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June 18, 2020 6:29 am

There Is a ‘Critical Shortfall’ of US Weapons in Israel

avatar by Yaakov Lappin / JNS.org

Opinion

An Israel Defense Forces’ soldier serving as part of a new all-female tank crew as part of the Border Array Units. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

JNS.orgA new paper released by the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) has called on the United States to fill up its weapons stockpile in Israel with precision-guided munitions, as the threats posed by adversaries like Iran and Hezbollah grow.

JINSA’s US-Israel Security Policy Project, chaired by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander ADM Jim Stavridis, USN (ret.), issued the report in recent days, which addressed what it described as “critical shortfalls of US weapons pre-positioned in Israel.”

Gen. (ret.) Charles Wald, a Distinguished Fellow at JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, and former Deputy Commander of US European Command, said that the desired end state is boosting the security of “Israel, our major ally.”

He described a severe threat from Iran and Hezbollah, which is growing dramatically, and noted Iran’s hostile activity in Syria, as well as tensions with terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

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“The issue you run into is that because of the unpredictability and volatility of the players in the region, Israel doesn’t have time to build up to defend itself,” explained Wald. “Our point is that they probably need more in the stockpile of precision munitions, so they can respond … if they have to, in a big way.”

The JINSA paper examined the US War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel, or WRSA-I, a forward-based depot of US-made ammunition and supplies in Israel.

“Its official intent is to serve as a strategic insurance policy for Israel to obtain vital munitions in emergencies and ensure its ‘qualitative military edge’ (QME), which US law requires the United States help uphold,” stated JINSA. “As America intends to reduce its footprint in the Middle East, this stockpile can advance our national security interests and bolster shared deterrence by ensuring Israel has the tools to defend itself. That is because the Trump administration, which has expressed its shared concern over Iran’s regional expansion, has mostly left it to Israel, which is more directly threatened, to address the problem on the ground and prepare for major conflict with Iran.”

Yet the stockpile is falling “dangerously short of meeting its stated purpose to support Israel’s efforts. Most importantly, though Israel has purchased tens of thousands of precision guided munitions (PGM) from the United States in recent years, it has used many of them in its ongoing air campaign to roll back Iran and its proxies in Syria and elsewhere. At the same time, the WRSA-I stockpile contains mostly outdated unguided bombs.”

Jonathan Ruhe, director of Foreign Policy at JINSA, said that the motivating factor behind the paper was to highlight a “whole range of ways to bolster what is already a strong security partnership.”

He noted that the US presence in the Middle East is trending downwards, “while at the same time we still articulate strong interests in the region; chiefly, preventing Iran from dominating the Middle East.”

With the United States looking to pull out of the region, he said, “it’s essentially Israel that is defending American interests. So a lot of our recommendations are premised on the idea: What can the US do to help give Israel a tool to defend itself and US interests?”

Israel has purchased tens of thousands of individual air-to-surface bombs over the past six years, said Ruhe, while also producing its own munitions domestically. Yet the American stockpile on Israeli soil, designed to enable Israel to defend itself in an emergency, has “become a dumping ground for obsolete US equipment for a whole host of reasons.”

Israel’s bomb-production abilities do not come close to the quantities that the United States can produce, meaning that Israel is certainly still dependent on its principle ally for many of its precision-guided missile arsenal needs. And America “hasn’t been putting precision-guided missiles (PGMS) into the stockpile,” cautioned Ruhe. The report focuses on Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS), which are kits that can be quickly attached to unguided bombs, making them guided.

The United States, said Ruhe, has had its own real problems with PGM production capacity over the past five years, due to spending cuts on defense and the massive use of such weapons to destroy the ISIS caliphate. “We burned through our significant stocks of PGMs pretty quickly,” he added.

But Washington is now dropping its PGM procurement for the next three to four years, clearing up space for more such weapons to move into the stockpile in Israel.

There are indications that the Israeli defense establishment and national security apparatus would be in favor of such an initiative. The paper recommends that Israel also sign longer-term, larger purchasing contracts of PGMs to keep production levels high.

JINSA has been in contact with the Pentagon and with Capitol Hill to press home its concerns, said Ruhe. Congress authorizes funds for the stockpile, while the Pentagon decides what to put in it — an arrangement that he said has created a certain disconnect.

“One of the things we’re working on is trying to bridge that miscommunication gap between Congress and the Pentagon,” said Ruhe.

According to Wald, while Israel has the best air-defense capability in the world, it won’t be sufficient when dealing with Hezbollah’s arsenal of 120,000-plus projectiles.

“The only way to defend is to have to go and take the targets out. And the only way to do that is with precision weapons, such as the JDAM and others. Although the JDAM is really accurate and flexible, one bomb still can’t destroy a lot — one needs to use a lot of bombs, a lot of sorties, and a lot of capabilities,” explained Wald.

Such capabilities are required to hit strategic areas. “The point is, you have to have them in place. Israel has the most capable military in the world. The Israeli Air Force is without peer. This is a deterrent because the players I’ve just described in the region totally understand they’d be overwhelmed by the Israeli Air Force. We should pre-position weapons in Israel to give them massive amounts, so the Israelis could constantly be flying with them and not have to wait for resupply.”

One way of doing is that is making some of the US military assistance money to Israel — $30 billion divided into 10 years — available up front, said Wald.

Yaakov Lappin is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment, military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.

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