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The Threat to Israel's Survival By: Irving Kett
Freeman Center For Strategic Studies | Monday, March 15, 2004


In the past thirty five years, that is since the 1968-1970 War of Attrition against Egypt on the Suez Canal, Israel's security perspective has significantly deteriorated. Many factors have contributed to this situation, some of which are the result of unfortunate Israeli policy decisions, internal morale deterioration, and factors beyond its control. Two particularly critical elements that resulted in this degradation of Israel's security will be addressed herein in some detail. These are the military-technological revolution that created the missile threat and the transformation of Egypt as the most dangerous Arab enemy confronting Israel's existence.

The War of Attrition ended in a stalemate, with an Egyptian SAM's missile defense firmly established on the Canal. The latter fact compounded by inexcusable Israeli intelligence failures, resulted in the Egyptian Army successful breaching the Bar-Lev Line in the opening assault of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Unfortunately the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), still exulting in or more realistically suffering from the hubris of the 1967 Six-Day War, never sufficiently analyzed their shortcomings in the War of Attrition.

They continued, nevertheless, to assure the Israeli Government of the IDF's ability to defend the borders attained in the 1967 war. The 22-day Yom Kippur War with its more than 2,500 soldiers killed and three times that number wounded placed a terrible strain on the fragile economy and internal cohesion of Israeli society. Successive governments, during the subsequent decades, then proceeded to compound the errors attendant to the Yom Kippur War by committing incredible acts of political folly, bordering on national suicide, probably without parallels in the annals of history.

The Ballistic/WMD Threat

Virtually all of the principal nations in the Middle East have developed or acquired chemical and/or biological warfare capabilities and delivery systems. In addition Israel and Iran very likely possess or are in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons. Although it has never been confirmed or acknowledged, Israel is considered to be the most advanced nuclear weapons power in the region and also possessing of capable delivery systems. Chemical weapons are seen as the nuclear weapons substitute of the poorer, less technologically developed nations. Israel because of her small size is particularly vulnerable to missile attack, armed either with conventional or WMD (weapons of mass destruction) warheads.

All of the Arab states' missiles and WMD are aimed at Israel which makes the latter a particularly concerned and vulnerable target. Even though Israel was not a participant in the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq nevertheless struck at Israel with 39 Scud missiles. The Patriot Missile Defense units that the United States sent to protect Israel proved totally ineffective and probably actually contributed to the damage caused by the Scuds.

In the event of a major conflict between Israel and the Arab states, both sides can effectively target the other with WMD, delivered by missiles and/or aircraft. Israel's diminutive size makes for potentially enormous asymmetries between the two antagonists as regards to vulnerability. For Israel one good-sized nuclear weapon on any two of its principle cities such as Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv would effectively doom that nation's existence. Israel is, therefore, deeply threatened by the specter of weapons of mass destruction. Of necessity the country places great reliance upon the Israeli-developed Arrow missile interceptor which is viewed as a crucial factor in its defense infrastructure.

While tests of the Arrow system have been promising, its effectiveness against a massive attack by advanced Scud-type missiles or missiles of an even more advanced technology is questionable. With the possible exception of Egypt, Syria probably possesses the most developed chemical warfare (CW) capability in the Arab world. Egypt actually used CW against other Arabs in Yemen in the middle 1960's. There is always the possibility that the United States might elect to install an advanced missile intercept system such as the Theater High-Altitude Missile Defense System in the Middle East that would at least diminish or attenuate the threat from WMD.

Because of Israel's severe geographical limitations, a new dimension must be introduced if the country is to have an assured second strike capability. Israel's enemies must be made aware of that capability and their own resultant vulnerabilities, much like the stand-off that existed between Russia and the United States in the decades of the Cold War. It was referred to as MAD, mutually assured destruction, and its existence apparently prevented war from breaking out between the then two superpowers. The most logical dimension for Israel can only be the seas. In order to be effective, Israel would probably require five or six modern diesel-powered submarines.

At least two of these craft would need to be at sea at all times, equipped with nuclear- armed cruise missiles, one in the Mediterranean and the other in the region of the Persian Gulf. In addition, Israel would require a number of missile-launching surface ships constantly maneuvering at sea, likewise armed with nuclear warheads. In such a configuration, the Arab states would understand that Israel possesses a secure retaliatory force were the country in danger of being over-run and her army defeated or if WMD were successfully employed against Israeli cities and vital installations. It is necessary for the Arabs to realize that they in turn would be massively and devastatingly attacked. In essence Israel requires a navy of comparable effectiveness to the vaunted skill and high technology of the Israel Air Force. A modern naval flotilla, armed with nuclear weapons, could provide Israel with a reasonably secure retaliatory second strike force.

Egypt, Israel's most Dangerous Enemy

In 1978, under the prodding of United States President Jimmy Carter, Egypt and Israel were cajoled into signing the Camp David Accords. The two major results of that agreement was that Israel relinquished all of the Sinai Peninsula, including its oil wells, and Egypt became a major United States military recipient. After the treaty was signed, Anwar Sadat, then President of Egypt, boasted about what his country had gained and cynically pointed out that all Israel received in return was a worthless piece of paper with a long list of promises that Egypt would never abide by nor had any intention of ever keeping. As long as the United States continues to provide Egypt with 2.1 billion dollars a year in aid of which 1.3 billion is for military assistance and 0.8 billions in economic aid, the latter has acquiesced to maintaining a very cold peace with Israel.

Leading Egyptian government and military figures have unhesitatingly and vociferously continued to depict Israel as Egypt's enemy in the most uncompromising terms. Egyptian military threats against Israel resumed in 1987 when the Defense Minister, General Abu Ghazzala, stated that Egypt's "principal and sole enemy" was Israel and that together with Syria she would achieve a crushing victory over the Jewish State. On January 23, 1995 General Amin al-Huweidi, the former Minister of War and Chief of Military Intelligence declared, "War is inevitable--- The efforts and the agreements which are now taking place are not building peace; they are agreements leading to war." He was simultaneously referring to the 1993 Oslo Agreement that brought Yasser Arafat and the PLO into Israel from their exile in Tunisia as well as the "peace treaties" that Israel had signed with Egypt and Jordan.




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