October 26, 2023

Israel’s Military Tech Fetish Is a Failed Strategy

We are still in the early phase of Operation Swords of Iron, the name of the Israeli military response to the horrific Hamas-led massacre of more than 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has predicted a “long war.” Amid an intensifying aerial bombing campaign, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are gearing up for a large-scale ground invasion of densely populated Gaza. The IDF is expected to face stiff resistance on the ground by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other groups, which will try to leverage the urban terrain, civilian population, and vast labyrinth of underground tunnels—dubbed the Gaza metro—for asymmetric advantages in this fight.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategic myopia and hubris that led him to be blindsided on Oct. 7 was enabled by the trust that the IDF and Israel’s other security services had in their technological sophistication.

The IDF, built around a system of universal conscription and reserve service, is considered one of the best militaries in the world. Its air force and special operations units are the envy of many a NATO general. A key element that makes the IDF a potent force is the United States’ long-standing commitment to maintaining the Israelis’ qualitative military superiority over potential adversaries by providing roughly $3.8 billion a year in military assistance. Coupled with the IDF’s lavish use of Israel’s thriving tech sector, this allows the IDF to field an expensive, high-tech military, including cutting-edge air and missile defense systems, stealth fighters, as well as advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

Yet it may be exactly this IDF quest for high-tech superiority over low-tech adversaries, such as Hamas, that has clouded its vision. Not only did the IDF’s sense of technological superiority contribute to its failure to anticipate a sophisticated combined arms attack on Oct. 7, but it may also be a tactical disadvantage in the expected ground campaign in Gaza. This wouldn’t be the first time it has been a problem: Analysts have pointed out that a “cult of technology” contributed to the IDF’s poor performance in the 2006 Lebanon War.

Read the full article from Foreign Policy.

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