When Israel’s national security doctrine was first formulated, its founders determined that the Air Force would also act as the state’s strategic arm.
In 1953, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion laid out the parameters on which our national security is based: “Dominance in the air, more than any other factor, will ensure us victory, and vice versa.” He emphasized that the principle of quality, which is the basis for our survivability in the Middle East, dictates that we “maximize our main strike force. In other words, the Air Force.”
A careful look at Israel’s geopolitical reality reveals that as a defending force, elaborate challenges face its air arm. Israel’s lack of strategic depth and limited endurance makes it imperative to engage in short wars, which at times take place on multiple fronts.
The answer to these challenges gave birth to a defense doctrine based on the offensive approach. The doctrine calls for transferring the fight to enemy territory, delivering a preemptive strike, attaining a quick victory by concentrating the offensive on a single front while defending other fronts, and enhanceing the ability to rapidly shift the main effort from one front to another. This means that military investment has to be focused on the Israeli Air Force (IAF) as the main firepower (artillery can serve as an alternative to naval forces and as a passive defense). The investment in both budget and the quality of the personnel appropriated to the IAF stemmed from the need to build the air arm as a deterrent force, providing it with strategic firepower and the highest degree of flexibility and availability. In fact, the IAF receives the finest human resources and a generous budget to replenish its forces with state-of-the-art weapons and equipment.
In light of these considerations and the air force’s organizational and cultural background, the IAF has developed world-renown tactical and operational capabilities. However, the IAF avoids taking responsibility when it comes to strategic issues. For example, despite its enormous efforts in developing operational capabilities to meet Israel’s strategic challenges, it was forced to develop aerospace and active defense capabilities instead of initiating them. Today, Israel faces growing security challenges, some of which are existential. Strategic changes are taking place in our region—most to our detriment. The IAF must play a key role in shaping Israel’s strategy since, in most scenarios, the Air Force will be the only branch able to provide a solution.
When voices demand that fire capabilities be diverted from the Air Force to the Navy, for example, only the air force commanders can provide professional reasoning regarding the strategic implications of such a diversion. When pressure is exerted on budgetary allocations to build active defense capabilities (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, etc.), with priority directed towards civilian protection rather than strategic infrastructure, then the Air Force, which is responsible for active defense, must educate decision-makers on the strategic ramifications of this change in priorities. When the political echelon faces a strategic decision, as it did on the eve of the Yom Kippur War regarding a preemptive strike (which will probably always be executed by the Air Force), then IAF commanders must be counted on to present them with detailed alternatives.
This complex cultural organizational process must take place on all senior levels of national security decision making.