How did Israel become a high-tech military superpower?

The simple answer is it had to in order to survive.

For its first two decades, Israel was not a strong military power. The country faced enormous obstacles in obtaining the weapons it needed to defend itself.

Immediately after declaring its independence, Israel was assaulted by the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and others. The tiny nation had virtually nothing to defend itself, and many Western countries did not want to supply the fledgling state.

The fact that Israel survived the 1948 war is a great miracle that resulted from the enormous courage of its citizens, bold actions and much help from the Almighty.

In the wars after 1948, Israel had varying levels of success in getting weapons from Western powers. France, Britain and the United States were unwilling to provide arms at various times.

An incident in late 1969 is worth relating. In 1967, Israel purchased four 90-foot coastal patrol boats from France, which accepted payment and built the boats but then decided not to deliver them. In a daring nighttime operation, Israeli commandos entered the shipyard, took the boats and sailed them to Israel.

Nobody likes paying for a boat and not receiving it.

That event and many others eventually forced Israel to decide that it must rely on its own resources for defense. The decision initially imposed a huge financial burden on the tiny country, but the dynamics shifted.

Now the Israeli arms industry is an exporter of great importance.

The exception is fighter aircraft, which Israel has obtained from the United States the past 30 years. Israel decided that it could not afford to develop its own military aircraft.

Recently, Israel was the first U.S. ally to receive the F-35. Over the years, Israel has flown the following U.S. aircraft: A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom, F-16 Falcon (this airplane destroyed the Iraqi nuclear complex in 1981) and F-15 Eagle.

The F-15 is the world’s most successful fighter, having been in numerous conflicts but never suffering a combat loss.

The book “The Weapon Wizards” goes into detail about how Israel developed various weapon systems. The areas in which Israel excels include:

  • Adaptive armor — Protection for tanks from short-range missiles such as rocket-propelled grenades. Many nations have reduced the tank’s role in urban combat because of its vulnerability to short-range rockets. But Israel’s defensive capabilities allow the tank’s use in an urban setting.
  • Space satellites — We do not normally think of Israel as a nation with space capabilities. But after being caught by surprise in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the IDF saw a great need to be able to monitor enemy troop movements and preparations. That capability has been in place since the 1980s.
  • Defensive rockets — As a counter to the constant rain of short-range Hamas rockets, Israel has developed the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. No other country has a system like it. In the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan invited Israel to be a partner in the “Star Wars” program. Over the years, with U.S. help, the Iron Dome missile defense system became an operational success. We all saw its value in 2014.
  • Computer viruses — From its earliest days, Israel has maintained superior military intelligence. For several decades, Israel relied primarily on human assets on the ground. Now it uses telecom intercepts, computers and cyber systems. Israel’s best-known cyber strike was Stuxnet, a computer virus introduced into the machines Iran used to enrich uranium. The virus caused centrifuges to self-destruct.
  • Drones — Israel was one of the first countries with a drone surveillance program. As early as 1968 an Israeli engineer used toy airplanes for military recon, but senior Israel Defense Forces officers felt that such an effort was unnecessary. That thinking changed with the Yom Kippur War. By 1980, the IDF had a robust drone program, while the United States had spent $1 billion on failed programs. The United States then worked closely with Israel to develop a drone program.

By being in a constant state of readiness to meet an enemy threat, Israel has been forced to adopt new tactics and technology. Adaptability is one of the country’s keys to success.

Many believe that Israel’s superiority is based on three key decisions by David Ben-Gurion:

  • Israel could never match the number of soldiers in the armies of surrounding Arab countries, so the IDF would have to be a people’s army able to rapidly grow by calling up reserves.
  • The IDF should emphasize quality over quantity and have a cadre of highly educated, adaptive soldiers.
  • Science and technology would be vital within the IDF.

It is easy to take Israel’s success for granted. But Israel and its leaders made mistakes and faced huge challenges to develop weapon systems. Nothing comes easy or is assured just because we are Jews.

Hard work, great determination, great courage, great leadership and a realization that the country’s survival is always at stake are elements that have led Israel to become a respected military power.

G-d smiles on Israel.