On Monday the defense ministry proudly announced that the IDF had successfully completed testing an improved version of Iron Dome which will be able to intercept medium range missiles carried by Hezbollah and Syria that can reach the center of the country. At first glance, this is a reason for celebration; but on the second thought, there is nothing to celebrate about. Why not?
Six months ago, as southern Israel was bombarded with more than 200 rockets from Gaza during a period of a few days, and Iron Dome was used at least 56 times, IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz proclaimed, “Quiet will be met with quiet.” Next the Prime Minister chimes in: “Quiet will bring quiet.” In other words, stop attacking us and we won’t bother you, as if that round of rockets was an exception.
This seemingly tactical approach to the Gaza problem is the result of a very clear defense doctrine that has overtaken our military and political leadership and a large part of our nation’s citizenry: Our refusal to root out and deter our enemies. This is exemplified by our conduct of the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. Even more so, it is demonstrated by the terrible sin of the nation of Israel forsaking the 20,000 citizens of Sderot to be bombed for ten years. Over 10,000 missiles have been lobbed into the South and no end in sight.
This new defense doctrine rejects preemption as a means of disabling our enemies’ capabilities. The purpose of military action has changed, from victory to “sending a message.” Punitive military activity is now authorized by our leadership provided, as everyone who lives in the south knows and as everyone in the north may soon find out, it provides no real deterrence. Never to such an extent have we, as a matter of policy, tolerated the terrorizing of our fellow citizens, and indeed of the entire country.
In Gaza and in Lebanon, our enemies continue to arm and continue to state their intentions toward Israel with complete clarity: our total destruction. Their growing military sophistication provides significant building blocks for the success of their genocidal objective.
Iron Dome, the Arrow missile and David’s Sling also play into this terrible change in our security doctrine. Put differently, our current military and political leadership embraces and abuses these remarkable systems for the sake of our non-preemptive, non-deterring security strategy.
Everybody knows that none of these systems prevents the traumatizing disruption of daily life – the government continues to pay millions for houses, schools and other public buildings in the south to be fortified. Moreover, our enemies know that all of these systems can be overwhelmed by the launching of large volleys of missiles. Worse, each missile fired at us is a test, lessons are learned, and the capabilities of our enemies are enhanced. Furthermore, in times of war, Iron Dome must be devoted to protected military assets, not civilians.
While Israeli missile defense systems represent marvelous scientific achievements, has their development fueled Israel’s new, dangerous security doctrine?
Consider the Iron Dome. It signifies an unwillingness to use deterrence in confronting hostile threats sitting on Israel’s border, threats for which our country has overwhelming capability to reduce and minimize, if not eliminate.
Some argue that Iron Dome gives the political echelon more flexibility – shooting down missiles as opposed to escalation. In reality, it is nothing more than an expression of Israel’s willingness to accept permanent missile threats on its borders. Still, nothing happens in isolation. By leaving the Philadelphia corridor wide open, we’ve enabled Hamas’ growing capabilities. For example, our brave pilots now have the added burden and limitation of worrying about SA-7s, the Russian version of the Stinger missile.
Iron Dome is an expensive system. If procured more widely, it will be at the expense of other sorely needed systems, training and supplies. Not only that, but each missile is very expensive (at least $50,000) such that our enemies can drain our defense budget by forcing us to use the system in excess. Our military leadership’s assertion that these systems will help keep the peace and protect Israel is nothing less than a fundamental change in the will of the IDF to preempt our enemies.
Another facet of our changed military doctrine is a permanent American military presence in Israel. The American X-Band radar system – stationed in the Negev with the ability to give an extra sixty seconds warning time on incoming long-range rockets – has US personnel stationed on Israeli soil manning the radar. This is a giant step in Israel outsourcing its defense. X-Band may give Israel extra seconds in detecting an incoming missile from, say, Iran, yet the cost of this is complete American monitoring of Israeli skies. Only 15 years ago, IAF Commander Herzl Bodinger refused to participate in joint air exercises with the US so as not to expose valuable training methods that could be leaked to enemy air forces. Now the US is monitoring Israeli airspace, unencumbered, at Israel’s invitation.
Iron Dome has corroded Israel’s security by helping to shift its military doctrine from preemption and deterrence to defense and wait-and-see. “Quiet will be met with quiet.” Of course, one cannot blame the technology for human decisions. It is the nation’s political and military leadership that have abandoned Israel’s formerly offensive security strategy and replaced it with bunker Israel. Being a democracy, perhaps this shift represents a change in the attitude of a plurality of our citizenry.
Hamas and Hezbollah continue to develop and expand offensive rocket capability – targeting accuracy, warhead size, warhead type, range and – significantly – quantity. But instead of destroying these capabilities before they are employed against us, systems like the Iron Dome have helped some lose site of the forest through the trees.
Hamas and Hezbollah are forward brigades of the Iranian army. Should conflict arise between Israel and Iran, they will unleash their missiles fully for the purpose of suppressing our military’s air and ground activity. They can and will successfully target air bases, airports, transportation hubs, ports, power stations and anything else needed to paralyze our nation and disrupt our war effort. In the second Lebanon war, one million of us were driven underground or fled south. In the next war, which will surely come one way or another, all of us will be in bomb shelters, with nowhere to flee. We shall pay dearly for the defense doctrine that has fostered the creation of this threat from Lebanon and Gaza.
Iron Dome keeps the heat off the politicians to confront the challenge of Hamas’ growing arsenal. The conceptual support missile defense receives from the IDF and the political leadership is a symptom of Israel’s ill national security posture.
The Americans, on the other hand, embrace these defensive missile systems and are more than willing to fund them. It suggests that Israel need not strike to defend itself. Israel seems to be doing its best to fulfill this coercive and wishful thinking.
Incredible dedication, scientific vision, and management excellence by Israeli engineers has been hijacked by the idea that this is a way to defend a country. It is, at best, a notable supplement. Despite its remarkable technology and helpful facets, it is not and never will be a key factor in an effective security doctrine for Israel. It has become, much to our peril, a pillar of an ineffective doctrine.
So we celebrate another achievement in Israeli ingenuity, worthy of much praise, but this new achievement will continue to facilitate a faulty defense doctrine.
This article was co-written with Martin Ingall