Israël veut procurer la technologie laser à ses Forces armées – Entrevue exclusive avec le rédacteur en chef du Jerusalem Post

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Yaakov Katz (courtesy of himself)

THE ENGLISH VERSION FOLLOWS

Yaakov Katz, rédacteur en chef du grand quotidien The Jerusalem Post et auteur de deux livres à succès consacrés aux affaires militaires israéliennes a récemment accepté de répondre à quelques questions exclusives pour ce blogue. Voici donc le contenu de notre échange, pour lequel je lui suis d’ailleurs très reconnaissant.

Je suis d’avis que les bons auteurs s’inspirent de grands livres. Accepteriez-vous de partager avec mes lecteurs quel est le meilleur livre que vous ayez lu?

J’ai lu plusieurs excellents livres. Celui qui a vraiment influencé mon style d’écriture et de narration s’intitule Thirteen Days in September (13 jours en septembre) par Lawrence Wright. C’est un livre fantastique au sujet des pourparlers de paix de Camp David entre Israël et l’Égypte, mais ce que Wright fait d’étonnant, c’est de donner aux lecteurs le sentiment qu’ils sont dans la pièce avec Begin, Sadate et Carter. Je le recommande vivement.

À l’heure actuelle, l’un des grands objectifs est la technologie laser pouvant intercepter potentiellement des missiles et des tirs de mortiers ennemis en approche. Imaginez ce que cela signifierait pour Israël.

Après avoir lu votre excellent livre The Weapon Wizards (écrit avec Amir Bohbot), je me demandais si vous pouviez me dire quelle nouvelle innovation / invention israélienne pourrait faire son apparition dans un avenir prochain – si vous êtes autorisé à en parler?

Le secteur de la défense et les Forces de défense israéliennes (IDF) sont constamment à la recherche de nouvelles capacités et technologies. À l’heure actuelle, l’un des grands objectifs est la technologie laser pouvant être utilisée à différentes fins, mais avant tout pour intercepter potentiellement des missiles et des tirs de mortiers ennemis en approche. Imaginez ce que cela signifierait pour Israël. Quelques systèmes laser déployés le long de ses frontières pourraient potentiellement libérer le pays de ces missiles qui représentent une menace. Pensez aussi à l’aspect économique de cela – si un intercepteur de type Iron Dome coûte environ 100 000 dollars, un tir laser ne coûterait presque rien.

WeaponWizardsDans The Weapon Wizards, on retrouve un chapitre fascinant intitulé « Les armes diplomatiques », à l’intérieur duquel vous faites référence au développement des relations d’Israël avec la Chine. Que diriez-vous sur l’état de cette relation aujourd’hui (où elle en est actuellement)?

Les relations entre Israël et la Chine ont commencé par des ventes d’armes. C’est l’histoire fantastique d’un petit pays qui s’est servi de sa technologie d’armement pour nouer des relations diplomatiques avec plusieurs pays, dont certains plus grands, à travers le monde. Israël entretient aujourd’hui de vastes liens économiques et commerciaux avec la Chine, mais rien dans le domaine de la défense. Cette décision a été prise il y a une quinzaine d’années, pour éviter toute tension avec les États-Unis.

Même si Vladimir Poutine a accepté qu’Israël mène des opérations en Syrie, cette position pourrait changer demain.

Comment envisagez-vous les relations d’Israël avec la Russie dans un avenir proche?

Israël et la Russie entretiennent des relations étroites, principalement en raison de la forte présence de la Russie en Syrie et dû au fait qu’Israël souhaite conserver la capacité d’opérer sur ce territoire contre l’Iran et le Hezbollah comme il se doit. Jusqu’à présent, la Russie a bien compris cet enjeu, mais je ne pense pas que les Israéliens caressent l’illusion que la Russie se soucie véritablement du danger qui plane au-dessus d’Israël. Au bout du compte, les responsables de la défense et du gouvernement savent que le président Poutine ne pense qu’à la Russie et que même s’il a accepté qu’Israël mène des opérations en Syrie, cette position pourrait changer demain.

L’une de mes parties préférées dans le livre fut lorsque j’ai appris que les personnes autistes servent dans l’armée israélienne et y occupent un rôle très crucial. Est-ce que des personnes souffrant d’autres handicaps peuvent également servir dans les rangs? Un diabétique comme moi pourrait-il porter l’uniforme et servir le pays si j’étais Israélien?

L’armée israélienne a des critères très stricts pour savoir qui peut et qui ne peut pas porter l’uniforme. Règle générale, les personnes souffrant de sérieux problèmes médicaux préexistants ou qui ont été atteints d’une maladie grave mettant leur vie en danger dans le passé bénéficient d’une exemption médicale. Ils peuvent toujours se porter volontaires pour le service militaire. C’est ce qui se passe pour les soldats handicapés.

Envisagez-vous d’écrire bientôt un autre livre et, si oui, de quoi s’agira-t-il?

Je pense toujours à de nouveaux sujets pour un livre. Vous devrez être patient 😊

Si le Premier ministre Netanyahou peut rester en fonction et subir son procès simultanément, il le fera.

Pensez-vous que Benjamin Netanyahu peut survivre en tant que Premier ministre? Si oui, pourquoi?

Si Benjamin Netanyahou peut rester en fonction et subir son procès simultanément, il le fera.

Il existe de nombreux scénarios, mais en voici un: que se passe-t-il s’il est acquitté par le tribunal et reconnu innocent de corruption? Fondamentalement, je pense qu’il s’accrochera aussi longtemps qu’il le pourra. S’il peut rester en fonction et subir son procès simultanément, il le fera.

Benny Gantz est un homme sérieux, mais ce n’est pas un politicien et ça se voit.

J’ai toujours été impressionné par l’entrée de personnalités issues du secteur militaire israélien dans la vie publique. Pensez-vous que Benny Gantz dispose des qualités d’un Moshe Dayan ou d’un Yitzhak Rabin?

Le temps nous le dira. Gantz est un homme sérieux qui, je n’en doute pas, se soucie profondément de l’État d’Israël. Mais ce n’est pas un politicien et ça se voit.

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ShadowStrikeYaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post and author of two acclaimed books about Israeli military affairs recently agreed to respond to a few exclusive questions for this blog. Here is the content of our exchange, for which I’m very grateful.

It is my opinion that good authors are inspired by great books. Would you agree to share with my readers what is the greatest book you read?

I’ve read many great books. One that I can say that really influenced my style of writing and storytelling is called Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright. It is a fantastic book about the Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt but what Wright does amazingly is give readers the feeling that they are inside the room with Begin, Sadat and Carter. I strongly recommend it.

One big focus right now is laser technology that can be notably used to potentially intercept incoming enemy missiles and mortars. Imagine what this would mean for Israel.

Following my reading of your excellent book The Weapon Wizards (written with Amir Bohbot), I was wondering if you could tell me what new Israeli innovation / invention might be coming out in the near future – if you are allowed to talk about it?

The defense establishment and IDF are constantly looking at new capabilities and technology. One big focus right now is laser technology that can be used for an assortment of purposes but first and foremost to potentially intercept incoming enemy missiles and mortars. Imagine what this would mean for Israel. A few laser systems deployed along its borders would potentially rid the country of this missile threat. Think also about the economics of this – if an Iron Dome interceptor costs around $100,000, a laser shot would cost almost nothing.

In The Weapon Wizards, there is a fascinating chapter titled “Diplomatic Arms”, in which you are referring to the development of Israel’s relations with China. What would you say about this relationship today (where it stands now)?

Israeli ties with China started through arms deals. It’s a great story of how this tiny country used its weapons technology to forge and open diplomatic relations with different and much larger countries around the world. Today, Israel has vast economic and trade ties with China but nothing in the realm of defense. This was decided about 15 years ago to avoid any tension with the United States.

President Putin is okay today with Israel operating in Syria, but that could change tomorrow.

How do you see Israel’s relationship developing with Russia in the near future?

Israel and Russia have a close relationship primarily because of Russia’s large presence in Syria and the fact that Israel wants to retain the ability to operate there against Iran and Hezbollah as it needs to. Russia has understood this until now, but I don’t think that people in Israel are living an illusion that Russia genuinely cares about the danger to Israel. Ultimately, defense and government officials know that President Putin is thinking solely about Russia and that while today he is okay with Israel operating in Syria, that could change tomorrow.

One of my favorite part in the book was when I learnt that autistic people are serving in the IDF in a very crucial role. Are there other people with disabilities who can serve in the ranks? Could a diabetic like me wear the uniform and serve the country if I was Israeli?

The IDF has very strict criteria for who can and who cannot serve in uniform. In general, people with serious preexisting medical conditions or people who have had a serious life-threatening disease in the past, are given a medical exemption. They can still volunteer for military service. That is what happens in the case of soldiers with disabilities.

Do you think of writing another book soon and, if so, what will it be about?

I am always thinking of new topics for a book. You will have to wait and see 😊

If Prime Minister Netanyahu can stay in office and run his trial at the same time, he will.

Do you think Benjamin Netanyahu can survive as Prime Minister? If so, why?

There are many scenarios but here is one – what happens if he is acquitted by the court and found innocent of corruption charges? Basically, my point is that he will try to hold on for as long as he can. If he can stay in office and run his trial at the same time, he will.

Benny Gantz is a serious politician, but he is not a politician and it shows.

I’ve always been impressed with Israeli military figures entering public life. Do you think Benny Gantz has the qualities of a Moshe Dayan or a Yitzhak Rabin?

Time will tell. Gantz is a serious person who I have no doubt, cares deeply for the State of Israel. But, he is not a politician and it shows.

Fighting Covid-19 with “The Weapon Wizards”

WeaponWizards“The most important 6 inches on the battlefield is between your ears.” – James N. Mattis

Israeli soldiers have always impressed me. Because they know how to use their brains.

Few years ago, I was impressed to observe several young Israeli soldiers carrying their Tavor assault rifle – which was selected by the IDF to replace the M-16 – a weapon better adapted to urban warfare, which is a necessity for the Israel’s Defense Force (IDF).

In itself, the apparition of the Tavor is a vignette of Israel’s legendary capacity to find a solution to a challenging situation.

Few weeks ago, I reviewed Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power by Yaakov Katz. After finishing that excellent book, I decided to read the first book he wrote with Amir Bohbot, The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower.

And that proved to be a delightful read.  

The authors recount how, in the days preceding the country’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, the leaders of the Yishuv understood that they could not only count on others to build up and develop their military and defense infrastructure. The kibbutzim who fabricated ammunition clandestinely paved the way to a country that is now the 8th largest arms exporter in the world and became “[…] the world’s largest exporter of drones”, while also developing discreet relations with China at the height of the Cold War.

Barack Obama is the godfather of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

It is therefore enthralling to learn how drones – a common feature in current military operations nowadays – were invented in the late 1960s by an Israeli innovator who had to surmount lots of opposition. Or how President Barack Obama’s intervention represented a lifesaver for the Iron Dome, after one of his advisors “[…] was struck by Israel’s lack of strategic depth and how close towns and cities were to the threats brewing in the North and South. When Kahl returned to Washington, he drafted a memo recommending that the White House immediately authorize $200 million in Iron Dome funding.”

I might ruffle a few feathers here, but I think that Barack Obama therefore became the godfather of a military invention that is “the world’s most deployed missile defense system, with more than 2000 interceptions and a success rate greater that 90%.

Autistic people serve in the IDF in a subunit of highly qualified people.

Thanks to Katz and Bohbot, the reader understands that, while Israel lacks geographical strategic depth, this feature is largely compensated by the resourcefulness of its people. The most interesting passage of the book is when the authors write about a special form of recruitment in Israel’s Armed Forces. “Gathering the intelligence is only half the job. The other half is analyzing the imagery. For that, the IDF created a subunit of highly qualified soldiers who have remarkable visual and analytical capabilities. The common denominator among its members is just as remarkable: they all have autism.”

I can think of no other country that does this.

In the IDF, a noncommissioned officer can argue with a general.

In terms of uniqueness, there is another aspect that struck me in the form of “[…] the country’s infamous casualness and informality.” They give the examples of a noncommissioned officer who argued with a general or the reservists who complained directly to the Prime Minister’s Office about a commander who lacked leadership, therefore blocking his promotion. In most of the military structures, an argument and / or a complaint represents the end of one’s advancement. Katz and Bohot write that “creativity can only happen when people come together and exchange ideas. To do that, they need to know each other and share the same language and culture. In Israel, they do that in the army.”

ChutzpahDefinitionAnyone who spent some time in Israel understands the notion that Israelis have no difficulties bending the rules. Oftentimes, the book refers to an occasion when an inventor or innovator used what we call “chutzpah” (a word that is often used between the covers) to progress, violating regulations or bypassing the chain of command to get in touch directly with the Minister of defense. These innovators know that the battlefield is only a few kilometers away and that “[…] if Israel is not creative in its thinking, there is a chance it will not survive.”

Israel’s military capabilities depend on its capacity to adapt and embrace technological and scientific innovation. Those who wear a lab coat and annoy the top brass with their disruptive ideas are responsible for giving the men and women in uniform the edge they need on the battleground to carry the day.

The brains of Israeli’s innovators represents the strategic depth of the country’s defense.

The Weapon Wizards is not only a brilliant exposé of Israel’s military technology. It’s also a colourful account of what makes the IDF so unique and forward-thinking, the brilliance of its people, which is the best possible insurance policy for the future.

All of this said, I have only one regret about The Weapon Wizards: not having read it before. And I’ll be very curious to read anything that I’ll be able to put my hands on about the Rafael defense technology company – a fascinating ambassador of Israel’s capacity to develop effective military solutions against all odds.

In this difficult period where many of us are called to stay home to better fight the Covid-19 pandemic, many are finding themselves with more time to read. All those who nourish an interest in military history will love this book. Trust me.

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Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot, The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower,New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 304 pages.

I would like to express special thanks to Mr. Joseph Rinaldi of St. Martin’s Press for his kind and precious assistance.

Moshe Dayan – the Israeli Iron Man

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Moshe Dayan figurine by King & Country (IDF001) photographed on Professor Mark Raider’s article about the legendary Israeli warlord.

In May 2017, King & Country (the world’s most notorious toy soldier collectibles company) released a new series about the Six-Days War, featuring Moshe Dayan as its first figure (IDF001). From what I heard, this collection has met with lots of interest and success. And I will admit that I started collecting the IDF figurines and the legendary eye-patched General is my favorite, for the good reason that he never left me indifferent and I developed a profound admiration for him.

Back when I visited Israel in 2008, I purchased a poster of the famous picture of Uzi Narkis, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin entering Jerusalem in June 1967. And I hanged it proudly on the wall, in front of my bookshelves.

So what is it with a Canadian guy like me admiring this Israeli icon?

I have to admit that, since I’ve always been a staunch defender and supporter of Israel, I never really questioned myself about the phenomenon.

Up until I saw that Professor Mark A. Raider from the University of Cincinnati had written an article about it, pertinently titled “Moshe Dayan: “Israel’s No. 1 Hero” (in America)”.

And what a great treat it was. Trust me, I’ve read my faire share of boredom-summoning papers since my University days. But Mark Raider’s article is not among that lot.

In a nutshell, the author explains that the reason why Dayan became so popular in the United States is directly related to the fact that “he meshed seamlessly with the American faith in military heroes who became statesmen.” You can think of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Andrew Jackson or – one of my very favorites – Theodore Roosevelt here.

“In short, by the 1970s the cultural myth surrounding Dayan – cultivated by his promoters, embraced by his admirers, and encouraged by Dayan himself – not only conformed to the American hero pattern but became an indelible feature of American popular culture.”

So, that’s how and why Moshe Dayan became a heroic figure like Tony Stark or James Bond – “[…] safeguarding Western values and ideals […]” in my psyche.

I guess you can predict that, in such great company, Moshe Dayan’s fame and resonance as a member of the “[…] pantheon of the West’s outstanding war heroes […]” has a very bright future ahead.

And I truly hope that Professor Raider will decide to write a book on this fascinating subject. Under such an eloquent analytic pen, it would be a bestseller – no doubt about it.

Why the IDF prevails

MosheDayanQuoteMy understanding of history and my numerous visits in Israel nourished my conviction that – confronted with continuous and lethal threats since its rebirth in 1948 – this country would not have survived without the capacities of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

A recent article by Raphael D. Marcus in the Journal of Strategic Studies has brought yet another proof to support this assertion.

In July 2014, Israel was forced to launch Operation “Protective Edge” to counter Hamas murderous attacks on Israel from Gaza. Along the way, IDF would have to turn on a dime, since “[…] Hamas had developed an extensive network of tunnels, with some designed to infiltrate large numbers of fighters into Israel to kill or kidnap soldiers and civilians.”

If it was to be victorious, IDF needed to cope with the new reality. And, based on a “[…] leadership style that is open and dynamic [and] which improves its ability to learn and adapt” – in the pure German military tradition of Auftragstaktik – it did just that, relying on the autonomy, creativity and audacity of its human capital – its boots on the ground.

The Yahalom Unit (the main unit with expertise in underground warfare) was therefore tasked with the development of the operational response to Hamas tunnel warfare and to share its expertise with other units on the ground. The forces active on the theater of operations could then implement the lessons learnt and improvise the actions to be taken to destroy the tunnels and neutralize the enemy.

At the end of the day, the unconventional mindset of the IDF was the best asset to prevail over an irregular enemy that will never stop seeking to hurt Israel. In the words of a former Bridage Commander involved in the 2014 war: “Surprises are part of war. The question is who recovers first.”

I just loved every page of that excellent article, which I recommend to anyone interested in learning how the best military minds craft victories.

Commemorating the Victory of 1967

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King and Country figurines IDF006 (Radio Operator), IDF001 (General Moshe Dayan) and IDF004 (Officer w/UZI) pictured on a flag of Israel.

Some time ago, I was thrilled to learn that King and Country was about to release the very first IDF (Israel Defense Forces) figurines of its fantastic collection, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War in June 1967.

To quote from the text accompanying this collection:

“This dramatic new postwar military series of figures and fighting vehicles will tell, in miniature, just why Israel had to do what it did and how with a relatively small regular and part-time army it fought and defeated some of its most numerous, best equipped and belligerent neighbors.”

That says it all and I’m very happy that King & Country has decided to honour the sacrifice of these men and women at a time of great peril for their homeland – the State of Israel.

At the same time, we have to be lucid enough to recognize all the courage it took for this company to make such a bold decision and go forward. In a world where Israel’s enemies are always prone to deny it any quality and even its basic right to exist, it’s imperative to salute those who are not afraid to row against the current. The brave men and women who serve Israel in its armed forces deserve it. Fully.

The Heroes of the Israel Defense Force (IDF)

I’ve been blessed to travel to Israel on several occasions for professional purposes. Every time, I was always amazed and impressed by those young men and women who serve in the Israel Defense Force (IDF).

While other young people go to University, travel the world with friends, find a good job or establish a family, young Israelis devote an important part of their life to be on the vanguard of protecting and defending their homeland. For your information, “Males serve for three years and females for just less than two years.

So this video has it all right. It’s not a metaphor. The heroes of the IDF really have Israel’s back. And they’re the first line of defence of the values that are important for us – freedom and democracy.