Opinion |

The Iranians Are Lulling Israel's Leaders to Sleep

Iran aims to entrench its deployment of missiles around us and is avoiding creating tension before the job is done. Meanwhile, Israel's army and citizens are totally unprepared for this looming existential threat

יצחק בריק
Yitzhak Brik
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The launch of a ballistic missile in Iran, in 2016.
The launch of a ballistic missile in Iran, in 2016.Credit: Omid Vahabzadeh/AP
יצחק בריק
Yitzhak Brik

For about a decade, Iran has sought to deploy an enormous number of rockets and missiles in its satellites around Israel (including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shi’ite militias in Yemen, Syria and Iraq).

Today, there are more than 200,000 (!) rockets and missiles, large and small, aimed at Israel’s major population centers and strategic targets, and at vital defense and civilian infrastructure (energy systems, natural resources, electricity, fuel, natural gas, water, transportation, communication, public health and safety institutions).

The hazard posed by these missiles has turned Israel into the world’s most threatened country. Yet over the decade in which this terrifying deployment took shape around us, Israel’s political and security leadership fell into a deep sleep. It did not prepare either the Israel Defense Forces or the country in general for the threat emerging before our very eyes – neither in terms of offensive capabilities, nor in terms of the ability to prepare and protect the home front to absorb thousands of missile strikes every day.

During those years, and to this very day, the leadership preferred to deal with what it calls the "campaign between the wars." This campaign takes the form at times of air strikes on targets in Syria, which are intended to prevent Iran’s entrenchment there and to keep missiles – as well the components that convert them into precision weaponry – from being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But for all their importance, these air strikes are a drop in the ocean. They aren’t capable of releasing the Iranians’ stranglehold on Syria or preventing Hezbollah from continuing its precision guided missile project.

These attacks give the public the feeling that we’re in control of the situation, but we aren’t. The components for turning missiles into precision weaponry still make their way from Iran to Hezbollah, by land, by sea or by direct flights.

The launch of a missile during military maneuvers in Iran, in 2011. Israel has a serious problem because it has no solution for 3,000 missiles of various sizes that could attack it. Credit: AP/Mehr News Agency, Raouf Mohseni

I have the feeling that history is repeating itself. The air strikes in Syria remind me of the aerial battle that took place in 1973 one month before the Yom Kippur War, along the border between Israel and Syria, near the latter's border with Lebanon. In this battle, Israel downed 12 Syrian MiG fighters while losing only a single plane. The people cheered our aerial victory and felt that we had an army that no power could overcome.

One month after that battle, the war broke out. In it, we paid an extremely heavy price for our arrogance and smugness. I feel as if we’re in the same situation today. Our air strikes in Syria, whose effect is, as said, like a drop in the ocean, are diverting the attention of our political and security leadership from the main issue: massive preparation of both the IDF and the home front for the existential threat that’s burgeoning around us.

For many years, the IDF has occupied itself mainly with the so-called campaign between the wars rather than preparing for the next war. This plays into the Iranians’ hands: They usually don’t strike back hard (if at all) when we target their people or the infrastructure they’re building in Syria. Their goal is to put us to sleep so they can quietly finish the work of entrenching their deployment of missiles all around us. Consequently, they avoid creating tension or an explosion before they have finished the job. They’re waiting until they think the time is ripe, and they have great patience.

The announcement by Naftali Bennett, when he was defense minister, to the effect that the Iranians are leaving Syria, is clear evidence of the efficacy of the Iranians' tactic of putting our leaders to sleep; they anticipate precisely those sorts of declarations. The Iranians have total control today in Syria. The Syrian regime has become a puppet on a string that's controlled by the Iranians.

Syria and Iraq have become a golden bridge connecting Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Just recently Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that the project of turning the missiles into precision weaponry has been completed. Even if he is exaggerating, there is no question that his words must be taken very seriously – before the launching of thousands of missiles each day at strategic, security and civilian targets, and population centers, sets Israel back decades and delivers a mortal blow to its population and its economy.

As far as the Iranians are concerned, a powerful strike against Israel is definitely sufficient, and would lead to the desired results. As they see it, their attempt to acquire nuclear capability is meant to create a balance of terror between Iran and Israel. They believe that the launching of masses of conventional missiles at Israel from their array of satellites would result in damage to Israel that is as serious as that of an atom bomb – only without nuclear fallout. The massive onslaught of missiles would not be seen by the world as an act that deviates from the red lines of international law, which forbid the use of nuclear weaponry.

The Iranians’ effort to reach nuclear capability is meant to signal to Israel: “You’ve been warned. If you use a nuclear weapon against Iran, you’ll be hit by one of ours.” In this equation, Israel has a very serious problem because it has no solution for 3,000 missiles of various sizes that would attack it daily – hundreds of them precision missiles, each carrying hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

If missiles were to land every day on population centers in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, in Haifa Bay, Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem, and if they were to hit strategic, security and civilian targets (such as power stations, water facilities, airports, and IDF ground forces and air bases) – they would inflict extremely heavy losses and inestimable damage.

As the Iranians see it, the balance of nuclear terror that would be created between them and Israel would prevent Israel from using nuclear weapons (which it reportedly possesses, according to foreign sources), and would give the Iranians and their satellites a tremendous advantage over Israel. Such a balance could exist if Iran had purchased some atom bombs from North Korea – or were to do so in the future – even before completing the development of a nuclear bomb of its own.

This situation obligates Israel's political and military decision makers to come to grips with what's going on, and to discuss and draw up plans that can immediately be implemented regarding the country's and the IDF’s modes of action in response to this existential threat.

Their decisions would include establishment of a council with powers anchored in law, whose role would be to formulate a national security concept, and to consider defensive and offensive solutions regarding the enemy’s missiles and ground forces. The panel in question would also propose ways of protecting the population at critical sites, and would engage in thorough preparation of what can be expected to be the main arena in the next war: the home front. The government would turn the proposed solutions into national initiatives – for example, the development of an all-powerful laser.

The decisions would also include strengthening the IDF’s abilities to defend the country’s borders and to launch offensives at sites that would improve its chances of gaining the upper hand. Billions of shekels that are now going down the drain could be earmarked for those purposes, for streamlining the military and the Defense Ministry – mainly in the realm of procurement and in terms of the ministry's and army's contracts with civilian companies (such as for the purchase of submarines and a host of other projects).

The loss of hundreds of thousands of shekels and more stems from terminating ongoing initiatives after hundreds of millions have already been invested in them, because of new commanders who "reinvent the wheel each time" – due to their belief in “out with the old, in with the new.” There are many other examples of how money is wasted but this is not the place to enumerate them.

For some reason, the state comptroller insists that broad criticism not be levelled at the Defense Ministry and the IDF when it comes to procurement, contracts and major initiatives. He is probably afraid of opening a Pandora’s Box, although by law it is his job to recommend ways of addressing deficient conduct, in order to more efficiently use the Defense Ministry and IDF budget to strengthen Israel's military capabilities.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik was the IDF ombudsman from 2008 to 2019.

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