In the second portion of our article, we looked into a concept coined by Israeli scholars: the Other Revolution in Military Affairs (ORMA)—that is, the RMA of “the other side.” Are ISIS, Hezbollah, AQ, etc. undergoing their own RMA due to the proliferation of technologies that were previously inaccessible to them? We argue that they are indeed, and that the West would be wise to research how cheap commercial technologies (particularly dual-use) can be utilized against our own security apparatus so that we can pre-emptively bolster our defenses and avoid another 9/11-type attack.
The articles and research aside, this internship was a wonderful experience and gave me insight into the work culture at a think tank—work I am interested in pursuing following my time at SSP. What makes this think tank unique is that it is in Israel. Nearly every person researching there had been enlisted in the Israeli military, and the mission of bolstering national security was not as abstract to them as it might be for certain academics in Europe or the U.S—it was deeply personal. My supervisor, for example, is a major in the Israeli Air Force. My friend Aviad, a terrorism researcher who focuses on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was a demolitions expert. Others in the office held posts in the IDF that they cannot speak about, but I assume they worked for the intelligence community in one capacity or another—perhaps Unit 8200, Mossad or Shabak.
Having recently written a paper for SEST-501 on Israeli strategic decision-making during the Second Lebanon War, it was particularly interesting to attend INSS’s conference, which marked the 10th anniversary of the war. It featured speeches by Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the director of INSS and former chief of Military Intelligence; Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister during the war; Amir Peretz, the Minister of Defense in 2006; Dan Halutz, the Chief of Staff in the Lebanon War; and a handful of other distinguished speakers. Though I (along with many of the researchers here at INSS) strongly disagreed with some of their assessments regarding the outcomes of the war, they had some very interesting points, and I feel enriched by that experience. The carefully crafted use of words in their speeches illustrated just a glimpse of the complicated relationship between politics and the military here in Israel. There were moments where I wanted to yell, “Re-read Clausewitz!” but I held back—I didn’t want to damage any egos.
My experience outside the think tank was also wonderful. I kicked my feet up and sipped some beer on the Mediterranean, ate more hummus than I should, traveled all over the country, and hung out with old friends. I have lived in Israel before, but never had I spent so much time in Tel Aviv. This trip really illustrated to me what people mean when they refer to the “Tel Aviv bubble”—a term that captures the notion that once in Tel Aviv, it’s difficult to leave (simply because it’s great!), and it’s so removed from conflict in comparison to Jerusalem, Sderot, and the northern cities that have to deal with Hezbollah’s shenanigans. Nevertheless, I still made it my own mission to gain deeper understanding of Israeli culture and “ha-matzav” (“the situation,” i.e. a commonly used term referring to the security dynamic here).
Every time I come to Israel, I am reminded how resilient this society is, and also how complex it can be. My Arabic professor, Madi, a Druze man from the Galilee, recounted to me his multiple run-ins with Israeli security. Profiling is common here—security forces recently stopped him to search his car simply because he looks Arab and speaks Hebrew with a slight Arabic accent. Madi told me he didn’t mind; that security here is a necessity and he understands the need for this type of profiling. This man served in the Israeli military, is an upstanding citizen, and yet had no qualms with this sort of treatment. A Jewish Yemenite friend of mine was refused entry to a bus because he spoke Hebrew like an Arab-Israeli. From the outside looking in, this seems like blatant racism and discrimination. Here in Israel, it is seen as a necessary measure to keep people safe.
On the flip side, Palestinian citizens of Israel (and Palestinians from East Jerusalem) in the Old City have been protesting exactly this sort of treatment on a weekly basis. My phone received alert after alert that Jerusalem should be avoided because of the security risks. I can certainly understand the underlying idea behind these protests—most of these Palestinians simply want what we all do: to live freely, practice religion freely, travel freely, and make a living to provide for their families. The security situation in this country makes it difficult for the Israeli government and military to loosen their tight grip on East Jerusalem, and the surrounding area (I won’t go into the politics of the West Bank, Gaza or the settlements…). And in the wake of the waves of stabbing attacks and the Sarona Market shooting, I also understand the Israeli government’s perspective. Paradoxically, I believe the tighter Israel’s grip, the worse the situation will become—time is running out for Israel to come up with solutions before yet another war, attack, or uprising.
In such a small country, everyone has been impacted by terrorism in some way or another. A friend of a friend was shot twice in the head during the Sarona attack (which occurred a week before my arrival). He’s currently recovering in the hospital and doing well. What is mind-boggling to me is how normal this has become in Israel. When I lived in Gedera in 2012-13, I had to take shelter as Hamas fired rockets into the region. I even saw Iron Dome take out some rockets! Seems our tax money is doing some good for Israeli security. But what was wilder than living through war here in Israel was seeing how people acted. They mostly continued with their day-to-day routines. Perhaps their days were a little slower due to the frequent rocket sirens, but I distinctly remember seeing people out and about.
Israelis’ high tolerance threshold for terrorism has made terror an ineffective tool for radical Palestinians in their effort to achieve political objectives, and it does nothing but make Israel cynical of its neighbors’ intentions. It will be interesting to see what measures are necessary for peace to come—certainly a change in leadership for both Israel and the Palestinians won’t hurt, as well as a settlement freeze and oh, I don’t know, maybe a willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue. But it’s going to take a lot more than that to begin rebuilding the sense of hope that so many had in the 1990s when Yizhak Rabin was at the negotiating table with Yasser Arafat. How ironic that a radical Israeli assassinated him, just blocks from the apartment in which I write this blog post. Israel is a young country that is still struggling to find its identity—the internal problems posed by different views on Judaism, domestic policy, etc. etc. etc. all add yet additional layers of complexity.
It’s hard to contain where to go with this blog post. I have so many thoughts on this country that I love. I’m going to miss the food, and the people, and my friends. I’m going to miss old grandmothers shoving me out of the way as they get on the bus. I’ll miss the inevitable “history” lessons that every taxi driver feels compelled to give you. I’ll miss the lack of “sorrys,” and the shouting matches between random strangers (usually over something stupid). I’m going to miss the invitations from people I’ve never met to come join them for Shabbat dinner. I’ll miss the Arabic lessons and the INSS. But more than anything, I’m going to miss the complexity—the differing views, hypocrisy, politics, social dynamics and security dynamics. Israel, whether you agree with its politics or not, is a very special place. You can feel it in the air. At the same time, it’s a complete “balagan” (“mess”). As a good friend of mine said in one of our discussions about this country, “Imperfect is perfect.” I sure will miss this imperfect place.