We recently passed the 43rd anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War, the surprise fight for survival that shattered Israel’s overconfidence in its military and intelligence services only six years after the smashing victory of the Six-Day War.
The assessments of what went wrong in October 1973 compelled two Hebrew University professors, Shaul Yatziv and Felix Dothan, to develop a game-changing concept for the Israel Defense Forces: a unit of elite minds devoted to creating the innovations necessary for Israel to maintain its qualitative military edge over more numerous enemy forces.
In 1979, the IDF moved ahead with the professors’ idea to form Talpiot. Jason Gewirtz, an executive producer with CNBC, tells the story of the elite unit in “Israel’s Edge.”
Each year, a few army recruits selected for their intelligence and creativity — about two dozen to start, now about 50 — are enrolled in the program, in which they pursue advanced scientific and engineering degrees while undergoing military training.
Taught teamwork and outside-the-box thinking, the members of each Talpiot class train with each element of the Israeli military, then are turned loose to solve the problems they find. Upon graduation, they have their choice of assignments during extended enlistments to apply innovation throughout the IDF.
Gewirtz tells Talpiot’s story through vignettes about unit members. For some, he can report how they have made the IDF stronger; others have done such secretive work that not even their names can be used. As a result, readers must take it on faith that Talpiot has proved to be Israel’s winning edge.
Unfortunately, Gewirtz writes as an enthusiastic fan of Talpiot, not an objective observer, so don’t expect a critical risk-benefit assessment of the program. The program isn’t cheap, but going unasked are questions ranging from the opportunity costs of taking the best of the best away the general army population to the potential value of implementing at least part of the Talpiot approach more widely in the IDF.
Still, Gewirtz makes a convincing case that the hundreds of brilliant Israelis trained by Talpiot have developed defensive ideas such as Iron Dome and helped drive Israel’s emergence as the Start-Up Nation.