US Lawmakers Elevate Israel to 'Strategic Partner,' Approve Billions
Partnership Act Prescribes More Arms, Aid, Export Exemptions
Mar. 16, 2014 - 09:48AM | By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
Joint Operations: US reconnaissance Marines with Black Sea Rotational Force 12 practice room-clearing drills with soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force during Exercise Noble Shirley in Tel Aviv. (US Marine Corps)
TEL AVIV — Israel’s supporters in Congress are pushing legislation to bolster aid, advanced arms, export licensing exemptions and augmented in-country stockpiles of US weapons.
The US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 mandates myriad measures for enhancing Washington’s legal commitment to ensure Israel’s so-called Qualitative Military Edge.
Passed March 5 by the US House of Representatives in an emphatic 410-1 vote, H.R. 938 elevates Israel from “major non-NATO ally” to a new designation as “major strategic partner.”
Majority support is projected for a similar bill in the US Senate.
Beyond the $3.1 billion in annual military aid, billions in multiyear funding for joint missile defense and other defense-related perquisites, the proposed law extends cooperation into energy, cyber and water sectors.
The House version authorizes annual funding for a US-based Joint Energy Research Center while the Senate version requires a presidential feasibility study on the establishment of a joint cyber security center.
Both bills fortify previous laws reflecting longstanding bipartisan and bicameral support for Israel, including the 2012 US-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act, urging greater access to US satellite intelligence, aerial tankers, active phased array radar and specialized weaponry.
Both bills extend by another year existing acts governing more than $1 billion in prepositioned US stockpiles available for Israel’s emergency use. Under the new bills, Pentagon authority for replenishing prepositioned materiel extends through 2016.
They also urge the White House to “expeditiously conclude” a new 10-year agreement to assure US security assistance to Israel through 2027.
The legislation urges preferential Israeli access to insurance and financing by the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and Strategic Trade Authority for licensing exemptions on certain dual-use exports.
It also tightens congressional oversight of executive branch-administered Qualitative Military Edge measures, requiring biennial rather than quadrennial progress reports from the president or his designated representatives.
“Israel’s importance as a major strategic partner has been demonstrated time and again,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus. “Israel remains the closest friend America has in the world. ...Unfortunately, this administration has consistently failed to recognize that fact, often alienating allies like Israel while catering to our enemies.”
Codified by Congress in 1988, Israel’s status as “major non-NATO ally” confers preferential consideration of technology transfer requests, priority access to cut-rate excess defense articles, and inclusion in a spectrum of bilateral and NATO-led training exercises.
The new designation of “major strategic partner,” while highly symbolic, “has not been further defined in US law or by the executive branch,” noted Jim Zanotti, a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service, in a November 2013 report.
But Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli deputy ambassador to Washington with years of experience on Capitol Hill, said the new law would serve to define Israel’s upgraded status.
“The status of major strategic partner is defined by what’s in the bill, and there are a lot of content in both House and Senate versions,” said Ben-David, a former senior associate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.
In a March 13 interview, Ben-David said pro-Israel activists had long sought recognition of Israel as a strategic ally of the US.
“This law will elevate the status of this partnership in all its aspects — military, energy, countercyber — in concrete ways that go beyond anything the US has concluded through treaties,” he said.
Even without the pending upgrade in US-Israel ties, US and Israeli officials point to an unprecedented surge in strategic cooperation.
Last week, a sizable contingent of US Marines equipped with MV-22 tilt-rotors and other gear were here for a joint Noble Shirley exercise with Israeli counterparts. This month, the Israel Navy will participate in Noble Dina, an extensive trilateral sea-based exercise with US and Greek navies.
The two countries also are exploring a deferred payment plan that will allow Israel’s near-term acquisition of its second squadron of F-35 fighters and V-22 tilt rotors.
Both countries are planning to extend cooperative missile defense programs beyond 2015.
In a March 10 address to the Institute for National Security Studies, Yair Ramati, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, cited extraordinary support from Washington in procurement of additional Iron Dome intercepting batteries, near-term deployment of the joint David’s Sling system and preparation for low-rate initial production of the newest upper-tier Arrow-3 system.
Only a ground offensive will defeat the enemy, says senior IDF source
By YAAKOV LAPPIN
Ground forces make upgrades to prepare for war with Hezbollah; 40% of artillery rounds to be high-accuracy shells.
A tank from the 52nd Armored Battalion in the Jordan Valley. Photo: IDF Spokesman’s Office
In the event of another war, only a full-scale ground offensive will achieve a convincing defeat of Hezbollah in Lebanon, a high-ranking IDF source said on Tuesday.
“It’s clear to the general staff that a ground maneuver is what’s needed” to extinguish the threat of mass rocket attacks, the source said. This view holds true despite the highly advanced capabilities developed in recent years by the air force, which enable it to strike a myriad of targets in a short space of time, he said.
The Ground Forces Command embarked on a series of upgrades designed to better prepare it for the day forces are ordered to storm hostile ground.
“The enemy is growing powerful” in its ability to rain down rockets and missiles on the Israeli home front, the source said, but it remains challenged by the IDF’s ability to launch ground offensive, which Hezbollah sees as an Israeli advantage.
One change under way involves an upgrade to weapons systems. Some 40 percent of artillery shells are being converted into precision shells that accurately strike targets as far as 40 km. away.
The shells come equipped with fins and other adaptations to make them accurate.
“It’ll prevent the need to place artillery forces deep into enemy territory. The new shells have 150% more range. This gives us more operational flexibility,” the source said.
This enables a battalion commander to request whatever firepower he needs and receive it within a few minutes.
“We don’t have to get the air force to drop 250kg. bombs on every target. Sometimes a shell going through a structure is enough,” the source said.
The remainder of the Artillery Corps’s shells – which are classed as statistical firepower – will be made more efficient, the source said. The IDF is in advanced stages of purchasing a new artillery gun to replace its aging M109 155mm. self-propelled Howitzers.
Ground Forces planners are taking into account an enemy that knows how to strike and “disappear,” while operating in closed spaces where much of the IDF’s firepower is more limited, the source said.
“They [Hezbollah] have many missiles and explosive devices [to target advancing IDF armored vehicles],” he said, adding that Hezbollah’s armament efforts are “unceasing.”
As a result, Ground Forces planners are aiming to inject units into the depth of Hezbollah’s territory.
“For us, that means we must restructure and prepare, and to stay ready for a clash that can occur tomorrow, in a few months, or a few years,” he said.
“A ground offensive has to be deadly, defensible, network- based and agile, with advanced firepower adapted to... a changing battlefield,” the source said. “It’s clear to us that we have to shorten a conflict. A ground maneuver will accomplish that.”
Other areas of improvement include working in conjunction with the air force and receiving and applying intelligence in real time.
Command and control tools, such as the Digital Ground Army, link up various forces to a computer-generated map showing target locations, the source said, describing such developments as the most advanced in the world.
“A tank gunner will see a target as it is seen by fighter jet pilot. Companies on the ground will be able to detect targets and place them on a [digital] map,” he said.
“We are developing a battle doctrine based on the need to operate in enemy’s depth. It is focused on how to get forces there, how to fight in closed spaces, destroy tunnels, and take on fortified targets.
It looks at how an [infantry] company enters a home to destroy a rocket launcher,” he said.
Structural changes to the Ground Forces are under way.
These include giving territorial army divisions greater autonomy.
If war breaks out with Hezbollah in the North, the Gaza Division in the South will be able to “solve its own problems” and formulate independent responses to rocket attacks from Gaza, freeing up the General Staff to deal with the Lebanese arena.
All-purpose divisions that can fight on multiple fronts (there are a few such divisions) have been enlarged with extra battalions, such as Engineering Corps units, the source said.
“We have to get to the enemy and strike its ability to fire on us. In the end, this creates pressure on it and on Lebanon, and this is an enemy that understands when it’s starting to lose,” he said.
Israel Banks on 10 More Years of US Aid
Promised Funding Pact To Cover Commercial Debt
Mar. 30, 2014 - 03:56PM | By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, meets Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who arrived at the Pentagon via V-22 Osprey during a June visit to Washington. A proposed new US aid agreement would make funds available to Israel to begin buying V-22s. (Ariel Hermoni / Israel Ministry of Defense)
TEL AVIV — Despite misgivings over US President Barack Obama’s Mideast agenda and deep-rooted doubts about his ability to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the Israeli government is taking the US president at his word that it can expect another decade of military aid.
In fact, it’s banking on it.
After many months of internal debate and bureaucratic resistance from the Israeli Treasury, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has government approval to take on more than $2 billion in commercial debt for near-term buys of V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and other Pentagon-approved weaponry.
Under a US-approved deferred payment plan (DPP), Israel would pay only interest and fees over the course of the current agreement set to expire in September 2018. Principal will be covered by the new Obama-pledged package that would extend annual foreign military financing (FMF) aid through 2028, US and Israeli sources say.
During his visit here last March, Obama committed to talks aimed at extending US military assistance beyond the current 10-year, $30 billion agreement signed in 2007 under the administration of President George W. Bush.
In a joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said at the time that a follow-on aid agreement was “part of our long-term commitment to Israel’s security.”
Under the existing agreement, annual FMF grant aid to Israel grew from $2.4 billion to $3.1 billion, minus subsequent recissions of some $155 million due to the US government-mandated sequester.
Bilateral talks on extended aid are still preliminary, US and Israeli sources stress, and a finalized deal is unlikely by the time Obama leaves the White House in January 2017.
But given Obama’s backing and overwhelming congressional support for its “principal strategic partner” in the region, Israel can count on follow-on funding, said Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the US.
While US economic conditions and a host of other factors will ultimately determine actual amounts of aid to come, Ayalon said it is reasonable to expect the follow-on agreement to preserve or possibly exceed current levels, with incremental boosts in the out-years.
Prospective DPP financing was not Israel’s first choice, officials and experts here say, but a compromise after Washington rejected earlier requests for US government-guaranteed bridge loans until the follow-on aid deal kicked in.
US sources explained that regulations proscribe government-guaranteed loans based on future FMF agreements that are not yet in place. The DPP plan approved for Israel, said one Washington source, comes as close as procedurally possible to accommodating the Israeli request.
“According to our lawyers, this is not a government-guaranteed loan. The contractor is due payment by the US government through the [Pentagon-administered] Foreign Military Sales [FMS] program … and we are doing our best to facilitate deferred payment arrangements,” the Washington source said.
He acknowledged that the arrangement required “a leap of faith” by all parties — not only the Israeli government — that a future bilateral 10-year military aid pact will materialize.
That “leap of faith” sparked extensive internal debate in Israel among financial officials, oversight authorities and political skeptics. The high risk inherent in shouldering deferred debt to be repaid from a prospective, yet amorphous, future agreement continues to concern many here, sources here say.
However, after Washington agreed to provide a letter of intent to support DPP purchases with prospective future FMF funding, Israel’s Ministry of Defense prevailed in pushing the plan through the Israeli government.
A straight-talking former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Ya’alon is a prominent yet pragmatic hawk in Netanyahu’s coalition government. His repeated criticism of the US-led drive toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and the perceived waning of US influence in regional and world affairs has sparked friction with Washington.
He was widely quoted as blasting US Secretary of State John Kerry for his “inexplicably obsessed” pursuit of a deal unworthy of “the paper it was printed on.”
This month, he was forced to apologize for comments delivered in a closed lecture here suggesting that Israel could not depend on Obama’s pledged use of all options in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.
Ya’alon sought to clarify his remarks in a March 20 telephone conversation with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who “expressed deep concern about the minister’s comments on US policy toward Iran,” according to Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.
Ya’alon’s office declined to discuss fallout from his latest remarks or DPP details.
But a senior aide insisted the minister has full faith in White House and congressional commitments to continued funding support.
“Relations between the US and Israel are intimate and deep, based on common values and interests, … Bilateral cooperation at all levels is a cornerstone of Israel’s national security,” Ya’alon said in a March 26 statement.
Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security is “unquestionable,” Ya’alon said. He added that he fully expects continuation of the “successful cooperation between defense industries and defense establishments.”
Translating Offer into Firm Orders
The DPP formula, officials and experts say, will free up FMF funds to initiate procurement of V-22s, an anchor part of a package offered by Hagel during his visit here last April.
At that time, Hagel announced that Washington “would make available to Israel a set of advanced new military capabilities” to augment Israel’s qualitative military edge.
But with most of Israel’s FMF funding through 2018 earmarked for F-35 fighter jets, airlifters, heavy troop carriers and other equipment, Hagel’s April 2013 announcement was criticized here as premature and lacking in substance.
Since then, the two sides have engaged in intensive coordination with defense companies, military services and multiple departments at the Pentagon, US State Department and MoD.
Assuming the DPP plan is finalized in coming months, sources from both countries said Israel could become the first export customer for the V-22, with a signed FMS contract by September.
While the two sides are still working on price, delivery and specific capabilities to be included in the package, the procurement could mean more than $1 billion for prime contractors Bell-Boeing and a host of other US companies.
Moreover, a US industry source here said it could catalyze future sales to Japan, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
In a Jan. 4 notification to Congress, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency estimated the prospective package at $1.13 billion, which includes six V-22 Block C tilt-rotor aircraft, associated equipment, spare parts, training and logistics support.
Depending on how the DPP is scheduled, it also may free up funds for other elements of Hagel‘s proposed package. They include the retrofit of active electronically scanned array radars into F-15I fighters and a variety of air-to-ground weapons, including small diameter bombs and the AGM-88E advanced anti-radiation guided missile.
Aside from the cardinal distinction that a prospective DPP deal presumes a still-nonexistent follow-on aid package, US and Israeli sources note that similar schemes have been used in the past to mutual benefit. With active involvement by Lockheed Martin, Israel used this method to fund Pentagon-administered FMS purchases of the company’s F-16I and F-35I fighters.
When employed — usually in combination with an arcane Pentagon process called cash flow financing that allows Israel to tap into future-year FMF funding — it facilitates high-value export orders for US defense contractors and expedited responses to urgent Israeli requirements.
In those earlier cases, Lockheed helped MoD secure $1 billion in deferred commercial debt under favorable terms to supplement F-16I-earmarked funding to come from Israel’s Pentagon-managed FMF account. With permission from Washington and Lockheed, the debt was extended by another few years to secure Lockheed’s first F-35 export contract managed under FMS.
Principal on the extended loan should be fully paid by the end of the year, US and Israeli sources said.
Lockheed is expected to play a pivotal role in the new DPP scheme, which government and industry sources here say will facilitate follow-on procurement of Israel’s second squadron of F-35Is. Details of Lockheed’s involvement were unclear as of March 28.
Larisa Cioaca, a media relations manager at Lockheed’s corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md., declined comment. ■
Israel Navy Expands Long-Range Ops
March 5 Raid Was Just 'Tip of The Iceberg'
Apr. 6, 2014 - 01:33PM | By BARBARA OPALL-ROME | Comments
Israel displayed weapons seized in a March 5 commando raid in the Red Sea. (Israel Defense Forces)
TEL AVIV — Last month’s capture of an Iranian arms cache in international waters south of the Red Sea’s Port Sudan is just “the tip of the iceberg” of Israeli maritime black operations conducted far beyond the horizons of hostile shores, according to a top Navy officer here.
An after-action investigation of Operation Full Disclosure — the months-long effort that culminated in the bloodless March 5 raid of a Panamanian-flagged freighter some 1,500 kilometers from Israel’s Red Sea port — is still in progress.
But Rear Adm. Yaron Levi, Israel Navy chief of staff, said preliminary findings reaffirm the service’s tactic of choice for tackling contraband on the high seas: force prevention through force projection.
“The big lesson was to come in with lots of force so we wouldn’t have to use force,” Levi said.
“That and our decision to engage in daylight and not under cover of night, which added enormous value” to the force projection/prevention approach, he added.
In a late March interview, Levi, his chief of intelligence and other officers described the tactics, technologies and procedures employed in the capture of 40 M-302 heavy rockets and other munitions hidden in the hold of the Klos C that Israel claims was destined for militants in Gaza.
The operation was the latest and most challenging of only four officially publicized interdictions conducted by the Navy over the past 12 years.
It demanded many more months of coordinated intelligence than the Mediterranean Sea captures of the Victoria and Francop in 2011 and 2009, and the 2002 Red Sea seizure of the Karin A, experts here said, due to the extraordinarily circuitous route plied by the Klos C.
According to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the Klos C and its cargo of “strategic significance” sailed from Bandar Abbas, Iran, up and down the length of the Arabian Gulf, then around Oman and Yemen and up through the Red Sea. The Navy engaged the ship some 40 nautical miles south of Port Sudan, a range some three to six times longer than the three previously publicized missions.
“Operation Full Transparency is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we do. … We are doing thousands of hours [of complex, long-range missions] in the Mediterranean and Red seas,” said Levi, the Navy’s second in command.
“It’s one of the few examples we can talk about that reflects our ability to deploy forces effectively over very long ranges on missions that are measured by bottom-line results ... that clearly and directly strengthen the security of our state.”
Stealth Sailing in Plain View
With a front-line missile boat inventory of just three Sa’ar-5 corvettes and six smaller Sa’ar-4.5 missile boats, the corvette Hanit and missile boat Hetz tasked for the mission constituted a third of its top-tier surface ship assets.
The decision to transfer such a considerable force from its primary operational theater in the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal for protracted deployment in the Red Sea was not trivial, officers here said.
Hosted on the missile boats was a separate force package of specialty equipment and US-built Morena-class rigid-hulled inflatable boats needed to support elite Flotilla 13 commandos hand-picked for the mission.
Vice Adm. Ram Rothberg, head of the Israel Navy and a former Flotilla 13 commander, managed the entire operation from the bridge of the Hanit.
Departing Eilat, the vessels made their way through the Gulf of Aqaba and through the Strait of Tiran, knowing full well they would be seen by Egyptian radar.
Once out in the Red Sea, the force spent days hiding in plain view as it navigated through myriad reefs, many hundreds of commercial and private craft, and the occasional warship traversing the congested seaway.
Complicating matters, officers here said, were rapidly changing Red Sea conditions that can transform flat waters into 4-meter waves and the thick, total darkness that descends with night.
“When you operate in the Mediterranean at 40 to 50 nautical miles, the beaches are well lit. But when you’re in the Red Sea, you literally can’t see your hand. The darkness there is like the shadow of death: black, thick and moist like Turkish coffee,” the Navy intelligence officer said.
“From the time we set out from Eilat to the point of engagement was a few days. Obviously, before we even got to the phase of deploying our commando force, we had to get to that point undetected,” Levi said.
They did this through what Levi called “deceptive sailing maneuvers,” and “a fantastic, continuously fortified operational picture” built from onboard electronic, signals, optical and other intelligence sensors.
The Hanit’s Eurocopter AS565 Panther and Rafael-built Topelite payload streamed electro-optical imagery directly into the C4I network shared by the two ships and the Navy’s war room in Tel Aviv.
“The air component is an integral part of our force,” Levi said. “We saw everything the helicopter saw in real time. From the intel we generated ourselves and all the intel from other organizations, we were able to maneuver well in this very congested, potentially high-threat area.”
Officers here credited upgraded versions of the service’s in-house developed C4I network for “flawless connectivity” among commandos on the Klos C, Rothberg and all supporting elements at sea and leaders back home.
No Second Chance
Deciding where, precisely, to engage was absolutely critical, officers here said.
“We knew it would be one shot; no second chances if we missed something,” Levi said.
Navy brass preferred to intercept the ship farther south near the Sudan-Eritrean border. It would have given them another day to decide where to engage. But farther south, they risked sudden 3- to 4-meter waves that would have seriously hampered commando operations.
“We decided to engage less than 50 nautical miles south of the port of Sudan. The sea was relatively comfortable and because we were confident of the picture we built, we felt conditions were most favorable there for success,” Levi said.
Next came decision time for when and how to engage.
Officers here said commandos spent hundreds of hours training on models built for multiple scenarios, depending on whether the ship was fortified and its captain and crew were likely to resist.
“Keep in mind, this area between Sudan and Eritrea is a danger zone for pirates. Ships tend to be more aware and prepared with boarded-up windows and gates, water cannon and other kinds of countermeasures,” the intelligence officer explained.
There are advantages and disadvantages to intercepting in a pirate zone, the officer added.
“Obviously, the downside is they’re more prepared and most likely armed. But the upside is that if the operation fails, they’ll think they were attacked by pirates.”
Based on prior intelligence and close surveillance of the ship, war fighters concluded with high certainty that the Klos C was unarmed and its Turkish captain and international crew were most likely innocent and ready to cooperate.
“We based this assumption — which was later verified — on our experience with the Francop and Victoria,” the intelligence officer said.
When asked why, he replied: “You need to be criminal or crazy to pass through these waters with weapons.
“Aside from [the prospective threat of Israel Navy action], the US 5th Fleet is very proactive in boarding suspected ships. If the captain or crew are found to be smuggling, they’ll be thrown in jail and their licenses will be permanently revoked.”
On that assumption, the Navy opted not to seize the ship as it did in the 2002 capture of the Karin A and in the unrelated, but diplomatically damaging, 2010 assault on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara that attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Instead, it opted to peacefully board.
Under the cover of darkness, the naval force moved into position: the Hanit at a safe but actionable distance to the right, the Hetz to the left.
Several commando-carrying Morenas deployed from the host missile boats maneuvered silently within meters of the oblivious Klos C. The Panther helicopter was hovering in the distance, waiting for orders to move in.
At the break of day — Wednesday, about 5:30 a.m. — officers recounted the non-kinetic shock and awe when an amplified voice bellowed out in American-accented English: “Good morning. Please stop your ship.” ■
Israel MoD Suspends Procurement Contracts
Threatens System Crash in Escalating Battle With Treasury
May. 31, 2014 - 11:09AM | By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
Funding Crisis: Israel's Defense Ministry has threatened to drastically reduce operations due to budget cuts. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
TEL AVIV — Israel’s Defense Ministry has suspended planned procurement contracts, slowed work on major research and development projects and warned of a wave of industry layoffs to come from programs it will be forced to ax due to budget shortfalls.
In its escalating battle with the Finance Ministry over supplemental funding for 2014, the MoD imposed a two-week freeze on planned military modernization contracts pending a bottom-up review of all non-fixed expenses.
In parallel, MoD has threatened to halt, by June 1, all Army, Air Force and Navy training and to drastically reduce ongoing operations.
The contract suspension follows a procurement slowdown in place since January, which MoD claims has halved the number of new orders compared with this time last year. After years of operating without the budget authority to support multiyear investment spending, the MoD warned of a full crash of its procurement system by the end of this year.
“[It has already been] four years now, the defense establishment is operating without a multiyear plan, which means suboptimal exploitation of resources and damage to force buildup and force structure planning… [It means] that in 2015, a complete inability to start the year,” Dan Harel, MoD director general, said in a May 26 statement.
Without the necessary plus-up to its approved 2014 budget, Harel said, “The defense industries will have to fire this year thousands of people as a result of canceled procurement projects.”
MoD is demanding an extra 2 billion shekels ($US 570 million) in 2014 funding.
Depending on whom you ask, Israel’s government-approved top line defense budget is either 51 billion shekels by MoD’s calculation or 57.7 billion shekels, as claimed by the Treasury. The MoD uses net figures after myriad deductions while the treasury’s gross figures appear in official budget documents approved by the government.
Both topline budgets include $3.1 billion in annual US grant aid, some 26 percent of which Israel is allowed to convert into shekels for local research, development and procurement spending.
In addition to the annual aid, which Israel receives in one lump sum at the beginning of the year, the MoD stands to receive another $200 million-plus this year for cooperative missile defense programs, including Arrow, David’s Sling and Iron Dome. Those funds are not included in either MoD or Finance Ministry top line budget figures, experts here say.
Orna Simchoni Ofer, MoD spokeswoman, insisted that suspended procurement contracts and halted development programs pertain only to the shekel portion of Israel’s defense budget.
“We stopped blue-and-white programs and contracts that are paid in shekels; not with US dollars coming from US aid,” Simchoni Ofer said, referring to the color of the flag invoked here to describe locally funded spending.
However, other defense and industry sources insist funding instability has already reduced or stretched major programs supported by dollar-based annual aid, including US-based production of Namer heavy armored troop carriers.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he hoped the Israeli Cabinet would convene soon to make the decisions needed to avert a system shutdown. Ya’alon said he warned the government last May, when it approved the 2014 budget, that it would not be enough to carry the military throughout the year.
“Both the chief of staff and I warned that the budget was enough to preserve a level of training more or less until these months, April and May. And now here we are in these months and a decision must be taken.
“I hope the Cabinet will ... take the appropriate decisions in order that the defense establishment and particularly the Israel Defense Forces, will continue to function at a reasonable profile,” Ya’alon said.
Surge Instead of Promised Cuts
In response to mass social protests in the summer of 2011, the Israeli Cabinet approved an annual 3 billion shekel drop in defense spending, beginning in 2012. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scored political points from a restive public by his ostensible brass-tacks determination to tamp down the defense budget.
“I promised and I delivered [a response to social protests],” Netanyahu boasted of the mandated defense spending cuts.
But Treasury officials say successive MoD budget boosts approved by Netanyahu since that October 2011 Cabinet decree have actually resulted in a steady increase in defense spending. According to treasury data, MoD received an additional 4.2 billion shekels in 2012 and another 2.8 billion shekels in 2013.
“The defense budget over the years continues to grow,” a Finance Ministry official said. “It’s growing less than MoD demands and what they claim they need ... But the fact remains that one out of every four or five shekels the government spends is on defense.”
In a May 28 interview, the official noted that since May 2013, when the Cabinet approved the defense budget for 2014, MoD received an additional 3.75 billion shekels. “Part of it they got at the end of 2013, but it was for this year, then they got another 1 billion shekels this year ... and now they’re demanding more,” he said.
“Other ministries can’t come to the prime minister in the middle of the year and ask for more. And once they get it, it’s never enough,” he said.
Simchoni Ofer, the MoD spokeswoman, noted that nearly half of the ministry’s annual defense budget goes to fixed costs such as taxes, pensions and veteran benefits and rehabilitation.
“These are costs we can’t change,” she said. “So now the government needs to decide if they’re willing to bear the consequences to industry and to overall readiness due to no more money for training.”
The treasury official credited MoD with improving efficiency in its effort to squeeze more spending power from the non-fixed portion of its budget. Nevertheless, he insisted that MoD could and should reform procedures governing the amount of money it spends on pensions and rehabilitation.
“They claim these are fixed costs, but they are not taking steps to make it less fixed. It’s not a simple change, but these [are] things they have to do. The problem is there is no will to do it,” he said. ■
Israel Launches Ground Operation in Gaza
Jul. 17, 2014 - 04:39PM | By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Israeli soldiers stand near the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on July 17. (Jack Guez / AFP)
JERUSALEM — Israel launched a ground operation in Gaza late Thursday on the 10th day of an offensive to stamp out rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave, the army said.
“Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation, the Israel Defence Forces (army) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip,” it said in a statement.
The army said the aim of the operation is to protect Israeli lives and crush Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
“The IDF’s objective as defined by the Israeli government is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continued indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’s terror infrastructure,” the statement said.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to stamp out rocket attacks from Gaza and the army said the new operation will include ground and air assaults.
“This stage of operation ‘Protective Edge’, led by the IDF’s Southern Command, will include close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support,” it said.
“This effort will also be supported by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) and other intelligence organizations,” the army added.
“In the face of Hamas’ tactics to leverage civilian casualties in pursuit of its terrorist goals, the IDF will continue in its unprecedented efforts to limit civilian harm,” it said.
At least 240 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes since July 8, many of them children, medics in Gaza said, with a NGO based in the coastal enclave saying 80 percent of the deaths are civilians.
Pentagon Supports Emergency $225M for Israel's Iron Dome
Jul. 23, 2014 - 02:16PM | By PAUL McLEARY
A missile is launched by an Iron Dome battery in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. The Pentagon is seeking additional funding to speed production of components for the anti-missile system. (David Buimovitch / AFP)
WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a letter to congressional leadership on Tuesday requesting $225 million in additional US funding to accelerate production of Iron Dome missile-defense components to ensure Israel will have adequate stockpiles to protect itself from rockets launched by Hamas militants in Gaza.
Israel requested the extra components in recent days, and the Pentagon supports the request, which would come on top of the $176 million the Obama administration already requested for the program in the fiscal 2015 defense budget.
In congressional markups this past spring, House and Senate defense and appropriations panels have doubled the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget request for the Iron Dome to $351 million. The House passed its bill in June but the Senate has yet to take up the measure.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday morning that the additional money would come on top of the Pentagon’s original request since the congressional plus-ups have yet to be passed. He was unclear what accounts would be used to pay for any additional funding.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, threw his support behind the increased funding on Wednesday, saying in a statement that “the only thing that stands between Israel and a barrage of Hamas rockets is the Iron Dome. We should ensure that Israel has the ability to utilize the Iron Dome and protect innocent civilians from rocket attacks during this crisis and into the future. I applaud Secretary Hagel and the administration for making this request. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to get this request approved.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is also expected to include money for the Iron Dome work in her upcoming $2.7 billion emergency spending bill aimed at tackling the issue of the thousands of undocumented children who have crossed the US-Mexico border.
In Hagel’s letter, he told congressional leaders that “US industrial base issues are associated with support of Iron Dome,” since the agreement between the two countries stipulates that some production be done in the United States.
“However, Israel assesses that it will take another two to three years to reach full production capacity in the United States, which would not address Israel’s current shortfall.”
In addition to the increased Iron Dome spending in the House bill, the House Armed Services Committee included hundreds of millions of dollars more for other Israeli missile programs, including $130 million for Arrow and $137.9 million for David’s Sling.
“In all,” Smith said, “the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act contains more than $600 million in funding for Israeli missile defense and the United States has provided over $1 billion for Iron Dome since its inception, including the FY15 authorization.” ■
Israel Intensifies Anti-Tunnel Campaign, Rejects Truce Calls
Jul. 28, 2014 - 05:15PM | By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
During a news conference at the Israeli Defense Ministry July 28, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Operation Protective Edge will not end 'without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children.' (GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP)
TEL AVIV — Israel is expanding its anti-tunnel ground campaign in Gaza along with standoff air, sea and land attacks in a high-intensity bid to bolster the operational conditions to drive an eventual diplomatic truce with Hamas.
Citing repeated violations by Hamas of various Egyptian, US and UN ceasefire proposals, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue Operation Protective Edge — now in its 21st day — until it “neutralizes” the tunnel threat.
“We will not complete the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children,” Netanyahu told reporters July 28.
Speaking at the Israeli Defense Ministry just hours after Israeli forces foiled the fourth underground infiltration since the July 7 start of the ongoing operation, Netanyahu said the anti-tunnel mission must be viewed as the first step toward demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
“This is the clear and unequivocal objective of the state of Israel and the need for it has been apparent again today,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli leaders say the operation will continue to target rocket launchers, Hamas leaders and other symbols and institutions of the Gaza-based regime. Nevertheless, they say the focus is shifted to the subterranean labyrinth supporting command centers, storage sites and staging grounds for cross-border assaults.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claims it has detected 31 tunnels in recent days, 15 of which have been completely destroyed. Multiple shafts and access points service each tunnel, an IDF intelligence officer here said. , with most openings concealed in residential homes, mosques and civilian buildings.
Once tunnels are detected, the mission becomes a combined arms operation involving infantry, combat engineers, and special explosive-ordnance disposal teams.
“We’re going access point by access point, tunnel by tunnel, engagement after engagement,” Lt. Gen. Beni Gantz, IDF chief of staff, told reporters here July 28. ■
Protective Edge Vs. Cast Lead at Day 22
Fourfold Hike in Israelis Fatalities, Slight Drop in Palestinians Killed, Huge Surge in Gaza-Launched Rockets; IDF Artillery Fire
Jul. 29, 2014 - 08:38PM | By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
An Israeli soldier keeps his position July 29 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. (Jack Guez / AFP)
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — As Israel closes out the 22nd day of Operation Protective Edge, here’s some preliminary data measured against its 23-day, 2008-2009 Cast Lead campaign.
Both operations were launched in response to Gaza-launched attacks, started off with a week of punishing precision, standoff strikes and escalated to a combined arms ground war.
Both operations aimed to “extract a heavy price” from Hamas and restore “quiet” to civilians threatened by incessant cross-border salvos.
While data from the ongoing operation is rough, unverified and still in flux, this much is clear: Israel is paying a much heavier price against an enemy emboldened by new asymmetric attack capabilities.
As of late July 29, Israeli fatalities stood at 56.
That’s a fourfold surge from the Cast Lead incursion, which claimed 13 lives, four of them from friendly fire.
And that’s despite the remarkable protection provided by Iron Dome, which was still under development during Cast Lead.
According to the latest data from the IDF, Gaza militants launched more than 2,670 mortars and rockets at ranges that threatened most of the country.
Only three Israelis were killed.
Iron Dome intercepted more than 510 rockets. The rest, according to the IDF, fell in empty areas, into the sea or failed to cross the border, as was the case in July 28 attacks on a hospital and refugee camp in Gaza.
In Cast Lead, four Israelis were killed from 750 Gaza-launched mortars and rockets. At the time, the range of rocket arsenals in Gaza did not exceed 40 kilometers.
As for deaths in Gaza from Protective Edge, the latest July 29 data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health cites 1,210 “martyrs.” That marks a drop from the 1,440 reported killed during Cast Lead.
Israel fiercely disputes official Palestinian fatality data from the ongoing operation as well as the nearly six-year-old Cast Lead. It insists some 400 of those killed in the current campaign were combatants and other legitimate targets. Furthermore, it insists hundreds of others were cynically used as human shields in attempts to provoke international outrage.
But even when using Israel’s number of 400 combatants killed in the current campaign, plus another 200 it suspects may have been involved with Hamas, the figure still doesn’t match the 709 military targets it claimed to have killed during Cast Lead.
Despite a fourfold fatality hike in the current campaign, the IDF managed to kill far fewer enemies than it did in Cast Lead.
Here’s some random snapshot statistics from the two Gaza incursions at Day 22.
By their nature, snapshots must be viewed with caution. While they often can indicate a larger reality, they may just as well disprove it altogether.
Similarly, attempts to draw comparative lessons from different conflicts are ill-advised, especially where one continues to rage at the time of this writing. Data at this point comes directly from the IDF. It’s incomplete and circumstantial, but interesting nevertheless.
The IDF-launched Protective Edge in darkness, prior to the morning of July 8, using standoff strikes — mostly air power — to destroy 50 targets. At the end of Day 2, the IDF reported strikes against 440 targets, including 118 concealed rocket-launching sites; 10 tunnels; six Hamas official facilities and 10 command posts.
After Day 22, the IDF says it hit more than 3,941 targets by air, land and sea while destroying 16 of 32 tunnels discovered during the operation.
A similar amount of targets were destroyed in Cast Lead, although under different circumstances.
Israel kicked off that operation with a 220-second daytime blitz that killed more than 100 Hamas combatants and 50 targets. Another 170 targets and some 140 Hamas security personnel were killed by the end of the first day’s battle.
By the end of Cast Lead, Israeli airpower and combined air-land battle alone claimed 3,400 targets.
As for artillery, IDF gunners by the end of Day 22 fired more than 30,000 rounds, according to an unnamed battalion commander quoted in a July 29 account posted on the military’s official website.
In contrast, the IDF Artillery Corps fired only 7,000 rounds in Cast Lead.
Extensive Hamas Tunnel Network Points to Israeli Intelligence Failure
BY Shane Harris
JULY 31, 2014 - 02:26 PM
Israel launched its bloody offensive in Gaza to stop Hamas from lobbing missiles at major cities like Tel Aviv. The biggest challenge to the vaunted Israeli army, though, is coming from the ground, not the air: a sophisticated network of Hamas tunnels that have surprised Israeli security officials, caused a huge number of military fatalities, and struck fear into the hearts of many ordinary Israelis.
Israeli military, intelligence, and political officials have known for years that Hamas fighters were burrowing into their country from Gaza through underground tunnels. An Israeli army spokesman said this month that the military had discovered four tunnels just in the past 18 months, well before Israel's current ground offensive began. But in interviews, current and former Israeli officials said the military and intelligence services didn't realize the extent of Hamas's subterranean operations, nor did political leaders act to counter a threat that has become the central focus of Israel's Gaza campaign and stands as potentially the biggest Israeli intelligence failure in years.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the military has so far discovered far more tunnels -- 40 and counting -- than Israel had previously thought existed. The number came as a surprise, as did the sophistication of the tunnel network. Current and former officials said that Israeli intelligence and political leaders knew that the tunnels were fortified with concrete and had space to store weapons and food. But Israeli intelligence analysts and political leaders didn't comprehend that the tunnels were wide enough to move several Hamas fighters into the country at a time, and they didn't realize how many of the tunnels ended up in Israel, particularly near civilians. (A Hamas video that shows fighters emerging from a tunnel and attacking an Israeli military installation provides a vivid example of why Israelis have so come to fear the clandestine attacks.)
"Of course we didn't know all the details and how complex was the network below the ground. I don't think we had the full picture," said Giora Eiland, a retired major general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who served as Israel's national security advisor from 2004 to 2006. "But I would emphasize that we did not fully understand the operational consequences of the use of tunnels by [Hamas]."
Eiland said that Israeli intelligence knew the locations of some tunnels, but that analysts didn't understand some key details such as the strength of the concrete used to build the tunnels. That's important for knowing what it would take to destroy the tunnels, understanding how they could be used to store rockets and explosives, and knowing whether the tunnels are wide enough to accommodate large numbers of fighters. All these technical details were crucial for predicting whether Hamas was likely to use the tunnels to launch aggressive strikes inside Israel, Eiland said -- which is just what Hamas has done.
While most public attention has focused on the large and growing casualties from the Israel Defense Force's military campaign in Gaza, a debate has been roiling in Israel in recent weeks over exactly what the military and intelligence services knew about the existence of those tunnels and how big a threat they posed to the country's security. It portends a political reckoning over intelligence failures once the ground assault eventually wraps up. That day may not come anytime soon: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a televised address Thursday, July 31, to tell his country that the current offensive will continue until the tunnels are destroyed, despite the mounting international pressure to call off the assault. So far, Israel has lost at least 59 people, including 57 soldiers, while the Palestinian death toll has climbed to at least 1,370.
"Without a doubt, the full extent of the tunnels was not discovered until the ground operation began" in early July, said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The number, the complexity, and the sophistication of the tunnel network took Israeli forces by surprise, Schanzer said.
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on background, acknowledged that the tunnels are more numerous than the Israelis originally thought. He wouldn't comment about the American assessment of the total number of tunnels or whether it differs from Israel's. But he said that American analysts had concluded that the use of tunnels to launch attacks inside Israel marked a new development in Hamas's military tactics. As to whether that could have been predicted, the official declined to speculate.
But Israeli officials knew as early as 2006 that Hamas could launch operations from the tunnels, operations that are strikingly similar to the ones Hamas conducts now. In June of that year, a group of fighters emerged from a tunnel hundreds of meters long and came up behind an IDF position. There, they captured the young soldier Gilad Shalit and took him back into Gaza. Hamas held Shalit in captivity for more than five years; he was finally released in exchange for more than 1,000 mostly Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The year after Shalit was captured, Israel's comptroller issued a scathing report blaming top military officials for an "ongoing failure" to close the tunnels. The report cited the military's "flawed handling of the threat" and recommended deploying technology that could give the government early warning and provide intelligence to troops in the field, according to the Jerusalem Post. Such a system was never fully developed.
More recently, there have been ominous indications that the tunnels were more extensive and sophisticated than previously thought. Israel understood that tunnels from Gaza posed a "huge risk" as early as October 2013, when the IDF discovered a long tunnel underneath the kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, just east of the border with Gaza, Col. Grisha Yakubovich, the head of the civil department in the IDF's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, said in an interview.
The tunnel was enormous: It ran 1.5 miles, 66 feet below the ground. Authorities estimated that some 350 tons of concrete were used to build it, enough to build a small hospital three floors high, Yakubovich said. "We were amazed by the size of it."
Hamas went to extraordinary lengths to hide construction of the tunnels from Israeli intelligence and military forces. In a scene straight out of the classic film The Great Escape, fighters emptied bags of flour -- humanitarian food aid from the United Nations -- and then used them to remove dirt from tunnel construction sites, Yakubovich said. Whenever Israeli air forces saw the bags on the surface, they assumed they were food deliveries, not evidence of Hamas secretly building an underground infrastructure. "This was a very clever way to make sure the IDF would not fire upon them," Yakubovich said. "Hamas exploited international goodwill to hide terror activities."
Five months after the discovery of the tunnel under Ein Hashlosha, in March 2014, the Israeli military unearthed yet another tunnel coming from Gaza. Photographs showed that it was fortified with concrete and wired for electricity. With every new discovery, Israel tried to close off the tunnels it found, but the military launched no comprehensive assault on the entire network. Nor did Israeli intelligence understand that the tunnels found so far were merely a fraction of the total number.
Schanzer said that the March discovery alerted Israeli security officials about "the beginning of a trend," in which Hamas fighters would come to rely on the tunnels to launch ground strikes on Israeli villages and military positions. Schanzer said that he spoke to senior Israeli officials in early July, before the ground assault began, and they were worried that there were more tunnels than had previously been counted. But again, the government launched no comprehensive plan to counter the tunnel threat.
Even if the government had, though, it's debatable how successful the operation would have been. Using surveillance aircraft, including drones, Israel can obtain near-total, round-the-clock awareness of what's going on at the surface in Gaza, tracking vehicles and people as they come and go, said Eiland, the former national security advisor. But that doesn't tell intelligence analysts what's happening under the ground in the tunnels, sometimes 60 feet deep. As a result, "a lot of information was missing" about the extent of the tunnels and how many of them there were, Eiland said. "We knew, but we did not really understand, the level of threat that they actually posed." Eiland added that even a few months ago, before the latest operation in Gaza began, he would not have considered mapping out and closing tunnels to be as high a priority as stopping rocket fire from Gaza.
Israeli leaders have considered other means for countering the tunnel threat by trying to sense what's happening below ground. About eight years ago, the Israeli government, defense contractors, and universities began developing a comprehensive system that would use fiber-optic cables, buried at shallower depths than the tunnels, to detect movement in the soil. Microphones could also be used to capture acoustic signals and help intelligence analysts pinpoint the location of tunnels.
But despite what Eiland said are the "dozens of millions of dollars" that have been spent on research, the system has never materialized. Nor, he said, has there been as much urgency to build the system as there has been for Iron Dome, the comprehensive missile-defense shield that aims to intercept and destroy rockets fired at Israel. There's not likely to be a viable tunnel-detecting system in the near future. "We certainly don't have anything close to [Iron Dome] with the tunnels," Eiland said.
That leaves Israeli intelligence to continue scouring Gaza mostly from the air, using drones to build a so-called "pattern of life" of the movement of suspected Hamas fighters. Watching their comings and goings, analysts can get a better read on where in Gaza Hamas is placing the entrances to tunnels -- often inside buildings, security experts said, which the air forces can then attack.
Israeli officials are especially sensitive to allegations of intelligence failures, and not just because the tunnels have added a new, terrifying dimension to Israel's long battle with Hamas. Many experts regard the 1973 surprise attack by Egypt and Syria on Israeli positions in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights as a case study in intelligence breakdowns. Israel prevailed in the ensuing Yom Kippur War, but it sent the clearest signal to date that the country could no longer be ensured of militarily dominating its rivals in the region. The war also threatened to bring the United States and the Soviet Union into military conflict, as each side stepped up efforts to supply their respective allies with arms.
Costly intelligence failures have continued. In 2006, Hezbollah forces in Lebanon launched an anti-ship missile at an Israeli warship, the INS Hanit, which was patrolling waters off the coast of Beirut. The ship stayed afloat, but four crew members were killed. An IDF investigation concluded that "as far as the intelligence picture is concerned, it was found that despite the lack of pinpoint information about the weapon in the hands of Hizbullah, there was information in the Navy in the past that could have lead [sic] to some type of an assessment that the enemy holds shore-to-ship missiles."
It's impossible to draw conclusions about the total effectiveness of any intelligence system based on individual failures, however acute. But, as in the United States, a pattern emerges in which Israeli intelligence seems to broadly understand a threat, but lacks the specific details for knowing when, where, and how an adversary might strike.
The lack of such precise intelligence doesn't preclude a preemptive strike against a known, potential threat -- which is what the Hamas tunnels have been for years. So, why didn't Israel launch a more aggressive effort to close known tunnels and then find others to which they were connected? It's possible that politics wouldn't have allowed it.
"Imagine what would happen if we initiated an operation like this and we began a war out of the blue against Hamas in order to prevent this kind of threat," Eiland argued. With Israel already under international pressure to end its assault on Gaza -- which has claimed at least 1,370 lives, most of them civilians -- and political leaders well aware that Israel's last military foray into Gaza brought international condemnation, the potential threat of attacks from tunnels might not have been sufficient motivation for the country's leaders to act. They'll eventually determine whether that was a wise decision, after the latest round of fighting concludes and Israel asks itself how the war could have been prevented.
Kate Brannen contributed reporting.
Photo by PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images