DAVID ISAAC: IRON DOME…A STRATEGIC THREAT TO ISRAEL?
Israelis watched in awe as their Iron Dome missile-defense system blasted Hamas rockets out of the sky last month. But while Israel rightly takes pride in this achievement, it should be careful of being seduced by technology. Hidden within Iron Dome’s success lies a strategic threat — that the Iron Dome will lull Israel into a false sense of security, leading it to make dangerous concessions.
Think such a threat is overblown? It has already materialized. Israel called up 75,000 reserves for a ground war that never came. Instead Israel accepted a cease-fire brokered by, of all people, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Hamas celebrated as Israel’s reserves were sent home, recasting the cease-fire as a victory. And they were right. While materiel was destroyed and one commander had been killed, their leadership was untouched, their control of the Gaza Strip remained intact, and they had gained their own Iron Dome of sorts in the form of the protective embrace of Morsi. They will re-arm and fight again.
Worth noting is that the cease-fire had also wrung from Israel the promise that it would not engage in any more targeted attacks — the same kind of attacks America’s president brags about doing every Tuesday with his ‘kill lists’.
If it had been the terrorists who had the 86.3 percent kill rate, and not the Iron Dome, Israel would have had no choice but to go into the Gaza Strip. This isn’t to say Israel should forgo an Iron Dome, but it shows how this new technology can do more than protect against missiles. It can be used as a defensive shield for Israeli politicians who seek to avoid ‘escalation’.
Most dangerous is that the Iron Dome plays into U.S. plans for Israel, what Shmuel Katz rightly termed, “the American-Arab objective.” That is, to reduce Israel to the indefensible 1949 Armistice lines. Successive U.S. administrations seeking to coax Israel into territorial retreat have first sought to calm Israeli fears. This usually found expression in talk of ‘guarantees’. Czechoslovakia learned about guarantees first-hand in World War II, which is why the Czech Republic was the only European country to vote against granting the Palestinian authority semi-statehood status in the recent U.N. vote.
In “Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine” (Bantam Books, 1973), Shmuel cites a number of examples of how guarantees proved to be worth less than the paper they were written on. After 1948, for instance, he describes how Israel was coaxed into leaving Egypt in control of Gaza for an “Armistice Agreement that turned out to be worthless.” This happened again in 1956-1957 and in 1967.
“The United Nations force in Sinai and Gaza — established as an international “guarantee” for Israel in 1957 — was immediately withdrawn at a word of command from Cairo. The American President could not find in the state archives the record of promises made ten years earlier to insure Israel’s freedom of navigation.”The American President and the British Prime Minister together were unable to get the United Nations Security Council (including the members who had joined in that promise) to consider the Egyptians’ demonstrative flouting of that freedom. Overnight, the gossamer safeguards by which Israel had been deluded were blown away.”
The Obama administration sees the Iron Dome as serving the same purpose as a guarantee. As the Wall Street Journal reports (Nov. 26), “Despite initial Pentagon misgivings, President Barack Obama has given $275 million to the project since 2010 with the aim of reducing the rocket threat and eventually bolstering chances of a peace deal by making Israel feel more secure to agree to territorial concessions.”
For Obama then, the Iron Dome is a means to making Israel believe it is safe so it will more readily retreat to a position where it will not be safe. Obama supporters like to point to the president’s declaration of his “unshakeable commitment” to Israel. Even clear-eyed supporters of Israel were impressed by Obama’s comments when Hamas rockets began to fall: “[T]here is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes.”
But while Obama ‘fully supports’ shooting a missile coming out of the sky using the Iron Dome, he does not support an Israeli ground operation into Gaza to root out the terrorists shooting those missiles. Obama defines ‘defend itself’ very narrowly indeed.
Traditionally Israel has been wary of a defensive-minded strategy. Those Israelis who pushed the Iron Dome’s development needed to sidestep red tape and official channels. “As a rule, Israeli politicians and commanders do not like to spend precious budgetary resources on defensive programs; this simply does not fit the Israeli mind-set or strategic culture,” explains an AEI report. “As a small country with no strategic depth, Israel’s doctrine has traditionally rested on the idea that it must go on the offensive, to take fighting into enemy territory as quickly as possible. Tanks and fighter jets are perfect platforms for this doctrine and fit the aggressive, brash Israeli persona.” The AEI report quotes Dan Meridor, Israel Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, “There is a serious strategic change here, years ago, it was not simple to incorporate into Israeli military doctrine the great importance of defense.’”
It may well be that Israel overdid it in ignoring defensive technologies. The risk now is the pendulum will swing too far the other way. Such is the Obama administration’s hope, which is why it was so quick to support the Iron Dome. In the spring, the administration announced its intention to seek an additional $70 million, on top of the $205 million already appropriated for fiscal 2012. It may be confusing to the uninformed how Obama could be pursuing a strategy of weakening Israel at the same time he approves millions for a defense system, but the tactic fits the overall strategy.
If anyone doubts where Obama stands, less than 10 days after the cease-fire, his administration condemned Israel for its decision to build apartments in its own capital. What Shmuel wrote of the Carter administration in his 1978 op-ed “To Talk Turkey to Mr. Mondale,” could be said of the Obama administration today:
“There are many reasons and many factors inhibiting any American administration from ‘abandoning’ Israel, and every administration would feel compelled to continue giving aid to Israel. The present administration however, more than any of its predecessors, behaves as though the interest is not mutual — and together with the aid it gives, it is conducting a campaign to weaken Israel as much as possible, and to blacken the name of its government. It thus facilitates the execution of a policy whose implications cannot be described except as most damaging to Israel.”
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