Reviewed by JOSEPH LEVEN
The Weapons Wizards tells the story of how Israel rose from having no weapons production capacity at all at the time of its founding in 1948 to becoming one of the world’s great weapons producers in our day.
In 1948 the newly born state had to beg, borrow and deceive in order to obtain a few old weapons with which to defend itself from its many attackers. In 2012 Israel’s defense companies exported over $7.5 billion worth of weaponry to all parts of the world. This is an amazing success story, without which the State of Israel would have perished many times over.
The co-authors of The Weapons Wizards, Yaacov Katz and Amir Bohbot are both veteran reporters of Israel’s military and defense operations. Katz is now editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post and Bohbot is the military editor for the Walla news website. Reading the book, one sees that they are extremely well connected, with many quotes from Israel’s senior military leaders, both past and present.
The book is organized by topic, with chapters on drones, tanks, satellites, targeted killings and more.
The same theme is constantly repeated:
1. Israel is forever at war.
2. The need for improved ways of waging war is recognized.
3. Initiatives are taken, often from a non-hierarchical direction.
4. The military and the defense industries work hand-in-hand on the new technologies.
5. The new technologies are quickly tested and refined on the battleground.
6. Israel jumps one step further ahead of its enemies.
Take, for instance, the chapter titled “Rocket Science”. It tells the story of the rockets rained down on southern Israel by Hamas from the Gaza Strip early in the first decade of this century.
In 2001 four Kassam rockets were fired at Israel. By 2003 the number was 155; by early 2014 over 12,000 of these rockets had been fired. Occasionally they killed or injured Israeli civilians. More frequently they damaged property. Their main use though was to sow terror in the Israeli population that lived within their range. Adults and children alike lived in a constant state of apprehension, waiting for the sirens to sound telling them that a Kassam was going to hit in mere seconds.
Katz and Bohbut then tell us the story of how Israel’s now-famous Iron Dome anti-short-range missile defense system came into being. Initially the development of an anti-missile defense against short-range rockets was opposed by the defense establishment. Such a system did not exist anywhere else in the world.
The idea did not die though, as Brigadier-General Danny Gold, head of the R&D Department within the Defense Ministry, was able to allocate seed money for research in 2004. A proposal from state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems came forward in 2005 and was OK’d by Gold - even without approval of his superiors. Not only did he OK the development of Iron Dome, but also its full scale production.
How could Gold do this? Where would the money come from? Gold put up $6M from his research budget and asked Rafael to match this. He also contacted a private venture capitalist and asked him to put aside $50M to be used on the project if required.
Work began in earnest, and through several ups and downs, money was gradually secured both from the Israeli government and from the American military aid budget. By 2011, Iron Dome was operational and shooting down rockets launched from Gaza. During the two wars with Hamas in 2012 and 2014 Iron Dome shot down between 85 and 90% of the missiles fired at Israeli cities, a stunning success rate.
Katz and Bohbut are unabashed boosters of Israel’s military, its defense industries and the Israeli way of doing things. The authors love the way that the IDF works, its lack of formal structure and democratic nature. They frequently relate how important initiatives originated at the grassroots level, something that would not have been possible in the armed forces of other countries.
To quote Shimon Peres. ‘To retain Israel’s qualitative edge, we need to invest in soldiers’ brains, not just their muscles.’ And to quote Shaul Mofaz, former IDF Chief of General Staff, ‘[The Weapons Wizards is] an essential read for anyone trying to understand Israel and its military.’
How Israel retains its military edge
The Weapon Wizards
How Israel Became a High-Tech
Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot
St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y., 2017,
(The Weapon Wizards is available from the Winnipeg Public Library)