Monday, February 15, 2016

The IAF’s Achilles’ Heel


This week Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told government ministers that he may wait for the next US president before signing a new military assistance deal with America.

Israel’s current military assistance package is set to expire in 2018 and the new package is supposed to include supplemental aid to compensate Israel for President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. But to date, the administration has rejected Israel’s requests for additional systems it could use to defend against Iran attacks.

Last October, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon asked US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to provide Israel with a new squadron of F-15s that Israel would outfit with its own electronics systems. Carter reportedly rejected that request as well as one for bunker buster bombs.

Carter instead insisted that Israel use the supplemental aid to purchase more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, US-made missile defense systems, and the Osprey V-22 helicopter, which Ya’alon didn’t want.

The fact that the administration wants Israel to buy more F-35s instead of F-15s is alarming both for what it tells us about America’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge against Iran and for what it tells us about the F-35, which is set to become the IAF’s next generation combat fighter.

Before considering these issues, it is worth pointing out that the US is not the ally it once was.

This week Britain’s International Institute for Strategic Studies published a report warning that the West’s decades-long military technological superiority over Russia, China and other countries is eroding. The erosion of the West’s military technological advantage over the likes of China and Russia is deeply problematic for Israel. Given the IAF’s complete dependence on US defensive and offensive systems, absent other factors, Israel is imperiled simply by keeping its eggs in America’s basket.

But there are other factors that make continued dependence on the US problematic in the extreme. The erosion of the US’s military technological superiority is matched by its growing weakness internationally. This weakness is most glaring today in Syria.

Last November, Russia deployed an S-400 anti-aircraft system in Latakia. The system is capable of downing jets from a distance of 400 km. Half of Israel, including Ben-Gurion Airport, is within its range. Last December, a member of the IDF General Staff ruminated that never in their worst nightmares did Israeli military planners imagine that the S-400 would be deployed so close to us.

The S-400 ended Israel’s regional air superiority.

It also ended US air superiority.

In late December, Bloomberg reported that right after the Russians deployed the S-400, they began targeting with radar US planes providing air support to rebel forces in Syria.

US officials called Russia’s actions “a direct and dangerous provocation.”

Rather than respond forcefully to Russia’s aggressive move, the US ended all manned flights in the area. It stopped providing air support to rebel forces. There is a direct connection between the US’s docile acceptance of its loss of air superiority in December and the brutal Russian supported assault on Aleppo today.

This week, ambassador Dennis Ross and New York Times military correspondent David Sanger, who are both generally supportive of the Obama administration, published articles excoriating Obama’s policies in Syria.

Ross and Sanger both wrote that Obama was critically mistaken when he said that Russia’s deployment to Syria would not have any significant impact on the region, and that Russia would rue the day it decided to get directly involved.

Sanger noted that the administration’s constant refrain that “there is no military solution” to the war in Syria was wrong.

There is a military solution, it’s “just not our military solution,” a senior US security official admitted to Sanger. It’s Russian President Vladimir Putin’s solution.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Ross explained that in deploying his forces to Syria, “Putin aims to demonstrate that Russia, and not America, is the main power broker in the region and increasingly elsewhere.”

In other words, Putin’s involvement in Syria is simply a means to achieve his larger goal of replacing the US as the leading superpower.

This turn of events is dangerous for Israel, not least because the first parties Russia turned to in its anti-American gambit are Israel’s worst enemies – Iran and Hezbollah, along with the Assad regime. By acting in concert, and limiting their operations – as the Iranians have done as well in Iraq – to attacking forces backed by the US, while leaving Islamic State unharmed, the Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad make clear that their alliance is first and foremost geared toward reducing US power in the region.

Rather than act on this direct challenge to the US, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry continue to talk emptily about peace conferences and cease-fires. In so doing their further destroy US credibility as an ally. As America’s primary ally and client in the region, Israel is imperiled by this behavior because it serves to hollow out its capacity to deter its enemies from attacking.

This then brings us to the F-35s and to the IAF’s procurement policies more generally.

Over the past year, the IAF began preparing to take delivery of its first squadron of F-35s. In 2010, Israel placed its first order of 19 planes.

The first two are scheduled to arrive by the end of 2016. The rest are supposed to arrive within two years.

Last year Israel ordered an additional 14 F-35s, and the IAF reportedly wishes to expand that order with an additional 17 aircraft.

By all accounts, the F-35 is an impressive next generation fighter. But at the same time, as Aaron Lerner from IMRA news aggregation service noted this week, the F-35 suffers from one major weakness that arguably cancels out all of its advantages. That weakness is the F-35’s operational dependence on software laboratories and logistics support computers located in the US.

In a manner that recalls Apple’s ability to exert perpetual control over all iPhones by making it impossible for them to long function without periodically updating their operating systems, the US has made it impossible for foreign governments to simply purchase F-35s and use them as they see fit.

As reported last November, “All F-35 aircraft operating across the world will have to update their mission data files and their Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS) profiles before and after every sortie, to ensure that on-board systems are programmed with the latest available operational data and that ALIS is kept permanently informed of each aircraft’s technical status and maintenance requirements.

“ALIS can, and has, prevented aircraft taking off because of an incomplete data file,” the report revealed.

This technical limitation on the F-35s constitutes a critical weakness from Israel’s perspective for two reasons. First, as the Defense-Aerospace article points out, the need to constantly update the ALIS in the US means that the F-35 must be connected to the Internet in order to work. All Internet connections are maintained via fiber optic underwater cables.

Defense-Aerospace cited an article published last October in reporting that those cables are “surprisingly vulnerable” to attack.

According to Nicole Starosielski, a media expert from New York University, all Internet communications go through a mere 200 underwater cables that are “concentrated in very few areas. The cables end up getting funneled through these narrow pressure points all around the globe,” she said.

The Russians are probing this vulnerability.

In October the New York Times reported that “Russian submarines and spy ships are aggressively operating near the vital undersea cables that carry almost all global Internet communications, raising concerns among some American military and intelligence officials that the Russians might be planning to attack those lines in times of tension or conflict.”

According to the report, the fear is that an “ultimate Russian hack on the United States could involve severing the fiber-optic cables at some of their hardest-to-access locations to halt the instant communications on which the West’s governments, economies and citizens have grown dependent.”

Given the F-35’s dependence on the Internet, such an attack, while directed at the US itself, would also ground the IAF’s main combat fighter.

The second reason the F-35’s continuous dependence on a US-based logistics system is a critical weakness is that it would be irresponsible of Israel to trust that the US will not abuse its power to undermine and block IAF operations.

This brings us back to the Pentagon’s insistence that Israel purchase only F-35s and missile defense systems. By giving Israel no option other than purchasing more F-35s, which the Americans control – to the point of being able to ground – even after they are deployed by the IAF, and defensive systems jointly developed with the US and built in the US, the Americans are hollowing out Israel’s ability to operate independently.

Clearly by waiting for the next president to conclude Israel’s military assistance package, Netanyahu is hoping that Obama’s successor will give us a better deal. But the fact is that even if a pro-Israel president is elected, Israel cannot assume that American efforts to erode Israel’s strategic independence will end once Obama leaves office.

George W. Bush, who was more supportive of Israel than Obama, also undermined Israel’s ability to attack Iran’s nuclear installations.

Moreover, given the continuing diminishment of US military power, and America’s expanding strategic vulnerabilities, the possibility that the US will be unwilling or unable to stand by Israel in the future cannot be ruled out.

This week India and Israel were poised to finalize a series of arms deals totalling $3 billion.

The final package is set to be signed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel later this year. The deal includes various missile and electronic warfare systems.

In light of the F-35s massive vulnerabilities and the diminishment of US power in the Middle East and beyond, Netanyahu should view India’s enthusiasm for Israeli systems as an opportunity to end the IAF’s utter dependence on increasingly undependable US systems.

Instead of going through with the procurement of the 14 additional F-35s, Netanyahu should offer Modi to jointly develop a next generation fighter based on the Lavi.

Israel’s strategic environment is rapidly changing.

Technological, military and political developments in the region and worldwide must wake our leaders – including IAF commanders – to the fact that Israel cannot afford to maintain, let alone expand, its strategic dependence on the US.

Russia's new Syrian strategy: Ethnic cleansing

From Ynet News, 12 Feb 2016, by Ron Ben-Yishai:

Analysis:Russia's new strategy to prop Assad up is to destroy rebels' power base through ethnic cleansing, forcing supporters to flee as refugees to neighboring countries and eventually Europe.

Russian forces, combined with the Iranians and Hezbollah, have changed their tactics in Syria. With a complete disregard to the international community, they are intensively bombing rebel bases, even at the risk of killing thousands of civilians, and starting a new wave of refugees. The two major focus points in the campaign are the cities of Aleppo and Deraa.

It is becoming apparent that a turning point in the favor of the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and the Iranians has occurred in the Syrian Civil War and they have only Vladimir Putin to thank. More specifically – for his vicious yet effective strategy and the generals he has loaned to the regime in order to direct the campaign against the Sunni rebels.

However, what is happening in practice is ethnic cleansing and a new wave of refugees leaving Syria.

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Until the arrival of the Russians, the Syrian regime, with the assistance of Hezbollah and the Iranians, fought the rebels by attempting to destroy them piecemeal. These sporadic military operations happened here and there and were fought with little to no overarching goal, except to keep rebels away from places of economic or moral importance, and to stop the capture of military bases and government facilities.

There was also a special, almost sacred effort to stop the massacre of Alawites and Shiites, which the Islamists carried out with glee any time the chance arose. Only occasionally was there a clear military objective with a clear strategic purpose.

This lack of strategy very nearly led to the fall of the Assad regime in the spring of 2015. It was then that the Russians entered the fray - not due to any particular love for the Assad regime or the Iranians, but to protect and defend the strategic interests and assets they had in the country.

Yet, the Russians did not have much success at the beginning of their efforts in Syria. This is because the original method employed by the Russians was a copy of the unsuccessful strategy used by the US-led coalition in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, and against ISIS. The American strategy was based on precision airstrikes, while ground forces would be comprised of local forces- such as the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga. 

The Russians and the Iranians began their joint operations in Syria in order to eliminate the threat posed by the rebels to the Shiite and the Alawite heartland, specifically the port cities of Latakia and Tartus, cities which also house the principal Russian military installations in Syria.

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

The ground forces operating beneath the Russian air umbrella were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Basij militias, and additional Shiite militias from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this combined Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah offensive stalled within three months. While the immediate threat to the city of Latakia was pushed back, further gains were not made.

The Russian generals quickly realized after these three months that their strategy was not working. They understood that the secret weapon of the rebel groups they were fighting lay in the fact that the rebels can melt into the civilian population at will, and that the local Sunni community supports and assists them. And it wasn't as if the Russians were avoiding hitting targets in the middle of crowded Sunni cities and towns. They didn't even take civilian casualties into consideration.

But it seems that the Russians indeed understood this secret weapon - the close ties between the rebel fighters and the communities within which they were fighting. The rebels could go on the offensive from hidden areas within the village, then return and blend in with the civilian population when the response came. This was a classic guerrilla war which the rebels were able to fight for an unlimited amount of time.

To top it all off, these fighters are people who were born and raised in these villages, and the civilian population provided them with everything they needed - moral support, food from UN aid convoys, medical attention, hiding places, and firing positions from within private houses and schools. 

On top of this, the assimilation of the rebels into the population of non-combatants triggered international condemnation of airstrikes on these rebel positions. The Russians had to start planning their strikes with additional auction. In short, all the tactics that the IDF has dealt with in its wars against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza were working marvelously for the rebels in Syria. Therefore, the Russian generals, who had learned from the Russian experiences in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and now Syria, decided to take off their gloves and brush off all criticism coming from the international community. 

They understood that to bring about a turning point, they would have to denigrate the fighting capabilities of the Syrian guerillas, and that they would have to separate the rebels from their two principal power bases: support by the civilian population and outside military assistance received via Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. 

The new strategy the Russians formulated was to destroy these power bases through ethnic cleansing, and force them to flee as refugees to Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, and from there on to Europe. As a complementary measure, they would subject those who stayed to blockades and sieges, starving those who refused to leave. 

And therefore, according to credible western sources, the "Russian System" has been activated in Syria. First; they determine senior commanders in the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah coalition who are from communities which are under rebel occupation, and base them and consolidate these forces who are loyal and essential to the Assad regime. The Russians will then start an intensive bombing campaign of these cities, day and night, with no effort to differentiate between combatant and civilian. 

At the same time, the Syrian military, alongside Hezbollah and the Iranians, concentrate their forces on the ground. Infantry units then perform a survey of the area next to the bombed out town. Most of the civilians and rebels who had survived the bombings will have already run for their lives, or will have taken cover in the basements and cellars of the houses throughout the village. And even then, the Syrian military and its allies are in no rush to go into the town to capture it. They simply situate themselves at the entrances to the town, and set up a siege.

The rebels and civilians who survived the bombing can't escape or start over. They don't get any food, water, or anything else which would permit them to live. Between this, and the Russian bombs which continue to fall on them, they are faced with two equally bad options: to either die of hunger or the bombs, or surrender and be killed on the spot.

By contrast, the tactics during the beginning of the civil war were much different: the Syrian forces would enter the towns from which the rebels fled, imbued with a sense of victory, while the civilians (who were also supporters of the rebels) continued to live in the towns. The area would then stay under the control of Hezbollah or the regime until the rebels were able to regroup and be re-armed by the Americans or the Saudis, and then, with the help of the civilians, would come in and retake the city. And the cycle would continue.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Just the knowledge of the brutal Russian and Iranian strategy - the indiscriminate carpet bombings, the merciless sieges, and the cutting off of supply routes - has sent a tsunami of people, rushing towards the border. Non-combatants and rebels both are fleeing for their lives to the border in their thousands before it is too late. They are worried that the Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah ground forces will cut off the escape routes to Turkish and Jordanian borders, and that they will find themselves hungry and under siege, dependent on the grace of a Syrian government which knows no mercy. 

A sensitive situation on the Golan Heights  

The Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah coalition is currently using this new strategy on two fronts: Aleppo and Deraa.

Deraa, the less important of the two fronts, is situated in southern Syria, close to the border with Jordan. The revolution was started here five years ago by Sunni tribesmen angry at the regime. This city is of moral and symbolic importance, and its capture would deal a harsh blow to the rebels' morale. It will also make it more difficult for the rebels to receive assistance from Jordan, as that border would be cut off. Finally, the fall of Deraa would deal a harsh blow to the Nusra Front, as it main headquarters are located there.

In addition, Deraa is only 25 miles from the border fence on the Golan Heights. Therefore, whatever happens in Deraa will have an indirect effect on Israel. If the Assad regime is able to capture the city, the next step may be to open up an offensive to recapture the Syrian Golan, with the help of Hezbollah and the Iranians, and plenty of Russian air support. This is not an ideal situation for Israel. It will require Russian jets to operate dangerously close to the Israeli border, and will test the coordination between the IDF and the Russian air force.

If the Russian-Syrian collation is able to conquer the Syrian Golan heights, it will be easier for the Iranians and Hezbollah to open up another front for terrorist acts against Israel. It is likely that the Russians would not stop Hezbollah and the Iranians, so long as their actions don't lead to another war.

However, the principal offensive of the Russian-Shiite coalition is taking place in Aleppo in northern Syria. It is the second largest city in the county, but is the most important city strategically, economically, and culturally. It is considered the most important city which is not under complete government control. The Free Syrian Army, Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front, Army of Islam, and Ahrar a-Sham, are all in control of different parts of the city. ISIS even maintains a small presence within Aleppo, but controls large swathes of territory to the east and north of the city. 
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The capture of Aleppo may determine the fate of the fight for the rest of northern Syria, and represent another major turning point for the embattled Assad regime. A victory here has the ability to cut the off the Sunni rebels' access to the border with Turkey, and trap them between the Syrian regime in the south, the Kurdish forces in the north, and ISIS in the east.

There are people in Washington and London who believe that if only they could get stinger anti-aircraft missiles into the hands of the rebels, the will be able to defend themselves in the face of Russian airstrikes. Happy is the believer. The Russians are not impressed and are in no rush. Their Sukhoi-30 jets continue to pound cities and agricultural towns around Aleppo from the air, and even hit targets within the city itself. Meanwhile, Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces are happy on the ground, and are capturing town after town.

It seems that the Russian and Iranian generals intend to bomb Aleppo to smithereens, and then put up a siege around the city. The Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah militants are not in any hurry to enter the city for street to street fighting. Instead, they will wait until the starved city surrenders and falls into their hands like dried fruit. The coalition has already closed off one of the central highways connecting Aleppo with the Turkish border. All that remains is one narrow corridor which is soon to be closed off as well. Tens of thousands have already begun to gather at the border crossing next to the Turkish town of Kilis yet the Turkish government only permits an infinitesimal number of them - the heavily wounded and desperately ill- to cross into its territory.

Erdogan has issued strong condemnations against Russian brutality, but has also exploited the humanitarian crisis to try to convince the Americans and Russians to establish a “safe zone” for refugees in Syrian territory, along the southern Turkish border. The Turkish President has advocated for this option because he does not want more refugees to enter Turkey. Meanwhile Chancellor Angela Merkel is pressuring Erdogan to accept more refugees and allow them to stay in Turkish territory.

Erdogan wants to pressure the Americans to create a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border to protect the refugees and the Turkmen minority, rebelling against Assad. However, these efforts are in vain. Washington has decided that the war against ISIS is more important than removing Assad. Thus, it does not want to confront the Russians and its proxies and instead is cooperating with it.

President Obama wants to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means with the Russians as it did with the chemical weapons issue in 2013. Thus, Obama is turning his back on the cries of Syrian citizens and rebels fleeing for their lives, as well as their Saudi and Turkish backers..

Meanwhile, the largest ethnic cleansing in history since World War II continues: eight million Syrians- one third of the entire Syrian population- are already refugees either in Syria or in other countries. If that is not ethnic cleansing- then there simply is no longer any meaning to the phrase. The number of dead has long since passed 300,000 and it seems that the number of wounded is closing in on a million. Year after year the UN passes resolutions alleging that the Syrian government's actions border on crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, Obama, the UK, and the EU stand on the sidelines, silently hoping that the Russians will be able to avert a humanitarian crisis.

The Russian foreign minister stood up to the West and presented two a simple option to them: permit Aleppo and its residents to bleed and starve to death – or the West, the Gulf countries, and Turkey will force the rebel groups to accept the Russian peace plan. This plan, which was drawn up by the Kremlin, and in consultation with the Americans, will permit Assad to continue to rule for another year and a half until the next round of Syrian general elections, and then step down in peace.

The supposedly new regime that will be formed in Syria will be comprised of Assad loyalists and will maintain the interests of the Shiites, Russians, and Iranians.

The rebels have rejected Russian, British and Saudi peace plans. They demand that Assad be thrown out of power as soon as the peace process begins, not when it ends. However, United Nations Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura suggests first declaring a partial or full ceasefire, then providing humanitarian supplies for besieged and starving towns – and only then discussing specific details.

Nazi camp network was 'twice as big as previously thought'

From the Independent, 3 Mar 2013, by Cahal Milmo:

The network of camps and ghettos set up by the Nazis to conduct the Holocaust and persecute millions of victims across Europe may have been far larger and systematic than previously believed
Researchers have now catalogued more than 42,500 institutions used for persecution and death.

The network of camps and ghettos set up by the Nazis to conduct the Holocaust and persecute millions of victims across Europe was far larger and systematic than previously believed, according to new academic research.

Researchers conducting the bleak work of chronicling all the forced labour sites, ghettos and detention facilities run by Hitler’s regime alongside such centres of industrialised murder as Auschwitz have now catalogued more than 42,500 institutions used for persecution and death.

The figure has shocked academics and more than doubles an earlier finding by the same team that up to 20,000 sites were used. It casts a disturbing new light on the sheer scale of the machinery of imprisonment and oppression put in place by the Nazis throughout Europe, from Italy to Russia.

The team behind the research, based at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, told The Independent that they believe the evidence could also be crucial to survivors trying to bring cases for compensation against Germany and other countries for time spent in camps whose existence was hitherto obscure or undocumented.

The editors of the vast project, which is being compiled from hundreds of scholars into seven volumes due to be published by 2025, estimate that between 15 million and 20 million were killed or imprisoned in the facilities set up by the Nazis and puppet regimes in occupied countries from France to Romania.

The work, whose latest findings caused surprise among Holocaust academics when they were presented in Washington in January, draws together previously disparate records from dozens of archives, memorial sites and research bodies to create the first comprehensive catalogue of the facilities.

Geoffrey Megargee, the director of the project, called the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, said:
“The results of our research are shocking. We are putting together numbers that no one ever compiled before, even for camp systems that have been fairly well researched - and many of them have not been.”

He added: “There is a tendency for people to see the Holocaust as consisting of Auschwitz and perhaps a few other places. It’s important to understand that the system was much larger and more complex than that; that many more people knew about it and took part in it; that it was central to the entire Nazi system; and, moreover, that many other countries had their own camp systems.”

The sites include not only the concentration camps that lent the names of Dachau or Bergen-Belsen to infamy but many thousands of slave labour sites used to manufacture war supplies, prisoner of war camps and military brothels where women were dragooned into having sex with Nazi troops.

The work, compiled from data supplied by 400 academic contributors, further reveals the inter-locking nature of the Nazi system of imprisonment and persecution with victims of the Holocaust often passing through up to half a dozen work sites, factories or prison camps while others were sent straight from ghettos to the horrors of a Treblinka or Sobibor. PoWs found to be Jews were removed from military sites and passed into the extermination camps.

The attempt to build the first comprehensive chronicle of all Nazi-related camps also includes first-hand accounts from victims to help understand how each site worked and what its purpose was. The project has catalogued 30,000 slave labour camps alone.

Organisers hope it will not only prove a valuable resource to survivors and academic researchers but also serve as a tool in combating revisionists and Holocaust deniers.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Britain’s Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “This research demonstrates the Nazi’s determination to systematically wipe out the Jews of Europe. Years on, new information continues to come to light - making the enormous scale of the Holocaust even more difficult to comprehend.”

Last chance to set the record straight
Geoffrey Megargee

When the number of camps started to climb toward 10,000, we reviewed the project, to see if we wanted to limit it.

We asked ourselves if we wanted to cover only those camps that held Jews. Three points became apparent, however.

First, such a sorting process would be incredibly complex in itself. The Germans held Jews in many different kinds of camps. Many Soviet POWs, for example, were separated and murdered because they were Jewish.

Second, there was an ideological link that bound all the camps and ghettos together.

Finally, and most importantly, we realised no one is ever going to do this project again.

Geoffrey Megargee is a Senior Applied Research Scholar at the  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum