Budgetary failures, political deadlock, technology goof-ups, and internal schisms are all standing in the way of Israel’s latest military plan.
Israel’s latest war plan is dubbed ‘Momentum’, seeking to maximize its technological edge against Iran and other regional enemies.
But the IDF's aspirations face significant barriers. The new war plan is a far more expensive successor to the previous ‘Gideon plan’, which informed Israeli weapons procurements in recent years.
More critically, as ambitious as the plan may be, it still requires political will to make it happen. With Israel’s ruling establishment trapped by political uncertainty ahead of elections in March 2020 and an ongoing criminal trial looming over Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu, the plan may not be able to actualize its set goals.
Momentum was supposed to be put into effect much earlier, but with Israel facing its third elections in a year; approval was delayed significantly due to countless coalition governments, and repeated budgetary reviews.
That’s not to mention that the plan is prohibitively expensive. In 2019 alone, Israel spent more than $3.3 billion to increase its war footing. The new plan’s budget is significantly larger.
Historically, the only successful multi-year plans in Israeli history (Tefen plan: 2008 to 2012, Gideon plan) were given budgets by government decision, or agreements between the Ministries of Defense and Finance (Ya`alon-Kahlon Plan).
Between 2012 and 2015, three multi-year plans didn’t survive for lack of budgetary approval or funding.
For the IDF however, the plan is critically necessary.
"The threats are not waiting for us [to be ready for them] [...] We are in a singular place in which if we don’t step on the gas hard now, and literally increase the momentum, a gap will develop — not in a month, not in a year, but in the next few years," says Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.
The plan aims to introduce new technologies, cut down reserve forces, build cyber capacities, enhance the Iron Dome air defences and integrate the F-35 stealth fighter jet into its defences.
But this is all easier said than done. For one thing, cutting down on reservists is a much more challenging proposition than described.
Little known to outsiders, Israel’s military is deeply split over rampant inequality between active-duty and reserve soldiers in terms of pay and insurance benefits, which reservists see as discriminatory. The ‘Momentum’ plan to reduce the reservist footprint has been criticized by many as an indirect attempt to make their protests disappear, and the reservists with them.
Exemptions from military service for ultra-orthodox Jews, who nonetheless campaign for the most military action also generates wide-spread perceptions of un-shared risks. With the ‘Momentum’ plan’s execution, these challenges are likely to be reflected in the political arena; possibly hindering its achievement altogether.
What’s in the plan?
Jonathan Conricus, IDF spokesperson describes its key elements in a mid-February briefing. The five-year plan is aiming for results to be seen throughout 2030, and focuses heavily on ‘third circle’ threats, which is Israeli parlance for Iran.
It seeks to prepare for the evolution of ‘terror groups’ into ‘terror-armies’, balancing between precision weapons to target these groups while defending against Iran’s ballistic and cruise missiles as well. The plan also focuses on preparing for battle in urban areas that serve as equalizers to conventional militaries, including Gaza. It specifies the need to be able to fight short decisive wars on multiple fronts, and to win quickly.
But much of the plan relies on existing anti-ballistic systems such as the US-funded Iron Dome system, which is being considered for procurement by the US Marine Corps given its touted success in shooting down ballistic missiles incoming from Gaza.
Iron Sieve, not Iron Dome
Richard Lloyd, weapons expert and former engineering fellow at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, said the system is essentially “failing.”
When an Iron Dome missile gets close enough to an incoming rocket, a proximity fuse causes the warhead to detonate; shooting out metal rods intended to hit and detonate incoming warheads.
Ted Postol, MIT physicist and missile-defense expert, who was responsible for proving the failure of US Patriot missiles in the 1st Gulf War, agrees that their interceptors are not doing the job.
“Israel’s Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve. It fails to destroy all but a few of the rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups fire,” says Postol.
Iron Dome interceptors need to hit an incoming rocket head-on if they plan on detonating a warhead, says Lloyd says. Visual analysis of engagements shows that interceptions take place from the side or behind, yielding “essentially a zero chance of destroying the warhead,” he adds.
The IDF is also creating a new General position to focus exclusively on the Iranian threat, in addition to retiring old tanks, creating new infantry units and pushing for the use of more drones and unmanned platforms in their military.