Our Master's Voice

If Americans are deployed in Israel to protect it against missiles, it is possible Israelis might be asked to assist in another corner of the world.

The IDF liaison officer to the Marine Corps, Lt. Colonel Avi Gil, visited the U.S. Marines Jungle Warfare school last summer, along with officers from other armies. What does Israel have to do with Jungle Wafare? In what faraway front may Gil, who will soon command the Efraim Brigade, find himself in the footsteps of rope-swinging Tarzan?

That is not important. At the Israel Defense Forces they like to "open up new fields," acquire information on new subjects, especially when it is clear that Israel will no longer fight on its own, but as part of an alliance whose headquarters are in Washington.

If Americans are deployed in Israel to protect it against surface-to-surface missiles, it is also possible that Israelis might be asked to assist their benefactors in another corner of the world.

The origins of the Jerusalem's strategic dependence on all matters relevant to the use of military force stem from the building of that force, not only because its financing depends on American aid. With well known exceptions, the main weapons systems of the IDF are of U.S. origin. Domestic American decisions, whether to produce a specific aircraft, also determine what will be available to the Israeli air force, and this too only if no political, budgetary or technological restrictions are imposed on the grounds of preserving military and commercial secrets.

The Pentagon builds the U.S. military on the basis of scenarios, which take into account the external threats, the American capabilities and the available U.S. forces capable of a response - all within the framework of a budget. At the end of the year, following a four-year assessment of the security situation that the administration is obligated to provide to Congress, the secretary of defense will adopt an updated defense doctrine. No longer will it be based on preparing the military for two simultaneous wars against two large rivals, like Russia and China, but by focusing on a more likely scenario of fighting against terrorism and sabotage, of the sort being carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which is expected to be gradually contained. And in an emergency, a campaign against Iran and North Korea, either separately or at the same time.

This change has two practical implications. The first is a preference for systems that are sufficient for war against Tehran and Pyongyang instead of those necessary for a confrontation with Beijing and Moscow. In the air, this means a focus on the second best interceptor and attack aircraft, the F-35, and away from the leading aircraft in terms of quality but also cost, the F-22. Gates convinced Congress to make do with the acquisition of less than 200 F-22s and to buy thousands of F-35s.

To make this move, Gates removed the civilian and military leadership of the air force and appointed officials and officers who support his views. The implication for the IDF is that it would do well to give up its dreams for the F-22, which is too expensive, and to focus on the F-35, which is sufficiently effective and whose cost currently stands at $85 million but is not yet set.

In addition to cash, the most important resource necessary for the Americans is time. The chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who holds frequent talks with Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, said publicly last week that a withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan will take place within 18 months.

Mullen has reiterated Obama's commitment for the establishment of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. In other words, Mullen wants to say that while the Americans are building their force for a military campaign against Iran which insists on going nuclear, they need time during which there are no unilateral actions, and which are characterized by political flexibility vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

In light of the dependence that characterizes the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, this is not a request: It is a gently phrased order.