National Security: not just Iron Domes, but human capital and a resilient society
One year after Operation Protective Edge (OPE), Israel is one of the few actors who cares about what is going on in Gaza given the massive turmoil shaking the region. Thousands of trucks laden with relief supplies cross weekly from Israel to relieve the suffering of the civilian population in Gaza; however, instead of just focusing on Gaza, there is important context about what is going on inside Israel, right beside Gaza.
A year after OPE, Israel’s deterrence can still be appreciated. There have been eight rockets fired from Gaza at Israel since the end OPE, but this is a much smaller number compared to the previous rounds of violence. After the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, 217 rockets were fired, and following Pillar of Defense in 2012, 36 rockets were fired after the cease fire. The same trends are seen regarding anti-tank missiles and IED attacks; after Operation Cast Lead, 75 attacks were recorded, five after Pillar of Defense, but only three since last year.
That being said, the rocket and missile threats are here to stay. We know that Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets in 2006 and the different groups from Gaza fired at least 4,700 rockets last summer, so there will be obviously be more rocket fire in the future. Also, Hamas and Hezbollah understand that the Israeli communities and villages alongside its borders with Gaza and Lebanon represent a soft belly. Last summer, most of the Israeli casualties were in the border communities and the morale in these communities was low. Thus, terror organization will look for ways to spread fear among these communities, either by terror tunnels, infiltration or short range-rockets and mortar shells.
New threats will develop, such as armed drones with explosive warheads (the threat is already known as the IDF downed many such drones over the past decade), or offensive cross-border operations from Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north.
Any new confrontation will be more deadly and violent on the other side, as Hamas and Hezbollah have fully embraced the tactic of embedding their military assets into civilian populated areas in order to use the local population as human shields.
Faced with the massive threat posed by rockets fired at Israel’s population centers that sent five million Israelis racing for shelter, the achievements of Iron Dome were outstanding. During the Pillar of Defense operation, Iron Dome’s interception rate was 85% and went up to 90% last year during OPE, with reports indicating the defense establishment has since upgraded the system.
Far from sitting idle, the IDF is due to acquire its first operational medium-range intercepting system, David’s Sling within the next year that will give a wider area of protection than the Iron Dome. The fruitful defense cooperation with the U.S. is ongoing with the Juniper Cobra joint military exercise scheduled to take place again next year. IDF Brig.-Gen. Shahar Shohat was quoted in week-end newspapers that the US- Israel cooperation is excellent, based on common exercises, joint meetings and
However, despite the IDF military might, Israel’s security strength genuinely lies in its society – the solidarity and resilience of the general public. The population is put to the test every few years by violence from Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. A recent study by Prof. Momi Dahan (Israel Democracy Institute) shows extraordinary facets in the Israel’s society where the focus had been on alleged Ashkenazi-Sephardi sectarianism. Dahan found a clear improvement in Sephardic economic income over the last three decades. The socio-economic gap between the two Jewish sectors is diminishing due to higher education, inter-marriage and more political representation. Economic disparity is in constant decline since the 1990s, reflecting the success of Israel’s melting-pot.
With regard to Israel and Gaza we need only glance back to the previous century when Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, said he believed “the future of Israel lies in the Negev.” He also added that the “Negev is the cradle of our Nation, it lies in a dangerous, vulnerable region but one of tremendous potential”, apparently referring to the biblical verse”; the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1-2).
Surprisingly, since OPE, the Eshkol regional Council (bordering Gaza and Sinai, with some 14,500 people) has integrated 500 new residents and in most of communities it is hard to find vacant apartments. In 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu inaugurated the Advanced Technology Park (ATP) at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva that blends the Israeli academy, high-tech companies and the IDF. Even with the threats emanating from Gaza and the latest developments in Sinai, the opening of the ATP along with the transfer of high-level IDF units from the Tel Aviv region to the Negev will further
strengthen and empower Israel economically and security-wise.
Beersheva mayor Ruvik Danilovich believes the prosperity of Israel doesn’t lie in its gas fields, but rather in its human capital. Danilovich and Dahan indicate that Israel’s real challenges of the future are not from terror rockets or tunnels, but are embodied in the ability to look beyond the horizon, translating Ben Gurion’s vision into reality. The challenge is not only further investing in innovation and in R&D, but also integrating, socially and economically, the Ultra-Orthodox, Arab and Israeli-Ethiopian sectors into the core Israeli society. In these lay the real secrets of Israel’s impalpable defensive shield.