Only a few hundred meters stand between an Israeli Air Force Base and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya. Speeches given by the IDF chief of staff and the IAF commander revealed a little and hinted more: the IDF is in a spree for preparations towards the next confrontation, in a genuine arms race not seen for dozens of years.
The only question that seems unanswered, at the start of February 2012, is precisely where the fuse will first be lit: in a front against Iran, in the north against Hezbollah or Syria, or perhaps against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. There’s also a possibility that we will pass the next few months without a military conflict, but no kind of conflict should be received with surprise.
We begin with the Air Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan. Nechushtan prepared for the speech he gave in the framework of the Fischer Institute’s Space Conference in cooperation with NASA. However, he had to make it straight from the debriefings that took place at the start of the week due to the crash of the huge Eitan UAV (this wasn’t just another accident, but one with significant strategic significance, as the aircraft is part of the long-ranged arm of the air force, and there are only few of its kind. It takes many months for the IAI to construct such an aircraft).
Nechushtan is a veteran of the General Staff, with a foot and a half in civilian life. He gave a pessimistic, but realistic review of the unstable regional situation. Beyond his clear speech, two of his hints were rather interesting: he implied that the IAF is forced to deal with advanced antiaircraft systems in the northern front for the first time in dozens of years.
Nechushtan did not specify, but since Syria has Russian SA18 systems for several years (in stationary, and not portable, versions), and they want very advanced S-300 systems (but have not yet received them from Russia), then it can be assumed he meant the S125 systems. These systems are a trying challenge, one that will make it difficult for the air force to roam the Syrian skies freely as in the past decade, such as in the attack of the nuclear reactor in Dir-Azur, which foreign publications have attributed to Israel. Syria has equipped itself with this system as a lesson from that attack.
No less interesting, Nechushtan discussed the possibility of the proliferation of Russian antiaircraft weapons to Hezbollah, such as might happen if the Assad regime collapses (this will happen soon, according to updated assessments; Assad himself will apparently move to Moscow). Since Hezbollah already has SA18 missiles, according to assessments, which the Syrians previously transferred to the organization, it can be assumed that Nechushtan is concerned that Hezbollah is preparing to utilize antiaircraft systems at a state level. One could have heard the latent threat in his words, that Israel will not accept the transfer of such measures to Hezbollah. Will the meaning be a preemptive strike? Is Nasrallah listening?
What about Iran? On this issue, Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan did not utter a single word. However, his last months as commander will be outlined by the possibility that an attack will happen. Nechushtan is supposed to conclude his position in May. It is quite possible that the exchange will be postponed if the attack is relevant.
This week, the Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, finally began interviewing candidates for the position. Maj. Gen. Yochanan Locker, the prime minister’s current military secretary, and Brig. Gen. Nimrod Reshef, the air force’s head of staff, are just statistics in this game. The next IAF commander will be the current head of the Planning Branch, although Netanyahu initially wanted Locker (at least before he led the complaint against Natan Eshel, his head of bureau, on charges of sexual harassment).
Locker will apparently be the next IDF attaché in Washington. Reshef will be the Head of the Planning Branch, and will compete for the position after Eshel. Another key candidate for the position in 2016 is Brig. Gen. Amikam Norkin, who will finish commanding the air force’s Tel Nof base next week, and will be appointed the head of IAF operations.
The Gantz Speech
In an enormous tent erected at the outskirts of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, with hundreds of chairs organized in rows in front of a stage, the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, goes up and gives a good performance with quite a speech. Gantz’s words (the enemy has “armament firepower of an exceptional strength, which covers every point in Israel” and all the other headlines which were quoted extensively in the media) were also strengthened by the words of Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (he said that about 200,000 missiles threatened Israel).
Is the security situation really so sensitive and explosive, or is this just intimidation for the purposes of the struggle over the defense budget? If a survey were carried out among the populace over the question, it’s probable that most of the people would choose answer B, because after decades of scary descriptions, the proverb of the man who cried “wolf” is relevant. The truth is that this time, the answer A is correct. The situation is very explosive.
The arenas against Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah could certainly erupt, and we’ve not even mentioned the Gaza Strip. The rocket salvo towards the south on the night between Wednesday and Thursday was a reminder that this arena is also alive and kicking. The IDF is preparing itself for a broad operation in the Gaza Strip (it’s no secret: Gantz discussed it repeatedly in the recent weeks, even prior to his Herzliya speech). If the IDF finds itself in the Gaza Strip due to additional salvos, it will also be because the recent preparations tend to fulfill themselves (at least according to history), and because from a military perspective, “handling” Hamas is an assignment for which the IDF is very much prepared.
The goals of a Gaza operation could be even more far-reaching than in Operation Cast Lead; they could include the dissection of the strip into several parts, or perhaps even completely taking over it for several months, in order to topple the Hamas regime and open a doorway for the Palestinian Authority to take over.
No Money, No Merkava
And on to another proverb: let’s say that there was a crazy wave of burglaries in all of our neighborhoods -would it be reasonable to assume that many residents would install increased protection measures and would purchase insurance policies? Probably so. This is natural behavior. So why, as a country which finds itself in 2012 in a very troublesome environment, are we not increasing our insurance policy, but rather, reducing the defense budget?
This is because the public is captivated by the “cry wolf” concept, and because the Prime Minister is very busy in appeasing public opinion since the social protests of the summer. Compulsory education from the age of three is a bone the Prime Minister is immediately throwing to the public. We might end up paying dearly in a few years for the fact that the defense budget was cut in a year that saw the deterioration of the peace agreement with Egypt—our largest neighbor.
In the meantime, the need to build power for the southern front, and the fact that the defense budget did not increase, but was actually somewhat minimized, is a reason that the defense establishment has frozen significant investments, and halted orders for the Merkava tank and Namer APC projects, among other things.
The freezing of these budgets is also perceived as another spin, and the truth is a bit different in this case as well. It can be assumed that the project will continue, but will eventually be diminished. It should be remembered that the current Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, is not a follower of the notion of acquiring many armored appliances. When he was the commander of the Ground Forces, prior to the Second Lebanon War, he even led a dramatic move to cut the number of tanks (which was eventually not implemented, following the eruption of the war). Even if Gantz thought that the number of Namers ordered in the framework of the plan for the years 2011-2020 is exaggerated, he is not alone: quite a few share this opinion, including some in the political echelon. The problem is that the Ministry of Defense committed to ordering a minimal (no small number) amount of APCs when it signed the deal with the US company GDLS. An assembly line for the Namer chassis was even opened in the city of Lima, Ohio in the framework of the deal.
The Internal Bomb
Before concluding, another arena, one that isn’t routinely in the headlines: the danger of the radicalization among the Arab population in Israel. This bomb is ticking as well, and it might receive some response when the Minister for Internal Security Itzhal Aharonovich, presents a program for establishing police stations and increased law enforcement in Arab settlements to the Prime Minister.
The increased enforcement should make the establishment of terrorist cells within the Israeli Arab population more difficult (to be precise, the amount of hostile terrorist activity among the Arab populace is currently insignificant, but there is fertile ground for it grow). The problem is that the program is only meant to have a budget of 200 million NIS, and the increased law enforcement in the Arab sector is meant to be deployed over the course of five years. It’s doubtful this amount will be enough.
- IAF Pilot’s Training Course Ends Today – the 163rd!(israelnationalnews.com)
- US “Withdrawal” In Iraq Paves Way for US-Israeli Strike on Iran(theromangate.wordpress.com)
- Hezbollah Waits and Prepares (online.wsj.com)
- Hezbollah aiding Syria from Lebanon(iamiranaware.wordpress.com)
- Israel Accuses Russia Of Supporting Iran Terror Organizations, Says Iran Has Enough Material For 4 Nuclear Bombs(zerohedge.com)
- UN to move on Syria, Hezbollah cites Sunnis or Israel, Russia stands by Assad and more 1/30 (Syria, Jordan, Hezbollah, Lebanon) (showdownmideast.com)
- Israel’s military leaders warn against Iran attack(independent.co.uk)
- Former DEA chief warns of cooperation between Hezbollah and drug cartels (winteryknight.wordpress.com)
- ‘Hezbollah electronically disabling Israeli drones?’(middleeastatemporal.wordpress.com)
- ‘UN inaction on Syria reaffirms it’s unreliability’ – Jerusalem Post(jpost.com)