A military net assessment of the Middle East

Kenneth S. Brower

Most published Middle Eastern military net assessments are based primarily on lists of units and equipment. Unfortunately, history proved that such lists are all too often incorrect. Even when they were correct, the overall assessments generally ignored the quality of personnel and/or equipment, as well as the extent to which rival defense systems could turn available financial, human, and material resources into actual military power.

Almost without exception, these earlier net assessments ignored the impact of the time required by all militaries to mobilize and deploy. This is particularly true for the major powers that were remote from the Middle East. These countries had to project their forces over intercontinental distances, which was, and is, a slow and difficult process.

This study contains no lists at all. Its assessments are based on historically proven combat data, which reflects the impact of human and  technical quality on military combat effectiveness. The study also reflects a unique understanding of the significant variation in the efficiency of alternate national defense systems and the realistic impact of time on the generation of regional military power.

The study first provides a summary of current Israeli military capability. Rather than simply providing figures, this section provides a baseline for subsequent comparisons of Israeli capability to the ability of remote countries to project military power into the region, or the threat posed by potential enemies. The first of these assessments discusses the ability of the US or Russia to project conventional military power into the Middle East, followed by threats posed by the Sunni Arab states and/or Turkey, and finally, Shiite Iran and its proxies.

The study’s objective and fact-based assessments are often at odds with conventional wisdom. First, it shows that, as compared to Israeli military capability, neither the US nor Russia can project meaningful conventional military power into the Middle East unless they are provided with both many months to mobilize and a lack of opposition during the long process of deployment. This conclusion implies that any US-proposed mutual defense treaty offered to Israel would be militarily meaningless. Moreover, the study shows that, over the long term, any such treaty would actually result in significantly diminished Israeli national security.

It is also demonstrated herein that Israel can defeat any attempt by Russia to militarily intervene against it.

The study assesses that a Sunni military threat, either with or without Turkey, could rapidly and unexpectedly emerge. The current combined military capability of the Sunni states is relatively limited compared to that of Israel, but over the long term, Israel would likely prove unable to maintain the decisive technological superiority it now possesses versus the current Sunni militaries. In such a scenario, Israel’s current  exaggerated emphasis on combat with non-state light infantry, located within urban areas, under counter-insurgency rules of engagement  would combine to compromise its long-term ability to cope with a Sunni conventional combined arms threat that could arise in the future.

Israel can defeat Iran and its proxies at a relatively acceptable cost—but only if there is decisive Israeli political and military leadership, which is now lacking. If military power has to be used preemptively to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat, Israel, acting unilaterally, is far more militarily capable than the US.

According to the study’s assessment, Israel cannot convert to an American-style volunteer military based on active forces with relatively small, low-readiness reserves. Such a conversion would result in a significant loss of military capability that could ultimately put the state at existential risk.

The study provides a series of recommendations that would improve Israeli political-military leadership. The fundamental conclusion is that most Israelis, as well as their international supporters, have come to believe decades of their own propaganda. They see weakness where the study sees strength. This compromises Israel’s ability to effectively wage war and reach the compromises necessary to achieve peace with security. In the end, even if Israel somehow manages to achieve real peace with all its Muslim neighbors (which is doubtful), it will only remain secure if it is the sole nuclear-armed country in the Middle East. It will also have to maintain a decisive superiority in terms of conventional military power against any conceivable array of possible enemies.

Kenneth S. Brower is a naval architect and defense analyst specializing in the interaction of technology and tactics and the Middle Eastern military balance.

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