The Iraqi Air Force has about 700 combat aircraft. It is the sole target of the U.S. Air Force and Navy, which have deployed in the gulf area more than 700 combat aircraft, 450 of them first-line sophisticated machines: F-14s, F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, F-111s and F-117s. This order of battle, and this ratio of forces, may serve as a yardstick against which the challenge of the Israeli Air Force can be judged: Having to deal with 1,800 combat airplanes of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Libya, the Israeli force employs about 600, of which only about 200 are modern, quality air machines.
How do we do it, then? How are we to survive in the treacherous, savage Middle Eastern environment, while so outnumbered? Well, of course, through our “qualitative edge.” “You can do it,” we are told, “because you are smart.” Though always a pleasure to hear, winning a war through compliments becomes increasingly hard.
As long as Israel employed top-line weapon systems many years before its enemies acquired them, qualitative edge was a concrete and meaningful term. However, recently our enemies have been supplied with the most sophisticated weapons. The Soviets, who traditionally used to be more cautious, now sell the Arab countries first-line aircraft such as MIG-29 and Su-24; the Western Europeans supply them with weapons such as Roland anti-aircraft missiles and the Gazelle attack helicopter. Now comes the United States.
In recent years, the United States has been selling Arab countries first-line weapon systems such as the F-18, F-16 and F-15, and more recently, also modern Patriot anti-aircraft batteries. But now we have entered into a new era, in which the United States is ready to sell our enemies some weapons that Israel does not have, such as multilauncher rocket systems and TOW-2A anti-tank missiles. With this, a new stage has been attained: Not only line-one weapons are to be sold, but even a “line-zero” system--the M1-A2 tank, which has not been manufactured yet and which even the U.S. Army will not field in the near future. Where, then, is the Israeli qualitative edge?
So it’s not easy. Being juxtaposed between Iraq, Syria and Libya is difficult enough, and with so much instability around, we surely do not need an eroding Israeli deterrence as an add-on destabilizer. As flying-by-wire in Arabic cannot be all that different from flying-by-wire in Hebrew, to have such sophisticated tools in the hands of Jihadists, who vow to use them against the Jewish state, is very troubling indeed. Something must be done, so that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s qualitative edge does not hang there like a shabby poster, occasionally flapping against the wall, producing some noises but not very useful.
The way is clear: Israel must be able to produce its own secret weapons, so that it can really surprise its enemies once they wage a new holy war against it. To be able to do that, two things must happen. Some basic technologies that have been inaccessible to Israel should be opened, and a mechanism should be determined that would allow Israel to invest more Israeli currency in its own weapon industry. In other words, instead of only 25% of the U.S. military aid being converted to Israeli shekels today, we should aim at a substantially higher sum.
With the enormous arms sales to Saudi Arabia--the delay last week of a $15-billion package notwithstanding--such an arrangement should not adversely affect the U.S. arms industry.
In addition, a new research-and-development cooperation package should be implemented, allowing Israeli and American weapon companies to enter into advanced joint projects. With shrinking U.S. defense budgets and the pressing need for smarter weapons, Israel can contribute many bright ideas, with a relatively low-cost R&D; and a quick response cycle.
Israel will never ask for American troops to defend it. We do, though, follow Churchill’s formulation in the early ‘40s, when Britain stood alone against enemies of the civilized democracies: Give us the tools and we shall do the job.