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entries tagged with: Gabi Ashkenazi


Article fuels speculation, debate over possible strike against Iran

JERUSALEM – If the United States doesn’t attack Iran’s nuclear facilities within the next eight months or so, Israel probably will.

So says journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the September issue of The Atlantic magazine in an article that is fueling debate and speculation among many Middle East experts.

Goldberg bases his conclusion mainly on three premises: In the Israeli view, Iran will be in a position to produce a bomb by next spring or very soon thereafter. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking seriously persistent Iranian threats to wipe Israel off the map and is resolved to prevent a second Holocaust. And Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak argue that even if Iran doesn’t use the bomb, a nuclear threat hanging over Israel could destroy the Zionist enterprise, with Israelis leaving the country and prospective immigrants staying away.

Goldberg makes much of the prime minister’s reverence for his 100-year-old historian father, Benzion Netanyahu, who sees history in terms of successive threats to the existence of the Jewish people. And it is true that Netanyahu at times depicts himself as a latter-day Winston Churchill, whose life’s mission is to save his people.

Nevertheless, Goldberg gives many reasons why Israel would think twice before launching an attack on Iran.

On the tactical level, a strike against Iran’s well-protected and far-flung nuclear facilities might have limited effect. Also, the operational complexity of having to fly great distances, over American lines or Arab territory, is a military planner’s nightmare.

Far worse, though, on the strategic level, is the fact that attacking Iran without an American green light could lead to a major rupture between Jerusalem and Washington. And if distanced from or even abandoned by America, Israel could quickly become a pariah state isolated on the international stage.

The widespread international condemnation of Israel’s action against a Turkish “peace” vessel last May is an indication of where things could go.

Moreover, any Israeli strike against Iran would almost certainly trigger a major regional war, with Israel under missile and rocket attack from Iran, from Hezbollah in Lebanon, and also possibly from Syria and Hamas in Gaza. That, in turn, could lead to spiraling oil prices, for which Israel would be blamed. And Iran and its proxies almost certainly would unleash terror attacks against Jewish targets worldwide.

For reasons like these, outgoing Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is said to be unenthusiastic about launching an Israeli strike. Although the Israel Defense Forces reportedly has conducted simulation exercises as far afield as Greece, and is continually fine-tuning its operational plans, Ashkenazi would prefer not to have to carry them out.

Ashkenazi is not the only senior military man with doubts.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser and one of Israel’s sharpest military analysts, argued in a much-touted position paper late last year that there is no way Israel would risk harming its key strategic relationship with the United States for the lesser gain of putting Iran’s nuclear program back by a few years. Moreover, he said, if there is to be a military strike, the chances are that the Americans would prefer to carry it out themselves.

According to Eiland, some U.S. Army chiefs maintain that since America would be affected by the fallout of any strike, it should bring its greater military prowess to bear to ensure success.

In Eiland’s view, for Israel to have a realistic strike option, the following conditions would have to pertain: a clear failure of the current sanctions against Iran; American unwillingness to take military action despite what some of the generals have been saying; and American understanding for Israel’s need to act. Then Netanyahu would have to make his own personal calculus — bearing in mind that failure could leave the Gulf unstable, Western interests undermined, Israel blamed and isolated on the world stage, and worst of all, Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons accorded a degree of legitimacy.

Zeev Maoz, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis, and at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, adds another concern. In a mid-August article in Haaretz, he suggested that an attack on Iran could lead to international pressure on Israel to dismantle its presumed nuclear arsenal and to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If Israel refused to buckle, it could be ostracized, Maoz wrote, and if it did buckle under pressure, it would be losing a key bargaining chip for the creation of a new regional security order.

So, given the risks an attack on Iran would entail, would Israel consider a nuclear balance of fear with Iran?

According to Maj. Gen (Res.) Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, former head of military research and development in the IDF and the Defense Ministry, in such a balance the advantage would tilt hugely in Israel’s favor. He told JTA that the Iranians are trying to build a fission bomb that at around 20 kilotons would be about the size of the American bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Foreign experts assert that Israel possesses fusion bombs that can be from 50 to 250 times more destructive than the 1945 atomic bomb.

In late 2007, Anthony Cordesman, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, published “Iran, Israel and Nuclear War: An Illustrative Scenario Analysis,” in which he tried to gauge the outcome of a nuclear showdown sometime in the next decade. His bottom line: Israel would be able to survive and rebuild, while Iran would not.

According to Ben Yisrael, the Iranians are very well aware of this disparity and therefore would be unlikely to start a nuclear war against Israel.

“Maybe the Iranian man in the street doesn’t know these facts, but the engineers working on the Iranian bomb certainly do. And so does [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” Ben Yisrael told JTA.

Nevertheless, Ben Yisrael, like most Israeli analysts, is adamantly opposed to Iran’s acquiring the bomb for two reasons: The Middle East almost certainly would go multinuclear in its wake, exponentially increasing the chances of someone mistakenly pressing a nuclear button, and terrorists might get their hands on a nuclear device with no balance of fear possible.

Indeed, most Israeli analysts see compelling American reasons for action. They argue that the Obama administration would be loath to see a Middle East nuclear arms race undercutting the president’s vision of a nuclear-free world. It also is crucial for America to prevent Iran from using a nuclear umbrella to promote terror and extortion against the West, or terrorists from getting their hands on a dirty bomb, or Iran from using its nuclear posture to gain control of Middle East oil supplies in the Gulf.

In addition, the failure to stop Iran from going nuclear could lead to a loss of American prestige and influence in the region, with wavering Gulf states moving from the American to the Iranian orbit.

So, if sanctions don’t work, and if a popular uprising in Iran led by the opposition Green Movement fails to materialize, the Israeli leadership’s hope is that America will see the necessity of taking military action, despite the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Israelis are careful not to spell this out, since they don’t want to be seen as pushing for an American attack.

Israeli analysts point out that what would be very difficult for Israel to achieve, militarily and diplomatically, the United States could achieve much more easily. According to Goldberg, Netanyahu himself often tells visitors “the secret” that the U.S. Army is much bigger than Israel’s.

Netanyahu in his meeting with Obama in early July was heartened, according to aides, by what he heard from the president on Iran. Indeed, it appears that U.S. policy is to prevent Israel from going it alone, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen urging Israel to bite the bullet, while Obama reassures Israeli leaders that he will not allow Iran to get the bomb.

But what if Israel and the United States differ in their estimates of the Iranian nuclear timetable? Or if the United States proves reluctant to attack when Israel feels that time is running out?

Will Israel, because of the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, then take the risk of acting alone? And, crucially, will the United States then give Israel a green light to attack?



Gaza-Israel border heats up as Hamas acquires new weapons

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 31 December 2010

JERUSALEM – After two years of relative quiet since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Israel’s southern border with Gaza is again becoming volatile.

Last week, Gazans fired a rocket into Israel that landed close to a kindergarten in a kibbutz near Ashkelon just as parents were dropping off their children. Although no one was hurt, nothing like that had happened since the war.

News Analysis

Militants fired more than 200 Grad missiles, Kassam rockets, and mortar shells into Israeli territory in 2010, according to the Israel Defense Forces, compared to 160 in 2009. Both years pale in comparison to prewar levels in 2008, when militants in Gaza launched some 4,000 projectiles into Israel.

Nevertheless, despite the relative quiet for most of this year, the IDF is concerned that the recent escalation, if unchecked, could lead to a new round of serious fighting.

After last week’s attack in Ashkelon, the Israel Air Force bombed a staffed Hamas militia base, the first time it had taken such action in two years. Until then, the IDF had restricted its retaliatory and preemptive raids to targeting weapons caches, so-called workshops, smuggling tunnels and Hamas militants in the act of launching attacks. The IDF attacked the Hamas base to signal that Israel will hold the Hamas government responsible for what goes on in Gaza and that in allowing a bombing so close to a kindergarten, Hamas had crossed a dangerous red line.

But that didn’t quiet things down.

Last week, Gaza militants fired 24 mortar shells and three Kassam rockets at Israel, and Israel responded with air strikes that killed at least five militants.

Over the past few weeks, the militants also have stepped up ground attacks on Israeli border patrols. The most serious incident for Israel came in early December, when Gaza militants fired a state-of-the-art Kornet missile at an IDF Merkava tank. The Kornet, a lethally accurate and potentially game-changing anti-tank weapon that Hamas added to its arsenal only very recently, penetrated the Israeli tank’s armor but did not explode.

Hamas’ acquisition of Kornet weapons means that Israel will have to rethink its tactics if it launches another major ground incursion into Gaza. For now, tanks patrolling the border have been reinforced with the Israeli-developed “trophy” active protection system, which has the capacity to destroy incoming missiles.

The Hamas position on the escalation is ambivalent. The organization’s political wing says it has no interest in a major clash with Israel right now, but the military wing says it’s poised to resume large-scale rocket attacks.

At a rally in the Gaza city of Khan Yunis to mark the 23rd anniversary of the founding of Hamas — an event that coincided with the second anniversary of the Israel-Hamas war, called Operation Cast Lead — Mahmoud a-Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas’ political wing, insisted that Hamas was committed to the ceasefire reached in the wake of Cast Lead.

But a day later, at a news conference called by Hamas, masked men from the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades claimed to have new weapons that would surprise the IDF. They warned that they would respond harshly “to any acts of aggression by the occupying Zionist forces against its fighters or against the civilian population of Gaza.”

They also claimed responsibility for some past acts of terror, including the June 2008 attack on the Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav seminary in Jerusalem, in which eight yeshiva students were shot dead by a rampaging gunman. In a separate statement, Ahmed Ja’abari, deputy commander of Hamas’ military wing, declared that Israelis had two choices: death or expulsion.

Israeli analysts attribute the bellicose tone to competition between Hamas and other militias claiming to be doing more in the struggle against Israel. The tough talk is a way of saying that they, too, are fighting “the occupation.” On the other hand, the analysts say, Hamas’ political wing does not want to provoke another war, with all the hardship it would cause the population of Gaza and the threat it would pose to Hamas’ rearmament plans.

The upshot is that the Hamas government has been allowing its military and other smaller militias a slightly freer rein to test how much they can snipe at Israel without provoking a major military response.

Two years on, it seems that the record of the three-week war that began in Gaza on Dec. 27, 2008 achieved mixed results. The main aims of the operation were to restore deterrence, destroy as much of the Hamas terrorist infrastructure as possible, and prevent a renewal of weapons shipments into Gaza.

To a large extent, the operation achieved the first two goals, but the flow of weapons and war materiel into Gaza has continued unabated, perhaps even at an accelerated pace. The failure to stop the arms flow has threatened to undermine the operation’s other achievements. With new weapons and war materiel at its disposal, Hamas has been able to rebuild its military infrastructure and, now, the deterrent effects of Cast Lead appear to be beginning to wear off.

Hamas’ rearmament since the war has been impressive. The IDF believes that aside from the Kornet anti-tank missiles the terrorist group now has, Hamas also has anti-aircraft missiles. In addition, Hamas has more accurate and longer-range rockets — for example, the Iranian Fajr-5, which puts Tel Aviv in range.

Hamas fighters and other militiamen have received training in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and from Iranian and Syrian instructors in Gaza. They have also been building Hezbollah-style underground bunkers in Gaza.

The IDF sees two aspects to these developments: On the one hand, Hamas will not want to put all this at risk by provoking Israeli prematurely. The IDF assessment is that Hamas is still very much in the throes of the rearming and rebuilding process. But a future showdown, when Hamas feels it is strong enough, cannot be ruled out.

“Two years after Operation Cast Lead, the situation in the Gaza Strip is different and calmer,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Sunday. But the situation is still potentially explosive, he said. He warned that Israel would not tolerate the continuation of the kind of rocket and mortar fire its civilians have witnessed over the last few weeks. But he gave no indication that the IDF would go beyond the limited, carefully controlled responses it has made so far.

Clearly, both sides are wary of sparking a major conflagration right now. But things could escalate very rapidly if a Gaza rocket inflicts Israeli casualties, or if an Israeli counterattack were to take a heavy Palestinian toll.

“The IDF,” Ashkenazi said, “is preparing for any scenario.” JTA Wire Service


With Egypt in turmoil, Israel rethinks readiness for multi-front war

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 18 February 2011
Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the outgoing chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, speaks at the Herzliya Conference Feb. 7 about what the Israeli military is doing to meet emerging threats. Yotam From

JERUSALEM – Although it’s still far from clear how the uprising in Egypt is going to play out, the volatility there is already raising questions in Israel about the Jewish state’s readiness for a war on several fronts.

The optimistic view in Israel is that a wave of democracy will sweep the Middle East from Cairo to Tehran, making war in any form less likely.

News Analysis

The pessimists — there are many here — see an ascendant Islamic radicalism taking hold in Egypt and elsewhere, thus compounding the military threats facing Israel.

In the Israel Defense Forces, generals are planning for worst-case scenarios.

In a series of farewell addresses this month, outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi offered a rare insight into how the Israeli military sees the emerging threats and what it is doing to meet them.

Ashkenazi spoke of “tectonic changes” in the region, leading to gains for the Iranian-led radical axis at the expense of the region’s moderates. He pointed to the growing dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamist shift in Turkey, and now the danger that Egypt, once the linchpin of the moderate camp, will fall into the orbit of radical Islam.

Things could get even worse, he said, when the Americans finally pull out of Iraq, leaving that Shiite-dominated country free to lurch toward the radicals.

In Ashkenazi’s view, all this means that the IDF needs to prepare for a significant broadening of the spectrum of threats against Israel. Not only does the IDF have to be ready to fight a simultaneous war on several fronts, it must be able to wage very different kinds of warfare — from “low intensity” irregular conflict with terrorists, to classical conventional warfare against regular armies, to missile warfare against states or powerful non-state actors like Hezbollah.

Even though the threat of terrorist or missile attack might seem more imminent, IDF doctrine under Ashkenazi has put the emphasis on war between regular armies.

“We must train for classic conventional warfare. It poses the biggest challenge, and from it we can make adaptations to other forms of warfare, but not vice versa,” Ashkenazi argued earlier this month at the 11th annual Herzliya Conference on national, regional, and global strategic issues. “It would be a mistake to train for low-intensity conflict and to think that the army will be ready overnight to make the switch to full-scale warfare.”

During Ashkenazi’s watch, which began in 2007 in the wake of the army’s much-criticized performance in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF focused on enhancing its already impressive accurate long-range firepower, rebuilding its neglected capacity for sweeping armored maneuvers, and honing coordination for joint ground, sea, and air strikes. Training on all relevant parameters was increased by an estimated 200 percent.

According to Ashkenazi, Israel’s “smart” guided missile firepower is at the cutting edge, and in some aspects the IDF may even be a world leader — for example, in its ability to pinpoint targets in the heat of battle and bring lethal fire to bear within seconds.

Despite the focus on conventional warfare, the IDF also developed specific capabilities for terrorist and missile warfare. This includes a four-layered anti-missile defense system starting with the Arrow missile, which is capable of intercepting long-range missiles at altitudes of above 50 miles, to the Iron Dome system for shooting down low-flying, short-range rockets.

In any future missile war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Ashkenazi says the IDF will apply conventional warfare skills, committing ground forces to attack the enemy in its embedded positions and considerably shortening the duration of the conflict.

Perhaps the most dramatic stride forward made by the IDF over the past few years is in field intelligence. If in 2006, its “bank” of targets in Lebanon numbered approximately 200, today the figure is in the thousands. Ashkenazi insists that firepower is meaningless unless there are targets of high military value.

“Show me your targets and I will tell you what your military achievement will be,” he declared at the Herzliya Conference.

All this adds up to a military doctrine that is likely to give the IDF the capacity to wage different kinds of warfare simultaneously on several fronts: the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, or RMA. Israel sees an edge here over potential foes: While Israel has inculcated this sophisticated, real-time interoperation of accurate long-range firepower, high-grade intelligence, command and control, and joint forces operations, its potential adversaries have not.

For comparison, the largely American-equipped and -trained Egyptian army — with some 700,000 troops (450,000 in the standing army and about 250,000 reserves), 12 ground force divisions, and approximately 3,400 tanks and 500 fighter planes — is considered by far the strongest in the Arab world. Some of the equipment is state of the art: Egypt has about 1,000 Abrams M1 tanks and just over 200 F-16 fighters.

But the Egyptians have not even begun to incorporate RMA.

“RMA requires a great deal of training of a very special kind,” Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told JTA. “In my view there are just two armies who have these capabilities at the highest level: the U.S. Army and the IDF. And simply buying the platforms does not give this kind of capability.”

Indeed, largely because of the RMA disparity, Shapir says that in the event of war between Israel and Egypt, he would expect a result similar to that achieved by the American army in Iraq in 2003.

“The American army in Iraq was not any bigger than Israel’s standing army. They had only three divisions, one of which came late,” Shapri said. “True, their air force was much bigger, but it was mainly because of the advantages of RMA that they defeated an army of 21 divisions in two weeks. I would expect the IDF to achieve a similar result, perhaps not quite so easily or with so few casualties.”

Not that anyone thinks the Egyptians will be quick to wage war on Israel or abrogate the peace treaty between the two countries. If Egypt did, at the very least it would forfeit the $1.3 billion it receives in annual American military aid.

Moreover, to launch a ground war against Israel, Egypt would have to order the American-led multinational peacekeeping force out of Sinai, the huge buffer zone between the two countries. That’s something a new regime would be unlikely to undertake lightly.

Nevertheless, Israeli generals already are insisting that in an increasingly unstable region, they will need more platforms and more troops. Otherwise the IDF, fighting on several fronts, could find itself overextended.

The change of events in Egypt portends a major argument in Israel over increasing the defense budget here.

JTA Wire Service

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