While many would be forgiven for not seeing the parallels, Australia and Israel share many in common. As comparatively small nations surrounded by larger ones, they seek to leverage technology, strategy and doctrine to guarantee national security – with Israel’s newly evolving strategy informing new responses.
You would be forgiven for overlooking the parallels and crossover between the geopolitical and strategic realities of Australia and Israel, particularly given the largely cordial relationships Australia enjoys with its regional neighbours.
However, there are some unavoidable parallels between the two nations and their tactical and strategic approach to national security, sovereignty and integrity in increasingly volatile parts of the world.
Most notably, both nations (with comparatively small populations when compared to their larger neighbours, be that Egypt and Indonesia or Syria, Iran or Vietnam and China) rely heavily on a combination of qualitative advantages and complex alliance structures as the linchpin of their tactical and national security doctrines.
Furthermore, the parliamentary democratic systems, combined with highly advanced economies supported by well-educated populations, export-driven economies and the status within the international communities serve to further underscore the two nations.
While Israel’s position and status in the Middle East leaves the small nation more exposed to direct kinetic and asymmetric threats, and the nation is unofficially recognised as a nuclear power to guarantee its strategic security, in response, Tel Aviv has launched a multiyear plan to restructure its armed forces to respond to “existing and potential future adversaries for decades”.
Plan ‘Momentum’ and Australia’s shift to fifth-generation warfare
The key focus of the “Tnufa” plan as it is known in Hebrew and “Momentum” in English has been the primary focus for the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, with a number of key focal points, including countering continued Iranian provocation while also supporting the introduction of next-generation technologies to limit civilian casualties and maximising the effective firepower available to the IDF.
This includes the introduction of key platforms like the specialist-Israeli variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35I “Adir” to serve as the backbone of Israel’s future air combat capabilities, supported by the further introduction of missile defence assets, including Iron Dome.
Further to this, the IDF’s planning directorate will be renamed the Force Design Directorate – this new organisation will be responsible for overseeing the development of new combat and weapons techniques, specifically in tactics and techniques that require cooperation between the various branches of the military – an area that LTGEN Kochavi sees as being of great and growing importance.
This shift to a joint operations, fifth-generation model echoes similar overhauls currently underway across the Australian Defence Force, particularly on the back of major acquisition and doctrine development programs, like the introduction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer and the Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles.
Furthermore, doctrines like the Australian Army’s “Networked and Hardened” and “Accelerated Warfare” doctrines, the Royal Australian Navy’s “Plan Pelorus 2022” and Royal Australian Air Force’s “Plan Jericho” each of which stresses the importance of mobility, decisive decision making and qualitative advantages to maximise the lethality of the ADF.
Additionally, a key component of these areas of overlap is the importance of strategic deterrence as provided by key force multiplying platforms, for both nations, namely their respective submarine fleets, with Australia’s own submarine fleet preparing to expand its capabilities with the introduction of the Attack Class vessels in 2036.
Both Australia and Israel place increased emphasis on the importance of technological superiority, with Plan Momentum focused on empowering the IDF to “take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies – air power, intelligence and technology – in order to ensure the Israeli military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah”.
To this point, LTGEN Kochavi emphasised: “Carrying out the multiyear Momentum Plan will allow the IDF to significantly increase its capabilities. The plan will increase the lethality of the IDF… [It] will create conditions to shorten the duration of a war.”
The key point of difference
Despite these similarities, there is a key point of difference between Australia and Israel: nuclear weapons capability – a capability which is immensely controversial in Australia, yet one that has gained increasing emphasis in recent months following the latest work of Hugh White, titled How to Defend Australia, and a series of supporting opinion pieces.
White set the scene for the Australian public, presenting perhaps one of the most asinine questions of recent strategic debate:
“Should Australia defend itself? Our choice is not an easy one. Just because we probably can build the forces to defend ourselves does not mean we necessarily should. As we have seen, the costs would be very high, and it is not a foregone conclusion that the benefits outweigh those costs.”
While floating the idea, White specifically states he “neither predicts nor advocates” for the development of a domestic nuclear arsenal, yet it has been met with increasing debate and dialogue, with many taking to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute to discuss the options and the very idea of Australia’s own nuclear arsenal, and the supporting doctrine required.
A key component of this discussion is reshaping the debate. ASPI senior fellow Rod Lyon clearly articulates this in what he describes as “crossing the nuclear Rubicon”:
- Australians to think differently about nuclear weapons – as direct contributors to our defence rather than as abstract contributors to global stability;
- a bipartisan political consensus to support proliferation, during both development and deployment of a nuclear arsenal;
- a shift in Australia’s diplomatic footprint, to build a case for our leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and abrogating the Treaty of Rarotonga while still being able to retail a coherent story of arms control and nuclear order;
- serious investment in the technologies and skill sets required to construct and deploy, safely and securely, both nuclear warheads and appropriate delivery vehicles; and
- a strategy which gives meaning to our arsenal and an explanation of our thinking to our neighbours and our major ally.
Lyon also goes on to expand on White’s central premise for considering an Australian nuclear option, what White calls “nuclear blackmail”, defined more simply as nuclear coercion by a nuclear armed and conventionally well-equipped great power, providing examples of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and, most relevant for Australia, French concepts of “minimum deterrence”.
Lyon states the French Cold War nuclear doctrine, which “called for an arsenal that could ‘rip the arm off’ a superpower, leaving it an amputee among its more able-bodied peers”, fits in well with Australia’existing conventional doctrine, which is focused on controlling the sea-air gap and limiting a hostile nation’s attempts to coerce the otherwise isolated nation.
Building on this, Lyon articulates: “So, should Australia build its own nuclear arsenal? I think the answer is, ‘Yes, if it needs to.’ That’s a big ‘if’ – indeed, a series of big ‘ifs’: if the regional strategic environment becomes appreciably darker; if US extended nuclear deterrence is no longer available, or patently incredible; and, perhaps just as importantly, if there’s bipartisan Australian acceptance of the need for an indigenous arsenal.”
Lyon’s French option is one that requires closer consideration and study as France’s nuclear doctrine is dependent upon large, nuclear-powered, ballistic missile submarines that serve as a continuous-at-sea-deterrence doctrine similar to the model used by the British Royal Navy and its own nuclear deterrence strategy.
More broadly, throughout NATO, the US “loans” free-fall nuclear weapons to key non-nuclear NATO allies, including Belgium and Germany, to serve as key force multipliers in the region while also basing nuclear weapons out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey – a site of contention between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Shifting to the Middle East, Israel, while not a “declared” nuclear weapons state (NWS), received early support from France and has an estimate arsenal of between 80 and 400 warheads spread across free-fall nuclear bombs, submarine-launched cruise missile stationed onboard their fleet of five, modified, German designed and built Dolphin Class conventional submarines and the Jericho series of intermediate to intercontinental range ballistic missiles.
Both the French and Israeli models provide interesting concepts for Australian consideration, should the nation seek to pursue a domestic nuclear arsenal – particularly the submarine leg of their respective nuclear deterrence forces could be extrapolated for implementation on Australia’s existing Collins Class and future Attack Class vessels to serve as an Australian force multiplier and strategic leveller in the face of a rapidly evolving regional order.
It is important to recognise that any decision to acquire or develop nuclear weapons is not an easy decision to make and should not be taken lightly and should be done in full view of the Australian public following the presentation of the facts for the public’s consideration.
The nation is defined by its relationship with the region, with access to the growing economies and to strategic sea lines of communication supporting over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost-effective and reliable nature of sea transport.
Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5 trillion worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.
Enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic, economic, diplomatic and military capabilities, serves not only as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities in supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia.
Shifting the public discussion away from the default Australian position of “it is all a little too difficult, so let’s not bother” will provide unprecedented economic, diplomatic, political and strategic opportunities for the nation.
However, as events continue to unfold throughout the region and China continues to throw its economic, political and strategic weight around, can Australia afford to remain a secondary power or does it need to embrace a larger, more independent role in an era of increasing great power competition?