The Technological Advantage – Nothing Lasts Forever

While the technological superiority of Israel over its adversaries is self-evident with regard to conventional warfare, this superiority, as it applies to counterterrorism, is far more complex. Brig. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Nuriel on facing terrorism while being one step aheadFacing terrorism while being one step ahead

One of the cornerstones of the unwritten national defense doctrine of the State of Israel is the need to maintain our technological superiority over our adversaries. While this principle is self-evident with regard to conventional warfare, as in the case of the technological superiority of the F-16 fighter over the various generations of MiG fighters (not to mention F-16 fighters fitted with Israeli technology), the issue of technological superiority as it applies to counterterrorism is far more complex to the point of being questionable.

The objective of this column is to illuminate the complexity of the aspiration to remain – technologically – at least one step ahead of our adversaries and point out the risk associated with the technological superiority illusion in the context of dealing with terrorism.

Back in 2002, during the Matzuba incident at Israel’s northern border, a Hezbollah detachment managed to outsmart Israel’s technology-intensive security fence system. Using an Iranian-made, sophisticated elliptical ladder, they managed to enter Israeli territory and kill six Israeli civilians before they were eliminated. The same organization, Hezbollah, during two separate incidents and as part of its modus operandi, invested in destroying the technology-intensive surveillance system along the border. The subterranean dimension is yet another challenge facing our sophisticated and technology-intensive detection systems.

In the not-too-distant past, we dominated airborne intelligence gathering and surveillance. Today, our adversaries have acquired and are acquiring similar resources (all available on E-Bay) and now possess the ability to collect intelligence about us.

When local and global terrorism efforts are backed by such terrorism-supporting countries as Iran and Syria (the civil war notwithstanding), which place their scientific research institutes, production lines and so forth at the disposal of terrorist organizations, it is no wonder that terrorism can accomplish quite a lot with regard to the technological aspect, too. Suffice is to mention the switch from the primitive first-generation Qassam rockets which had a range of 7 to 10 kilometers to locally-manufactured rockets that have a range of 35 to 45 kilometers.

The advantage offered by night vision systems, once an almost exclusive asset of the Israeli forces which made their night operations highly effective, is now being challenged as the same systems are used by the terrorist organizations.

Cyber warfare, an effective tool assigned high priority grading in the arsenal of terrorist organizations, owing to the simplicity of its employment and the absence of a perpetrator’s signature (which can grant the users immunity against future penal measures), constitutes a serious threat vis-à-vis the extensive range of computer-embedded systems used in the various civilian and security activities of our lives.

I have hitherto described the essence of my argument: when we are engaged in a struggle against terrorism, the technological advantage is not necessarily an "ace in the hole". In some cases it may even be a weakness.

I will henceforth attempt to describe what needs to be done. First and foremost, we must maintain the capability to operate simply – even without employing the technologies we possess. It is essential that we maintain our ability to operate effectively without resorting to technology.

Secondly, we should analyze the bottlenecks of the enemy activity for each and every possible course of action and vis-à-vis every potential technique, and even set up "Red Teams" assigned specifically for this task. For each such bottleneck, we should prepare effective countermeasures/disruption tactics/elimination techniques so that the range of options available to us for coping with the challenge will expand.

Lastly, we should invest in locating those technologies that will enable us to "pull a rabbit out of a hat". This will require an on-going inter-service, inter-organizational effort, regularly financed and supervised, in cooperation with the industries and academia.

The war against terrorism and the various manifestations thereof is like a long distance race. Among the things that will help us win this race (and I believe terrorism can be overpowered), is the combination of might (professional capabilities, fighting spirit, technology) and mind – the faith in our cause!

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