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JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF

Vol. 3, No. 16     3 February 2004


21st Century Threats Facing Israel

Maj. Gen. Dan Haloutz
Commander of the Israel Air Force


  • Israeli society is the first place where legitimacy is needed for military actions. Many of the questions raised regarding our actions come from the Israeli people. Being raised on democracy and pluralism, being raised as an open society, Israeli society asks questions that we must answer with the right answers.

  • Low-intensity conflicts are continuous, compared with full-scale conflicts that are usually shorter, sharper, and with an end result to the conflict that is much clearer.

  • Continuous conflict is a kind of war of attrition, not only between military forces, but also between societies. It comes down to which society can endure more, which society is capable of bearing the conflict and continuing their lives at the same time.

  • Our neighbors are now dispersing their military forces as part of a new doctrine calling for a “low signature,” meaning mainly a change from armored forces to infantry forces, with a greater use of anti-tank missiles, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and katyusha rockets.

  • The challenge of full-scale war is not behind us. Many countries in the region do not accept the presence of Israel as a natural fact. If the time comes that someone in the region thinks we have lost our strength, we can expect to be challenged.

  • Israel must also very carefully follow the potential for regime changes in the region, and we must face the fact that Western weapons are replacing Eastern bloc weapons, a factor that poses a great risk to Israel in the hands of unfriendly regimes.


Instability and Change in the Middle East

Looking at the structure of the regimes in the Middle East, Turkey and Israel are the only democracies in the region. Being a democracy puts restrictions on the way Israel must act, and it creates expectations from the entire world. In addition, being a democracy and fighting against regimes that are not democracies but are dictatorships, is like playing in the same yard with different rules.

Democracies are more sensitive to public opinion. Israel's democracy is particularly sensitive to the humanitarian aspects of the conflict, and is far more exposed to the media than the regimes of its opponents. In addition, democracies have more difficulty in dealing with conflicts in which the difference between civilians and terrorists is blurred, and there is a need to differentiate the terrorist from the civilian population.

Israel also lives in a very asymmetrical situation. According to all measurable aspects, the advantage is with the other side in terms of demographics, size, and natural resources.

In the global war against terrorism declared and led by the United States and Britain, we are moving from symmetric conflicts to asymmetric conflicts – from full-scale war to low-intensity conflict. Low intensity does not mean there are no casualties, or that they are not painful. The nature of low-intensity conflicts is that they are continuous, compared with full-scale conflicts that are usually shorter, sharper, and with an end result to the conflict that is much clearer.

The nature of the conflict is also moving from hierarchy models to network models, with the structure of the terror organizations being more like a network than a hierarchy. This means they have the ability to renew themselves, despite suffering casualties from time to time. When we ask how many are part of these networks, the numbers always remain in the hundreds or a few thousand.


The Fight for Legitimacy

Low-intensity conflict creates difficulties for Israel, with its classic military organization. First of all, in this kind of conflict Israel is fighting for legitimacy in order to execute its mission. In the last three and a half years, Israel has been granted more legitimacy for its military efforts in relation to its suffering. It became easier for Israel to act when we suffered 20 or 30 casualties from terror attacks, than when we acted preemptively when it was needed.

Legitimacy is not sought only from countries outside of Israel. Israeli society is the first place where legitimacy is needed for our actions. Many of the questions raised regarding our actions come from the Israeli people. Being raised on democracy and pluralism, being raised as an open society, Israeli society asks questions that we must answer with the right answers.

Israel operates under moral limitations because we try to maintain high values, and we are succeeding. The fact that from time to time innocent people suffer from our actions is due to decisions made by the terror organizations to remain under a civilian umbrella.

Continuous conflict is a kind of war of attrition, not only between military forces, but also between societies. It comes down to which society can endure more, which society is capable of bearing the conflict and continuing their lives at the same time. Of course we cannot use maximum force; there are limits on the force that we can use. There is no doubt that our military power and military capabilities are greater than theirs, but in these types of conflicts the weaker side has a kind of strength.


An Array of Threats

About 25 years ago, many countries in the region began developing non-conventional threats toward Israel in the hope to achieve parity with Israeli technology and military power. As a result, weapons of mass destruction are today a regional phenomenon. Syria and the former Iraqi regime succeeded in equipping themselves with weapons of mass destruction, which have not yet been found. I have no doubt that they existed in Iraq, and in the future we will get more information about where they are or were. Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Iran all began, and some succeeded, in equipping themselves with weapons of mass destruction.

Ballistic missiles were developed in the region in an attempt to provide an answer to the Israel air force's advantage. Our air force has succeeded, first of all, in preventing any penetration into Israel from the air, and, second, it has demonstrated the efficient use of air power in past conflicts in the region.

Aerial terror is part of the terror threat. The world saw it on 9/11, but in May 2001, the same year, Israel shot down a civilian plane that penetrated Israeli airspace from Lebanon. The pilot failed to respond to our calls, and after the plane flew 15 minutes in Israeli airspace and approached some of our heavily populated areas, we made a decision to shoot it down.

Our neighbors are now dispersing their military forces as part of a new doctrine in which they reduce the exposure of their regular military forces, blurring the distinction between the military and civilian sectors. The new doctrine calls for a "low signature," meaning mainly a change from armored forces to infantry forces, with a greater use of equipment such as anti-tank missiles, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and katyusha rockets. These are all weapons with a very low signature, and are protected through camouflage, concealment, and deception.

Urban warfare is another characteristic of the present and future challenges we face, where terrorists operate wearing civilian clothes. It is also very difficult to operate in urban areas without causing collateral damage.

Most of the IDF's actions are covered by the media. Media is part of the game, for better or worse. We cannot ignore the media, we must take it into consideration, and we have to be able to explain what we are doing.

Finally, the Israel Defense Forces operate according to limits set by Israeli society. We in the military do not operate according to our own decisions; we do everything according to our government's decisions and we act according to the policy that is provided to us.


Future Terrorist Challenges

Israel continues to be exposed to global terrorism through terrorist actions against Israeli and Jewish assets throughout the world. In addition, within Israel the assumption is that we will have to continue fighting terror for both the short- and long-range future. We do not see any effort on the other side to change the situation, so we are forced to take action in order to reduce the influence of terror on Israeli civilian society.

The terror Israel faces comes from a religious ideology - Islamic fundamentalism. Hostility to a Western lifestyle is a major factor in this, and Israel is part of the Western community in the region. But this terror is not so selective in its choice of targets. Fundamentalist terror is killing Muslims in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, as well.

When examining the impact of terror, Israel must decide whether we should fight the "mosquitoes" or drain "the swamp in which they breed." Running after each and every mosquito is an endless effort. So instead we should examine the countries which are hosting, arming, and financing these terror groups.

The challenge of full-scale war is not behind us. Many countries in the region do not accept the presence of Israel as a natural fact. If the time comes that someone in the region thinks we have lost our strength, we can expect to be challenged.

Israel must also very carefully follow the potential for regime changes in the region, and we have to take such possibilities into consideration. We must also face the fact that Western weapons are replacing Eastern bloc weapons in the area, a factor that poses a great risk to Israel in the hands of unfriendly regimes.


Air Force Supremacy

The Six-Day War is a good example of the use of air power by the Israel air force, and one that helped to build our deterrence. The American coalition forces operating in Iraq in the first and second Gulf wars demonstrated the advantage of high technology and air power. Kosovo proved to be the first military victory achieved by air power alone. The U.S. defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan was an example of a joint operation by air power and special forces. Recent U.S. operations in Iraq offer an excellent demonstration of a new doctrine that combines ground movement and the use of air power - day and night, in all kinds of weather - in a very sophisticated way.

What kind of capabilities will the Israel air force need in the future in order to cope with the challenges? First of all, precision strike and long-range capabilities are needed. "Air supremacy" - which is one level above "air superiority" - means using the airspace to control areas and conquer them. Combine this with "information supremacy" in intelligence and decision-making. Within two years, every single IDF fighting element in the air and on the ground will be connected to the same network. Most units are already connected. This fact is already enabling us to be a more real-time force than we were in the past.

The Israel air force is also increasing its unmanned components. It is no secret that we were one of the first to operationally use unmanned vehicles. We believe we have a significant advantage in this area, and we are trying to develop it further. Using unmanned vehicles is not only a matter of costs; it also reduces the risks to our crews.

In the last few months, the Israel air force has undertaken fewer pre-emptive actions. The successful operations that we conducted four months ago changed the way the terrorists act. They are in hiding and are reducing their signature by all means.

*     *     *

Maj. Gen. Dan Haloutz was appointed Commander in Chief of the Israel Air Force on April 4, 2000. Flying primarily the F-4 and F-16, he participated in the War of Attrition (1969-1970), the Yom Kippur War (1973), and the Peace for Galilee Operation (1982). During the Yom Kippur War he executed 160 combat sorties, with three confirmed kills of MIG-21s. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on January 15, 2004.


Dore Gold, Publisher; Lenny Ben-David, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 USA, Tel. (410) 664-5222; Fax. (410) 664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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