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4/1/15 Negotiations in Lausanne the View From Tel Aviv

by Marc Schulman

The state of the negotiations with Iran have led Israeli news broadcasts for the last week. Not that they, the broadcasters, have really had much to report. As a result, Israeli reporters turned to tweeting about the food they are eating, or discussing on air whether they will return in time for the Passover seder (Friday night). It especially difficult to report on what seems to be endless “spin” by spokesman on both sides. While the news broadcasts have all been leading with reports on the Iranian talks, there is very little interest in the story amongst average Israelis. There is no conversation in the streets, and only a few exchanges between friends seem to touch on the negotiations. That is probably because – when all is said and done – the average Israeli is not as concerned about the possibility of an Iranian threat as the government seems to be. Don’t get me wrong, Israelis are concerned by Iran’s actions in the Middle East – especially by its support for Hezbollah and its attempts to gain control of the area opposite the Golan Heights. However, Israelis (at least in Tel Aviv) also have confidence that we have the ability to counter any significant threat.

At the end of last week the U.S. mysteriously declassified a report from the International Programs and Technology Department of the Office of the Under Secretary of State on “Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations”, dated April 1987. While the parts regarding the NATO countries was redacted, the section on Israel was revealed. The report contained an in-depth assessment of Israel’s conventional military technologies, as well as its nuclear research capabilities. According to the report, (even back then) in 1987 Israeli conventional weapons technology was on par or, in many cases, superior, to the technologies developed and deployed by the United States. Furthermore, in the field of nuclear research Israeli facilities were on par with the most advanced nuclear research facilities in the U.S.

That U.S. Under Secretary of State’s report was from almost 20 years ago, before Israel’s quantum leap in the field of high tech. Nearly all of those in Israel connected with the high-tech world came out of the Israeli military – and are all well aware how far we have advanced over the course of the last 20 years. Those abilities were underscored today, with announcements that the final testing of Israel’s newest missile defense system – “David’s Slingshot” (a.k.a. Magic Wand) – has been successfully completed, and furthermore, that that system will become operational in the next few months. David’s Slingshot is the third part of Israel’s multi-layer missile defense system to come on line.

Israel now possesses: 1) The “Arrow”, constructed to intercept long-range ballistic missiles in the outer atmosphere, (designed specifically to protect against the Iranian threat); 2) “Iron Dome”, which we saw successfully defend against short-range missiles this summer and acts as a terminal defense system for longer ranger missiles (such as those missiles fired by Hamas on Tel Aviv); and now 3) “David’s Slingshot”, with a range of 50- 150 miles, fashioned to counter larger rockets, (such as the missiles Hezbollah has aimed at Israel.) Of course, all three of these elements can also operate as a layered system against an enemy attack from afar.

This Friday night Israelis, as well as Jews throughout the world, will be sitting down for the Passover Seder to celebrate the freedom of the Jews from Egyptian bondage. As Israelis look around the Middle East all they see is chaos and death. What started as an “Arab Spring”, that might have brought freedom and democracy to the region, has degenerated into sectarian warfare that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands. If Israelis ever thought that they could put part of their future into the hands of outside powers – under any circumstances – the carnage of the past three years has extinguished that option (if it ever existed).

The looming potential threat from Teheran has been visible for over 20 years. While Israel is hopeful that the world will stop Iran, it has never put its future into the hands of others. For that reason Israel has invested two decades developing its multi-tiered missile defense system that is now operational. Israel faces many challenges. No one discounts the threat from Teheran. However, those of us living in Tel Aviv sleep more soundly at night knowing that our future (at least vis a vis the Iranians) does not ultimately depend on what is decided in Washington, Moscow, or Lausanne, but rather, on our own capabilities.

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