The IDF displayed yet another embarrassing failure in defending the homeland yesterday regarding the Iranian drone launched under the auspices of Hezbollah from Lebanon. Yediot’s Alex Fishman, one of the few forthright Israeli defense reporters notes (print only) that the aerial vehicle was allowed to fly over Israeli airspace for 20 minutes before it was downed. If you take into account IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich’s claim that the army was tracking the drone for 20 minutes, that means it hadn’t a clue about the drone until it crossed into Israeli airspace. Imagine the most advanced army in the Middle East cannot track a slow-moving drone launched from Lebanon and flown for a long distance over the Mediterranean. Among the Israeli sites it overflew were population centers and military bases. It was only 18 miles (he calls it “spitting distance”) from Dimona when it was felled. Several years ago, a Hezbollah balloon flew directly over Dimona before it too was shot down. Note that this is supposed to be restricted airspace.
Fishman, whose IDF sources are excellent reports that the drone was manufactured by the Iranian aviation industry and used Iranian technology.
So despite the praise offered by Ehud Barak, reassuring the population that the army had the nation’s back and that there was nothing to worry about–there is very much to be worried about. The IDF, like most armies, isn’t just fighting the last war, it’s fighting the war before that. When Sinai militants attacked Eilat last year, Israeli intelligence hadn’t a clue that this might happen. The only terror attack it planned for was from Gaza. That the attack was launched from Egypt caught the IDF with their pants down. The Israeli response was so haphazard that one of its units invaded Egypt and killed five Egyptian police officers. Similarly, last month’s Sinai attack that killed 16 police officers on the Egyptian side and brought an armored personnel carrier a mile into Israel, also represented an intelligence failure.
Israeli intelligence is afflicted with a failure of imagination. It always underestimates the enemy. It rarely anticipates what it will do, where and how it will attack. Israel is so used to fighting battles and wars on its terms, that it has stopped trying to understand the enemy in any more than a superficial way. This failure not only sells the nation’s defense short, it characterizes Israel’s inability to understand the needs and interests of its erstwhile enemies.
Israel is like a fish out of water. It sees itself, in Ehud Barak’s infamous phrase as a “villa in the jungle.” That is, an advanced western country plopped down in the middle of the Middle Eastern jungle. Yet it is nothing of the sort. Israel is rather a schizoid country with an economy that apes the west in some ways, but structurally is closer to that of the oligarchic capitalism of Russia. It fancies itself a western democracy, but behaves little better than the Iranian Islamist theocracy.
Israel as presently constituted can never integrate into the region. In fact, it doesn’t want to integrate. It believes it can maintain this charade of specialness and separateness forever. Until it can’t. These military-intelligence failures are only a symptom of that.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.