Have we Learned to Learn Lessons?

Israel’s Security Cabinet met on Sunday, according to reports, to discuss the Iranian threat and in particular the dangers exposed by the September 14 attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility by Iranian cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft (UAVs or drones).

The Iranian attack was very successful in hitting key targets precisely, and in avoiding Saudi missile defense systems. It demonstrated advanced capabilities in coordinating the attack using multiple weapons systems. Although Israeli defensive capabilities are probably much better than those of the Saudis, the small number of critical power stations, industrial installations, communications facilities, airports, fuel depots, roads and more, means that a great deal of damage to Israel’s ability to fight, her economy, and daily life could be done even if a relatively small number of Iranian weapons were to find their targets. There are very important military targets, some of which I know about but won’t mention, as well as others that I don’t know about but the Iranians might. And then of course there is the Dimona nuclear reactor. Such an attack could be launched against Israel from Iranian bases in Iraq, which bring us within the range of the missiles used in the attack on Saudi Arabia.

PM Netanyahu reportedly asked that the defense budget be boosted by billions of shekels, in part to develop a better defense against cruise missiles. Although some might be tempted to attribute political motives to his statements, the comments by independent analysts Uzi Rubin and Uzi Even, as well as expressions of concern (albeit guarded) by defense officials, indicate that the danger of attacks by “low and slow” weapons like cruise missiles and drones should not be minimized.

If we needed to add billions to our budget, why wasn’t this known beforehand? I’m not reassured by those like Moshe Ya’alon, the shadow Defense Minister of the Blue and White party, who said that the attack on Saudi Arabia revealed “nothing surprising.” Let me remind readers of the way that warnings about the threat of tunnels under the Gaza border given by Naftali Bennett in 2014 were ignored by Ya’alon, who was Minister of Defense at the time.

Questions immediately arise: what would we do if a drone/cruise missile attack were aimed at our key infrastructure tomorrow? Do we know how many of Hezbollah’s missiles have already been modified to give them precision guidance capability? Do we have countermeasures in place?

It seems that there were significant things we didn’t know about Iranian capabilities before the attack on Saudi Arabia. How is it that the people who stole the nuclear archive out from under Iranian noses didn’t know about conventional weapons?

I understand that our strategic doctrine is not to preempt an attack unless it is truly imminent, because of expected international reactions. Is it possible that we will wait until precision-guided missiles are striking our airbases and critical infrastructure, or will we be able to realize the very great advantage of striking first?

Iran is preparing for the conflict by trying to improve the quantity and quality of Hezbollah’s rocket inventory, by positioning its proxy militias in Iraq and Syria, and by trying to set up missile launchers there. We are trying to stop them, but although we can slow them down, we can’t stop their progress entirely. The American withdrawal from Syria will probably result in gains for the Assad regime and Iran, in particular by allowing Iran to complete its “land bridge” through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

At this time of year, it’s impossible to forget the way Israel’s defense establishment was unprepared for the Yom Kippur war, the failures in intelligence gathering and – perhaps worse – the failure to translate intelligence into practical recommendations and to transmit it to the commanders in the field. For example, a new study by a former tank commander, Oded Meggido, explains how Israeli tank forces suffered great losses on the Egyptian front because they were not prepared to deal with infantry armed with effective anti-tank weapons. The IDF had already encountered “Sagger” shoulder-fired antitank missiles in the early 1970s, but “the information was not assimilated … practice drills were not carried out,” he said. “There was a shortage of machine guns,” necessary to protect tanks against infantry armed with antitank weapons.  “Overconfidence,” “hubris,” “arrogance,” “negligence,” and “lack of professionalism,” are all expressions used by Meggido to describe the higher echelons of the tank corps in 1973.

I think these words could fairly be applied to our leadership today. The home front must be reinforced, as much against earthquakes as against enemy rockets, and it is barely being done. The security situation is often used as an excuse to put aside worries about social problems, the transportation infrastructure, and more. And yet, what percentage of their day do our politicians spend working on these questions as opposed to intriguing against their political opponents and defending themselves against such intrigues? How many buildings could be made more secure for the cost of one national election?

We would like to believe that today the lesson to learn lessons has finally been learned. We recall the war against Hezbollah in 2006, in which the IDF ground forces were seriously hurt by poor intelligence, logistical and communications failures, and incompetence at the highest levels, especially including the political echelon. As we draw nearer to the next war, which will be fought against an inventive and relatively sophisticated enemy, I wonder what, if anything, we have learned.

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2 Responses to Have we Learned to Learn Lessons?

  1. kktex12 says:

    Shalom Vic. Israel has the same problem with its’ government as America does. There are people elected who are more worried about money, power, and being reelected than solving real, serious, and immediate problems of the country as a whole. They think they know all and everyone else knows little or nothing therefore the enemies are successful in exploiting the short comings of their knowledge to the demise of the people.
    Very good post.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    If there seemed reason to worry before about Iran’s capabilities there seems more reason to worry now.
    Perhaps it is foolish, but I wonder why no Israeli leader or military figure responds to Iran’s threats of total destruction with a simple sentence. If Iran should strike vital Israeli targets and destroy the infrastructure of our society then we will ensure that Iran will not function as a viable society for tens of years to come.
    I have articulated the threat in one way. More extreme language is possible. But it seems to me Iranian leaders should know that the leaders of Israel are willing to do to them far worse than they at present could do to us.
    I am not sure being the ‘strong largely silent’ type here is to our advantage.

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