The Impact of the “Arab Spring” on Israel

I think that it is time for those of us who have been tracking events in this region for the past three years to get out of the news sluice for a moment and assess what we have learned, if anything.


As I was making up my own checklist, one thing that amazed me was just how far the tentacles of the Arab revolts had spread; and they have spread in ways and to places that are not immediately apparent.


In particular, I found that these revolts, which had almost nothing to do with Israel, have dramatically altered Israel’ strategic outlook and strategic posture in ways that will affect not only Israel’s military posture, but also its foreign relations and its economy in the years to come.


Among other things, I think that it is becoming highly evident that Israel’s security is being undermined because the country is running out of the brains needed to prevent and to fight wars. And, believe it or not, the bloodletting in the Arab states is costing and will cost Israelis a small fortune. Not only that, because Bibi is pretending that he can run a modern state effectively without high taxation, the ways Israelis are paying for their security is now, increasingly, being hidden—and that is one of the reasons why Israel’s middle class is atrophying.


But before I get into the details of all that stuff, I want to make a few small observations about a very big and important subject. Islam has always been based on the supposition that tribalism should and can be eliminated through the belief in a universalist religion. In other words, if everyone believes the same things, then the centrifugal forces created by jealousies, old disputes and differences in belief and behaviour can be overcome. That belief, though, meant that a society based on common beliefs had to be led by a strong leader who was both knowledgeable about religion and competent politically…and thus capable of policing the believers lest they stray from the accepted path.


Israel, therefore, has always based its strategic planning on the assumption that each Arab country will always have a single senior leader who, if nothing else, is a contact man, a source of information about that country’ intentions, and/or a figure against whom Israel can direct its propaganda. For that reason, for example, forty years ago, Israel could afford to focus almost entirely, and design its military budget to cope with what a strong leader named Gamal Abdul Nasser, said and did. When the Egyptian army focused on creating a classic open battlefield tank and infantry corps, Israel had no choice but to respond by building a better, if not bigger, open battlefield army.


This model first started to break down when some Arab leaders, particularly Yassir Arafat began adopting terrorism as their model for waging war. The old model was not wholly undermined, though, because each terrorist group had a strong leader who could and would impose lasting group discipline.


Today, however, as a result of the advent of rapid communications and international travel, an entirely new model is beginning to emerge. That model began to take shape in Iraq and has since grown in complexity in Syria.


Essentially, the model proposes that modern political Islam can create a permanent, global military force that is not dependent on a single leader. The idea is that political Islam can establish irregular, unofficial reserve militia units in many countries. When the need arises, Islamic leaders anywhere can then call upon these militias for assistance, mobilize them into a single army and help bring them to a battlefield in time of need.


In other words, Islamic leaders no longer need to rely on getting enough recruits in a particular country before launching a major offensive to depose that country’s leadership—or to threaten neighbouring countries. Instead, pan-Islamic leaders, such as those in al Qaeda who may have no historical connection to a particular country, can launch civil or regional wars using religiously-driven, self-activating and self-ruled cadres that can come from anywhere—whether that be Afghanistan or Germany. Not only that, these soldiers can train anywhere, whether it be in places like Pakistan or Lebanon. And because their first loyalty is to Islam, they are willing to wage war anywhere.


One truly unusual feature of this army, as we have seen in Syria, is that because these forces are voluntary, the fighters can also be part-time soldiers who take breaks from their regular jobs, hop on a plane to where a battle may be under way, pick up a gun, and start killing until family obligations or other matters encourage them to go home for a while… until the whim to kill overcomes them once again.


The ability of these kinds of irregular units to wage war has increased geometrically by the development of modern, miniaturized weapons. In the past for example, a well-trained team of as many as four artillerymen was needed to operate an anti-tank or anti-aircraft gun. Today, a shoulder-fired missile carried by a single soldier can bring down a fighter jet, or destroy a tank.


The potential impact of these jihadi groups should not be underestimated. We have already been able to see a few frightening examples of just how effective this form of warfare can be. For example, it led to the defeat of the largest, most-powerful, most technologically sophisticated army on earth and the economic near-bankruptcy of the largest economy in the world—those of the United States.


So successful has this new form of warfare been, and so unsuccessful was the United States in finding an antidote, that the only so-called, super-power in the world today has decided to shy away from any major military confrontation that could include this form of warfare as part of the battlefield scenario.


However, Israel is not the United States. And Israel cannot afford to ignore what has emerged as a strategic threat that could eventually evolve into an existential threat if the means to combat it cannot be found.


Tactically, Chief of Staff Benny Ganz, basing himself on pioneering work by his predecessors, has gone a long way to addressing the problems that have been raised by this change in the nature of warfare. However, because of the exigencies of coalition politics, the Israeli government’s strategic response to this threat, at least so far, has been haphazard, confused, and at times, non-existent.


Here is one example of what the army says it is is doing successfully.


Instead of expecting a multi-tasked unit to do many things in a mediocre fashion, as was often the case in the past, increasingly, IDF is engaging in training for highly-specialized units whose doctrine for action is based on a careful analysis of the features of the anticipated future enemy.


As mentioned earlier, Islam has always believed in the idea of an umma, or single nation. However, in practice, with the exception of the period immediately following Mohammed’s death, the Islamic world had always been divided up politically and geographically.


In practical terms, for example, if you wanted to do battle with the Taliban, you had to send troops to where the Taliban were based—in Afghanistan. Sensible countries—and in this particular case the United States was not sensible—would first study the geography and social structures used in the country before sending in its troops to do battle. It is almost a truism that without that knowledge, no general can come up with an effective military strategy and set of tactics to fight the war, and no diplomat can figure out how to develop an effective negotiating strategy and set of tactics that will enable him to end the war.


However, too often those charged with acquiring that information were incapable of doing so because they were generalists.


The United States, for example, invaded Afghanistan without having a basic corps of Pashto or Dari speakers—and the results showed.


This basic work of figuring out who you are fighting is usually the job of Military Intelligence. That is not its whole job, of course. But it is a very important one…and it is one in which the Israel’s MI units are deeply engrossed.


As can be seen in Syria, the Israeli MI’s job has been complicated beyond all previous recognition because, among other things, the participants in that war don’t just come from one country, they come from dozens of countries; and each group has a different language and a different pattern of deference. In other words, each group has different people whom they listen to and obey.


Until patterns of deference are be mapped accurately, spy organizations can’t figure out whom to target; armies can’t decide who is worth killing; and diplomats cannot make plans about whom they should negotiate with. That mapping can only take place if the language the opposing force uses can be translated and its nuances highlighted.


Israel has no choice but to follow the events taking place in Syria, lest the warriors there choose Israel as their next target. In order to track the evolution of that war in all its aspects, Israel must be able to gather and interpret what is being said, and especially the messages being passed among the various participants. At least according to leaks that have been put out, MI is claiming that it has developed very sophisticated electronic language translation capabilities


But that is not the only job that is within the scope of Military Intelligence’s mandate that is changing.


Another simple and well-known example is that, instead of living in fixed installations, such as camps used by regular armies that can be bombed easily, the Syrian jihadists constantly move around. Often the only way to track them is through the use of electronic means such as radars, drones and satellites.


Another job MI has been tasked with is to respond to the fact that countries and even tiny terrorist groups today can wage full-scale, devastating warfare without firing a rifle shot. All they need is the skill and desire to hack into another country’s computers. The IDF, for example, has already admitted that a Gaza hacker had broken into Ministry of Defence computers at least 6 times. Israel as a whole gets hit by hundreds of cyber attacks every day.


One factor that is too often ignored by many, especially Israeli chauvinists, is that MI’s job is not just determined by what the enemy is doing. It must be equally sensitive to changes in perception that are taking place within Israel itself. In fact, sometimes, MI has to think in two polar opposite ways at the same time.


For example, because of their belief in the intrinsic value of martyrdom, Islamic fighting units are willing to take chances other armies would be hesitant to accept.


By contrast, one of the most notable modifications in thinking that the IDF has had to undergo in recent years arose because the Israeli public has become less tolerant of accepting unnecessary Israeli casualties. That change in Israeli public attitudes, especially in the wake of the fault-ridden 2006 operation in Lebanon has led to a demand that there be more accurate intelligence before a military operation is launched.


It is because of a need to cope with a multitude of problems like those, and others that have arisen since the Arab revolts began, that Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate has now become the largest single unit within the IDF.


It has long been a cliché to say that successful armies use more brains than brawn. But now, in Israel, that has become a fact. And the implications of that fact are so great as to be almost indescribable.


What follows is a short précis of how some (but certainly not all) specific tentacles of the so-called “Arab Spring” are affecting Israel’s Military Intelligence’s capacity to do the jobs it has been assigned, and how some domestic Israeli organizations are preventing MI from doing its job as well as it could…and are thus undermining Israel’s strategic posture..


According to the IDF’s latest set of plans, MI is scheduled to grow almost exponentially in the years to come as its responsibilities and the tasks it is assigned expand.


To cover some of the costs of that growth in the size and the scope of MI’s work, the military has already decided to shut down a whole series of old fashioned reserve army units and to mothball or scrap or sell hundreds, and thousands of obsolescent or obsolete tanks, planes, boats and other pieces of heavy equipment.


However, the general staff is already facing a crisis that it cannot solve alone. All that money saved by cutting back on reserve units cannot buy the MI the soldiers its needs to do its job.


There is a critical shortage of potential MI recruits. Among the many reasons for this, the actions of two large, domestic interest groups stand out. Each group claims that it has the survival of the Jewish people and/or the survival of Israel as its most important goal. However, the fact is that both are selfishly holding up the production of soldiers needed to protect the country.


As I mentioned earlier, Israel is running out of brains. The days when Israeli soldiers were simple cannon fodder are long gone. Today, precisely because of the increasing sensitivity to wartime casualties and the need to assess more clearly what Israel’s potential enemies are capable of doing, there is an increasing dependence on and need for skilled, trained, technicians to operate anti-missile defenses, aerial drones, unmanned land patrol vehicles and robotic speed boats. As well, infantrymen are now expected to know how to use sophisticated tactical computers. Even the most rear echelon logistics management sergeant is expected to be completely at home with spreadsheets.


The competition between almost all the units in the IDF for the best and brainiest manpower has become intense—and so MI and other established elite units, such as the air force and the various special forces, can no longer act as a cartel when courting these types of recruits.


Not only that, up to now, the IDF has been able to rely on the self-taxation that those parents, mainly members of the middle class in the centre of the country, have imposed on themselves so that their children will be given an adequate education…an education that the military, in turn, can capitalize on. Among other things, many of these parents give their children private math or foreign language lessons that, when the kids turn 18, become crucial components of Israel’s order of battle.


However, it is now clear that the body of potential conscripts for units such as the 8200 electronics intelligence unit is no longer large enough to fill the army’s needs; and a new source of trained minds must be found urgently.


The Knesset recently debated a bill intended to force Haredim to join the army. But, if the truth be told, the army was not all that interested in building up a Haredi military corps. Because of their narrow education, Haredi recruits can only be posted to non-critical or artillery fodder units. The army gets very little. However, Haredim are very costly soldiers because of their need for special facilities, special schedules and, often high salaries so that they can support their families. The reason that they are nearly useless in a modern army is that Haredi youngsters don’t have the math skills the military needs. Put simply, in Israel, dressing young Haredi men in olive drab uniforms is essentially a political, labor market and social issue not a military need.


Among other things, what the IDF really wanted to get out of the Knesset debate on the so-called “Equal National Service Bill,” was equal service by the more highly-intelligent religious male soldiers who have studied math and who now spend their military service in the Yeshivat Hesder programme, where they only do 16 months (now 17 months) of actual military service instead of the standard 3 years.


As well, the old days, when women soldiers were expected to be not much more than secretaries and clerks during their military service are now long gone. Well-educated, middle class women have become one of the few new major personnel pools that the army can use to fill the positions opening up in the brain-intensive units. The continuing ability of young women to avoid doing military service simply because their can declare that they are religious, has become a dangerous anachronism.


The need for female brains is one of the main reasons why, in the midst of the debate on how to draft Haredi soldiers, the IDF inserted an entirely new demand—to increase female military service by 4 months.


But, as with the attempt to reform the Yeshivat Hesder system, the army failed to get approval for its requests because religious political needs, not national security needs won out.


As an aside, it is worth noting that it should be obvious to anyone with even a modicum of common sense that the recent campaign by the chief rabbis against women’s military service shows just how out of touch and irrelevant these products of closed-minded yeshivas really are. It also demonstrates how anti-Zionist the state positions that they hold have become.


The army’s manpower needs have led it to undertake some unusual experiments. For a very long time, the IDF has been one of the most welcoming military bodies in the world to gay recruits. More recently, MI established a new, super-secret unit made up entirely of autistic youngsters. After extensive and intensive testing the IDF found that many autistic people are not only exceedingly bright, they have certain critical, highly-acute skills the IDF desperately needs, but which are in short supply in the broader population. In the past, these highly-valued recruits would have been excluded from military service entirely.


One measure designed to increase the MI’s overall soldier intake has been the establishment of special classes in the country’s periphery to train high school students for needed MI jobs. However, it is already clear that this approach, and the other experiments, will not produce enough of the needed conscripts because the pool from which candidates for this training can be drawn is too small. In other words, the general level of education in the rural areas is simply too low to produce enough candidates for advanced studies in subjects such as physics, chemistry and mathematics.


Put very bluntly: The results of math matriculation exams are no longer just a matter for tut-tutting. They indicate that Israel is now facing a real strategic security danger because it has neglected the education of the country’s children for too long.


The only way in which the army’s future needs can be met is if the educational level in the rural areas is raised significantly—and/or if the middle class can be enlarged. However, that can only be done if there is a more equitable distribution of wealth in the country so that a middle class willing and able to pay for private lessons also grows…and if more money is sunk into general public education, especially in the periphery of the country.


The thing is, as figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics have shown, in recent years, the middle class here has shrunk because the cost of living has risen more than incomes.


The underlying reason for that syndrome is that is the politicians have been seeking the support of ever-narrower constituencies whose only concern is their hobby horses and not the commonweal. In particular, the commonweal of the middle class is being sacrificed in order to satisfy the selfish demands of relatively small groups that know how to wield political influence effectively.


Worse still, in order to fund their primary election campaigns, these politicians, precisely because they do not have the support of a broad cross-section of the voting public, have become ever more dependent on these selfish groups to pay for or work on their electoral campaigns. The need for multiple, cumulative donations in cash or kind for primary election campaigns has now led too many of this nation’s politicians to take a soft approach to controlling narrow-interested political minorities, business monopolies and cartels; and to regulating outlandish business profits.


The end result has been that many Israelis today suffer from the Stockholm syndrome, in which they express empathy for those who do them daily harm. One of the best examples, is the steady electoral support many of those living in the periphery give to those parties that would rather have public monies spent on settlement in the West Bank and on yeshivas than on raising the education level of those in the development towns who have suffered from a lack of sufficient education budget support for 3 generations.


Another outcome of this form of political malpractice has been the fattening of businesses, whose profits have led to higher consumer costs, which, in turn, have reduced the middle class’s capacity for self-taxation…upon which the military has traditionally depended.


It may seem logically absurd but the truth is that the middle class is being asked to subsidize the cost of defending the wealthy’s fixed assets, such as property that can be destroyed by a rocket attack.


But that is not the only distortion in the economy that is undermining Israelis’ capacity to defend themselves. Housing prices, as anyone familiar with the Israeli economy today knows, are getting out of control because the government, in order to pay for the spending on all the country’s special interests, needs to raise ever more revenues. One of the easiest ways to get that money is by figuring out how to get the most tax money and the most money for the government-owned land from every newly-built home.


The issue this situation creates can be put very simply. After paying an exorbitant sum for an apartment, who, in the middle class, has the money for the self-taxation that pays for private math lessons upon which the military now depends?


As for the periphery, the rural education systems would love to take on the job that the army wants to assign to them. The trouble is that these regions do not have enough income from the wealthy—in other words, from industrial or commercial municipal taxes—to pay for such a boost in education.


The only realistic, potential source of funding is the central government. But the government, after gouging the middle class, claims that it is still strapped for cash.


However, it is certainly interesting that the budgets for Haredi yeshivas that do not even teach the most basic core subjects needed by the military were cut back when the last budget was presented. But now most of the money to these institutions has been restored.


Another group that had its budgets cut was the settlers in the West Bank. But now, not only have their budgets been restored, the government has announced that it is cutting the level of income tax levied on some West Bank residents.


Israel may finally be reaching the point where it can no longer avoid prioritizing spending. Any measure of common sense indicates that, in the wake of the lessons the Arab Spring is teaching Israelis, the current system of funding special interests in return for political favours is bankrupt.


However, the system remains so entrenched that it may take a crisis in Israel on the same scale that the Arab countries are now going through for real reform to take place in Israel.


To illustrate the kinds of new spending challenges that await Israel, here is a weird and wonderful, true strategic adventure that is still underway.


It is a story about how Israel’s wise men ignored a well-known, major, strategic problem, then made a terrible planning mistake while rushing to overcome the consequences of their previous failure, but then emerged from the mess they had created while appearing to have been prescient geniuses.


It is a story that may make you laugh or cry or throw up your hands in disbelief…or come to the conclusion that the proverbial Wise Men of Chelm are the Messiah and they have all arrived in Israel on white asses with each carrying a jerry can…Or maybe, for the religious determinists among you, the story will make you believe that while God has mercy on Moslems but He is actually on Israel’s side.


In order for your minds not to be totally boggled by this story, I must take you through this tale step by step.


First, if you hadn’t noticed it because of the flooding in England, the huge snowfall in what was once Yugoslavia and the ice storms in the southern United States, Israel and the rest of the Levant are currently in the midst of yet another drought. And so, the Arab revolts, in their peculiar and convoluted and very bloody way have highlighted once again the way that climate change has become a major strategic issue that all the states in the Middle East must confront immediately.


After almost stumbling into a drought-caused financial and social abyss, Israel became the only state in the Levant that did confront the region’s growing shortage of water. That move has now given Israel a strategic advantage that, at least at this moment, is immeasurable and useable.


In 1992, semi-arid Israel was being inundated by the arrival of about 1 million immigrants from the just-collapsed Soviet Union. All of them needed water to drink, water for baths and showers and water that someone else could use to could grow food for them.


A blue ribbon panel of experts recommended that Israel immediately begin desalinating water. Israeli scientific research companies took up the challenge and invented designs for desalination plants that could produce fresh water relatively cheaply and efficiently. The designs were praised world-wide, and the companies began building their plants everywhere…except in Israel.


Here was but another example that, because the Israeli government had to fund special interest groups for cabinet coalition reasons, there was not enough money left to deal with what experts had deemed “an urgent national emergency.”


Not only that, the economy went into a spin at the turn of the millennium when the internet bubble burst and the second intifada was launched. So, while at the time, there was still lots of money available for settlements and yeshivas, there wasn’t enough money available to do much else such as fix the collapsing general education system or repair the bankrupt health system or build roads—or build desalination plants.


But then, to top things off, one of the worst droughts in history struck. People were urged to save water, and were fined if they didn’t. The government finally realized that it had to do something. It decided to issue tenders for desalination plants based on what is called the BOT system—build, operate, transfer.


Put simply, oligarchs were invited to make a riskless investment in a project that would yield a guaranteed profit that would be greater than if the person involved put his or her money into other forms of low-risk investment, such as American government bonds.


How do you pull that one off? Simple. Impose another hidden tax—this time on water consumers (even the poorest of the poor)—who have no choice but to pay.


The system worked this way: Rich investors with lots of money were invited to build desalination plants using their own capital. The investors were given a guarantee that the government would buy a certain amount of fresh water for a given number of years, after which the ownership of the plant, which by then would be obsolescent or obsolete, would be transferred to the state. If the plant needed refurbishing, the government could then issue a new tender and the whole scheme could begin again.


What made the deal even more attractive was the fact that, if the operator of the plant could find ways of producing the water more cheaply, it could increase its profit quite dramatically. And that is precisely what happened once natural gas became available.


The game is called “smoke and mirrors, and bunnies in top hats taken to the fourth power.” Naturally Israel’s oligarchs were enthralled by the idea, and all of them wanted a piece of the action.


Capitalism-favoring governments love this system because, since the tax needed to pay for everything is hidden in the price of the goods or services produced—in this case water—it can claim that it has not raised taxes.


But the Israeli government did more than just that. It decided to try to resolve a whole bunch of other problems, especially political problems, at the same time.


Among other things, it decided to reform the whole water delivery system in the country.

The most obvious needed water management reform, cutting Mekorot water company’s workers’ salaries and perks was ignored.


But one major project that was undertaken was, in all fairness, no less important.


One of the principles of the water management reform was to ensure that the water pipes would be kept in good shape for the first time. That meant taking responsibility for maintaining the water distribution system out of the hands of the municipalities. Too often the local elected councils had failed to replace leaky pipes. Instead they had used the profits from the sale of water for things like paying entertainers to appear in public squares on Independence Day.


As part of the overhaul, the government placed responsibility for water distribution in the hands of newly-established state­-owned water distribution companies. Initially, there were to be only 13 such companies. But the need to find sinecures for political cronies led the politicians to set up 55 such companies—each with its own administration. Since then, the price of water has, in some cases, tripled. Not only that, VAT on these inflated water bills (a whole new source of government taxation) was imposed for the first time.


Channel 10, using the freedom of information law, has been trying to find out how much these companies are making, how much they are spending on administrative staff, and how effective they have been in providing quality service. So far to no avail.


By the end of this year, because of the interest of the oligarchs, Israel will have the capacity to desalinate 510 million cubic meters of water a year. That is 40 percent more fresh water than the experts had previously projected that the country would actually need. And more desalination plants are scheduled to be built in the next 5 years.


Israel now has so much desalinated water that, during the most recent fall, the water distribution planners announced that they were projecting that there would be a need to cut back on pumping water cheaply from underground natural reservoirs so that the government could fulfill the country’s prior commitments to the tycoons.


If I were a deep believer in divine intervention, I would say that, at this point, God, seeing the mess that the Israelis had gotten themselves into, again constructed the only possible combination of events that could have allowed the Israelis to escape the consequences of their foolishness…and actually come out of the affair looking like sober, omniscients.


So, first, Israel and its neighbours, as I said earlier, were hit by another drought. Jerusalem, for example, this year had the lowest waterfall in January in 150 years.


Under the terms of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement, the two sides decided to swap water supplies. Israel was given permission to pump water from wells on the Jordanian side of the border in the Arava in order to grow winter vegetable crops for sale in Europe. In return, the Israelis began pumping water from Lake Kinneret to Jordan so that Jordanian farmers could grow crops for export to the Gulf States.


However, Jordan is both more arid and has a greater birthrate than Israel. Thus, it is not surprising that it is also more susceptible to droughts. One such drought hit in 1998. When the drought struck, the Jordanians secretly requested and the Israelis agreed to pump more water from the Kinneret to Jordan. A precedent was set.


The big, big drought that began in 2006 hit Jordan as badly as it did Israel. More importantly, it sparked the revolt in Syria. That revolt, which has since become a civil war, has now resulted in the arrival of a million refugees in Jordan. Jordan lacks the means necessary to satisfy the refugees’ most basic water needs. So, Israel agreed to step in, and precisely because it has more water production capacity than it now needs, it has agreed to sell Jordan 20 million cubic meters of water.


Oxfam, are you listening? Without that water the Syrian refugees could not have survived.


In one swift, totally unexpected move, Israel’s water production surplus disappeared, and Israel’s all-important strategic link to Jordan was strengthened.


As an aside, I just wonder how the BDS folks would react if they knew the horrible truth that an Arab country is buying something from Israel. And I also wonder what Israel’s critics would say if they understood just how much money Israel is laying out to provide aid to the Syrian refugees.


For reasons no one could have anticipated, Jordan has now become a major customer for Israeli water. The problem Jordan faces is that it is a relatively poor country and it can’t really afford to buy as much Israeli water as it needs if the price of water is based on the cost of desalination. Worse still, Jordan’s inherent water shortages have been exacerbated by the arrival in Jordan of the Syrian refugees.


The solution? Pure Chelm and pure Israeli bureaucratic solution-making………force Israel’s already-burdened water consumers to pay yet another hidden tax.


The way this form of taxation works is as follows: Israel delivers water to Jordan at what is essentially the cost of pumping it out of the Kinneret—4.5 US cents per cubic metre. This is water that could otherwise have been sent cheaply through the national water carrier to Israeli consumers. Instead, though, to compensate for the cutback of the flow into the national water carrier, expensive desalinated water, costing about 50 cents to produce and store is being sent to Israeli households.


Think of it. Using the kind of political sleight of hand that would have made an old-fashioned Mapai apparatchik proud, the Likud-led government was able to use a hidden tax on water to keep the political cronies who had been hired as water company administrators in the salaries to which they have become accustomed; and the oligarchs, whose largesse they will need when the next party primary elections take place were able to make a greater profit than they had dreamed of.


But the great strategic coup was that, by supplying water at a subsidized price to Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israel was able to help keep him on the throne.


Close relations between Israel and Jordan are nothing new. After all, we now know that King Hussein warned Israel about the impending Egyptian and Syrian offensive in 1973.


However, for a while last year, it looked as though those ties might fray. Members of the Jordanian Moslem Brotherhood and a growing number of Salafist jihadis had taken to the streets in Amman and elsewhere to protest many things—not least the peace agreement with Israel.


They demanded a great deal, but what everyone in Jordan knew was that if the protesters had gotten their wish, the Jordanian government would have been totally unable to supply agricultural and drinking water. For that reason—and  others—the protests never reached the point where they threatened the king.


And by providing additional subsidized water to help Abdullah take care of the Syrian refugees, Israel has enabled the King to create a strategic, intelligence presence among the refugees that the king will be able to use if and when the refugees return home. In other words, Israel will now probably be getting important military intelligence whose acquisition was cheap at the price paid.


It is also not at all unimaginable that Jordan may, at some point, may extend the water pipeline  from Israel to Syria. A more likely scenario would see Jordan take water from the existing pipeline, and put it into tanker trucks for delivery to Syria. Once such deliveries become regularized, this would give the Jordanians a major strategic threat for use against any Syrian government that may emerge from the current bloodshed.


Even if that does not occur, Jordan’s influence over its border area with Syria will be a critical aspect of Israel’s strategic safety in the years to come because Israel’s relationship with Jordan is on the verge of turning into an unwritten alliance between the two states.


A sign of just how much Israel’s relationship with Jordan has strengthened recently, and in what was truly an unusual move, the last time Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Amman, the Jordanians gave the trip extensive publicity while it was still underway. In the past, such meetings had usually been kept secret—or at best, they were revealed to have taken place only long after the parlay had ended.


Clearly, the Jordanians had a very good strategic reason for giving the visit so much media play this time. And that reason is quite simple. In the wake of the violence in Syria and the rise in influence of the jihadists there, Israel and Jordan are treating their joint border with Syria as a single strategic entity. In effect, the Jordanians are warning the warring parties in Syria not to mess with Jordan because that would mean messing with Israel as well.


It’s worth remembering that a similar, semi-open alliance was established in September 1970, when the Syrian army invaded Jordan. That time, to the surprise of many, the Jordanians soundly defeated the Syrian expeditionary force—but only after Israel had massed its armoured forces along the Jordan River, ready to come to the Jordanian Legion’s assistance if necessary.


Today, the two countries are facing another, but not totally dissimilar threat.However, unlike what took place in1970, they have chosen to send out joint warning messages. The most obvious reason for this change in tactics is that there is a genuine concern in both countries that even if the Assad regime survives, Syria may be effectively divided into spheres of influence, with the Alawites possibly preserving their rule just in Damascus and the coastal region, while the jihadist rebels may manage to create a permanent presence in the more distant regions of the country, such as the area adjacent to the borders with Israel and Jordan.


That threat may, at first glance, seem exaggerated. However, it is not all that different from the one Israel already faces along its southern border, where jihadis in the Sinai are successfully thwarting efforts by the Egyptian army to reassert control along the border with Israel.


It is always important to remember that both the Syrian and the Sinai threats are products of the Arab Spring.


To me, one of the most fascinating things these two strategic dangers have produced is that Israel is now using a complex system of signaling in an attempt to make its position clear to all the sides involved. Rather remarkably, I haven’t seen anything in the media about this signaling system.


It’s hard to pinpoint just when the signaling began. But it certainly was introduced not long after Israel had made its post-Arab Spring defensive posture known in public statements by Israeli officials.


These officials, including Defence Minister Yaalon, made it clear that Israel has no intention of intervening in Syria in support of any side fighting in the civil war there; and it will not send its forces into the Sinai in violation of the peace agreement.


But that does not mean that the IDF intends to be passive.


Here is how the new Israeli tactics are being applied in practice


Every once in a while over the past few months, a shell or two has been fired into the Israeli-controlled Golan by some armed group in Southern Syria. Most of those tank shells and mortar bombs came from Syrian army units, but there were occasional shots fired by rebel groups as well.


Israel has responded in a very different way there than it does when there is fire from Gaza into Israel. When there is rocket fire from Gaza, Israel usually responds with tank or artillery fire—or bombs dropped from a plane…or missile fire from a helicopter or drone.


These ways of responding are relatively cheap. A 155 mm artillery shell retails in the US for about 440 dollars, and a hellfire missile costs about 58,000-70,000 dollars. In its announcement from the army spokesman that it has retaliated, Israel invariably emphasizes the type of weapon it has used. The idea behind this response is to send a specific set of messages. One of the most important and obvious is that the IDF knows who to target—and how.


By contrast, when a shell or mortar bomb is fired at an Israeli position on the Golan, the Israeli army spokesman always makes sure to announce that Israeli soldiers responded to the provocation by firing a Tammuz missile. A Tammuz missile costs a half a million shekels–or about 142 thousand dollars.


The use of two different types and two differently-priced weapons is meant to send a clear message. To Gaza the message is: If there is an attack on Israeli civilian centres, even though Israel will launch a retaliatory strike at a specific military target, it will use a weapon that can cause, what is euphemistically called “collateral damage” because it may not be perfectly accurate or it may create enough of a blast so that civilians are likely to be injured too.


The message to the civilians in Gaza is: You civilians must also share responsibility for the attack on Israel because you don’t stop the terrorists from firing their rockets or missiles.


The message to those living in the villages in southern Syria is: We understand that you don’t want trouble in your area. For that reason, we will continue to use the Tammuz missile if, for example, armed rebels take over a single room in a house of a villager. In that case, the highly-accurate Tammuz will, as has already been shown, fly through the window of the room, explode and kill the people in that room, but leave everyone else in the building unhurt.


But there is even more to the message: Essentially, the use of the Tammuz says “we also know that jihadis are making a sustained effort to enter into you area. For that reason, Israel is willing to spend a lot of money on a very accurate missile that will reduce, if not eliminate collateral damage so long as you, in the future, do not collaborate with the jihadis.”


One of the best examples of another form of careful, deliberate signaling has been the way that Israeli health care has been provided to the southern Syrian villagers.


Israel has given considerable publicity to its efforts to provide medical assistance to those wounded in the civil war. At first glance, this may appear to be very similar to the medical assistance given to the southern Lebanese villagers in the late 1970s and 1980s as part of what was called at the time “the Good Fence.”


The Good Fence though was based on a different system of providing aid. A full-time clinic was established at the formal border-crossing between Lebanon and Israel at Metullah. Treatment was coordinated with the mukhtars, the Christian Phalange party militiamen and village elders in the area.


On the Golan, the story is very different. Israel has made no formal move to approach the Syrian village elders because that might end up branding those elders as collaborators, who would then be subject to reprisal by both the government and the extremist jihadis. Instead, it was decided that no mediator need take part in the operation. Syrian Golan villagers, as individuals, can approach any Israeli military outpost positioned along the border fence. If the person’s condition can be treated by the outpost’s medic, the person is treated and sent back on his or her way—and, very deliberately, no signs are left that he or she had visited the Israelis.


However, if the person’s condition is more serious, the area field hospital is alerted, and the patient is taken there. Unlike the clinic at the Good Fence, the field hospital at the Golan fence is not usually manned. When needed, doctors, nurses and technicians are helicoptered in. If the patient’s condition is sufficiently serious, he or she is finally taken by ambulance to an Israeli hospital.


It is very interesting that Israel does publish the figures on the number of Syrians who are hospitalized in Israel. There have been about 600 such people so far. But the army spokesman has refused to say how many have been treated at Israeli military outposts and then sent on their way. This is likely because, after treatment, these individuals may very well become part of a list of contacts who the Israelis assume Israeli reconnaissance units may need to approach should armed jihadist groups begin flooding the area adjacent to the frontier fence.


Incidentally, the fence itself has been newly rebuilt, and is very similar to the one that Israel constructed along the border with Egypt. And, it too is yet another example of the increasing role being played by MI and its brains trust.

The sophisticated electronics attached to the fence are not merely defensive in nature. The first generation of fences that Israel began building in the 1970s—which were revolutionary at the time— was primarily designed to alert front line troops when potential infiltrators were approaching the barrier. The new type of fence enables those forces to track movements long before the potential infiltrators begin to actually approach the barrier. Incidentally this is a job partially done by the autistic youngsters.


In addition, the monitors and cameras placed on and above the fence are but one part of a much larger system of high-altitude balloons, terrain-following radars, drones and other devices capable of spotting and tracking anyone moving around anywhere within tens of kilometers of the cease-fire line. This system is far more sensitive than anything the Jordanians or the Egyptian now have.


This then enhances Israeli security in ways that would otherwise be impossible. It enables the Israelis to assemble intelligence “goods” that they can then use or trade with the Jordanians and Egyptians, who can then use that information to combat what they too consider are bad guys using their territory.


For, if nothing else, the Arab Spring has highlighted the ongoing value of the oldest aphorism in the strategic affairs business: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The revolts have created and fostered a whole boatload of new jihadi groups that are declared enemies not only of Israel, but of anyone more liberal than they. In effect, they have thus become bait that Israel can use for making friends…or at least acquaintances with common interests.


So, to sum up, despite all the uncertainties that the Arab revolts have created, and despite the BDS movement and growing anti-Israeli feeling in Europe, Israeli strategists can say with reasonable certainty that, taken for the all and all,  their country has more, more important, and more strategically-useful friends and acquaintances than it has ever had.  But everyone should also always remember that keeping those friendships and acquaintanships intact means ensuring a continued flow of trained brains into the military.


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