Tech Edge

Memo to Bibi Netanyahu: It’s Time to Build an Arsenal of Awe

So your Plan A on Iran—a U.S. strike—isn’t going to work. Time for Plan B: Work with the U.S. on joint technology investment and deployment to safeguard against asymmetrical attacks.


Bibi, you’re off your game—Plan A didn’t work. The United States and the rest of the U.N. Security Council have lined up in favor of a deal with Iran. Within the U.S., the policy elites are squarely behind the president, and the public either is tepidly divided , or lukewarmly supportive of the interim accord on enrichment. Either way, Republicans and Democrats alike are not keen on another war. So with Plan A, an American strike against Iran, off the table, it is time to explore Plan B.

Plan B? Yes, a Plan B, one that places more stock in patient strategy as opposed to impatient action. Israel needs to regain its technological edge in military matters, and it needs America to regain its tech edge, too. Israel can’t afford wars of attrition with Arabs who are 50 times more numerous, and the U.S. has shown, in Iraq and now Afghanistan, that it won’t sustain such quagmires.

It’s time to return to technology and guile as the cornerstones of Israeli policy.

Over the last two decades, Israeli deterrence has eroded. Yes, Israel has nukes, and that technology has made Israel safe from symmetrical attack. But what about asymmetrical attacks, where the use of nuclear weapons is inappropriate? Here, the record isn’t so good. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Israel’s vulnerability to missile strikes has been an Achilles’ heel. When you’re handing out gas masks to your own population, you’re not winning.

The 2006 Lebanon war made the shortcomings of the Israel Defense Forces’ ground game manifest. Israel has been unwilling to commit ground troops to uprooting Hezbollah positions, and yet at the same time, Israel lacks the technology to prevent Hezbollah rockets from hitting Israel. And today, Hezbollah has more rockets threatening Israeli than seven years ago.

During Israel’s 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s Iron Dome system successfully destroyed no more than 40 percent of incoming warheads fired from Gaza. This is not the Israel of high intelligence, high technology, or high performance.

And the U.S. too is bogged down in a similar low-grade and low-tech dance. China and the U.S. are playing cat and mouse in the Senkaku Islands, and China does not seem to be backing down. For its part, the U.S. doesn’t seem able to impress technologically the way it once did.

Uncle Sam sent a pair of unarmed B-52 bombers into disputed airspace? Not exactly fear-inspiring. But a fleet of unmanned aircraft, capable of delivering high-yield killer payloads faster than the speed of sound—now that would have been an attention-grabber.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon appears more concerned about the impact of sequestration on U.S. Army ground forces than it does in developing and deploying technology to project American might. Note to the Pentagon: If America gets into a conflict with China, such forces are irrelevant.

As for President Obama, well, he’s proved himself irrelevant to technological discussions. From Solyndra to, his tech-strategy acumen leaves a bit to be desired.

As for the Iranians, I think we both know they are going to get a bomb one of these days. You care about that. All friends of Israel should care about that. However, the P-5+1 doesn’t really care.

And in the meantime, Israel seems to lack the technology either to eliminate the Iranian bomb or to defend against it. That’s a problem, and that’s the challenge.

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As for the Palestinians, they hate you, and now an al Qaeda-linked cell has found a West Bank home. Paeans to patrimony and to the sanctity of land are good at rallying the faithful not only for Jews, but also Arabs.

In his recent book, Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, Chris Schroeder, an aide back in the day to Secretary of State James A. Baker III and now a tech entrepreneur, makes clear that the startup impulse is showing signs of life in the Arab world. Left unsaid is that technological innovation frequently comes with dual capabilities, including military use.

Still, Israel retains technological superiority and a GDP growing at 3.4 percent annually. Recently, Apple paid about $350 million for Israel-based PrimeSense Ltd., whose technology drives the gesture controls in Xbox Kinect. Tel Aviv is now ranked 32nd as a world financial center, ahead of Melbourne, Munich and Rome. So you have resources.

Bibi, it’s time to shoot for the stars and reach out to your American friends. If using U.S. forces to “liberate” Israel’s enemies is no longer an option, and if Israel is vulnerable to a rising tide of Iranian and Arab technology, then you only have one course: Get better at technology. Enlist Israel’s supporters in a quest for sustained technological superiority against Iran, China, everyone.

It’s what the U.S. needs, too, to retain its status as the leading superpower. And as you know, Israel’s survival depends on America staying No. 1. So Bibi, use your clout with Congress to get the Americans to do what’s best for them—and for you. Get them to see the strategic situation in a new way.

After all, the Reuters poll showing American approval for the Iranian deal also showed that support for Israel is widespread. Given all these data points, joint American-Israeli development of a smorgasbord of high-tech weaponry is a military and political imperative.

An electromagnetic shield could potentially halt incoming projectiles launched from Gaza, Tehran, or North Korea. A swarm of insect-size nano-drones could compensate for lack of familiarity with terrain and difficulties in attracting recruits for Israel’s combat units.

Mr. Prime Minister, imagine drones and robots replacing Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. That would make the occupation easier, at least optically. It’s what the U.S. should have had in Iraq and Afghanistan from the start, before the casualties started to mount.

Israel and the U.S. have a life-and-death interest in maintaining their technological advantage. Joint development of an Arsenal of Awe should become a priority for both countries. With a two-state solution appearing ever more distant and the U.S. facing new threats over the horizon, technology investment and deployment are “must-dos” for both countries.