In Search of Security: Defending Israel into the Next Century

Article excerpt

ITZCHAK MORDECHAI is Defense Minister of the State of Israel.

A look back at Israel's 50 years of independence and sovereignty reveals both extraordinary accomplishments and still-daunting challenges. History knows no instance comparable to the political renaissance embodied in the State of Israel. Indeed, the saga of an ancient nation repatriated to its homeland after two millennia of exile, so soon after mankind's most heinous genocide, is a tale that deserves more comprehensive narration than this format allows. Of particular relevance, of course, is the story of how a young nation proceeded from guarding its fledgling independence to building a world-renowened defense force.

Mine are brush strokes of a former soldier who, throughout his adult life, practiced his belief that in the particular case of Israel, preserving physical security was a mission that superseded everything else; who also believed that existence, when jeopardized, must inevitably take precedence over the quality of that existence. In view of the Jewish people's painful history of persecution, the paramount importance placed on the need to guarantee security should not be difficult to comprehend. However, a true grasp of Israel's unique experience in nation-building amidst continued security challenges cannot be confined to narrow, solely military expressions of the issue. Therefore, it the following pages I shall attempt to treat the subject in a broader perspective.

Israel's Defense Capabilities

Five decades of independent existence today witness an Israel that is strong, prosperous, self-confident, and ready to marshal its defensive and intellectual resources to craft a stable regional environment. The reasons for Israel's achievements lie in the travail, perseverance, and spirit of its individual citizens. But taken together, Israel's strength can be said to be based on the following parameters.

First and foremost, Israel draws on the determination of Israelis to continue to live and succeed as a free people in the land of their forefathers. The still searing lessons of the Holocaust, and the memory of Arab attempts to bar, delegitimize, and weaken Israel's hold in the Jewish land have served rather to strengthen a sense of justice, stubbornness, and ingenuity in a people hitherto scattered across the globe. Indeed, an unintended bonus of the opposition to Israel's existence was that it hastened the formation of an esprit de corps and a sense of nationhood amongst its people.

Second, the existence of a democratic, pluralistic, and free society helps to make Israel strong by fostering creativity and entrepreneurship and by encouraging a sense of belonging and personal freedom. It is also a society that suddenly and painfully realized the danger that rogue elements, coming from within its own ranks, could inflict on its social fabric and its elected leadership.

Third, Israel has great political and military prowess. The nation enjoys an overwhelming image of deterrence, strong US backing, an advanced research and development community, and indigenous defense industries. It possesses force multipliers in the critical areas of intelligence, air power, and command and control. The country also boasts high quality civilian and military leadership, a long record of solidarity and consensus regarding external threats, a proven and consistent record of victory in wars, and an acknowledgment of its military superiority by regional parties.

Fourth, Israel benefits from its economic and technological robustness. Its economy is stronger than the combined economies of all adjoining states, which means that the average income of each of Israel's citizens surpasses that of any of its immediate neighbors. Israel's economy is growing fast. It is capital- and brain-intensive, concentrating increasingly in modern, high tech sectors. True, Israel's economy is still in need of further adjustments and structural changes. …