Hats off for the Israel Defense Forces

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and minister of defense, was a man who would roar where angels fear to whisper. On May 26, 1948, to the admiration of colleagues in the provisional government cabinet, he ordered the creation of Israel Defense Forces a few days before the cabinet’s formal approval.

For Ben-Gurion, time was not on the side of the newly proclaimed Jewish state. Until the creation of the IDF, the defense of Israel was in the hands of Yishuv’s Zionist paramilitaries, and Ben-Gurion was in a hurry to have a regular armed forces capable of taking on a collation of Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian troops which had invaded Israel 21 days earlier on 5 May. That invasion marked the beginning what became known as the ‘first Arab-Israeli war.’

The war lasted for 9 months and 23 days; Israel won, but not after some 5,500 of its citizens were killed. The losses were horrible and nightmarish for the new Jewish state.

The saying by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ suddenly ringed true. It became clear to Ben-Gurion and his colleagues in the provisional government that to survive in such an extremely hostile environment – where Arab and Muslim nations outnumbered the Jewish State – Israel has to be more strategic in its approach to security and military defence.

“That meant investing in human capital, in science and technology, primarily for our defense”, noted Isaac Ben-Israel, a professor at Tel Aviv University and former head of Military R&D of the IDF and the Ministry of Defense, in a recent comments in the Foreign Policy magazine. It meant Israel has to establish a ‘qualitative advantage’ over its hostile neighbours. It also meant Israel cannot afford to lose a war! The rest is history.

Fast-forward 76 years later. Israel’s security and military apparatus have been transformed beyond belief; the Israeli Ground Forces, the Israeli Air Force, and the Israeli Navy are all top-notch with nulli secundus air defense system. Ben-Gurion will be proud of the forces he created; he will sleep well knowing that his soul remains a blessing for his beloved Israel.

As someone with deep interest in Israeli innovation ecosystem and a keen observer of the IDF and its escapades over decades, I have always marveled at the interwoven relationship between the IDF and the hi-tech ecosystem particularly the patriotic zeal of both sides. Not to put too fine a point on it, the IDF’s necessity to innovate gave rise to today’s “Start-up Nation” – and the military, industry and civilian population are all better for it.

Today, as I paid tribute to the gallant men and women in the IDF and its laser-focus on the security and defense of Israel, I thought I should look at a couple or so of my favourites IDF’s mind-blowing technological inventions that have humbled so many in the global military circle.

Top on my list is the ‘Iron Dome’ air defense system. The idea behind Iron Dome technology is a fascinating one. On the 23 March 1983, President Ronald Reagan proposed a strategic defense Initiative (SDI) system for the United States. The aim was to protect America against potential nuclear attacks by the Soviet Union. Reagan’s vision was to have a partly-based space and partly earth defense system against attacks from the Soviet’s long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

The concept was very simple: theoretically, Soviets’ ICBMs are tracked, but once fired on America, either or both air-based missile platforms and ground-based missiles stations pick up the missiles, the ‘flight paths” are determined, monitored, and intercepted (shot down) before reaching American cities.

The United States abandoned the SDI defense system following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

America’s loss was a gain for Israel; but it was until 2006 at the height of rocket attacks by Hezbollah that the SDI-like defense system was contemplated for Israel. The development of the Iron Dome soon began; some 350 best brain Israeli engineers worked on the Iron Dome project housed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

“We developed the launcher, the interceptor missiles, the software, infrastructure – and the production line”, recalled Chanoch Levin, leader of the Iron Dome Project at Rafael, in a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post. The Iron Dome was birthed; it was deployed for operational use in southern Israel in September 2011.

Thanks to Iron Dome, thousands of civilian lives and properties have been saved particularly from the reach of Hezbollah and Hamas rockets – and thousands of those rockets have been fired on Israel in the past decade.

The Iron Dome played a critical role in intercepting and neutralising the recent Iranian drones and missiles attacks when 99% of 325 drones and missiles fired on Israel could not penetrate its defense system.

Besides the Iron Dome, there are other IDF’s mind-blowing innovations that are competing for my ranking and I’m tempted to go down the list. Trophy armoured vehicle is another one. This missiles-busting tank ticked all my boxes. I called Trophy king of the Jungle with capacity to “see” from afar, maneuvers effortlessly and neutralises enemy missiles. Trophy also maneuvers effortlessly in streets with capacity to take out multiple snippers simultaneously. Trophy has saved countless of lives of soldiers since its first deployment more than a decade ago.

Without going down my list, I have to mention Israeli-specific and Israeli-context ‘Arrow’ anti-ballistic missile which is a cut above the American MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile, the ‘hero’ of the Gulf war and nightmare for Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi soldiers.

I mentioned earlier how Reagan’s SDI vision inspired the development of the Iron Dome that has enhanced the Israeli ‘qualitative advantage’ over its adversaries. 41 year on, another American President, Joe Biden, has turned on Israel.

Biden recently announced a series of sanctions against Israel including a company that produces critical parts of the Iron Dome. It was the first time since the Administration of President Harry Truman in 1948 that a United States President will throw Israel under the bus just to scrape a few votes and placate anti-semitic and restless “from the river to the sea” mobs on the streets and college campuses. The relationship that has existed over 75 years was shredded overnight. Joe Biden’s lackluster support for Israel is matched by his direct or indirect funding of the  opposing side – Iran, Hamas, pro-Hamas UNRWA.

Not to worry. Israel is up to the challenge so are the gallant men and women of the IDF – the only military forces in the world that are fighting a war and at the same time medicating the people including terrorists on the other side. It is crazy.

As King David wrote several thousand years ago: “…he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121: 1). And that is all what matters.

Can’t get enough of IDF’s technological miracles? We would talk more about IDF’s giant stride at Innovation Israel 2024. Check us out on Jewcer.

About the Author
James Ogunleye is the Converner of Innovation Israel 2024 & Chairman of the UK-based Knowledge, Innovation and Enterprise Conference.
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