A modern army: What can Ukraine borrow from Israel’s experience? (WS6)
How did Israel succeed in creating one of the most combat-ready and innovative armies in the world? How can Ukraine apply Israel’s experience to the reform of its armed forces? These and other questions were discussed during Session No. 6, headlined “Defense and Innovation: Israel’s Experience,” which took place at the conference “Israel’s Experience of Nation Building: Lessons for Ukraine” on 12 June 2018, organized jointly by the New Europe Center and the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter. We invite you to read the speakers’ main points, below.
The foundation of the Israeli startup-society became people who acquired high-quality knowledge that they applied later during their army service:
- “From the very beginning it was understood that Israel needed powerful weapons and an industry that would satisfy our special needs. It was also understood that as long as we ourselves were not capable of developing something, no one would help us, including the West. Technologies were needed to cope with external threats. And during the war of 1973 that small fleet that we had was fully equipped with Israeli technologies. However, after 1973 we realized that the army needs qualitative changes. Since military service in Israel is compulsory, every year we began selecting the most talented youths (after carrying out the appropriate testing) who were graduating from schools and sent them to study such fields that we considered top-priority: technology, IT, and intelligence gathering. The studies generally lasted three years, after which the soldiers were divided by specialty, and they served for six years. This project was successful because these young men became true professionals and were able to make high-quality decisions regarding certain problems. This was to the advantage of both the army and the economy (since this project did not require a great financial outlay).”
- “Furthermore, after a few years we also saw positive results for society in general. Changes within micro-systems had an impact on the entire ecosystem. After their army service these talented and experienced youths, who felt a great sense of responsibility, produced and implemented creative ideas, and were able not only to identify the problem, but also to find a solution. Later these people founded new business projects.”
The state’s help in introducing innovations is important only at the outset; later, civic society is actively enlisted.
- “In the process of forming the startup-society the government’s financial assistance was important only at the outset. Then the system was able to work autonomously. For example, the educated people mentioned above developed one of the best cyber security systems for state institutions. In other words, the government’s initial task lies in providing encouragement, and later the open society and competition continue this work and foster new ideas in the marketplace.”
- “To summarize, the components underpinning the formation of Israel’s innovative society are the following: the experience of military service (in fact, the army may be considered the “mother” and “father” of innovations); the government’s encouragement; and, finally, competition, which concluded the work.”
Corruption is endemic to any society. However, its scale depends on the strength of the legal system.
- “If you ask whether there are corrupt officials in Israel, the answer will be, ‘Of course.’ This is typical of everyone, including European societies, because the tendency toward corruption is characteristic of every human being. So, the question is not whether there are corrupt people in society but how strong are the police and the legal system that can prosecute them, and how independent a given court is in order to mete out punishment to them in the form of depriving them of freedom. For example, in Israel the son of David Ben-Gurion, one of the founders of the State of Israel, was convicted of corruption.”
The Soviet system of organization still exists within the Ukrainian armed forces.
- “The Soviet legacy in the organization of the army and, correspondingly, the greater orientation on its quantitative rather than technical improvement is still a pressing issue in Ukraine. If you do a comparison, the Israeli soldier right now is ten times better trained than his Ukrainian counterpart. Funds are needed to improve the Ukrainian army. That’s why Israel’s experience is interesting in terms of where to acquire the financial capability for investments in the sphere of defense.”
Compared to the Israeli defense sphere, Ukraine lacks a proper strategy and political will.
- “Despite the fact that in critical moments—the Maidan, the war in eastern Ukraine—Ukrainian society has demonstrated extraordinary unity, on certain questions, particularly the need for significant changes, our society is disunited. This pertains especially to the governing elites. Israel’s experience can be beneficial in showing us how to change social mentality and, accordingly, how to overcome corruption in the military sphere.”
Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO and the U.S. with a view to pushing Russia out of international arms markets may help attract investments to Ukraine and speed up its entry into the North Atlantic alliance.
- “The opportunity to push Russia out of international arms markets exists; it has always existed. We should make this our top state priority. Russia traditionally uses two geopolitical means of influence: the export of oil and the export of arms. Stopping this export is in the interests of NATO and the U.S. It would be illogical for Ukraine not to become part of the process of maintaining this interest. Officially, on the state level, documents are being drafted and the proper work is being done. And this should become a social priority. As soon as we start working in this direction, investments will come to Ukraine in the form of strategic Western defense companies. We will obtain a level of support that will permit Ukraine to join NATO within a short period of time. The large Ukrainian army, which has extraordinary combat experience, will help create a balance of power in Eastern Europe, something that Poland, with the help of the Baltic countries and the U.S., has not been able to do so far.”
Translated from the Ukrainian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger.