What Israel Lost When It Stopped Making Its Own Fighter Jets

Oct. 17 2018

In the first decades of its existence, Israel imported most of its sophisticated arms—fighter jets, tanks, missile boats—from France and Britain. But in the weeks surrounding the Six-Day War, both countries imposed an embargo on the Jewish state. In subsequent years, once the U.S. became Israel’s main supplier of arms, it, too, would use them as leverage. Jerusalem thus decided in the 1970s to produce its own weapons systems, many of which—such as the Merkavah tank—are still in use. Israeli engineers also began developing an advanced line of fighter-bomber jets in 1980, known as the Lavi, but it was canceled and finally killed for good in 1987 amidst a budget crisis. John W. Golan argues that it was not independence alone that Israel thereby sacrificed:

Foremost among the realities that Israeli war planners have long had to address has been Israel’s lack of strategic depth—in both territory and manpower. This bitter reality has meant that Israel’s military doctrine has of necessity come to emphasize offensive tactics: carrying the war to the enemy and away from Israel’s population centers as quickly as possible. Range and payload capacity were already being emphasized in Israeli fighter-bombers at a time when much of the world still saw fighter jets as being primarily air-to-air instruments of war. . . .

Moreover, Israel’s lack of depth in terms of manpower has also meant that Israel would forever remain extraordinarily sensitive to casualties. For a nation so small, this was a strategic reality, not merely an expression of sentiment. . . . Trained soldiers—and pilots in particular—were a commodity that could not be so easily replaced. . . .

This set of priorities and emphases came to be seen in the design of the Lavi. . . . In the absence of an Israeli industrial capability today, Israel’s air force has struggled to find a balance that will meet its future fighter-bomber needs over the next 30 years. On the one hand, Israel has been the first foreign customer to take delivery of the United States’ new F-35 joint strike fighter, as well as the first air force anywhere in the world to deploy the stealth F-35 in operational roles over hostile air space. [But] the IDF has reportedly prioritized the purchase of 20-25 additional, non-stealth F-15I fighter-bombers to overcome the payload and range limitations of the supposedly superior F-35. . . .

The aircraft that the IDF truly needs is neither the F-35 nor the F-15I—but one that would combine the low observability of the F-35 with the range and payload capabilities of the F-15I. Unfortunately, no such aircraft exists today, nor is there an alternative that Israeli industry could hope to offer. Developing a complex platform like a fighter jet requires a combination of design skills and experience that Israel’s aerospace industry was purged of in 1987. Recreating that pool of talent and experience would require a supreme national effort.

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More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, US-Israel relations

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey