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More than housing, health care, and education, more than even the cost of living, Israelis care about security. That is what every poll taken by all the political parties show and no wonder. A country that has not known a minute of genuine peace since its establishment, bordered by enemies seeking its destruction, and periodically facing threats inconceivable in any other modern society, would understandably be obsessed with security. But what kind of security? To what strategic, diplomatic, and strategic extent? And at what cost?
Security can be defined in many ways—educational, financial, even psychological. All are critical to our national resilience. Israelis, though, have a narrower, more personal definition: what keeps our children safe. The threats, too, are manifest. Rockets, suicide bombers, unconventional weapons and cyber-attacks. Previous sections have explored the measures necessary to ensure Israel’s strength and vitality in 2048. This is how Israel can also be, by its citizens’ definition, a state of security.
The obvious step is to maintain Israel’s military edge. This includes not only ground, air, and naval power, but increasingly as the century progresses, cyber capabilities. It includes continued advances in weapons technology—unmanned, aerospace, and laser—and anti-missile defense. All this requires a significant share of Israel’s national budget, perhaps beyond the current 5.9%. Without a fundamental transformation of the Middle East, such expenditures will be more than justified.
But all the planes and tanks in the world will be of little value to Israel unless it enjoys the time and space to operate them. That is the point made in the section on foreign policy. To be truly secure, Israel must cease viewing that field as crucial for our defense. It must understand that many of our enemies no longer view Lebanon or Gaza as the main battlefields, but rather the television and computer screens that can portray Israeli soldiers as war criminals and the international courts in which they will be tried. The goal is not only to kill Israelis but, more importantly, to get Israel to kill the civilian population our enemies use as shields. To this end, they will manipulate the media, fabricate news, and generate the public outcry that will push foreign leaders to condemn Israel in global forums. Rather than a military strategy, they have military tactics that serve the journalistic, diplomatic, and legal objective of denying Israel the right to defend itself and, ultimately, the right to exist.
Israel must devote the resources necessary to deflecting such attacks and train the appropriate personnel. But in additional to strengthen its defenses, Israel must also act as it did in previous wars, pre-emptively. Our objective must be not to go to war in the first place by persuading our enemies of the prohibitive costs. This can be achieved through various means collectively defined by the word “deterrence.”
Concern for maintaining Israel’s power of deterrence was paramount in the opening decades of the state. Israel went to war twice, in 1956 and 1967, when our primary enemy, Egypt, had yet to fire a shot. In both conflicts, Israeli leaders concluded that failure to strike would convince all of Israel’s adversaries that the Jewish state could be threatened with impunity. That would lead to terror strikes or even massive attacks that could overwhelm Israeli forces.
Those forces have expanded exponentially since then, but Israel’s deterrent power has concurrently diminished. Terrorists fire thousands of rockets across our borders, paralyzing and jeopardizing Israeli life, safe in the knowledge that Israel has grown ultra-sensitive to the loss of its soldiers, the cost to its civilian population, and the backlash of global opinion. Iran, openly vowing to annihilate Israel, attacks us through its regional proxies confident that Israel will not retaliate against Iran itself. Such perceptions could lead the Ayatollahs to conclude that Israel will remain passive while they break out and produce hundreds of nuclear bombs.
How, then, can Israel restore its deterrence? One way, certainly, is to return to the time when Israel’s military actions were never apparent in advance. When asked by the Israeli government in the early 1950s how best to preserve its deterrence, the eminent Middle East specialist J.C. Hurewitz said that “as a vulnerable country without allies, you must never be predictable.” Israel has grown predictable, enabling our enemies to attack us and precisely calculate our response. This pattern must be broken and replaced by a policy of instilling uncertainty—and fear—in all of its foes.
Another, and most controversial path, is to revisit our strategic alliance with the United States. That relationship, with its roots in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, has expanded into billions of dollars in annual military aid as well as a Congressional commitment to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME). The latter, enabling Israel “to defend itself, by itself, against Middle Eastern adversary or combination of adversaries,” is uniquely far-reaching. But already today, and certainly by mid-century, the efficacy of this arrangement must be questioned. Is it truly in Israel’s best interest to be perceived as dependent for its defense on the United States?
It is, certainly, in America’s interest. The aid, almost all of which must be spent in the U.S. and on formally approved items, subsidizes the American arms industry. It is politically popular with most constituencies. But it also creates the impression of leverage, enabling critics of Israel to threaten to reduce or eliminate aid in order to coerce concessions. Once accounting for a major share of our national budget, the U.S. aid now represents a fraction. Nevertheless, it perpetuates the perception that Israel remains militarily dependent on a foreign power. That is not an image that Israel can afford to project.
That image is particularly problematic at a time when the United States is retreating strategically from most of the world. More than its monetary value, the aid symbolized America’s commitment to stand by its allies and safeguard global peace. The diminishing of that historic role, most notably in the Middle East, reduces the psychological import of the aid.
Similar objections must be raised to the signing of a U.S.-Israel defense treaty. Such an agreement will give Israel little beyond the QME pledges it already receives from Congress while not fully committing the United States and possibly tying Israel’s hands. One need only recall America’s failure to live up to his pledges to defend South Vietnam during North’s 1975 invasion or its veto of Israeli pre-emption, two years earlier, in the Yom Kippur War. Rather than risk revisiting such scenarios, Israel must work to convince our enemies that we will indeed defend ourselves by ourselves and not rely on any other country for help.
Older than more than half the nation-members of the UN and with a population nearly twice the size of Denmark and Norway’s, Israel must be able to stand on its own strategic feet. This does not mean that Israel should discard its strategic relationship with the United States or in any way cease appreciating its support. No other nation so shares our values and honors our spiritual ties. No other country is home to such a large and powerful Jewish community. And no other nation—still—rivals America’s power. Israel must always be able to count on the U.S. for diplomatic backing and logistical resupply, especially in wartime.
By 2048, though, Israel must be militarily independent. Those seeking to harm or destroy us must know that Israel will respond to any aggression freely, forcibly, and in ways that none of them can anticipate. Together with the latitude provided by our diplomats, backed morally and logistically by the United States, the IDF can ensure Israel’s security, a state that is both respected and feared.
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