“We asked Iran for it back; We will see how they respond” Barak Obama
24.07.2022 | By Yishai Gelb
Israel dispatches its most advanced warplanes and uses multiple layers of technologies and anti-aircraft missiles against this emerging threat, yet there is no proper response at the moment. Manless aircraft (drones) have become one of the biggest dangers to many countries in the Middle East, including Israel. Moreover, they are one of the drivers of the Abraham accords and the warming relationship between Israel and the Suni Muslim countries in the Middle East.
An emerging threat
The Iraq-Iran war led the Iranians to develop manless aircraft to counter the Iraqi threat during the bloody war between the two countries. The technology was primitive yet effective. A relatively inexpensive way to get explosives beyond enemy lines. In 2011, an advanced US drone was captured by the Iranians. The US president asked nicely from the Iranians to return the drone. The Iranians didn't comply, and the US response never came.
This advanced drone sparked a new military industry in Iran that today includes tens of facilities replicating the American technology developed by the best US engineers producing hundreds of advanced drones. These aircrafts were used for spying and bomb dropping, but more recently as suicide aircrafts that have the potential to reak havoc on their target states.
The threats began with several tests sent out by Iran from its proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and other locations. First, the Iranians successfully infiltrated Israel’s airspace and provided evidence that the Israeli air defense systems do not have a proper response. Then, in 2019, the Iranians successfully attacked Saudi Arabia's ARAMCO oil facilities causing significant damage. The attack gave Israel and neighboring Middle Eastern states the understanding that Iran has a lethal weapon at its disposal and is no longer deterred from using it. The lack of Deterrence is a graver threat than the technical ability itself since Iran has the confidence to use firepower at strategic and sensitive facilities that are usually targeted only in a time of war without fearing an international response.
How is this Dangerous for Israel?
Iran can launch drone attacks on Israel through Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, thus preventing the need for Iran to take official responsibility. The drones are relatively cheap to build and deploy but can cause severe damage in Israel. Targets such as power plants, hospitals, desalination plants, and more.
In 2021, during operation guardians of the walls, while Israel was shelled by thousands of missiles from Gaza, Iran launched a drone from its borders to Israel's eastern border. In addition, Hizballah, an Iranian proxy, also launched a drone to Israel's northern border. As a result, Israel now faces a genuine challenge of dealing with a coordinated attack from several locations by many manless aircraft that can hit vital infrastructure, shut down its economy, and cause much damage. On top of that, the countermeasures are costly and could deplete Israeli defense capabilities if a large-scale attack occurs.
So what is Israel's response?
This is a relatively new threat to Israel and its neighbors. The first response was to further its preventive capabilities beyond its borders to detect such attacks when they are still far off. The Abraham accords weren't just “peaceful” agreements to advance tourism and business cooperation. But the common threat other Middle Eastern countries face from Iran brought Israel and Suni Muslim countries together to create a widespread defense system that could help prevent massive Iranian attacks. These agreements include spreading Israeli radar systems closer to Iran, intelligence cooperation, and ground-to-air defense system sharing, among additional classified activities.
Supplementary responses are to actively destroy Iranian infrastructure. Israel conducted countless attacks on Iranian bases and facilities, and lately, an attack on an installation where Iran builds drones reportedly destroyed over 100 of them. These attacks will not be possible if and when Iran successfully reaches nuclear capabilities.
Sadam Hussian, a ruthless dictator, strived to reach Nuclear capabilities in the 1980s. Israel successfully destroyed the nuclear plant during construction. US officials later admitted that it would be near impossible to stop Hussain from conquering Kuwait and capturing the oil fields, which were vital to US interests at the time, if Hussain had nuclear weapons.
Counties with Nuclear weapons don’t actually intend to use them, but it prevents other countries from daring to deploy missions in their sovereign territory. We see now in the Russian-Ukrainian war that neither the US nor NATO dared to actively fight Russia and have no practical tools for deterrence. And it will be confirmed with China, a nuclear power, once an invasion of Taiwan occurs, and the West will have no response to the aggression. Nuclear weapons give their owners the confidence to use aggression while preventing countermeasures. Once Iran reaches nuclear capabilities, Israel will no longer be able to avoid Iranina's military buildup. It won't take long for Iran to have the means to deploy successful operations against its enemies while suffering minimal consequences.
Israeli military leaders claim that Israel has the tools to counter Iranian aggression, including the drone threat. However, multiple successful drone attacks against Israel show otherwise.
Preventing Iranian Nuclear capabilities while developing proper defenses against the drone threat should be the strategy. Israel is currently developing a Laser dome, which will eventually succeed in dealing with the Drone threat to a certain extent. And the European and US policymakers must understand the danger of a nuclear Iran, which could increase Iranian aggression in the region and disrupt the free flow of oil from the Middle East to a fossil fuel-thirsty West. But most importantly, a nuclear Iran will be an invitation to its Chinese ally to spread its influence in the region, which could seriously damage the US lead world order. An order we have taken for granted since the end of World War 2. A world with free trade, capitalist economies, and the free flow of information, goods, and people worldwide. Globalization at its core is at stake as authoritarian Communist Chinees policy can spread worldwide.
World orders don't change with sudden and dramatic events. But slow-moving trends change the balance of power until the ruling empire no longer has a significant advantage over the emerging empire. In the past 500 years, there were 16 cases where an emerging power threatened to displace an existing power. In 12 out of those 16 cases, the two powers went to war. In the past 100 years, it ended in two world wars.
As China emerges as a world power and the US declines, the balance is shifting, not in the West's favor. The new Cold war between the West and China began, and there is no promise that it will stay cold. It requires courageous and strong men and women to enforce a containment policy to deter the rival power. Israel has a role to play in the Cold War, and Israel's assignments are destined to grow as the threat evolves.