The Weapon Wizards
Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot
St. Martin’s Press, 304 pp.
On March 1, 2011 Hamas terrorists fired an RPG-29 anti-tank rocket from a concealed position in Gaza at an Israeli Merkava IV tank on routine patrol near the border. What occurred next represents a milestone for armored warfare. The Merkava was equipped with the new Israeli-made Trophy active protection point defense system, providing the tank with a 360-degree bubble-shaped arc of protection. The Trophy’s radar detected the incoming projectile and destroyed it by firing a burst of metal pellets. That was the first time such a system was ever successfully tested under real combat conditions. Israel was also the first nation to deploy such an innovative platform.
But the Trophy performed another technological feat that fateful day. It simultaneously calculated the trajectory of the incoming rocket to determine the source of fire and instantly transmitted the coordinates by interfacing with another Israeli innovation known as the Tzayad battle management system. Soldiers in the theater were instantly apprised of the enemy’s position and seconds later, the Hamas terror cell was liquidated with accurate counterbattery fire. This seamless integration of battlefield technology has dramatically reduced the sensor to shoot cycle, enabling rapid elimination of the enemy.
This minor skirmish caused somewhat of a stir in military circles but was largely unknown to the ordinary public. Trophy’s impressive combat effectiveness in this and subsequent skirmishes has persuaded the U.S. military to adopt the platform for its M1A2 Abrams tanks. The Tzayad BMS has been adopted by the Australian military and at least one Latin American country.
In November 2012, the world was introduced to another Israeli technology wonder known as the Iron Dome, a system designed to swat short-range Katyusha rockets from the skies. Dramatic video displayed around the world demonstrated Israel’s technological prowess.
On November 14, 2012 following a series of provocations by Hamas, an Israeli airstrike liquidated Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’ armed wing. His movements were being tracked by an Israeli-made drone hovering silently above. A missile slammed into his vehicle instantly vaporizing him and his terror cohorts. It was a clean kill with no collateral damage.
Hamas then began firing hundreds of rockets into Israel as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But Hamas was in for another rude awakening. Iron Dome was able to shoot down 90% of all rockets that were targeted for destruction. One of the brilliant features of the Iron Dome system is that its radar can determine if the rocket will land in an urban area or open spaces devoid of people thus saving resources.
Iron Dome proved its mettle once more during Operation Protective Edge and is continuously being upgraded for even greater accuracy. More batteries are being deployed in the north for an eventual showdown with Hezbollah and the platform was recently successfully launched from a naval vessel demonstrating the system’s potential use in protecting Israel’s offshore gas rigs. Iron Dome is part of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense shield, which also consists of platforms like David’s Sling for intermediate range missiles and the Arrow for long-range ICBMs.
So how did a tiny nation, the approximate size of New Jersey with only 8 million people become a high-tech military superpower? How did Israel, whose exports in its formative years included false teeth and oranges, become a leader in military technology producing everything from battle tanks to killer drones to spy satellites? The answer can be found in The Weapon Wizards, an insightful and enlightening book co-authored by Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot.
The authors attribute Israel’s unique success to a number of factors. Israel invests more than any other country in Research & Development. Approximately 4.5% of the nation’s GDP is invested in R&D and 30% of this amount is allocated towards military applications. In addition, Israel’s hierarchal structure is very informal leading to the free exchange of ideas. For example, the F-16 maintenance technician does not feel constrained in voicing his or her opinion to an air force general regarding the plane’s features and characteristics.
Israel is also a leader in creating specialized military units that are designed to foster technical growth and innovation. In almost all cases, Israeli engineers and scientists that design and work on projects for the Israeli military have themselves served in the military and often draw upon their own military experiences. For them, the weapon system’s features are more than just theoretical.
But perhaps the most compelling reason proffered by the authors for Israel’s military technology successes is its unique geo-political situation. Surrounded by genocidal enemies on all fronts, from Hezbollah to Hamas, Iran to ISIS, Israel cannot afford to relax and be complacent. It must constantly innovate in order to be at least one step ahead of the enemy. As Haim Eshed, the father of Israel’s satellite program dryly informed the authors: “The shadow of the guillotine sharpens the mind.”
That statement, the authors argue, aptly sums up Israel’s predicament and in that high-pressure environment, Israeli creativity and genius thrives. Tiny Israel has in a short span of time become a military powerhouse and a leading exporter of military platforms and cyber technology. From Star Wars-like missile defense shields to spy satellites, Israeli technology has become cutting edge and sought after worldwide.
Messrs Katz and Bohbot’s masterful, well-researched account of how Israel transformed itself into a military superpower is both engrossing and informative. The reader, whether novice or expert will walk away with an appreciable understanding of the dangers Israelis face on a daily basis and how they utilized these daunting challenges to their supreme advantage to both gain the upper hand against their enemies and prosper diplomatically and economically.