Thousands of articles and other references have been written and published, in Israel and around the globe, regarding the nuclear agreements signed with Iran in Vienna, both for and against. In terms of the required ratification procedures in the US Congress as well as with regard to the actual upholding of the agreement by the Iranians, it is this writer’s view that the agreement should be regarded as a Fait Accompli. As such, it would be appropriate to review the challenges the agreement presents, within the various circles, to the State of Israel, to the entire region, to IDF and to IAF, within the aerial medium that we at the Fisher Institute for Air & Space Strategic Studies examine closely.
Seeing the agreement as a Fait Accompli will be the right thing to do as even if difficulties are encountered during the process of having the agreement ratified by the US Congress, realistically, “the train has already left the station”. We have been witnessing intensive economic-diplomatic activity over the last few weeks since the signature of the agreement. This has been particularly evident in the activities of the superpowers supporting the Iranian cause, like Russia and China, but even in the activities of such major European countries, whose politicians and business people have been queueing up eagerly at Iran’s door.
From a strategic point of view, it seems that Israel’s option of using force independently against the Iranian nuclear program has become more complex than ever before. This reality presents a challenge to IAF, as maintaining the military option in the form of a strike now calls for the investment of massive resources: allocating an OrBat of aircraft and training intensively for the purpose of developing and maintaining the competence of the crews will deprive a substantial share of the budget. With the threat not actually visible, the effort to obtain this share of the budget becomes more difficult and prolonged as time goes by – and that will apply to IAF within the next decade.
The air-defense and missile launch alert mission is the second challenge IAF faces in the era following the agreement. The lifting of the economic sanctions will enable Iran to free up huge financial resources. These resources should be diverted to the rehabilitation of Iran’s deteriorating economy, but might also be used to “energize Iran’s emissaries” in the region, the distributors and proxies of the Islamic revolution who pose a direct threat to Israel.
This threat calls for the continued development of the various elements of the air-defense system by the Israeli defense industries. This build-up of a state-of-the-art technological layout in an era of shrinking budgets where even the IDF mandatory service term is being shortened is a formidable challenge.
The primary challenge, however, is intelligence. Obtaining intelligence and information about what actually goes on within the Iranian nuclear and missile program is a key element in the missions assigned to the various organs of IAF. Space and satellite surveillance are primary tools in the ability to develop an effective inspection mechanism outside of the mechanism agreed upon in the agreement, as an independent mechanism. It is important that all potential allies should be incorporated in that mechanism. Intelligence regarding infrastructures and defensive systems at various sites in which Israel and the international community have an interest should indicate activities that might deviate from the clauses agreed upon and inspected in the context of the agreement, and may be used by IAF on the day that the political echelon decides that there is no other alternative and force must be used. Such surveillance/monitoring requires focused, on-going attention to be paid to a large number of target sites, which would deprive substantial attention and resources that are required elsewhere. Accordingly, it is this writer’s estimate that Israel will be required to develop “alliances” in the field of satellite surveillance. At the same time, we must provide an effective intelligence solution to the inner circle that contains such threats as Hezbollah, Hamas and ISIS, who continue to build up their power, both militarily and organizationally.
In conclusion, the challenges the nuclear agreement has presented to us call for the decision makers of the IDF and IAF to utilize the total resources allocated to the IDF and the intelligence agencies intelligently and prudently. Setting up an appropriate and flexible scale of priorities, in coordination with and subject to the directives of the political echelon, is the key to meeting those challenges within the coming decade.