Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli Air Force

Azeris Strengthen Israel’s Hand on Iran

The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

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The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

On that score, there’s no question that Iran must regard the decision of the Azeris to assist an Israeli strike as being a mortal threat to their ability to defend themselves. Prior to this, all discussion of a possible Israeli strike had been tempered by the knowledge that their ability to attack Iran was severely limited by the vast distance between the two countries. When compared to the ability of the United States to project airpower from carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf as well as other bases in the Middle East, it made an Israeli attack on Iran look like a poor substitute for U.S. action. But bases in Azerbaijan completely transform the military equation between Israel and Iran. They remove the need for the Israeli Air Force to refuel planes in midair in order to secure their safe return. Support staff stationed along Iran’s northern border would also make it easier for IAF to execute repeated sorties on nuclear targets and facilitate the rescue of downed planes and pilots. The bases would vastly increase the likelihood that an Israeli air campaign against Iran would achieve a high degree of success and lower the potential for losses.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a total disaster. While they have always known they stood no chance of mounting an effective defense against a massive U.S. air campaign on their nuclear plants, an Israeli attack from 2,200 miles away did not seem as formidable a challenge. The Azeri factor does not quite put the Israeli military on a par with that of the United States but it does act as a multiplying factor with regard to Israel’s ability to launch repeated strikes.

Though the Haaretz report that spoke of Israel’s plans to attack Iran as being put on hold until next spring may encourage Tehran, the fact that the sources for the Azeri story in Foreign Policy appear to be senior U.S. military and diplomatic figures shows the Obama administration is by no means certain Netanyahu can be counted on to hold his fire until after the president is safely re-elected. The American motive for leaking the story is clear. By making public the fact that the Azeris have more or less been bribed by Israel to give them access to bases that will enable them to easily attack Iran, the United States may be hoping to accomplish two things.

One is to scare the Iranians into finally waving the white flag on its nuclear project. The story ought to make it clear to the ayatollahs there is no way they can protect themselves from either Israel or the United States if push comes to shove. The odds of the Iranians coming to their senses in this manner are slim, but the administration is determined to do whatever it can to keep the window for diplomacy on the nuclear question open for as long as it can.

The second motive is to forestall any Israeli attack. Making public the Azeri role in the military plan might force the Jewish state’s Asian ally to back away from any involvement in the project.

Whether the revelation will actually deter Israel from acting should Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak determine it is in their country’s interest to strike prior to November is still to be determined. The belief that the extra money for Iron Dome guarantees Israel won’t attack Iran this year is based on the assumption that Obama and Netanyahu came to some agreement on the issue when they met in early March. The Iranians must certainly hope this is the case. But the one thing we know today that we didn’t a few weeks ago is that Israel’s hand in this game of nuclear poker is far stronger than most people thought.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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Just a Reminder: Iranian Nukes Mean Egyptian Nukes, African and Middle East Instability

Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:

President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.

Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.

But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.

And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.

No worries, though. Egypt might get a few nukes, but they’re never going to complete their nuclear triad and secure a second-strike capability. Know why? Zionist sharks.

Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:

President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.

Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.

But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.

And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.

No worries, though. Egypt might get a few nukes, but they’re never going to complete their nuclear triad and secure a second-strike capability. Know why? Zionist sharks.

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Obama’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Fantasy

There is something weirdly out of whack, almost otherworldly, about Obama’s approach to nuclear proliferation. As the Wall Street Journal editors point out:

If diplomatic activity equalled disarmament results, President Obama would soon be delivering a nuclear-free world.

On Tuesday, his Administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, setting new limits on the potential U.S. use of nuclear weapons. Today, the President is in Prague to sign an arms-control treaty with Russia, called New Start, which will reduce the U.S. arsenal by 30%. Next week, he’ll host a 47-nation summit on nuclear security in Washington. And next month it’s on to the U.N. conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT.

But, of course, all of this is happening at the very moment when Obama’s own Iran policy has run aground, and the mullahs are edging closer toward acquiring their own nuclear weapons, which will render the NPT obsolete and, indeed, ludicrous. We’ve seen that the NPT has done nothing to deter North Korea or Iran, nor to slow down Syria. (The Israeli air force did the latter.) Yet Obama persists in a Leftist Cold War paradigm — that the weapons, themselves, not the despotic regimes that might use them, are the real threat. And he seems to earnestly believe that we’ll set an example — the inherent rightness of which will melt the hearts of the those who seek nuclear weapons as a means of solidifying their domestic rule and achieving international respect.

Obama’s speech in Prague last year was upstaged by a North Korean missile blast — the perfect metaphor for his foolishness. He talks; the despots shoot rockets. He signs agreements with other democracies; the rogue states build reactors. If you don’t feel safer you are not alone.

There is something weirdly out of whack, almost otherworldly, about Obama’s approach to nuclear proliferation. As the Wall Street Journal editors point out:

If diplomatic activity equalled disarmament results, President Obama would soon be delivering a nuclear-free world.

On Tuesday, his Administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, setting new limits on the potential U.S. use of nuclear weapons. Today, the President is in Prague to sign an arms-control treaty with Russia, called New Start, which will reduce the U.S. arsenal by 30%. Next week, he’ll host a 47-nation summit on nuclear security in Washington. And next month it’s on to the U.N. conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT.

But, of course, all of this is happening at the very moment when Obama’s own Iran policy has run aground, and the mullahs are edging closer toward acquiring their own nuclear weapons, which will render the NPT obsolete and, indeed, ludicrous. We’ve seen that the NPT has done nothing to deter North Korea or Iran, nor to slow down Syria. (The Israeli air force did the latter.) Yet Obama persists in a Leftist Cold War paradigm — that the weapons, themselves, not the despotic regimes that might use them, are the real threat. And he seems to earnestly believe that we’ll set an example — the inherent rightness of which will melt the hearts of the those who seek nuclear weapons as a means of solidifying their domestic rule and achieving international respect.

Obama’s speech in Prague last year was upstaged by a North Korean missile blast — the perfect metaphor for his foolishness. He talks; the despots shoot rockets. He signs agreements with other democracies; the rogue states build reactors. If you don’t feel safer you are not alone.

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Did Israel Just Acquire a New Bombing Capability?

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

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The Yom Kippur War—for Kids!

Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

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Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

But as “October War” represents an attempt to introduce children to the legacy of Anwar Sadat, it is a deeply pernicious game. By using the video game to emphasize Sadat’s surprise attack on Israel over his subsequent Nobel Prize-winning peace overture, the site’s webmasters are imbuing Egyptian children with disturbing nostalgia for Arab-Israeli war. Of course, “October War” merely reinforces the sentimentality for wars with Israel that Egyptian children would have been taught long before they got hooked on “October War.” Such sentiment can be found in textbooks and commemorative war murals plastered along Egyptian highways. Egyptian students enjoy October 6 holiday weekends and participate in school trips to the North Korean-funded October War Panorama (where visitors are told that Egypt defeated Israel).

This vitriol for Israel—even in a country enjoying nearly thirty years of peace with the Jewish State—is, pathetically, par for the course in the Arab world. One hopes, however, that young “October War” players will see the game—and persistent hatred for Israel more generally—for what it is: a distraction from their homework and, ultimately, a gross waste of time.

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Barak’s Back

After six years out of public life, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister from 1999-2001, re-emerged as Minister of Defense a little over three months ago—and rarely has someone effected such a dramatic improvement, in such a short period of time, of Israel’s standing in the region. When Barak was elected Labor Party leader in June and obtained the defense portfolio, Israel was in the midst of several crises. Some of these had been exacerbated by Israeli mishandling, but all of them demanded far more in the way of self-assured and competent leadership than what the Olmert administration (and especially Barak’s feckless predecessor at Defense, Amir Peretz) were able to offer: the 2006 Lebanon War had gone badly and emboldened Syria and Iran; the Winograd Commission report had exposed a great deal of genuinely astonishing incompetence in the Israeli political and military echelon; Hamas had just taken Gaza; tensions along the border with Syria were escalating; and perhaps worst of all, there existed inside of Israel a debilitating lack of confidence in the government’s ability to handle the impending challenges.

The mood in Israel today is hardly one of wild optimism, especially regarding Iran, but Barak’s leadership has already demonstrated both to the Israeli public and to antagonistic regimes that the IDF intends to correct its blunders. According to many reports, Barak’s first priority upon returning to the government was planning Israel’s recent strike on Syria, a sophisticated and daring mission that appears to have been a perfect success on many levels—not least of which is a demonstration to Syria and Iran that the Israeli air force can easily defeat their new Russian air defense systems, and is not afraid of trying. Barak has warned Hamas that it faces a large-scale ground operation in Gaza in response to continued rocket fire, and has declared the implementation of comprehensive missile defense to be a central precondition of any IDF withdrawal from the West Bank. Read More

After six years out of public life, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister from 1999-2001, re-emerged as Minister of Defense a little over three months ago—and rarely has someone effected such a dramatic improvement, in such a short period of time, of Israel’s standing in the region. When Barak was elected Labor Party leader in June and obtained the defense portfolio, Israel was in the midst of several crises. Some of these had been exacerbated by Israeli mishandling, but all of them demanded far more in the way of self-assured and competent leadership than what the Olmert administration (and especially Barak’s feckless predecessor at Defense, Amir Peretz) were able to offer: the 2006 Lebanon War had gone badly and emboldened Syria and Iran; the Winograd Commission report had exposed a great deal of genuinely astonishing incompetence in the Israeli political and military echelon; Hamas had just taken Gaza; tensions along the border with Syria were escalating; and perhaps worst of all, there existed inside of Israel a debilitating lack of confidence in the government’s ability to handle the impending challenges.

The mood in Israel today is hardly one of wild optimism, especially regarding Iran, but Barak’s leadership has already demonstrated both to the Israeli public and to antagonistic regimes that the IDF intends to correct its blunders. According to many reports, Barak’s first priority upon returning to the government was planning Israel’s recent strike on Syria, a sophisticated and daring mission that appears to have been a perfect success on many levels—not least of which is a demonstration to Syria and Iran that the Israeli air force can easily defeat their new Russian air defense systems, and is not afraid of trying. Barak has warned Hamas that it faces a large-scale ground operation in Gaza in response to continued rocket fire, and has declared the implementation of comprehensive missile defense to be a central precondition of any IDF withdrawal from the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the IDF has stepped up the intensity of its training, especially in reserve units and among ground forces, and has begun pouring resources into developing a multi-tiered missile defense system that will be capable of defeating every type of enemy rocket. The IDF is also developing sophisticated countermeasures for installation on its Merkava tanks to defend against the kind of advanced anti-tank missiles that proved so deadly in southern Lebanon last summer. And Barak has pursued all of these operations and goals with an uncharacteristic sense of quiet determination, bluntly warning the Israeli public in one of his few public appearances against being “deceived by the illusion of a bogus calm.”

Barak has even attempted to rescue Gilad Shalit from captivity in Gaza, with a recent mission in which the Hamas chief who was in charge of the Gaza territory from which terrorists tunneled into Israel to abduct Shalit was himself abducted by IDF special operators, apparently dressed as members of Hamas’s Executive Force. The reemergence of Ehud Barak is emblematic of one of Israel’s greatest strengths: its ability to evaluate failure, assign blame, and quickly take corrective action. During the past three months, Israel has significantly renewed the deterrence and credibility of its armed forces. And Israel’s enemies surely have noticed.

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What the Airstrikes Mean

There has been a good deal of informed speculation in the press regarding the Israeli Air Force’s Sept. 6 raid on a suspected nuclear development site in Syria. (See, for instance, Bret Stephens’s excellent column in the Wall Street Journal.) Two aspects of the raid haven’t received enough attention, however.

First, the fact that the Israeli Air Force was able to catch the Syrians by surprise. There is no indication that any Israeli aircraft were shot down or even damaged. This is pretty significant: Syria has been making an effort to upgrade its air defenses in recent years by buying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Yet Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were still able to strike deep into Syria unscathed.

Second, Syria has not (so far at least) mounted any kind of retaliation that we know of. Perhaps some counter-blow—possibly in the form of a terrorist attack against Israelis or even non-Israeli Jews—is coming. But so far the Syrian response can only be described as very muted. Perhaps the Syrians realize that, if they escalate the conflict, Israel can do far worse to Syria than Syria can do to Israel.

What do these two facts combined mean? They suggest that both Syria and its Iranian patrons (who have also been upgrading their air defenses with Russian help) remain very vulnerable to air attack by a sophisticated state like Israel or the United States. That increases the pressure on these “axis of evil” members to rethink their continuing efforts to facilitate attacks on Western forces in Iraq and to develop nuclear-weapons. They must know that whatever the Israeli Air Force can do, the U.S. Air Force can do on much bigger scale. If anything will lead them to negotiate seriously, that is it.

Even so, I can’t say I have much hope they will mend their ways until they see that the U.S. has not only the capability to hurt them but also the willingness to do so. As the Journal’s editorial board argues today, Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.”

There has been a good deal of informed speculation in the press regarding the Israeli Air Force’s Sept. 6 raid on a suspected nuclear development site in Syria. (See, for instance, Bret Stephens’s excellent column in the Wall Street Journal.) Two aspects of the raid haven’t received enough attention, however.

First, the fact that the Israeli Air Force was able to catch the Syrians by surprise. There is no indication that any Israeli aircraft were shot down or even damaged. This is pretty significant: Syria has been making an effort to upgrade its air defenses in recent years by buying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Yet Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were still able to strike deep into Syria unscathed.

Second, Syria has not (so far at least) mounted any kind of retaliation that we know of. Perhaps some counter-blow—possibly in the form of a terrorist attack against Israelis or even non-Israeli Jews—is coming. But so far the Syrian response can only be described as very muted. Perhaps the Syrians realize that, if they escalate the conflict, Israel can do far worse to Syria than Syria can do to Israel.

What do these two facts combined mean? They suggest that both Syria and its Iranian patrons (who have also been upgrading their air defenses with Russian help) remain very vulnerable to air attack by a sophisticated state like Israel or the United States. That increases the pressure on these “axis of evil” members to rethink their continuing efforts to facilitate attacks on Western forces in Iraq and to develop nuclear-weapons. They must know that whatever the Israeli Air Force can do, the U.S. Air Force can do on much bigger scale. If anything will lead them to negotiate seriously, that is it.

Even so, I can’t say I have much hope they will mend their ways until they see that the U.S. has not only the capability to hurt them but also the willingness to do so. As the Journal’s editorial board argues today, Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.”

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Who Won the Second Lebanon War?

Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.

Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?

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Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.

Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?

One exceedingly well-researched answer comes from Uzi Rubin, who served as the first director of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization in the 1990’s, where he managed development of the Arrow missile-defense system.

The picture that emerges from Rubin’s analysis is of an Islamic militia force that was astonishingly well prepared for the conflict, and which had thought carefully about matching means and ends. Even if Hizballah’s head, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, had misjudged the scope and scale of Israel’s response to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Hizballah’s basic approach was vindicated by the course of the fighting.

“[I]t can now be seen,” writes Rubin, that Hizballah had “devised a two-pronged strategy to overturn Israel’s predominance in terms of manpower, machinery, and technology.” In the first prong, “massive rocket fire was used against Israel’s homeland in order to provoke Israel into launching a ground offensive.” In the second prong, “well-entrenched defense in depth was employed in order to defeat the ground offensive.”

In other words, Hizballah, “aimed to bait Israel into entering its carefully laid trap with rocket fire.” The key for Israel would have been successfully suppressing the rocket fire that for 33 days rained destruction on its north, thereby avoiding having to pay the “butcher’s bill” for an incursion on the ground.

But even as the Israeli air force succeeded in destroying most if not all of Hizballah’s longer-range missiles, it was unable to deal with the short-range ones. On the final day of the war, to demonstrate that it had preserved quite a few arrows in its quiver, and that its lines of communication had survived Israel’s best destructive efforts, Hizballah launched a coordinated salvo, hurling a record 232 rockets over the Lebanese border at one time.

What can be learned from the war? Israel’s adversaries are certainly studying it carefully. Rubin notes that the outcome

may well prompt the Palestinian factions to intensify their already ongoing rocket attacks against southern Israel, both in terms of quality and quantity. Hamas in Gaza is already stocking up on longer-range rockets, and may well adapt the Hizballah’s two-pronged strategy. Syria, a patron of the Hizballah with its own vast stockpile of rockets and ballistic missiles, might be tempted to devise a doctrine of attrition by rocket and missile fire instead of a full-scale, 1973-style invasion, to gain back the Golan Heights.

Israel has been studying the conflict, too. The most obvious lesson, as Rubin writes, is that “[a]s long as simple, unsophisticated, cheaply produced rockets cannot be overcome, they are now and will remain in the future a veritable strategic threat to Israel’s national security.”

What is to be done to counter this strategic threat? Click here to learn about MTHEL. It is not a silver bullet, but one vital component of a successful Israeli response.

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Striking Iran: Cakewalk or Slam-Dunk?

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses. Read More

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses.

To attack such a target, Israel would need to use penetrating warheads that are either “delay-fused bombs that have been modified to have a more ‘pointed’ shape and extensively structurally reinforced,” or even more advanced  warheads that “detonate in stages to increase penetration.” To destroy Natanz effectively, one technique, write Raas and Long, would be to use such weapons

targeted on the same aimpoint but separated slightly in release time to “burrow” into the target. Essentially one bomb hits the crater made by the previous weapon, a technique contemplated by the U.S. Air Force in the first Gulf war. This takes advantage of the extremely high accuracy of LGB’s [laser-guided bombs] in combination with a penetrating warhead. The IAF [Israeli Air Force] appears to have purchased penetrating LGB’s with this technique in mind. General Eitan Ben-Elyahu, former commander of the IAF and a participant in the Osirak strike, commented on this method of attacking hardened facilities in Jane’s Defense Weekly: “Even if one bomb would not suffice to penetrate, we could guide other bombs directly to the hole created by the previous ones and eventually destroy any target.”

Is Israel going to strike Iran? We do not yet know the answer, and there are many imponderables, including its calculation of whether the U.S. will strike first and its additional calculation of Tehran’s likely response.

Not only does Iran have long-range missiles but it also has Hizballah cells all over the world poised to carry out terror missions in the event of an attack. We ourselves are not exempt; according to the State Department’s 2006 annual report on terrorism, Hizballah has “established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and Asia.” If that were not enough, FBI Director Robert Mueller has confirmed that Hizballah “retains the capability to strike in the U.S.”

In response to Israeli attacks on its leaders in the early 1990’s, Hizballah, in separate incidents, bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29, and the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85. Of course, once Iran has nuclear weapons, we would not be worrying about the lives of hundreds but the lives of hundreds of thousands and even millions. The dangers posed to Israel and to the rest of the world would thus seem to be intolerable, except of course to some of the writers at Vanity Fair—see my Learning to Love the Islamic Bomb.

However one judges Israeli intentions vis-a-vis Iran, the Raas-Long paper is of the view that the Jewish state has the capability to go it alone. Their conviction is that despite all the complexities of the Iranian target set, the advent of precision-guided munitions means that such an assault today would appear “to be no more risky than the earlier attack on Osirak.”

Of course, it should be obvious, at the same time, that such a military operation would be neither a slam-dunk nor a cakewalk. Thus, one does not have to be a Vanity Fair writer, or to love the Islamic bomb, to see that Israel’s decision, whatever it is, will be one of the biggest rolls of the dice in the sixty-year history of the Jewish state.

 

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Common Ground with Syria?

On the heels of my last post about Israeli-Syrian negotiations comes Michael Oren’s op-ed in the January 24 New York Times, “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground?” In this opinion piece, Oren—author of the best-selling Six Days of War (reviewed in COMMENTARY by Victor Davis Hanson) and the new Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (reviewed in January’s COMMENTARY by me)—recommends that Israel make peace with Syria even if this means “forfeiting the Golan Heights” and initiating “a clash between Israel and Washington.”

Frankly, Oren, who has always been something of a hawk when it comes to Israeli-Arab relations, startles me. The surprise lies not so much in his readiness for Israel to “clash” with Washington, even though this is nothing to be made light of. Rather, it lies in his endorsing the argument that it is worth giving in to Syrian demands on the Golan because, as he put it in the Times, this would “invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hizballah.” More “crucial still,” he writes, “by detaching Syria from Iran’s orbit,” such a concession would enable Israel to “address the Iranian nuclear threat—perhaps by military means—without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles.”

Let’s assume for the moment that Oren is right and that Syria can be bribed into ditching Hizballah, Iran, and Hamas by giving it back the Golan. Does this mean that the Israeli air force can then attack Iran’s nuclear installations with impunity? Hardly. Even if Israel does not have to worry about Syrian missiles and ground forces, it will still have to worry about Hizballah and Iranian missiles, as well as about the possible failure of its air attack, not to mention strongly condemnatory international reaction. And what if the United States attacks Iran first, in which case Syria would be highly unlikely to get involved even without the gift of the Golan? And how does Oren know how Syria will behave once it has the Golan back and is sitting on the Sea of Galilee and the cliffs overlooking northern Israel, or what unexpected political developments in Syria (or elsewhere in the Middle East) may take place five or ten years from now, or how the message that Israel is ready to cede territory for short-term gains will be interpreted by the Palestinians and the Arab world?

Land is an unchanging asset; it never loses its value. Political developments are contingent and unpredictable. To give up the unchanging for the contingent and the certain for the unpredictable is never a good idea, quite apart from the strong historical, legal, and moral claim that Israel has on the Golan. It’s not fear of clashing with Washington that should keep it from surrendering the Heights, but fear of compromising its own most vital interests.

On the heels of my last post about Israeli-Syrian negotiations comes Michael Oren’s op-ed in the January 24 New York Times, “What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground?” In this opinion piece, Oren—author of the best-selling Six Days of War (reviewed in COMMENTARY by Victor Davis Hanson) and the new Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present (reviewed in January’s COMMENTARY by me)—recommends that Israel make peace with Syria even if this means “forfeiting the Golan Heights” and initiating “a clash between Israel and Washington.”

Frankly, Oren, who has always been something of a hawk when it comes to Israeli-Arab relations, startles me. The surprise lies not so much in his readiness for Israel to “clash” with Washington, even though this is nothing to be made light of. Rather, it lies in his endorsing the argument that it is worth giving in to Syrian demands on the Golan because, as he put it in the Times, this would “invariably provide for the cessation of Syrian aid to Hamas and Hizballah.” More “crucial still,” he writes, “by detaching Syria from Iran’s orbit,” such a concession would enable Israel to “address the Iranian nuclear threat—perhaps by military means—without fear of retribution from Syrian ground forces and missiles.”

Let’s assume for the moment that Oren is right and that Syria can be bribed into ditching Hizballah, Iran, and Hamas by giving it back the Golan. Does this mean that the Israeli air force can then attack Iran’s nuclear installations with impunity? Hardly. Even if Israel does not have to worry about Syrian missiles and ground forces, it will still have to worry about Hizballah and Iranian missiles, as well as about the possible failure of its air attack, not to mention strongly condemnatory international reaction. And what if the United States attacks Iran first, in which case Syria would be highly unlikely to get involved even without the gift of the Golan? And how does Oren know how Syria will behave once it has the Golan back and is sitting on the Sea of Galilee and the cliffs overlooking northern Israel, or what unexpected political developments in Syria (or elsewhere in the Middle East) may take place five or ten years from now, or how the message that Israel is ready to cede territory for short-term gains will be interpreted by the Palestinians and the Arab world?

Land is an unchanging asset; it never loses its value. Political developments are contingent and unpredictable. To give up the unchanging for the contingent and the certain for the unpredictable is never a good idea, quite apart from the strong historical, legal, and moral claim that Israel has on the Golan. It’s not fear of clashing with Washington that should keep it from surrendering the Heights, but fear of compromising its own most vital interests.

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