While the COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping Hamas militants busy, a report released by a leading Israeli institute projects a war by the end of the year, and a former IDF general says the Jewish state has no other option but to always be ready.
After more than a month of relative calm, a rocket emanating from Gaza hit an open space in southern Israel in the early hours of Wednesday night. No damage was caused, but the IDF retaliated, attacking Hamas targets in the north of the Gaza Strip.
Since the first COVID-19 cases in Gaza appeared in March, the Islamic group has been busy handling the crisis and has even started cooperating with Israel to contain the spread of a virus that has so far infected more than 300 people.
The group’s intention to battle Israel has never waivered, however. Nor has the willingness of other militant organisations to take on Tel Aviv. In fact, in January, Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies submitted a yearly report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, projecting an eruption of a war in 2020, while a public opinion poll released that same month indicated that the country was ready for it.
How Ready Is Israel?
According to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, 67 percent of Israeli Jews believed the country was ready for a war militarily. Only 38 percent of Arab Israelis held similar views.
At the same time, the poll also revealed that more than 40 percent of respondents didn’t show trust in the IDF’s top management, their decision making abilities, or the set of priorities they put in front of them.
Little faith was also shown regarding those in command of the home front, with 30 percent of respondents saying southern and northern Israel were not ready for another confrontation.
Yossi Peled, a former IDF general, puts these findings down to the political stalemate that has dogged the country since last April.
“We haven’t had a government for a year and a half now and that of course affected the country’s budget and the readiness of the IDF. But I don’t believe that our generals are not sensitive or not aware. History has taught us that we could pay a very high price for not being ready”.
Israel’s swift victory in the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Jewish state captured Jerusalem and established control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip made Tel Aviv so confident in its abilities that it was certain no Arab nation would dare to challenge it militarily.
That’s why when the Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked in 1973, the assault caught Tel Aviv by surprise. Ever since the consensus has been that Israel should always be prepared to avoid such situations.
Strong Military, Low Morale
Over the years Israel has built one of the strongest militaries in the region, despite the nation’s small size.
According to Global Firepower, which uses 55 factors to determine a country’s military strength, Israel occupies 18th place, behind the standard military superpowers like the US, Russia, China, and India as well as some regional militaries including those of Egypt and Turkey.
Boasting some 170,000 members across all branches of its armed forces as well as more than 440,000 reservists, Israel engages more than 7 percent of its entire population in various military roles, something that is much higher than other nations, including bitter rival Iran where only one percent of the population is involved with the military.
Apart from accumulating an impressive arsenal of arms and technologies, the country is also believed to have nuclear weapons, allegations that Tel Aviv neither confirms nor denies.
But the question is whether these weapons are enough to win a war.
In February, one Israeli news website, Globes, quoted the deputy of the country’s former chief of staff Gadi Eizenkott as saying that the Jewish state was not ready for another war because it lacked the necessary spirit to win one.
“The IDF hasn’t wanted to win for years now. And that’s exactly the problem”, said Yair Golan who has since resigned from his military post and entered the political ring.
The low morale that began eroding the IDF after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was also addressed in 2017 by Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak Brick, who served as the military ombudsman from 2008 to 2019. He released an annual report that year revealing the factors contributing to this phenomenon.
These included the disappointment of many with the IDF’s decision to cut thousands of positions, forcing soldiers to do less with more, dissolve some units and cut salaries of high profile commanders prompting many to resign from their posts and leaving the military in the hands of less capable or inexperienced personnel.
The direct result of this low morale was a drop in the number of military recruits. In 2019, for example, 31 percent of young Israeli men did not enlist in the IDF, the previous low, 23 percent, was registered in 2005. A similar tendency was registered among the country’s young women, with 44 percent of them staying away from service.
Although the data is alarming, Peled believes that Israel, due to the complexity of the region it’s located in, “has no other option but to be ready”.
“In the north, we are trying to block the attempts by the Iranians to cement their presence in the region, while in the south we are handling the threat of Hamas. Maybe the coronavirus crisis will lessen the tensions and create an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to work together but either way, Israel doesn’t have the privilege not to be ready”.