Israel – a land of war…
The hottest summer month can sometimes mean for a nation a period of severe battles. July 12 marked the fifth anniversary of the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Lebanon. The conflict, which had a great impact on Israel’s global standing and relations with the EU and the United States, and its consequences are still relevant today.
But today the region is also far from being called a land of stable peace. In July the Middle East Quartet of negotiators again had to urge the Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct talks without any preconditions.
The way of life and thinking in Israel is mostly subordinated to military purposes. As a result the country possesses strong and modern Armed Forces.
The technology-driven Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of the twenty first century is a far cry from the volunteer soldier farmers during the fight for Jewish independence in the Land of Israel in the 1940s.
In contrast to the modern day IDF - the developer of the world's first high-energy laser weapon system capable of shooting down a rocket carrying a live warhead, and the pioneer of what is considered the world's most secure tank, the founders of the IDF were so desperately short of resources that up until the 1950s, even senior commanders mostly earned no wage, were in their early twenties and lived by growing their own food.
What has typified the Israeli army throughout its diverse history is its commitment to innovation and its continuous maximization of the resources at its disposal, both human and technological. The Israeli army has always put great stress on the importance of improvisation and in order to defend Israel's narrow and vulnerable territory, the army has developed and attuned cutting edge technology to meet its defense needs.
At the same time, it has a commitment to maintain a meritocracy and has proven its ability to assimilate hundreds of thousands of new immigrants and youth from poor development towns.
Almost one quarter of its present officer corps are new immigrants and almost one half of its Chief-of-Staffs themselves came to the country as refugees. Both the officer corps and the soldiers represent almost every sector in society; religious and non-religious, the Kibbutzim, the development towns, the Druze of the North and the Bedouin of the South, assimilating Israeli citizens and Jewish volunteers from abroad uniting all walks of life and backgrounds.
The Israeli army can best be described by its contrasts. On the one hand, it is a modern army, founded in 1948. On the other hand, it traces its earliest traditions, roots and symbolism to the days of the Biblical ancient Israelites. On the one hand, it is considered one of the world's most professional, elite and effective fighting forces.
Its Air Force, Special Forces, intelligence and engineering units have pioneered and executed novel and innovative campaigns that are studied by military tacticians all over the world.
On the other hand, it is also one of the world's most informal and least hierarchical armies. Officers often sleep and eat with their soldiers and the army makes scant use of saluting and parades. On the one hand the Israeli army is considered to be a front-runner in conceptualizing and developing state-of -the-art weapons systems.
Its technological and research departments have contributed enormously to providing cutting-edge technology whose use is far wider than state-of-the-art weapons systems. Such units have made world-class breakthroughs in ballistic missile technology, electro-optics and other fields.
Soldiers from these units are highly sought after in the hi-tech world and have gone on to adapt their experience from these units to use in household PCs, internet portals, wireless communication and even in cancer research.
On the other hand, the Israeli army plays an important educational function, providing special courses for under-educated recruits and making special allowances for soldiers from troubled homes.
The army educational corps is heavily involved in schools teaching history and geography as well as various other educational programs. Children are prepared for the challenges they will have to face and also are given as much information as possible to be able to choose the path that are most suitable for them once they are actually conscripted.
Israel is unique in that military service is compulsory for both males and females. It is the only country in the world that maintains obligatory military service for women. This continues the tradition of female fighters during Israel's War of Independence. Males serve for three years and females for just less than two years. Israel also has one of the highest recruitment rates in the world - some 80% of those who receive summons serve.
Those who are exempt from service include most minority groups, those who are not physically or psychologically fit, married women or women with children, religious males who are studying in an accredited Jewish Law institution and religious females who choose to pursue 'national service' - community work.
Speaking of the modern Israeli Armed Forces one can’t avoid mentioning its high-tech orientation. Space technology development is the best example.
Israel's Defense Ministry is planning a massive investment in upgrading the country's space communication capabilities, enabling its military surveillance satellites to provide real-time intelligence in time of war.
Data collected by satellites currently operated by the Israel Defense Forces - Ofek 5, Ofek 7, Ofek 9 and TecSar - can only be received as their orbits pass over Israeli ground stations every 90 minutes.
That hour-and-a-half delay in relaying photographic and other intelligence data to ground stations can be critical in times of war.
"We are looking into ways to be able to download material from satellites even when they are not over Israel and in sight of the ground stations," an Israeli army officer told the press in mid May this year.
"This will give us the ability to receive live footage from an area of interest," he said.
One idea being considered calls for launching a communications satellite that would be exclusively designated for military missions, enabling immediate downloading of footage when the satellite is not passing over Israel.
Israel has attempted in the past to gain access to the U.S. military's satellite network, citing its need for real-time satellite imagery and early warning of missile attacks, according to numerous media reports quoting analysts. However, several administrations have said they would only consider the request once a peace deal requiring an Israeli military redeployment is signed.
The IDF is also set to purchase new data-control systems for deciphering and cataloging surveillance footage later this year. The systems will gradually replace the soldiers currently tasked with analyzing satellite imagery, speeding up the process.
The history of Israel in space is short but remarkable. It started in 1988 with the launch of Ofeq 1 by the Shavit launcher, affiliating Israel to the very exclusive club of 7 countries who launched a self developed satellite with their own made launcher.
Geographical constrains, as well as safety considerations caused the Israeli space program to focus on very small satellites, loaded with payloads of a very high degree of sophistication.
Currently, the country is observing the third generation of satellites with very high performances in small platforms.
In addition to panchromatic satellites for earth observation and picture downloading, a new satellite is currently being developed in the radar regime. The satellite will have a payload, which is capable of taking images at all weather conditions.
The vision of the Israeli Space Agency - ISA stems from the understanding that Israel could be more active in the civilian arena by promoting some innovative scientific projects based on international collaboration.
Amongst the leading project of ISA is the renewal of the Israeli projects of the Ultra Violet telescope for astronomical observations which had been developed in the nineties. It would be accommodated on the Indian Geo-Synchronous satellite G Sat-4 and would be jointly operated and utilized by Indian and Israeli scientists.