Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Israel's Walls at Sea

Much like its Old Testament counterpart before the Babylonian conquest, modern Israel finds itself surrounded by enemies and increasingly forced onto the defensive. Nothing personifies the defensive mindset of the Israeli Defense Forces than its home built Merkava tank. While one of the world's most powerful armored vehicles, with its enhanced armor and unparalleled crew protection, it's function is a stark contrast to the fast mobile divisions of the 1967 Six Day War. The Merkava's mission is basically that of an anti-insurgent tank, designed to defend and protect the tiny but technically advanced nation's borders against its current principle threats: Lebanese or Palestinian terrorists. A far cry from the "Deep Battle" concepts of the pre-Yom Kippur era, that saw dramatic routs using blitzkrieg tactics against her Arab foes.

With her offensive capacity on land increasingly curtailed by treaties with former enemies, Israel might find room for maneuver on the sea. Potential aggressors such as in Lebanon or Syria could find their coastlines constantly at risk from a Jewish amphibious invasion. If her airbases are taken out from a surprise Arab attack, they could face immediate and overwhelming reprisal from an Israeli arsenal ship safely out of range afloat.

Such a plan was on the IDF's mind a few years ago, when it was proposed that the tiny patrol boat navy be greatly enhanced with new missile frigates, destroyers, cruisers, and even a 13,000 ton amphibious ship. Such a grandiose expansion of the scorned sea service came to nought, not surprisingly from resistance by the traditional services, especially the highly esteemed Air Force.

This remarkable strategy might be worth revisiting, though. It may be an extreme burden for an air strike against far away Iran, considering the distances involved, but a naval attack utilizing long range cruise missiles would face far fewer hazards. Ultimately, if confronted with a full scale Arab attack against Jewish military bases, a naval force might be all that survives to launch a counter-attack, especially in this age of precision guided missiles where no fixed defense is safe.

Such a radical change by the ancient land based power will likely never occur, however. An enlarged Israeli Navy might be construed as the last exit in case of an Arab conquest of the Holy Land, forcing Jewish evacuation of what they consider their God-given birthright. After enduring centuries of persecution from the West during the Christian Era, it is doubtful they would consider such an option as more desirable than dying to the last man, women, and child in defense of the homeland.