‘We have a unique military problem,’ the Old Man said. “We are few and our enemies are many.”
It was 1949, a year after the War of Independence, but the “Old Man” – the nickname for Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion – knew it was just a matter of time before Israel was again attacked. Ben-Gurion was troubled by the basic question of how Israel, a tiny, brand-new country, would survive.
So he took a vacation from work in Jerusalem and traveled to the modest cabin he kept in Sde Boker, a small kibbutz perched over the Ramon Crater, a natural wonder in the Negev Desert.
A few days later he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem with a paper titled: “The Doctrine of Defense and State of Armed Forces” which until today, with minor changes, continues to serve as the basis for our national defense doctrine. The rationale was simple and remains true for Israel on its 68th Independence Day: Israel needs a qualitative military edge.
While Israel has fewer soldiers than Syria, it needs to have better trained ones; while it has less tanks than Egypt, it needs more advanced ones; and while it might have the same F-15s as Saudi Arabia, the Israel Air Force version comes with specially designed smart bombs and advanced electronic warfare systems. It needs to make sure it always has superior quality. Not necessarily more. Just better.
The question in 1949 though was how to do it. No one imagined then that this new, resource-poor country could establish and maintain independent research, development and production capabilities. Especially at a time when the country’s two main exports were oranges and false teeth.
Shimon Peres, who was tapped by Ben-Gurion to lead the country’s arms procurement, recently shared with me some of the obstacles he encountered. There were the skeptical cabinet ministers who refused to invest a single shekel in what they viewed as “useless technology” and the foreign governments that were afraid to align themselves with a country they didn’t believe would survive.
But after 68 years of statehood, we can declare success. Israel is a technological superpower with weapon platforms – many developed domestically – that provide the country with a qualitative edge over its adversaries. That edge though cannot be taken for granted. Israel is surrounded by enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas that are taking upon themselves characteristics and weaponry traditionally reserved for conventional militaries.
This is all relevant because for the past year, Israel and the US have been engaged in talks over a new military aid package for the IDF. The current 10-year package comes to an end in 2017 but Israel has yet to finalize a new one with the Obama administration. The key disagreement centers on the amount of money Israel will receive. It will be more than the current annual $3 billion. The question is by how much. By not closing the deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet are playing a game of high-stakes poker. While it’s possible Israel will receive a bigger package if it holds out until after the US presidential election, there is also a good chance that the new president will refuse to commit to a long-term aid package at a time when the US is already tightening its belt. As often happens in the hyper-sensitive Israel-US relationship, there are some – on both sides of the political map – who are trying to politicize the aid talks. Those on the right claim that Obama is again undermining Israel, an argument we have heard frequently over the last seven-and-a-half years. On the left, there are accusations that Netanyahu is intentionally refusing to close a deal now so not to give the democrats a pro-Israel victory ahead of elections in November.
Within the IDF, there is growing concern that the window of opportunity is closing and that Israel shouldn’t press its luck. Whatever the government does, it needs to be sure that politics are off the table. In a region like ours, a strong poker hand can quickly become irrelevant.
THIS WEEK, I took up the mantle of The Jerusalem Post
, becoming the paper’s 14th editor in its nearly 85 years. It is an honor and privilege, but I am most of all grateful to you – our loyal readers – who continue to come to us – online and in print – to stay updated on events in Israel, the Middle East and the wider Jewish world.
When I started at the Post
exactly 13 years ago as a news writer on its website, I would have laughed had someone told me I would one day become the paper’s editor-in-chief. I was studying law at the time and journalism was just a hobby, a job supposed to help get me through school. What I didn’t know was that I had been bitten by the journalism bug. While it took me nearly six years, I would eventually get my law degree. But I had become a journalist and storytelling had become my passion.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work with and get to know some of Israel’s great English-language journalists. There was the late David Landau, editor of Haaretz
’s English paper, where I got my first break. There was the legendary Jerusalem Report
columnist Stuart Schoffman, whom I met on a baseball field when I coached his son’s little league team and who then generously coached me in my first steps as a reporter. There was Bret Stephens, David Horovitz and Steve Linde, three of my predecessors and mentors, alongside countless other amazing colleagues here at the Post
Since its beginning in 1932, The Jerusalem Post
has been a unique paper on the Israeli journalism landscape for the simple reason that it is an English language daily, printed in a non-English speaking country. For almost 85 years we have flourished, mostly because we stick to our principles and provide balanced reporting, thought-provoking analysis and hard-hitting commentary on Israel and its challenges. Despite political upheaval, our editorial line has remained steadfast. We have supported a territorial compromise in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians, but only if it is a genuine and lasting peace with a real and complete end to violence and incitement. We advocate strongly for religious equality in Israel for all Jews – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Orthodox. We don’t ask questions regarding how Jews practice and what they believe. Israel, we contend, is the homeland for all Jews and doesn’t belong to one denomination or stream.
When the Post
was founded by Gershon Agron in 1932, we printed 1,200 copies of an eight-page newspaper. Within a year, we had quadrupled our circulation, and we have continued to grow since. Today, while we still publish an impressive daily newspaper, most of our readers are viewing the Post
on our website, our mobile applications and through social media. Just a few weeks ago, we were named the No. 1 and most powerful entity on Twitter in the entire Jewish world.
I take up this post at a time of growing concern here in Israel and throughout the world. Europe finds itself under unprecedented terrorist attacks and in Jerusalem, we recently experienced our first bus bombing in years, a sight we had hoped to never see again. The US presidential campaign increases the already strong sense of uncertainty in the region as groups like ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah become more powerful along our borders. Borrowing from one former prime minister – Israel is today, more than ever, a “villa in a jungle.”
While I am fortunate to work alongside an amazing and dedicated team of reporters, I invite you – our readers – to share with me your thoughts and proposals for how we can improve. The journalism industry is constantly changing and understanding your needs and interests is critical as we move forward.
Israel as a story has always marveled the world. It is a tale of an ancient people that returned to its homeland, established a state and against all odds not only survived but prospered. The Jerusalem Post
has been there to tell this story since the beginning. I look forward to continuing this journey with you.