By Kartik Bommakanti
Why does Israel wield such importance, especially for its primary patron—the United States (US)? This is a vital question to address particularly as we witness the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist sub-state group–Hamas. Yet, Israel’s significance extends to several states beyond the US. The steadfast support extended to Israel by Washington during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war requires an assessment from a strategic and military-technological standpoint.
Strategic importance of Israel
Firstly, the Israelis have proved to be extraordinarily successful in their military campaigns against their Arab enemies, especially in the Six-day War of 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. These two successful military campaigns were not the only major accomplishments of the Jewish state—its reputation also extends to high-profile hostage rescue missions such as the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976 and several other successful rescue and covert missions. Notwithstanding the catastrophic failure of Israeli intelligence to prevent Hamas’ brutal and ghastly terrorist assault against defenceless Israeli civilians on 7 October 2023, in actual wars, past and present, despite initial fumbles, including the ongoing war against Hamas, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) significantly redeemed and redressed their intelligence community’s failures by way of very effective combat performance on the battlefield.
Generally, Israel’s military performance has augmented its standing regionally for the world’s major powers such as the US. During the latter half of the Cold War, Tel Aviv’s success in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 not only cemented its reputation as a formidable military power regionally, but the outcome of these wars also eliminated Soviet influence in the region. Thanks to Israel, Washington’s influence continues to loom large in West Asia even today, irrespective of another major power—the People’s Republic of China (PRC) witnessing its influence rise. Reinforcing the operational performance of the IDF in wars past and ongoing is that the IDF, which is one of the most successful conscript fighting forces in the military history of the human race, also contributes to the regional balance of power. The latter is buttressed by Israel’s achievements as a key military-technological power. There is a deep military-technical synergy between Israel and several Western countries, especially its primary patron—the US. Collaboration comes in the form of crucial Israeli technological inputs to American, Western, and non-Western weapons platforms.
Military technology: Israel’ great strength
For a country as small as Israel, it packs a significant punch in the global defence market. Since Israel’s own market is too small to absorb all the military products it develops, exporting them becomes an imperative. Data drawn from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reveals that Tel Aviv accounted for 2.3 percent of global exports during the period 2018-2022, making it the tenth-largest exporter of defence equipment in the world. During the same period, India did not even make it to the list of SIRPI’s top 25 military exporters. This piece of data, albeit crucial, reveals only a snapshot of the significance of Tel Aviv as a major exporter of advanced military systems. Consider the world’s foremost and most advanced military-industrial power—the US, it is the recipient of several critical subsystems developed by the Israeli armament industry for its weapons platforms. Israel’s Active Protection System (APS) called ‘Trophy’ developed by the country’ Rafael Advanced Defence Systems (RADS) not only equips the IDF’s indigenously developed Merkava IV Main Battle Tank (MBT), it is also now integrated into the US Army’s M1 Abrams MBTs as part of a deal worth US$200 million reached in 2018.
The British Army’ (BA) challenger 3 MBTs are also being equipped with the same Trophy APS as part of a contract struck between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the United Kingdom (UK) and RADS in 2021. The Trophy’s capabilities include an interception system, computerised capability, a radar and four radar antennas. Another Israeli active defence system developed in parallel with the Trophy APS is the Iron Fist system. The latter was built by Israel Military Industries (IMI). In contrast to the Trophy APS, which releases metal pellets as the method of interception, the Iron Fist system uses an antimissile projectile as the way of interception. Today, the US Army’s light- and medium-weight armoured vehicles are equipped with the light-weight variant of the Iron Fist system due to three key factors: its light weight, low shock generation when its interceptors are launched, and affordability. These defence technologies, which have enhanced the capabilities of other countries are only a limited sample; there are several more from Israel.
Beyond making important technological contributions to Anglo-American ground combat capabilities, the Israelis have also generated technological inputs in the form of the Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) used by aviators for the Lockheed-built F-35 Lightning III or the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) through a joint venture between America’s Rockwell Collins and Israel’s Elbit Systems. Take India’s own relationship with Israel, New Delhi has benefitted from Israeli military assistance during the India-Pakistan wars of 1965, 1971 and 1999. Notwithstanding the fact that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is retiring the Soviet-origin MiG-21 Bison fighter jets from its fleet, their service life was prolonged for many years due to the cost-effective upgrades provided by the Israelis at a time when successive Indian governments for austerity-related reasons, including the current, have resisted spending huge sums of money buying advanced fighter jets to replace the IAF’s obsolete Bisons. All three Indian armed services, ranging from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to missile systems, have gained from cooperation with Israel reflecting the intrinsic dynamism of the Israeli defence industry.
Finally, neither Washington D.C. nor New Delhi can wash their hands of Israel by demonstrating a binary preference for “…oil to Jews” to borrow the words of one of the finest contemporary military historians, Martin Van Creveld. India and the US need both Jews and oil and need to balance Israeli security with Palestinian dignity. In the long run, oil will become dispensable as some other resource replaces it or renders the use of hydrocarbons minuscule, but the Jewish people of Israel and beyond will remain indispensable for eternity. Above all, the formidable strength of Israel’s military forces is essential not just for the survival of Israel, but equally for the balance of power in the Middle East.
- About the author: Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation
- Source: This article was published by the Observer Research Foundation