Israel isn’t as “strong and mighty” as many think

Khan has expressed support for Israel

Adnan Khan from the Revolution Observer argues that Israel is not as strong as it portrays and the surrounding Muslim countries can easily defeat it.

The kid­nap­ping and even­tual deaths of three Israeli teenagers led to the Israeli gov­ern­ment to call upon its reserves in order to launch an inva­sion of the Gaza Strip. Israel has named this opera­tion “Oper­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge”. Israeli offi­cials have gone to great lengths to high­light the oper­a­tion is the begin­ning of a lengthy offen­sive against “Pales­tin­ian mil­i­tants”. Israel was forced in the last Gaza flare up in 2012, named — “Oper­a­tion Pil­lar of Defence” – to seek a humiliating truce with Hamas as rock­ets were reach­ing Israel’s key cities includ­ing Tel Aviv.

Whilst Israel will use this cur­rent flare-up as cover to main­tain its bal­ance of power and achieve what it failed to do in 2012, Israel’s military-security doc­trine suf­fers from a stark real­ity which no amount of mil­i­tary devel­op­ment, incur­sions and col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment will change. This can be seen from five perspectives.

Location and demographics

Firstly, despite Israel’s aggressive posture and grand statements about its right to defend itself, the countries geog­ra­phy and demography works against it. A coun­try with less than 21,000km of land (smaller than Wales) Israel lacks strate­gic depth. At its narrow­est, Israel is a mere 10km wide. A hos­tile fighter could fly across all of Israel (40 nau­ti­cal miles wide from the Jor­dan River to the Mediter­ranean Sea) within four min­utes.

Israel is sur­rounded by Mus­lim nations. Egypt the largest coun­try in the region and with a popula­tion 11 times the size of Israel can field a mil­i­tary that will out­num­ber Israel. This means Egypt can absorb casu­al­ties at a far higher rate than Israel. This would mean the Egypt­ian military can engage in an extended, high-intensity bat­tle that would break the back of the Israeli mil­i­tary with a rate of attrition that Israel can­not sus­tain. If Israel was forced to simultaneously engage with the other countries it shares borders with, dividing its forces and supply lines it will run out of troops longbefore Egypt, even if Egypt was absorbing far more casualties.

Egypt has the biggest army in the region.
Egypt has the biggest army in the region.

Israel is also small in terms of its demog­ra­phy. Its pop­u­la­tion is around 8 mil­lion people. In com­par­i­son, there are 22 mil­lion peo­ple in Syria and 80 mil­lion in Egypt. Unable to field a large army com­pared to oth­ers in the region, due to its small pop­u­la­tion, Israel must rely on its reserves. Israel’s small pop­u­la­tion also increases its sen­si­tiv­ity to civil­ian and mil­i­tary losses. Los­ing just one war can mean the end of the coun­try and thus ever since 1947 Israel faces an exis­ten­tial sur­vival from the sur­round­ing states as well as non-state actors. The basic challenge of Israel is its national security requirements outstrip its military capabilities, making it dependent on an outside power.

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Israel’s econ­omy has been con­structed to deal with its pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion. She has an extremely small pop­u­la­tion, too small for govern­ment to col­lect suf­fi­cient taxes to fund a large indus­trial base. As a result Israel has focused on key indus­tries for its sur­vival. This means many indus­tries such as min­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing have been neglected. To com­pen­sate for this Israel relies on technology, mil­i­tary and for­eign aid trans­fers. It also relies on influ­en­tial Jews across the world, espe­cially in the US to influ­ence foreign poli­cies of these states in favour of Israel. Israel has a heavy depen­dency on the good­will of other states. If it was to lose favour it is too small a coun­try to be self-sufficient.

Fourthly, these real­i­ties makes invest­ment in mil­i­tary plat­forms is pro­hib­i­tively expen­sive because of the huge invest­ment required to keep a lead­ing posi­tion in those areas. Israel is also lim­ited in pur­chas­ing plat­forms from abroad, due to costs, even though it has con­sis­tently found for­eign patrons to its cause, politi­cians from its incep­tion have found that defence sales have come with strings attached. At the same time Israel faces a for­mi­da­ble threat from its neighbours, this quan­ti­ta­tive imbal­ance has been dealt with through the devel­op­ment of an indus­trial base that main­tains an asym­met­ri­cal Qual­i­ta­tive Mil­i­tary Edge (QME).

Know­ing it can­not com­pete with the region on quan­tity Israel has focused on main­tain­ing fewer but qual­i­ta­tively more advanced platforms. Israel’s end­less strug­gle will remain in hav­ing a qualita­tive advan­tage over its neigh­bours, some­thing its econ­omy has no capabil­ity to fund. If Egypt or Syria were to go through rear­ma­ment they would bank­rupt Israel.

Aggression or façade?

Lastly, Israel’s aggres­sive pos­ture is really a deter­rent to halt the sur­round­ing nations from ever con­tem­plat­ing an inva­sion – something the rulers con­tinue to abide by. Israel lacks the strate­gic depth for a long inten­sity bat­tle and aside from its air force, has no power pro­jec­tion capa­bil­i­ties. Israel has invested heav­ily in the Israeli Air Force (IAF) as its main fire­power. In 1953, Prime Min­is­ter David Ben-Gurion laid this out: “Dom­i­nance in the air, more than any other fac­tor, will ensure us vic­tory, and vice versa.” The empha­sis was on qual­ity for sur­viv­abil­ity in the Mid­dle East and that dic­tated an advanced strike force.

Hamas rally in Gaza
Hamas rally in Gaza

Israel faces a pre­car­i­ous mil­i­tary real­ity, which no amount of mil­i­tary devel­op­ment can change. Despite receiv­ing sig­nif­i­cant US funds and mil­i­tary equip­ment it has failed to change the fact that it is out­num­bered and sur­rounded. Hamas and Hezbollah have exposed Israel’s Achilles heel on numer­ous occa­sions despite the fact that sur­round­ing nations have large con­ven­tional armies.

Israel’s attempts at devel­op­ing indige­nous plat­forms have failed on most occa­sions as it lacks the econ­omy to fund such large projects. This is why it has come to rely on US hand outs and partnerships in devel­op­ing state of the art mil­i­tary plat­forms. Despite pos­sess­ing some capa­bil­ity, in a region where Israel is alone, with­out exter­nal help Israel would not have sur­vived.

This is the rea­son why Israel will always need to con­duct reg­u­lar raids as its weak­ness forces it to cre­ate a deter­rent pow­er­ful enough to ren­der any attack or pos­si­ble inva­sion not worth­while by the sur­round­ing Mus­lim nations.

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