Is Israel’s Military Ready for Future Challenges?

In a detailed study of the Israel Defense Force’s size, structure, and capabilities, Kenneth Brower traces its development from the underequipped fledgling army of 1948 to the technologically sophisticated and much-feared military of today. But, Brower argues, in the past decade the IDF has become too focused on counterterrorism and urban warfare and too reliant on defensive, high-tech systems—like its Iron Dome air defenses—at the expense of conventional capabilities, and it thus may not be ready for the what lies ahead:

It seems evident that the IDF general staff believes that Israel does not currently face the immediate threat of large-scale conventional warfare with its Arab neighbors but rather the threat of limited warfare by non-state actors in the Palestinian-controlled territories and the neighboring states. . . . It is also obvious that the general staff has concluded that Israel must maintain a significant capability to strike remote enemy states and non-state groups. . . .

As a result of meeting [such] near-term priorities on a limited budget, the general staff has significantly downsized the order of battle of its armored corps and tube artillery and reduced training in large-scale maneuver warfare. It has also unacceptably reduced the combat readiness of its reserve ground units. Unfortunately, what the general staff has done today to meet current priorities will inevitably and irretrievably impact the Israeli . . . order of battle and military capability for up to two decades from now.

No one can possibly predict the future threats that Israel might then face. Some of today’s Arab “friends” will almost certainly face political upheaval and become tomorrow’s enemies. Moreover, Israel today enjoys decisive technological superiority because of its unique ability to exploit evolving digital technology; but there is no assurance of its ability continuously to achieve such superiority in the future. In fact, what the IDF can uniquely deploy today will surely be readily available from the future international arms bazaar.

This [problem] is compounded by the huge procurements by the rich Arab Persian Gulf regimes, which are many times larger than the current annual IDF procurement budget. What fires east can just as easily fire west. A missile system that can intercept Iranian ballistic missiles can also intercept Israeli ballistic missiles. Because of these massive Arab investments in advanced technology, it is doubtful that Israel can continue to sustain it current advantage of overwhelming technological superiority.

[In other words], the Israeli general staff may well have inappropriately overadjusted its priorities to reflect what exists today but which will almost certainly no longer be the case tomorrow. Most importantly, it has simultaneously neglected preparations for large-scale offensive maneuver warfare that might be necessary in the future. The impact of the general staff’s mistakes has been magnified by the decisions of the Israeli political leadership. Their [desire] to construct expensive, brittle border fences and to prioritize ground-based air-defense systems are, no doubt, politically popular, but may well represent a huge misallocation of Israel’s limited financial resources. . . . High-readiness offensively oriented ground forces can be a far better deterrent than . . . fences and air-defense systems that can easily be saturated and that are catastrophically vulnerable to the weapons of the future.

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More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli grand strategy, Israeli Security

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin