I’ve often noted the parallel between the IDF’s public statements and Kabuki-style Japanese theater. Everyone wears a costume (or uniform) and mask, everyone plays a role, no one’s actual role or anything they say bears any resemblance to reality. So the Iranian drone incident is in the same vein. Israel’s leadership high-fived each other over the stellar performance of the air defense command in shooting down the craft without causing injury to any Israeli. Story over, case closed.
Not so fast. Along with my posts on this subject, Haaretz defense analyst Reuven Pedatzur and Yediot’s defense correspondent Alex Fishman have insisted on telling their Israeli readers that the emperor has no clothes. Here is Pedatzur who, by the way, was an ace IAF pilot during military service:
When people start praising failures, it’s time to worry. And that’s exactly what happened a week and a half ago: Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised the chief of staff and the air force commander for the “sharp, effective performance in which a drone was intercepted and shot down in the area south of Hebron.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the drone’s interception.
In reality, this incident was anything but a “sharp, effective performance.” By any professional standard, the penetration of an unmanned aerial vehicle into Israeli territory, apparently after it had flown for more than two hours over the sea, and its subsequent flight clear across the country over the course of another half hour, are an embarrassing failure for the Israel Defense Forces.
…The UAV made its way over the sea from Lebanon to the coast of Gaza. During its long flight parallel to the coast, it was not discovered by a single one of the various detection devices that “look” westward. If this wasn’t due to negligence on the part of someone manning these detection systems, who wasn’t alert to what was happening out at sea, then it points to gaps in the IDF’s radar coverage of the western sector.
Moreover, during its flight, the UAV passed over Israeli naval vessels without anyone noticing it. It also passed over the drilling platforms at the Leviathan natural gas site – a point worth noting for those who are supposed to defend our gas production sites in the future. Those who launched it could very easily have loaded it with explosives and then blown it up over one of these platforms.
According to official IDF sources, the UAV was discovered only as it was about to cross the coastline near the Gaza Strip, and at that point, fighter planes were scrambled. Someone in the IDF needs to explain why it was discovered so belatedly. After all, had the drone been laden with explosives, its operators could have aimed it at the coastal city of Ashkelon, the nearby power plant, or Ashdod port…
No less…worrying is the description of the air force’s activity after the UAV was discovered…Fighter planes escorted the drone on its flight eastward for about half an hour before launching two missiles at it, one of which hit. If so, it’s hard to understand the considerations that guided those who managed the interception.
After all, it was impossible to know for sure that the drone wasn’t laden with explosives, turning it into a flying bomb. And if it had been, there was a reasonable possibility that it would suddenly dive and explode over a preplanned target – for instance, the air force base over which it flew. It’s not clear why the IDF decided to take such a risk instead of downing it as soon as it was discovered.
…It’s not clear why they allowed it to continue flying, thereby enabling it to photograph targets in the heart of the country. The explanation that “operational considerations and considerations of protecting [nearby] communities” led to the army’s decision to down it only after about half an hour is unconvincing.
But what ought to be most worrisome about the UAV affair is the depiction of this failure as a success. After all, if the IDF and the air force are being praised for a superb performance, it’s clear there is no need to investigate, ask questions and learn lessons.
Another Israeli report notes (Hebrew) that Israeli Bedouin have found substantial portions of the downed drone in the area where it crashed. In other words, the IDF supposedly retrieved the craft in order to study it. Yet they left almost half of it where it landed and abandoned the area. If you compare this behavior to the way the NTSB investigates an airline crash, in which every piece of a crashed plane is retrieved for purposes of reconstruction, you see the haphazard, slipshod method of the IDF. It claimed it had recovered what it needed from the landing site and didn’t need whatever was left behind. Even if this is so, can you imagine how eager anyone seeking to learn about Iran’s drone capabilities would be to salvage such wreckage, which sits there on the forest floor waiting for anyone to come along and find it?
Not to mention that the Israeli military censor has prohibited any Israeli media from publishing photos of the drone fragments. Imagine the hypocrisy of this considering that the IDF itself has abandoned these remnants leaving them for anyone to find, photograph, sell, whatever. If anyone has access to such photos, please contact me.
Iran has made additional claims concerning the drone flight and its aftermath that induce skepticism, but are worth considering. They say that drone photographed Israeli preparations for next week’s missile defense joint maneuvers with U.S. forces and other military facilities in its path. In addition, they claim Israel’s national air defense commander was sacked. That appears false as the supposedly fired officer ended a normal three-year tour in this position and was rotated into a different one.
Now the question remains: why wasn’t someone sacked over this bungle? As Pedatzur indicates above, there’s no need for questioning a military success. The IDF is not the sort of military organization that understands the difference between success and failure so it will swell its chest with pride, pin a medal on a few uniforms and pretend it conducted itself most excellently. Remember what I wrote about Kabuki theater above?
Fishman pursues an entirely different tack (and I disagree with some of his approach), but he takes issue with the claim that the Iranian mission failed:
In Israel, some members of the security establishment have been infected with…blindness. When the Iranian drone was shot down some 30 kilometers from Dimona, Israel cheered: The plot has been thwarted. In Western language, which Israel uses as well, the presence of a hostile drone is supposed to have some sort of operational purpose. Someone had sent it to take pictures, check the alertness of Israel’s defense systems and send back data. In short: It was supposed to carry out a practical mission with tangible results. Since these results were not achieved, the mission failed.
But in the language of the Iranians and Nasrallah, the fact that the unmanned aircraft penetrated Israeli airspace is a huge achievement on a psychological level. As far as they are concerned, this was the purpose of the mission.
On a related subject, Fishman’s article got me thinking about another potential danger that drones might pose to a nation like Israel. There are of course armed drones like those of the U.S. and Israel that have killed thousands of Muslim civilians. But imagine if you will a more advanced drone, one that might carry a compact nuclear warhead. It can’t be done now. But who’s to say that it isn’t possible to develop such a craft in future? All any nation would have to do would be to develop the drone and the primitive nuclear warhead and figure out how to fly it to the target, drop it, and detonate it. Even if the defending state shot the object down, as long as it happened over its territory there could potentially still be an aerial nuclear explosion.
To be clear, I’m by no means claiming that is something that Iran (or Hezbollah) would do. On the contrary, I don’t believe that at all. Everything about Iran’s behavior indicates that it behaves militarily in a relatively pragmatic and measured fashion and acts in proportion to the provocations meted out by its opponents. But can I say the same about North Korea or some unforeseen crazed state that might be motivated to wreak havoc on an enemy in the future?
My point here is that if the U.S. and Israel continue exploiting their current superiority by terrorizing various nations and groups they consider their enemies, then as they sow so shall they reap. If you kill with drones someone will want to kill you with one. If you sabotage industrial plants with cyber-weapons, someone will do the same to yours. If you assassinate scientists, then someone will do it to yours.
We have no monopoly on these systems. Remember what happened in 1949? The Russians exploded a hydrogen bomb and all hell broke loose in U.S. military and political circles. How did Stalin get nukes? We were supposed to be the only ones who had them and presumably would ever have them.
Do we really believe that we can maintain permanent supremacy over our so-called enemies? That they won’t figure out how to hurt us just as we’re hurting them? This is not a game of Monopoly. You don’t buy Park Place and own it forever. Reality has a nasty way of upsetting such illusions.
This article appeared at Tikun Olam