An Israeli Strategic Update
By Robbin Laird
12/09/2010 – During the early part of November, the Second Line of Defense team visited Israel to get a strategic update on developments.
Looking beyond the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict's Prism Credit photo: www.washingtonpost.com
One of the many problems facing the current U.S. strategic debate is that inside the beltway concerns are really projections of what the U.S. would like to see and debate, not what is really going on elsewhere. And as the U.S. is bogged down in Afghanistan, and refusing to build weapons to deal with next-waritism, others are making their own determinations about what the world will look like in the near term. And the convergence between inside the Beltway and the rest world is not always a close fit.
Israel is a good example of this lack of fit. Living inside the Beltway you might figure that the Israeli-Palestine template is the key one, with Iran lurking over the top. There is some truth to this, but the dynamics facing the region are not fully captured by these perspectives. Among the themes raised during the visit, several do not figure prominently on Washington’s current agenda:
- First, the Turkish dynamics, Chinese collaboration and a budding relationship with Iran is a decisive problem for Israel. Not only has the Turkish relationship with Israel being downgraded, but Israel is developing relationships in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia as well as Greece to provide alternatives. As one Israeli asked, “Why is the U.S. still planning to give F-35s as Turkey turns towards China and Iran?”
- Second, the uncertainty about the future of Iraq is seen as central to managing Iran. And there is no clear US position on the future of Iraq in conjunction with Iran. As one Israeli put it, “Iraq has been central to deterring Iran. What is the U.S.’s strategic vision in this regard?”
- Third, Syria is seen as a major problem and along with Iran is viewed as major supporters of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. And the linkage between Syria and the Hezbollah is seen as direct. As one Israeli analyst put it, “Any significant launching of missiles from Lebanon must be met with the decapitation of the Syrian leadership. We are simply not going to respond to local strikes with counter-local strikes.”
- Fourth, the Israelis understand that the missile and air defense threats create a problem of air dominance. Whilst the U.S. worries less and less about air superiority, the Israelis understand that air superiority is a key element of dealing with the air dominance challenge. “When you have adversaries which can launch thousands of missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and launch air defense missiles against your manned and unmanned assets, you have a new strategic problem. That is one reason we are buying the F-35.”
- Fifth, a number of air power analysts who were interviewed underscored the cultural shift, which the new aircraft posed. In the interview with former Chief of the Israel Air Force, General Bodinger, the latter underscored that the shift to the F-35 was as profound as from the Mirage to the F-15.
- Sixth, the threat posed by the missiles also underscored the need to better integrate the air and surface forces, including naval forces. In the interview with Israeli journalist Amos Harel, the requirement to build strategic depth by deploying missiles at sea was discussed.
- Seventh, the need for innovation as Israel introduces new systems was underscored in various ways. General Bodinger discussed the ability to redo the unmanned and weapons systems for Israel as the F-35 is introduced. At UAV developer, Urban Aeronautics, the threat posed by significant missile launches to rotorcraft was discussed in presenting the case of a new unmanned cargo UAV, the Air Mule. And indeed, the threat to rotorcraft poses the question of the need for fixed wing aircraft to integrate effectively with ground and surface forces in the presence of a significant missile threat.
In short, new threats are emerging requiring innovative responses. The Israelis with their survival at stake don’t have the luxury of holding endless strategic roundtables as we do inside the Beltway. And to assume that God has given us strategic superiority forever.
New threats are emerging requiring innovative responses. The Israelis with their survival at stake don’t have the luxury of holding endless strategic roundtables.