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Interview: Yaakov Katz

Thursday, May 04, 2017 | Permalink

with Philip K. Jason

Yaakov Katz is editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. He previously served for close to a decade as the paper's military reporter and defense analyst. Katz was a 2012 – 2013 fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is currently a faculty member at Harvard's Extension School, where he teaches an advanced course in journalism. He is the co-author of two books, The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower and Israel vs. Iran: The Shadow War.

Philip K. Jason: In The Weapon Wizards, you observe that Israel's enemies have not ceased building arsenals of rockets and missiles, even though Israel's Iron Dome and Arrow systems have rendered such stockpiles ineffective. Is any hope that more elaborate defensive (or offensive) weapons will change the operations of Hezbollah and Hammas?

Yaakov Katz: Originally, when Israel developed its missile defense systems, it hoped that their success would make Israel's enemies—particularly Hamas and Hezbollah—reconsider their investment in missile systems. The theory was that they would see that their missiles are ineffective and would understand that it is not worth investing in. That has not happened.

This does not mean that the missile defense systems are not effective. They are and they save Israeli lives. They have also given the government what we call “Diplomatic Maneuverability”, the ability to think before responding to rocket attacks, rather than being drawn into a conflict immediately. The systems have taken a weapon that could be of strategic consequences and turned them into a tactical issue that does not necessarily need to evolve into war.

PKJ: If there is no military solution to Israel's quest for an end to war, can resources be allocated to programs more likely to be successful?

YK: Military means are not an end to conflict but a means to be used to reach a diplomatic resolution. Although this has not yet happened for Israel when it comes to Hamas and Hezbollah, it has worked though with the two countries Israel made peace with, Egypt and Jordan. Both countries understood, after defeat on the battlefield, that war will not overcome Israel. Israel continues to invest in additional defense and offensive programs, which will help keep Israelis safe and ensure that wars are fought quicker. But they will not defeat an enemy's desire to destroy Israel.

PKJ: What are the benefits to Israel of its astounding success in weapon development, manufacture, and sales?

YK: The first clear benegit is that by developing top-tier weaponry, Israeli ensures its qualitative military edge in a very volatile region and as more potential conflicts loom on the horizon. The second benefit is economic: Israel today is one of the world's top arms exporters and brings in about $6.5 billion annually to the Israeli economy in arms sales.

PKJ: How did you and your coauthor, Amir Bohbot, "share the load" of creating this book?

Amir and I are both veteran military correspondents who have worked closely together covering Israel's different wars and operations since the early part of the 2000s. We split up the writing based on chapters: I wrote one chapter and he wrote another. The process was a bit more complicated. First, we would meet before starting to work on a new chapter. We would brainstorm for a while and the draft a chapter outline together—what stories will be there, who needs to be interviewed, etc. After spending one or two months researching and writing, when the chapter was done we’d share it with one another. Each of us would then add what was needed, make other comments, and then meet again to complete it. It was a genuine partnership.

PKJ: In the process of writing this book, did you discover any surprises? Did your research lead you to modify your views on anything, or anyone, connected with this topic?

YK: Coming into the project, both Amir and I were intimately familiar with the IDF and its different units. What we discovered while doing the research for this book was just how innovative the military was when it comes to the technology that it uses. Our research also gave us the opportunity to meet the scientists, engineers and officers who invented and came up with the ideas for some of Israel's unique weapon systems like the first drones, Iron Dome or the Ofek satellite. The stories behind each and every one of these weapons is what surprised us.

PKJ: Have any of Israel's developments in weapon technology been applied in other areas?

YK: Yes. Cameras and sensors, for example, originally developed for weapon systems like satellites or drones, can also be used for agricultural purposes. One company took a camera from a missile and integrated into a pill that a person can swallow so doctors can see what is happening inside that person's stomach.

PKJ: Who would you consider the ideal readers for your book? What are the most important ideas or pieces of information you'd like them to come away with?

We envision four different audiences: people interested in Israel, people interested in military affairs, entrepreneurs and business executives, and anyone looking to understand the future of the Middle East. We would like readers to walk away with a deeper understanding of just how important a role technology and weapons play when it comes to Israel's survival and its continued qualitative edge in a very volatile region. The stories told in this book show an amazing sense of innovation, creativity, and ingenuity in a country that was the established without any resources. When Israel was founded in 1948 there was only one resource—the Jewish brain—and that is what enabled Israel to survive. We are all familiar with the saying "Necessity is the mother of invention." But we like to stick to the dictum told to us by the IDF colonel who came up with the idea in 1977 for Israel to build its own satellite: "The shadow of the guillotine sharpens the mind."

Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore magazine, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don't Wave Goodbye: The Children's Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.

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