Israel, a militaristic and “combat-tested” power

IDF soliders preparing for ground activity in Gaza – IDF Spokesperson’s Unit photographer

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Israel, a militaristic and “combat-tested” power

Written by Laura Casamitjana

With growing military spending and cutting-edge technology, Israel stands out in a context of asymmetric forces in the Arab-Jewish conflict. In addition to its "battle-tested" weaponry, its defence investment receives a significant boost from allies such as the United States. The Palestinian state has developed various warfare tactics that go beyond artillery.

Global Fire Power 2023 ranks Israel among the top 20 countries in the world with the greatest military potential. Although the ranking is once again topped by the United States and major powers such as Russia and China, it is striking that a country of only 9.5 million people occupies such a prominent position.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (Sipri) final figures for 2022 put Israel’s military expenditure at $23.406 billion – 4.5 per cent of the country’s GDP.  On a per capita basis, military spending was $2,623. This is well above the average of even some of the leading powers: Russia’s per capita military expenditure was around $600 and China’s $200.

Even before the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the Zionist movement was characterised by a high degree of paramilitary organisation. For example, after the Arab uprisings of the 1930s, Jewish society maintained some 15,000 people trained in military discipline. The asymmetry between the strength of the Israeli and Palestinian defence forces became increasingly apparent, as seen in the intifadas – stones against tanks – and as seen today.

A military Silicon Valley in the Middle East

Three companies from the Jewish state occupy the top 34 positions in Defense News’ list of the world’s 100 most prominent arms companies. If there is one thing that distinguishes Israeli weapons, it is the fact that they bear a mark that guarantees their macabre effectiveness: “battle-tested”. The added value is built on blood, because over the years of the Arab-Jewish conflict, the Palestinians have been the test tube for the development and innovation of machinery for death. Israel is known as the military Silicon Valley of the Middle East.

One of the most powerful Israeli arms companies is Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, founded in 1948, the same year as the Jewish state. It was responsible for building the “Iron Dome”, a macro-defence system capable of intercepting airborne attacks. The infrastructure consists of a sophisticated radar that maps and tracks threats, and a command-and-control system consisting of operators who can decide whether or not to fire interceptors to neutralise attacks. The most visible equipment is the interceptors and mobile launchers, consisting of artillery with advanced guidance systems.

With this world-leading defence dome, Israel is demonstrating its dominant technology, once again proven in conflict. The cost of the system has lived up to expectations: the US alone has invested “more than $200 million to help Israel pay for the system”, according to the BBC.

The United States, the world’s leading military power, is a staunch collaborator with Israel. It pumped 3.8 billion dollars into the Middle Eastern state in 2020 alone. This money is part of a package approved by the Obama administration for the decade 2017-2028, which includes a financial amount of $38,000 million for military aid to Israel.

While the Iron Dome is a testament to Israel’s bellicose disposition, its bastion of “90 per cent effectiveness“, something went wrong with the Hamas offensive on 7 October. The surprise and intensity of the attack – despite its much more rudimentary means – meant that an unsuspecting IDF was unable to respond with its macro-infrastructure.

The war in Gaza is evidence of this imbalance: Israel has state-of-the-art weaponry; Palestine has no regular army. While Israel established itself as an independent state in 1948, recognised by the international community, and created its Israel Defence Forces (IDF) – as well as starting the arms race with the establishment of Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd – Palestine was divided and did not achieve statehood. In the 1990s, with the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian security structures were established, but the course of the conflict and the geographical division – controlled by different factions and governments – never led to a unified military organisation for Palestine.

Violence beyond artillery

Militarisation goes beyond the usual weapons, soldiers, tanks, missiles. Militarisation is also in the concept of punitive and the culture of panic. On several occasions, Israel has used other types of weapons, as in the case of the 2008 Gaza war: the army used white phosphorus, a highly harmful chemical that violates humanitarian law. Another form of violence is the so-called “skunk water”, a combination of chemicals that emit an extremely unpleasant odour. According to testimonies collected by Al-Jazeera from those subjected to this coercive practice, Skunk Water emits something like “the smell of sewage mixed with rotting corpses”.

The liquid, developed by the Israeli company Odortec, is supposedly non-lethal and is used for “crowd deterrence”. However, exposure to skunk water causes severe vomiting, abnormal breathing, stomach and eye pain, skin irritation and even hair loss. Its supposed non-lethality and the permanent damage it can cause are debated, as denounced by Palestinian writer and analyst Yara Hawari, who, along with several Palestinian voices, points out that skunk water has also been used to try to force Palestinian families out of their homes.

In order to force Palestinians to move and thus increase Jewish settlements, Israel imposes the destruction of homes. The system serves as an “exemplary punishment” and a mechanism to confiscate more land. This practice, the “house demolition policy”, not only “threatens the existence of the Palestinian people” but is “collective punishment in violation of humanitarian law”, the UN condemns. In January 2023 alone, “Israel demolished 132 structures in the occupied West Bank, 34 of which were Palestinian homes,” the UN report notes. Between 2009 and 2019, “Israel demolished more than 1,100 structures in the occupied territory of East Jerusalem alone”, says Amnesty International, citing data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The policy, which Israel disguises under the premise of “dismantling terrorist cells”, is in fact a response to a dynamic of mass destruction. For Amnesty, “the Israeli authorities have used arbitrary and disproportionate measures in the name of security to extend their control over Palestinian territory and to expel the Palestinian population from areas they consider strategic”.

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EASY

Israel, a militaristic and “combat-tested” power

Written by Laura Casamitjana

With growing military spending and cutting-edge technology, Israel stands out in a context of asymmetric forces in the Arab-Jewish conflict. In addition to its “battle-tested” weaponry, its defence investment receives a significant boost from allies such as the United States. The Palestinian state has developed various warfare tactics that go beyond artillery.

Israel has achieved an impressive position in the top 20 countries with the greatest military potential in the world, according to Global Fire Power 2023. Although the United States tops the list, followed by powers such as Russia and China, it is remarkable that a country with a population of only 9.5 million is so prominent.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), Israel’s military expenditure in 2022 was $23.406 billion, or 4.5% of the country’s GDP. This translates into a per capita expenditure of $2,623, far exceeding powers such as Russia ($600 per capita) and China ($200 per capita).

Even before the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the Zionist movement had a high degree of paramilitary organisation. The Arab uprisings of the 1930s were evidence of this, with some 15,000 Jews trained in military disciplines. This power asymmetry between the Israeli and Palestinian defence forces has been evident over time, from the “stones against tanks” intifadas to the current situation.

A military Silicon Valley in the Middle East

Israel is famous for being a centre of military innovation in the Middle East, similar to Silicon Valley in the technology world. Three of its companies are among the best in the world in the weapons sector. What makes Israeli weapons special is that they have proven their effectiveness in real combat. This means that they have been tested in real conflict situations, which makes them reliable in their destructive power.

One of the most important arms companies in Israel is Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. It was founded in 1948, the same year the State of Israel was established. They are the creators of the Iron Dome anti-aircraft defence system. It uses advanced radar to detect threats and a team of people who decide whether to fire to stop attacks. The system uses advanced missiles and mobile launchers.

Despite having cutting-edge technology, Israel has received strong financial support from the United States. In 2020, the US will invest $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel. This is part of a plan approved by the Obama administration, which allocated $38 billion for the decade 2017-2028.

Although the Iron Dome has a 90 per cent effectiveness rate, it struggled during the Hamas attack on 7 October. The conflict in Gaza highlights the huge gap in military power: Israel has cutting-edge technology, while Palestine has no conventional army. This dates back to the creation of Israel in 1948 and the absence of a recognised Palestinian state. Although Palestinian security structures were established in the 1990s, geographical fragmentation and control by different factions and governments have prevented Palestine from having a unified army.

Para obligar a los palestinos a mudarse y permitir la expansión de los asentamientos judíos, Israel ha implementado una política de demolición de casas. Esto es como un castigo y también les permite tomar más tierras. Esta práctica es considerada un castigo colectivo que va en contra del derecho humanitario, según las Naciones Unidas. Solo en enero de 2023, Israel destruyó 132 edificios en Cisjordania, de los cuales 34 eran hogares de palestinos, según un informe de las Naciones Unidas. Entre 2009 y 2019, Israel demolió más de 1.100 estructuras solo en Jerusalén Oriental, según Amnistía Internacional, citando a la Oficina de Coordinación de Asuntos Humanitarios de la ONU. Esta política, que Israel dice que es para desmantelar células terroristas, en realidad parece ser una forma de destrucción masiva y una manera de tomar control de territorios palestinos y expulsar a la población palestina de áreas estratégicas.

Violence beyond artillery

Militarisation is not just about weapons and soldiers; it is also about the way sanctions are viewed and the culture of fear. On some occasions, Israel has used different weapons, such as in the 2008 Gaza war, where it used something called ‘white phosphorus’, a dangerous chemical that violates international rules of warfare. Another form of violence is something called ‘skunk water’, which is a mixture of chemicals that smells really bad. Some people who have been exposed to it have said that it smells like dirty water mixed with rotting corpses.

The substance, produced by an Israeli company called Odortec, is not supposed to kill people, but it does cause severe vomiting, breathing problems, stomach and eye pain, skin irritation and even hair loss. There is debate about whether it is as harmless as it is claimed to be. Palestinian writer and analyst Yara Hawari and other Palestinians have accused Israel of using skunk water to force Palestinian families to leave their homes.

In order to force Palestinians to move and to allow the expansion of Jewish settlements, Israel has adopted a policy of house demolitions. This is intended as punishment and also allows them to take more land. According to the United Nations, this practice constitutes collective punishment and is contrary to humanitarian law. In January 2023 alone, Israel demolished 132 structures in the West Bank, 34 of which were Palestinian homes, according to a UN report. Between 2009 and 2019, Israel demolished more than 1,100 structures in East Jerusalem alone, according to Amnesty International, citing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This policy, which Israel claims is aimed at dismantling terrorist cells, appears in reality to be a form of mass demolition and a way of taking control of Palestinian territory and expelling the Palestinian population from strategic areas.

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Reading comprehension test - “Israel's militaristic identity, the Jewish state "born in battle”

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What type of weapon did Israel use in the 2008 Gaza war that violated humanitarian law?
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