Friday, September 23, 2011
There’s a great deal of speculation these days on Israel’s dire situation, most notably from renowned author and scholar Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review, who prefaces it with a remark that the country has never been in more danger.
The Islamist regimes in Egypt and elsewhere brought on by the Arab Spring and their growing hostility to Israel, the genocidal influence of Iran and its missile armed proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, Erdogan's Islamist Turkey, the huge influence of Arab petro-dollars, and the indifference and growing anti-semitism in much of Europe and the exhaustion and debt of the United States are frequently cited.
It's a gloomy picture, and none of it is to be trivialized. But I think dire predictions of Israel's demise are premature, to say the least.
It’s worth remembering that Israel has faced far worst and survived. In 1948, the British left Palestine, but not before confiscating as many arms in the hands of Jews as they could find and turning over strategic locations to Israel's genocidal enemies. In the year leading up to that conflict, the British armed the Arab nations with modern weapons including aircraft and tanks in spite of their open and explicit threats of jihad against Israel's Jews. In the case of Jordan, the British not only trained the Arab Legion but officered it during the 1948 war and oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their homes in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem, led by a Jew hating British Colonel by the name of John Glubb, AKA Glubb Pasha. And this was a mere three years after the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Jews had no aircraft or artillery, and used homemade 'Davidka' mortars and improvised armored trucks as 'tanks'. They were unable to purchase weapons from the United States because President Truman decided to put an arms embargo on both sides, something that affected Israel greatly and the Arabs not at all, since they were able to purchase arms openly from Britain and other European countries, many of whom were unwilling to sell arms to Israel for fear of angering the oil rich Arabs. In one of the ironies of history, a major cache of the arms the Jews used to win their war of independence were Nazi arms left over from the occupation of Czechoslovakia, purchased by Israel on the black market.
Somehow, the Jews prevailed against the attempted second Holocaust. And without the help of Europe, the United States or the UN.
They prevailed again in 1967, after a last minute cutoff of arms and supplies from Charles DeGaulle deprived them of all arms and supplies from France, their major arms source. The US remained neutral during that war and supplied no arms to the Jewish State, who were facing war on three fronts from Arab nations armed with the latest Soviet weapons. The Six Day War was a miracle not only because Israel won against overwhelming odds, but because they were able to win before the supplies and spare parts for their French weapons ran out.
Today's situation is not to be underestimated, but not nearly as dire as it might seem. In many ways, Israel's position is far more secure and superior than it was then.
The French betrayal in 1967 had a positive aspect in that it taught the Israelis not to rely overly on foreign made armaments. Today, Israel has a thriving state of the art arms industry of its own with products rivaling the best made anywhere, and the advantage that they're no longer at the mercy of another country for spare parts for most of their weaponry. The two main areas the Israelis have not gone into are fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships, both of which they still purchase from the U.S. However, they have produced aircraft in the past like the Kfir and the Avi and might very well make the decision to do so again. And their armed and unarmed drones are top quality.
Israel has a decent arsenal of ballistic missiles, and they also possess a small fleet of nuclear-armed Dolphin class submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles and hitting pretty much anything in the Middle East with precision.
They also have the best trained and most lethal fighting force in the region..and they’re free men fighting to defend their homes.
Let's compare that with the adversaries that Dr. Hanson and others have mentioned.
Unlike Israel, both Egypt and Turkey are extremely dependent on US made parts for their military, and it's difficult for me to believe that America would continue to supply them in a war against Israel, even with a President Obama in the White House. Also, neither can afford a war financially. Egypt is bankrupt with a population it can't afford to feed, and Turkey is sitting on a huge credit bubble that could burst at any moment. A war with Israel would also probably involve Turkey leaving NATO, since neither the U.S. or NATO’s European members would likely get involved in the conflict.
Turkey also has the disadvantage of logistics. They have large conventional forces but getting them in position to fight Israel would involve crossing huge distances, not to mention the problem of air support. And their military command, having recently been purged by PM Erdogan is lacking in depth and experience. Both nations will almost certainly stay out and confine themselves to hostility and encouraging actual combatants.
Hamas and Hezbollah (and I would also include the Palestinian Authority, thanks to the U.S. trained and equipped military America gifted to Fatah) remain Israel's immediate threats, largely because Hamas and Hezbollah remain Iran's proxies in any war with Israel.
Thanks to the inept leadership of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former defense minister Amir Peretz, neither of whom had ever held military command, the IDF was thrown haphazardly into Lebanon against Hezbollah in 2006 without adequate planning or logistics and initially suffered heavy casualties, with the unprepared IDF being surprised by Hezbollah's tactics and their level of training. Northern Israel also sustained heavy damage and civilian casualties from Hezbollah's missiles. However, once a coordinated ground assault began, Israeli forces ultimately macerated whole units of Hezbollah's ground forces, and destroyed most of Hezbollah's missile arsenal.
Unfortunately, thanks to Ehud Barack and Tzipi Livni's bending to pressure from US Secretary of State Condi Rice and the UN, a premature ceasefire was enacted that saved Hezbollah from destruction and allowed them to regroup, rearm and consolidate their control over Lebanon.
While they remain a strategic threat, there are several different factors operating today that weren't present in 2006 if war breaks out again.
First, the IDF experienced a major overhaul in tactics, training, equipment and leadership as a result of the 2006 Lebanon War, and they aren't going to be surprised again by Hezbollah, or sent into battle without a coordinated plan.
Also, if a new war breaks out, the rules are going to be quite different. In 2006, the IDF was ordered to avoid attacks on Lebanese installations whenever possible, giving Hezbollah a major advantage because they were able to hide rocket launchers, arms caches and fighters in civilian areas and in Lebanese government buildings. These days, Hezbollah essentially controls Lebanon, and the Israelis have made it quite clear that if Hezbollah attacks Israel again, it's going to be a war between Israel and Lebanon. And based on the Israeli realization of the fiasco that occurred with UNSC Resolution 1701 and UNFIL, this time Hezbollah may not be rescued by a ceasefire, something I’m sure Hezbollah’s leaders have considered.
Hamas survived Operation Cast Lead in December of 2008 by hiding among civilians in Gaza City after heavy casualties inflicted by the IDF, with its missile arsenal devastated and a number of its top commanders killed. Again, the Olmert government made the decision to declare a unilateral ceasefire and withdraw, rather than put the city under siege, cut off its electricity and destroy Hamas utterly. While Hamas has re-armed to a degree, there's no reason to think that another war with Israel would result in a Hamas victory.
The real wild card remains Iran, rapidly approaching status as a nuclear power. Much of Iran's threat comes via its proxies in Gaza and Lebanon and it ability to launch missile attacks, since Iranian conventional forces are too far removed to make a ground war feasible and I doubt that Iraq would allow an Iranian army military access in any event.
Would the ayatollahs risk heavy retaliation by attempting to destroy Israel for Allah? Perhaps. But Iran is not a nuclear power yet - not quite - and a threat to Israel would of necessity be prefaced by a successful nuclear weapons test. The day that happens, look for the Israelis to launch a major pre-emptive strike on Iran shortly afterwards, which could very well include tactical nukes. As I've mentioned before, such an attack would likely be facilitated by the Saudis, who long ago lost patience with the feckless Obama Administration's non-policy on Iran.
It’s certainly correct that Israel faces major challenges, and a combined assault by Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah would not be a negligible threat. Complacency is not a strategy and anything can happen in war. But Israel has faced far greater threats before and won handily.
Actually, those speculating on Israel’s danger ask the wrong question. The real matter up for discussion is not about Israel’s survival, but whether the West will prevail against the assault by Islamism. Because the fate of the West is bound to that of Israel's by the iron chains of history.
Posted by Rob at 1:31 PM