By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin.
Israel’s national security is a touchy subject, so it is imperative there is an experienced point-of-view to analyze the situation to help people understand. Luckily, UMass Dartmouth received that when Prof. Chuck Freilich visited the campus to give a speech analyzing the topic.
Freilich’s credentials include being Senior Analyst in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, policy adviser to a cabinet minister, and a major in the Israel Defense Force. In addition, he is also an accomplished writer with a new book, Israel and the Cyber Threat, due out later this year
His presentation began with a photo of Israel’s borders, and asked the audience to give two words that accurately describe them. “Completely surrounded,”and “irregular borders” were two phrases given, but Freilich ultimately landed on “strategic nightmare.”
He chose that term due to the limited space Israel occupies. At its smallest point, Israel is less than five miles wide. “To understand Israel, you have to start from its sense of vulnerability,” Freilich said. Many of Israel’s critics fail to take that vulnerability into consideration, he added.
To highlight his point, he switched to another PowerPoint slide showing the New Jersey-sized Israel juxtaposed to the twenty-two Arab countries surrounding it, a margin of nine million people to over 300 million.
Because of that, Freilich mentioned how Israel is quite possibly the only nation that constantly feared a “existential crisis.” However, Israel has routinely won every battle it’s fought, so Freilich believes that fear is no longer relevant.
Instead, he believes there is a new era of national security threats which he calls “attrition until destruction.” The idea is that terrorist groups like Hamas and Iran’s Hezbollah identified the Israeli population as the state’s weak point, so they attack the home front repeatedly until Israel’s morale weakens to eventual internal collapse.
Examples he cited include Hamas launching over 7,000 rockets into Israel in 2014 or Palestinians recently launching kites on fire into Israel’s forests, destroying thousands of acres of land.
Freilich spent a lot of time identifying Israel’s security threats, but he also spoke about how Israel could address them without furthering their quagmire. For one, he believes Israel’s tendency to respond to terrorism with full-scale attacks is a fool’s errand. “I think we should give more emphasis on restraint,” the professor says.
He continued, “people in Israel will say we have to conquer Gaza or Lebanon and end these attacks! Emotionally and strategically, they have a good case, but the problem is that it’s not worth it. We are going to lose far more guys in an operation like that than we would otherwise. If the threat becomes bad enough, we will have to, but it is otherwise better to promote diplomacy.”
He uses America’s foray into Iraq as an example, noting how it wasn’t worth it to launch a full-scale invasion given the outcome. Another proposal he came up with, which the Israeli government recently adopted, was to spend much more on defense than offense. The former military major vocalized that Israel’s missile defense systems are a good start, but until all rocket fire can be blocked then the job is not done.
After his speech winded down, he opened the floor up to a testy Q&A session. A local Rabbi said that “a number of religious and political voices” were being “intimidated over the summer” by the IDF and asked how that fits into Professor Freilich’s scenario about internal threats to Israel.
The professor responded that there were “numerous threats to democracy” from inside Israel’s government but that Jews should work to improve the situation instead of becoming disillusioned.
The tension heightened when a woman forewent a question to ramble on many things from Freilich’s “lies” about Gaza to Israel’s role in the Iraq war. After several minutes of urging to ask a question, she finally landed on “how can you sit there and talk about Israel’s inferior when they could wipe the Arab World off the map?”
Freilich responded that she had “no understanding of the situation whatsoever” but did ultimately comment that nuclear weapons are useless except in a truly existential crisis. “Have you ever seen Israel use a nuke?” He remarked, “They’re useless.”
For anyone who wanted to learn more about Israel’s national security, this event was a perfect outlet to hear an experienced point-of-view. This isn’t the only event from the Jewish Center for Culture that works to help understand Israel, there is also an event titled “Religious Diversity in Israel – A Panel Discussion” on November 15, 2018.