Trophy APS – The U.S. Army announced that it will be fitting a brigade of over 80 of its M1A2 Abrams tanks with the Israel Trophy Armor Protection System (APS). The Trophy APS can intercept anti-tank rockets and missiles and can also rapidly calculate the source of fire based on the missile’s flight path. It was successfully employed during operation Protective Edge, intercepting multiple threats. In fact, not a single Merkava tank was hit by anti-tank fire. There is no greater advertisement for an Israeli weapons platform than getting the seal of approval from the U.S. Army. The Army’s acquisition of the Trophy will almost certainly lead to further foreign sales to friendly, reliable nations and this will further drive down the cost of the system while enhancing the security of the West.
Preventing WMD Proliferation – On September 7, Syria’s al-Tala’i military research facility located in Masyaf was reduced to ash and flames. According to Western intelligence sources, al-Tala’i is a center for the production of chemical weapons. There was speculation that Syria was prepared to hand over the facility to its ally, Hezbollah. This was a situation that Israel was not prepared to accept and so, Israel acted resolutely. That’s one less WMD facility that the world has to worry about.
Spike-Equipped Apaches – For the first time, the IDF cleared for publication photos of IDF Apache attack helicopters equipped with the NLOS (Non-Line Of Sight) variant of the Spike missile. During the 2014 Gaza war, Israeli Apaches were equipped with Hellfire missiles but Obama delayed resupply of depleted Israeli stocks. Consequently, Israel decided that it would no longer subject itself to the whims of an irrational leader and decided to equip its Apaches with its domestically produced Spike. The Non-Line Of Sight option means the target can be hit without the operator actually seeing the target and the missile can be guided via a laser designator or real-time wireless data link. The operator can also abort the mission after launch or change targets. This is an important feature that enables the operator to limit collateral damage should civilians suddenly appear or alternatively, to direct the missile mid-flight toward a more valuable or dangerous target. The Spike’s guidance system is superior to the Hellfire’s. The Spike NLOS also has a greater range than the Hellfire, enabling the Apache to fire from greater distances thus making it less vulnerable to SAM or AAA fire.
Successful Combat Deployment of Arrow – In mid-March the Israeli Air Force launched a series of airstrikes targeting a Hezbollah weapons convoy and other military facilities believed to be housing weapons slated to be delivered to the terror group. The airstrikes focused on a Syrian airbase known as T4 near the city of Palmyra. The airbase is used by Iran as a transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah. The targets were destroyed but Syrian anti-aircraft units fired 3 to 4 SAM-5 anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli fighters. The aircraft evaded the missiles but one missile, with its 478lb. warhead, came dangerously close to landing in Israel. Israel fired an Arrow anti-ballistic missile (the IDF did not disclose whether it was the II or III variant) at the SAM-5, intercepting it midflight and sending it crashing into Jordan. It was the first time that the Arrow was used in combat and it passed its first test with flying colors.
Senior Terror Commanders Liquidated – Terrorists who seek to harm the Jewish State generally have short lifespans as demonstrated by two IDF operations this year. Yasser al-Sayed was a pro-Assad militia commander who was coordinating planned attacks against Israel with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. His life was cut short in mid-March by a missile while driving along the Damascus- Quneitra road near the town of Khan Arnaba. The liquidation of Mazen Faqha, also in March, was conducted under more mysterious circumstances. In 2002, he recruited a suicide bomber to carry out a suicide attack that left nine Israelis dead. Later that year, he was apprehended by Israeli security forces after an intensive dragnet. He received nine life sentences for his role in the bombing only to be released in 2011 in the deleterious Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange where some 1,000 terrorists were released for the captive Israeli. After his release, he rejoined Hamas and resumed his terror activities. He was killed just outside his home in the Gaza City neighborhood of Tel Al Hawa, and no one saw or heard anything. It was a clean kill with no collateral damage. As is its wont, Israel had no comment on Faqha’s death but the liquidation bears all the hallmarks of an Israeli covert op. The killing of Mazen Faqha left Hamas unhinged and nervous and that in the final analysis may be more beneficial to Israel than his death for it sowed the seeds of fear and distrust within the highest echelons of Hamas.
Al Kiswa Strike – Israel has drawn several red lines in Syria but among its most important is its determination to keep Iran and Hezbollah as far as possible from the Golan border. An Israeli raid against an Iranian military base just south of Damascus near the town of Al-Kiswah, underscores this point. Al-Kiswah lies just 31 miles from the Israeli border and it needed to be eliminated. Satellite imagery showing before and after photos of Al-Kiswah demonstrates in no uncertain terms that Israel means business. At least 12 Iranians were killed in the blasts.
Operational Deployment of Arrow III and David’s Sling – Israel’s David’s Sling became fully operational in April. David’s Sling is an anti-missile system designed to close the gap between the Arrow II, III and the Iron Dome. As noted, Iron Dome intercepts shorter range rockets. Arrow is designed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles while exo-atmospheric. David’s Sling will be used to intercept tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles with ranges of between 40 km. to 300 km. The Arrow III became operational in January and could be adopted for anti-Satellite roles.
Israel is on the frontlines in the fight against those who wish to destroy Western civilization. While 2017 represents a successful year for the IDF, its commanders know that they cannot for a second rest on their laurels for Israel’s enemies – from Hamas to Hezbollah, the Islamic State to the Islamic Republic – will spare no effort to inflict harm on the Jewish State and the West.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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