The Weapon Wizards

Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot

  • Review
By – March 30, 2017

A daz­zling feel-good” book in the tra­di­tion of Start-Up Nation and Let There Be Water, Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot’s analy­sis of Israel’s rise to promi­nence as major inven­tor and man­u­fac­tur­er of sophis­ti­cat­ed weapons and weapon sys­tems has a dark side. It is one thing to pro­tect your own nation, anoth­er to be ful­ly invest­ed exporter in the arms busi­ness. Yet the bil­lions of dol­lars in income from arms deals are a pro­tec­tive shield for this tiny nation, and mass pro­duc­tion low­ers the costs of the weapons for Israel’s own arsenals.

The authors’ excit­ing and sur­pris­ing nar­ra­tive is loose­ly chrono­log­i­cal, fol­low­ing the path of Israel’s advances in tech­nol­o­gy while bring­ing into play the polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary crises that pro­voked accel­er­at­ed research, inven­tion, and even impro­vi­sa­tion. One con­stant theme is that Israelis can­not relax: they always need to be push­ing to gain the upper hand, cre­at­ing a safe dis­tance between them­selves and those that threat­en them.

From ear­ly on the mantra has been that qual­i­ty would pre­vail over quan­ti­ty. The best plan­ning, the best minds, the best man­u­fac­tur­ing, the best train­ing, and the high­est lev­el of civil­ian and mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion would pre­vail over greater num­bers of weapons and ene­my combatants

The chap­ters focus on spe­cif­ic weapons, detail­ing both offen­sive and defen­sive tech­nolo­gies: drones, armor, satel­lites, rock­ets and mis­siles, intel­li­gent machines,” and cyber virus­es. How­ev­er, while the his­to­ry of Israel’s mil­i­tary ascent is large­ly tech­ni­cal, the meth­ods of reach­ing and mov­ing read­ers are quite varied.

Cap­sule biogra­phies of var­i­ous lead­ers human­ize the sto­ry and under­score the aspects of Israeli — specif­i­cal­ly IDF — cul­ture that lead to Israel’s suc­cess. The free­dom to ques­tion, sup­port for research, lead­er­ship skills and styles, and the will­ing­ness to take enor­mous risks all con­tribute to the inspi­ra­tional sto­ry. Even the free­dom to fail is part of the astound­ing­ly cre­ative mind­set. Per­son­al­i­ties count, and the project lead­ers we meet are quite impres­sive, if large­ly unknown beyond Israel’s borders.

Often a chap­ter begins with a jolt, a seri­ous threat or shift in for­tune that must be coun­tered. Then the sit­u­a­tion is back­ground­ed, the steps to the solu­tion are revealed, and the key play­ers cel­e­brat­ed. Almost every major Israeli polit­i­cal leader receives atten­tion in this book, so ful­ly is the over­ar­ch­ing weapons sto­ry imbed­ded in all facets of Israeli life and in the actions of its deci­sion makers.

Both weapons acqui­si­tions and weapons sales are sto­ries with sig­nif­i­cant polit­i­cal dimen­sions. How has Israel ben­e­fit­ted from and been hin­dered by its rela­tion­ship with its big broth­er, the Unit­ed States? To what extent has its role as a sup­pli­er of weapons and sys­tems to oth­er coun­tries led to durable diplo­mat­ic relationships?

The authors are ful­ly aware of the like­li­hood that Israel’s emer­gence as a pre­mier arms deal­er is not like­ly to be con­sid­ered a step on the road to peace. Though Israel has been rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the mod­ern bat­tle­field,” one can only have mixed feel­ings about where the out­er lim­its of this achieve­ment take us. But what are the intan­gi­ble costs?

Relat­ed Reads:

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, 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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