The Fear that Our Enemies Might Miscalculate

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IDF troops near the Syrian border last month. (Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

Many in Israel are saying these days that our enemies are liable to mistakenly analyze our raging political developments and come to the dangerous conclusion that now is a good time to attack Israel. This “miscalculation” actually does have a kernel of truth to it. For it is certainly difficult for a country to run its security affairs optimally while undergoing a political crisis. What is actually happening behind the scenes?

As these lines are being written, we are hearing reports that Israeli tank carriers are making their way northward on the country’s highways. It is possible that they are on their way to a previously scheduled training exercise. But it could also be that this is not the case, and that Israel is strengthening its preparedness in light of the threats coming from the direction of Iran and her allies such as Hezbollah.

The various bodies of Israeli intelligence are assuming that Iran might very well choose now, or soon, to fire missiles at Israel. Israel does not want war, and Iran also probably does not, but the situation on the ground seems to be bringing both sides closer to exactly that scenario.

Israeli defense officials are concerned. Over the past 18 months, Israeli Intelligence has raised the bar of the warnings it has sent to the country’s top security and diplomatic brass. The tone has changed, and the volume has risen; the potential for a blowup is on everyone’s mind. The situation is becoming increasingly grave, the Intelligence people are saying.

The bottom line is that everything revolves around Iran. Israel is already involved in a near daily conflict with the Iranians. Foreign reports say it happens almost every few days that Israel has to stop some form of Iranian intervention in Syria. This has been true particularly over the past two weeks, after a decrease in this type of Israeli operations was registered in the months beforehand.

In response to Israel’s increased offensives, Iran fired rockets at northern Israel a week ago, which, thank G-d, were intercepted and caused no injuries or damage. Israel in turn retaliated forcefully, waging one of its most extensive attacks against Iranian targets in Syria: Late this past Tuesday night, it attacked more than 20 critical Iranian sites in the territory of Israel’s northeastern neighbor. Many people were killed or wounded, and much damage was inflicted upon property, military bases, rocket batteries, weapon storage facilities and, mainly, on Iranian prestige — especially when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard headquarters in the Damascus airport, known as the Glass House Compound, was heavily bombarded and damaged.

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A man affixes a Hezbollah flag in the “Garden of Iran” Park, which was built by the Iranian government, in the Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras, along the Israeli border, on September 1, as fires blazed on the Lebanese side of the border following an exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP via Getty Images)

It is very possible that Israel has again gone on the offensive in the knowledge that Iran is currently undergoing its own domestic difficulties. Hundreds and thousands of Iranian citizens are protesting against their government for having raised gas prices and the like; thousands of stores, banks, government offices and police vans have been torched and burned. Iran is also facing genuine difficulties in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

The uncertainty is all the stronger because these hardships might very well be a reason for Iran to seek an external conflict around which to rally its citizenry and its allies. The situation at present is volatile, as Israel has resumed its activities against Iran’s intentions to fortify its presence in Syria. And thus, the cycle of danger continues to revolve round and round, with no certainty as to where it will stop.

It could be that Iran will hold back from retaliation against Israel’s latest attack — but this is doubtful. A large-scale attack is not foreseen; sporadic firing here and there is more likely. All indications are that Iran is simply not ready for an extensive operation, and certainly not at this time and in their position. They would probably rather wait until their own elections are over, three months from now, and maybe even until after the American elections a year from now. But the danger is that even the sporadic fire they will likely choose could deteriorate into larger-scale hostilities.

This means that Israel’s military must be ready for every scenario. The problem is that the political developments in Israel, which has not been able to establish a stable government for almost a year and counting, have all but paralyzed the bodies that are supposed to make security and defense decisions that are critical for Israel’s future.

Many Israelis say that our enemies are liable to analyze our political scene and mistakenly conclude, Heaven forbid, that now is a good time to attack Israel. This “miscalculation” actually does have a kernel of truth to it. For it is definitely hard for a country to run its security affairs optimally when it is undergoing a political crisis — as has been the case for nearly a year.

The situation is very difficult for the IDF, which prepares itself a five-year plan. Hundreds of people work on every aspect of this program, including formulating Israel’s basic approach to the military dangers it faces and preparing strategies to counter the threat from our enemies. The equipment and weapons that the army will need over the next half-decade must be decided upon, keeping in mind that these can’t be simply picked up at the nearby supermarket. Rather, they must be ordered from the manufacturers, with the understanding that it will take years before the orders are filled and the weapons become usable. This is because, beyond the regular long manufacturing process, the weapons are custom-made for Israel, and their use also requires special training.

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A n IDF Merkava tank near the Syrian border last month.(Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

And so, here we are, just about a month before the end of the civil year — and the expiration of the current five-year plan. The new five-year plan should have been approved long ago, but this has not happened. This is because there are no Knesset committees to debate and approve it, and the government itself is lame-duck and cannot do so. A plan that is not approved cannot be budgeted, and therefore cannot be implemented.

This means that the entire acquisitions plan for the IDF for the coming years is, simply speaking, stuck. This is true mainly in terms of the Air Force. Four months ago, the Israel Air Force decided to send a delegation of officers, pilots and Defense Ministry officials to the U.S. The goal was to review several options and decide which fighter jet would best fill Israel’s needs 10 years from now. That is, once the decision is made and the order is placed, the jets will only be ready for use in close to a decade. But the delegation never departed Israel, because there was no one to authorize it to make that decision. In the meantime, the American factories are lining up orders from other countries — and so the planes for Israel will have to wait.

For example: The Israel Air Force (IAF) owns large, heavy Sikorsky transport helicopters, and has been using them in its various squadrons for 45 years. Already in 2009, Israel formed a committee to investigate the use of these helicopters, and it concluded that they had done a good job, but that they had reached the end of their IAF careers and must be replaced with newer and better choppers. This decision was postponed several times, until it was finally decided two years ago that the new choppers would be prioritized and budgeted in the five-year program beginning in 2020.

Sounds great — but because there’s no government, there’s no new five-year plan, and therefore no new helicopters, at least until a new government is formed. In the meantime, the old copters are still being used, and we should definitely pray that their age doesn’t show and cause malfunctions, or worse.

The situation is the same regarding Israel’s refueling planes, which have also been in use for decades. It has long been known that they have to be replaced with jets that could reach Iran, for instance. But no one is currently authorized to make this critical decision.

Israel has prepared for itself a very long list of targets that it will have to hit during the next war — one whose starting date is currently unknown, of course, but which could very well be soon. This situation has led the Israeli Air Force to deliberate over whether to continue to buy F-35 stealth fighter jets. These have many advantages, but a country preparing to attack many types of targets requires an aircraft capable of carrying more than four tons of bombs. This is why Israel is strongly considering purchasing the refurbished FX-15, which can launch an attack with more than 13 tons of bombs — and is even cheaper than the F-35.

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People in Qom, Iran, at a commemoration of the 22nd anniversary of the death of Hadi Nasrallah, son of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who was killed during Hezbollah clashes with Israeli forces in south Lebanon. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

But such a decision requires careful study and deliberations on the part of Israel’s military cabinet, the body that is authorized to make this decision that could cost tens of billions of dollars. Similar decisions have to be made for the purchase of spare parts. While we wait for a government to arise, Iran has all the time in the world, and continues to prepare its next moves. Israel’s military is forced to sit in frustration, and cannot even express its criticism of how the political mess is holding up urgent decisions.

The IDF says that even with what we have today, we can defeat the Iranians — but everyone realizes that the situation is not ideal.

Israel is on the verge of implementing another important decision. Until now it has based its offensive power largely on the IAF and its air power, but now that our enemies are increasingly using explosive missiles that can precisely target our air fields, a change in approach must be made. An emphasis is beginning to be placed on guided ground-to-ground missiles, which will enable Israel to precisely attack targets without the dangers of flying overhead. But here again, this requires an initial investment of $7 billion — and there is no one who can currently authorize this expenditure.

Another issue that must be addressed is the fact that our enemies are increasingly realizing that if they want to defeat us, they must change their tactics — and attack not our soldiers, but our civilian population. This is a threat that requires careful deliberation.

The bottom line regarding all the above decisions is the same: The sooner a government is formed, whether headed by Netanyahu, Gantz, or someone else, the better for Israel’s short- and long-term military prospects.