Israel’s Evolving Military

The IDF Adapts to New Threats

On guard: an Israeli soldier in northern Israel, April 2016. Ronen Zvulun / REUTERS

Soon after Benjamin Netanyahu began his second term as Israel’s prime minister in March 2009, he ordered the country’s military to develop a plan for a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The air force and the intelligence branch went to work immediately; according to Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor, the preparations alone would ultimately cost the country nearly $3 billion.

Israel never carried out the attack, of course, and in retrospect, Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, then Israel’s defense minister, may never have seriously considered launching one. But U.S. President Barack Obama took the threat seriously enough to toughen sanctions against Iran in response. By bringing the Iranian economy to its knees, the sanctions paved the way for the election of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who pushed through the inter­national agreement that has since put Iran’s nuclear program on hold for the next decade.

Since then, Israel’s security agencies have been able to refocus their attention on all the other threats that gathered during the years they were preoccupied with Iran’s nukes. In the last five years, states and borders have collapsed through­out the Middle East, militant groups such as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) have conquered vast territories and drawn in large numbers of followers, and the schism between Shiites and Sunnis has turned more violent. All this turmoil has fundamentally transformed the dangers Israel now faces. The conventional threat once posed by the Syrian military has almost completely disappeared, only to be replaced by the appearance of more terrorists on another of Israel’s borders.

At the same time that the IDF must con­front external threats, Israel’s internal problems are falling on its shoulders.

At the same time, since October 2015, the conflict with the Palestinians has flared up, with teenagers from the West Bank carrying out “lone wolf” knife and gun attacks. The Israeli military’s response to the violence has raised thorny questions

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