Tag Archives: Israel defense

The Benefits of Being Located Among Failed States: Israel

IDF Alpine Unit Mount Hermon

Israeli defence spending remains the world’s fifth highest per person and young Jews continue to do up to three years of military service. In the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, the army’s hold on the body politic can still be felt, but it is no longer as strong as it once was. As Israel’s economy has boomed, military spending has fallen from 17.7% of GDP in 1991 to around 6% today. The Knesset sliced $1 billion off the most recent defence budget, the steepest cut in two decades. Led by a maverick hawk, Moshe Feiglin, politicians of all stripes are campaigning to professionalise what has long been a people’s army. “The compulsory draft produces adverse results,” says Mr Feiglin. “The IDF relies on cheap manual labour instead of specialisation and technology and this harms the country’s defences.”

Although stopping short of ending the draft, the Knesset this month approved a military restructuring plan that prods the army towards professionalisation. It urges a shift away from manpower-intensive armoured divisions in favour of the air force, intelligence collection and cyber-warfare. Conscripts are encouraged to extend their three-year terms.  Plodding ground forces increasingly feel like a burden, lawmakers say.

Out will go some 4,500 officers, an artillery brigade wielding howitzers and hundreds of ageing Merkava and M60 tanks, some as old as the Vietnam war. In will come the new training ground in the Negev desert. It resembles a high-tech park, fit for an age when a technician in Tel Aviv can attack a target in Teheran. “The current and future battlefields are totally different from what we knew in the past,” writes Moshe Yaalon, the defence minister, fittingly, on his Facebook page. One of the reasons behind Israel’s new order of battle is the Arab spring. The armies in the largest neighbouring countries no longer represent the conventional threat they once did. Egypt’s is too busy with domestic politics and Syria’s has ceased to exist as a coherent force. “We’re surrounded by failed states,” declares a minister. Syria and Iraq are “to a great extent” out of commission, an officer echoes. The gap in technical capabilities widens every year. Arab armies cannot keep up.

To be sure, Israel still has lots of mortal enemies. Hizbullah, the Lebanese party-cum-militia, controls tens of thousands of missiles. Extremist groups in Sinai, Gaza and Syria loathe the country and so does Iran, which sponsors some of them.  Yet, these outfits do not present traditional threats. Tanks are useless against Iran’s nuclear programme or a band of jihadists. Air force commanders praise rapid-reaction units that make use of fighter jets, drones, intelligence and cyber-warfare. They stress that operations using such forces cause fewer casualties and thus reduce the risk that a conflict will escalate. A series of Israeli strikes in Syria and Sudan on missiles apparently bound for Hizbullah and Hamas have resulted in no tangible fallout so far. They have also spared Israel the international condemnation that ground invasions tend to ignite. The IDF has already changed enormously in recent years. Its largest unit, 8200, is focused on cyber-warfare. The air force has taken over some tasks from ground forces. “In 2000 only 1% of Gaza’s terrorists were killed from the air. Today it’s 98%,” according to a senior air force commander. Last November’s offensive against Gaza militants was conducted almost entirely from the air, without the deployment of ground troops. “Fewer and fewer civilians are serving in the reserves and in combat roles,” says Yagil Levy, an Israeli academic who writes about Israel’s armed forces. “There’s a growing gap between the army and the rest of society.”  Israel still needs some boots on the ground, however. In a fight with Hizbullah, infantry would search southern Lebanon for hidden missiles aimed at Jewish population centres.

The Israel Defence Forces: Taking wing, Economist, Aug. 10, 2013, at 44

Israel and its Weapons: submarines launching nuclear capable missiles

Israel’s navy has taken delivery of its fourth Dolphin class submarine built by Germany’s Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, giving the Jewish state the most powerful submarine fleet in the Middle East and boosting its strategic capabilities.  The new diesel-electric boat, named the Tannin — Alligator — was handed over during a ceremony at HDW’s Kiel shipyard…The Tannin is the first of three “super-Dolphins” the Israelis will acquire from Germany.   These 1,925-ton boats will be equipped with advanced systems that greatly enhance operational capabilities, which Western sources say include a new propulsion system that makes them almost impossible to detect and a special diesel and hydrogen conversion system that allows them to produce their own fuel, thus extending range and endurance.  The Tannin is expected to be operational by mid-2013 after Israeli sea trials.

The sources say the advanced Dolphins are equipped to carry Israel-built cruise missiles with a range of some 940 miles, and nuclear warheads. This enhances Israel’s second-strike capability, to respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear arsenal, on the oft-stated pledge by Israel that it won’t be the first in the Middle East to use nuclear weapons.

The only target for such weapons, for now at least, would be Iran, which Israel and the United States alleges is driving to produce nuclear weapons that challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the region.  Israel has the capability, unmatched in the region, to deliver nuclear weapons by air — on aircraft and Jericho ballistic missiles — and sea.  By deploying Dolphins in the Arabian Sea, off southern Iran, Israel greatly extends its strategic reach and gives it the option of pre-emptive first-strike attack, using nuclear weapons if necessary.  Even if Israel is obliterated in a nuclear attack, the Dolphins could retaliate by launching missiles from the Arabian Sea.  Israel has three early model Dolphins in service, all modeled on Germany’s Type 209 submarine by HDW, a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. These were delivered in 1998-2000.  With the Tannin, and two more “super Dolphins” on order, Israel will be able to maintain at least one submarine in the Arabian Sea at all times. The fifth Dolphin is scheduled for delivery in 2014 and the sixth in 2016.  Most of the Dolphins’ integrated systems are produced by major Israeli defense companies like Tadiran, Elbit, Israel Aerospace Industries and Rada.

The naval expansion has been made possible to a large degree by Germany’s sometimes reluctant agreement to pay the lion’s share of the cost for the game-changing Dolphins.  Germany has for decades sought to accommodate Israel in atonement for the Holocaust during the Nazi era, although this has been wearing thin because of the global economic downturn.  Germany agreed recently to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request that Berlin pay one-third of the $500 million-$700 million cost of the sixth Dolphin…

Excerpts from Israel’s submarine fleet gets 4th Dolphin, UPI.com, May 4, 2012

See also Iran, Israel and a Nuclear Free Midde East

Nuclear Ambiguity