Israel’s Missing Naval Strategy
By Ehud Eiran
Former Associate and Research Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
In a March 19 piece on Foreign Affairs. com, Retired Admiral Yual Zur and I argued for the development of a comprehensive Israeli maritime strategy. Israel not only resides on the shores of the Mediterranean, but also relies on the seas for almost all of its imports, exports and cable communications. In many ways – due its political, economic, and cultural isolation for the Middle-East – Israel had become an island of sorts.
While the Jewish state’s founding father, David Ben Gurion, believed that the seas hold the key for the state’s future, over the years, the role of the sea in the eyes of national planners declined. Israel has no clear strategy regarding the seas and how they might contribute for its future prosperity. It further lacks the institutional depth expected from a nation that is so dependent on the seas. For example, Israel has no coast guard and the number of Israeli civilian sailors declined from some 1500 a few decades ago, to less than 300 today. But recent strategic developments must lead Israel to close its maritime gap.
First, massive gas deposits found in the last few years in Israeli economic waters are going to become a crucial part of its economy. Second, the seas had become a major supply route of arms for Israel’s non-state foes. Third, the growing tensions with Iran should lead Israel to develop platforms that have a longer reach, the navy’s being an obvious choice. Finally, Israel benefits from the rise of new international maritime security regimes, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, and may need to think more seriously about how it could contribute to them.
The full article is available at Foreign Affairs.