Thursday, September 13, 2018

Israel Beefs Up Its Military - Ari Lieberman

by Ari Lieberman

But military spending is no substitute for strategic depth and defensible borders.

Israel’s shrillest critics often accuse the Jewish State of exaggerating security threats. Some detractors have even characterized Israel’s security conscience leaders as “paranoid.” We often hear them spew tired and meaningless banalities like “peace of the brave” and “risks for peace” in connection with their calls for unilateral Israeli concessions. But Israelis, who have been compelled to fight seven wars with their Arab neighbors since acquiring hard-fought statehood, know better. They are keenly aware that peace treaties with authoritarian leaders and two-bit kings, generals and sheikhs are worth no more than the paper on which they’re written.

Nothing underscores this concept better than outrageous but unsurprising statements recently made by Jordan’s former prime minister, Abdelsalam al-Majali. In an August 18 televised interview, al-Majali, who was a signatory to the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty, stated, “The Arabs do not have any power. If we ever have military power, will we let them keep Haifa? We’ll take it.” And just in case anyone had any doubts as to the meaning of his words he added, “If tomorrow we become stronger and can take Haifa by force, will we really decline just because we have an agreement with them?”

The comments were made in Arabic to an Arabic audience. This is typical. Arab leaders often speak in forked tongues when the topic centers on Israel and have become adept at this type doublespeak. When addressing Western audiences, they moderate their tones and often employ euphemisms and ambiguities to mask their real intentions. But it is an entirely different affair when they address their fellow kinsmen where their true pernicious intentions are exposed.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is under no illusions about the catastrophe that would befall his nation if Israel let its guard down for one second. He once insightfully observed that “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.” As a result, the Netanyahu-led government has invested heavily in defense. Nearly 6 percent of Israel’s GDP, or $19.6b was allocated toward defense spending in 2017.

All branches of the armed forces are slated to receive substantial upgrades to their operational capabilities. The Israel Air Force (IAF) currently operates a squadron of F-35 “Adir” 5th generation stealth fighters. Israel was the first nation outside of the U.S. to have deployed the F-35 and the aircraft has already seen successful operational use in the Syrian theater. The IAF is expected to take delivery of 50 of these machines, which when added to Israel’s existing fleet of F-15 Strike Eagles and F-16 Sufa fighters will ensure that the IAF maintains its air supremacy over the skies of the Mideast for decades.

The armored corps is slated to receive upgrades to its vaunted Merkava IV tanks with artificial intelligence (AI) enhancements. The new tank will be called the Barak and in addition to AI enhancements, will receive an improved cannon, improved Active Protection System (APS) capable of swatting anti-tank guided missiles and RPGs before the projectiles can reach the tank’s armor, and a 360-degree Virtual Reality (VR) system enabling the crew to survey the terrain without having to expose themselves to enemy fire. 

Israel’s Ministry of Defense (IMoD) recently announced the establishment of a missile corps which will be attached to the ground forces. It is a revolutionary concept that will enable the ground forces to deploy rockets possessing various ranges of between 30 and 150 kilometers with unprecedented precision. The missile corps will be integrated with the Tzayad battlefield management system. This platform allows all units in the theater of operations to see each other through interconnected laptops. With a touch to a screen, a commander can communicate to all other units the location of friend and foe alike within seconds. Soldiers of the missile corps would then swing into action launching deadly rockets from as far away as 150 kilometers with incredible precision. The establishment of the missile corps will enable the IAF to concentrate on more strategic targets while the missile corps deals with tactical targets.

The Israel Naval Service will also soon see a significant boost to its operational capabilities with the acquisition of four Sa’ar-6 class super corvettes equipped with sophisticated sea-to-sea missiles, torpedoes, point-defense systems, anti-aircraft missiles and rapid-fire cannon. These along with other naval assets will patrol Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and ensure that maritime traffic in the eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea remains unimpeded. Advanced Dolphin II class submarines, equipped with Popeye Turbo cruise missiles (which can be nuclear tipped) will ensure that Israel maintains second strike deterrent capabilities. Moreover, the Dolphin II’s in Israeli service can be submerged for up to 30 days and are extremely quiet making them ideal platforms for covert operations against close and distant targets.

While these and other military upgrades to Israel’s formidable military will enhance Israel’s security, they are no substitute for strategic depth and defensible borders. Israel’s current leadership understands that the Jordan Valley, with its steep depression and high ridgeline, presents the best natural defense against an attack from the east. Moreover, the Samarian mountain range, which overlooks Ben Gurion Airport and part of Israel’s coastal plain, must never be vacated by Israel. Finally, Israel without Judea and Samaria (West Bank) is only nine miles wide at its narrowest point. In 1998, when then Texas Governor George Bush visited Israel and was informed of this fact, he quipped that there were driveways in Texas longer than that. That humorous observation correctly sums up Israel’s strategic situation and that is why Judea and Samaria is integral to Israel’s security needs.

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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