Even while preoccupied with its own domestic fight against terrorism, Israel has been quietly helping other countries fortify their own security against the extremely determined and ruthless enemy that is Islamic jihadism.
Israel has been a key ally in Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram, the deadly terrorist group which has been responsible for countless atrocities against women and children, and which is currently in control of the northern part of the country. According to Mike Omeri, the chief coordinating spokesman of the National Information Center in the capital Abuja, “Our Israeli partners have used [their] experience, and the unique expertise gained over years of fighting terror within its own borders, to assist us.” Given that Boko Haram recently pledged its allegiance to ISIS, Nigeria may soon be the focus of increased Israeli and U.S. military assistance.
However, Israel’s more immediate aim in its foreign military assistance is to work with its neighbors in stemming the tide of Palestinian terrorism. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, whose government has deemed Hamas a terrorist organization for the first time in Egypt’s history, has shown his eagerness to cooperate with Israel in conducting joint military exercises, as well as shutting down the Hamas tunnel network. Several months ago, the Israeli government approved Egypt’s request to send additional military units to the demilitarized zone of the Sinai Peninsula in the wake of several ISIS-linked terrorist attacks. The reason behind this is likely what el-Sisi pointed out in an interview: “Israel knows that the lack of presence of the Egyptian military in Sinai poses a danger to it even more than it does to Egypt.”
As for Israel’s other Arab ally, Jordan, the ISIS threat has brought the two countries closer together despite political disagreement over the Palestinian issue. Israel and Jordan view each other as centers of stability in the chaotic world of the Middle East, as well as vital partners in the war on terror. According to reports, Israel has flown drones over the Jordanian-Syrian border to stop potential ISIS attacks. However, it is unlikely that Israel will play an active military role in helping Jordan fight ISIS given the Jordanian public’s negative opinion of Israel. More generally though, since relations opened up in 1994, Israel and Jordan have had an extensive intelligence-sharing network, as well as deep economic ties: Jordan relies on Israel for gas and water exports, with a historic gas deal having been signed last year.
While Israel has its hands tied in joining the fight against ISIS, it has done much to help ISIS’s victims. A steady stream of wounded Syrians have been coming to Ziv Medical Center in Tzfat, located just 19 miles from the border. Often, these Syrians get in contact with the hospital, which then alerts the army to pick up the patient at the border, no questions asked. At Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, a Syrian man was recently equipped with 3D-printed titanium jaw after his lower jaw was destroyed by a bullet.
In a particularly heartwarming story, Lina, an Iraqi Christian from the town of Qaraqosh, brought her 18-month-old daughter Maryam, born with a hole in her heart, to Israel for treatment. The original plan had been to bring Maryam to Turkey but that was scrapped when ISIS took over Qaraqosh. After fleeing to Erbil and then to the Kurdish-Christian town of Shaqlawa, they were told to see American doctors at the heart center in Suleimaniyah. The doctors told them there was nothing they could do and that they should go to Israel for treatment. Though skeptical at first, Lina decided to heed their advice. Lina and Maryam were warmly greeted by Shevet Achim, a Jerusalem-based Christian non-profit group that brings into Israel the sick children from neighboring countries with heart conditions. According to the latest report, Maryam is still being treated at Hadassah-Ein-Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem, a hospital that prides itself on its commitment to delivering treatment to all patients regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Shevet Achim has already received requests from other Iraqi Christians looking to bring their children in for treatment. The number is likely to grow as this endangered minority group is increasingly persecuted by ISIS.
Additionally, the Israeli humanitarian group IsraAid has recently stepped up its efforts to aid Yazidi and Christian refugees in Northern Iraq. Displaced by ISIS, 18,000 of these refugees live in an area of Iraq where IsraAid is active. This past winter, IsraAid has provided food, water, blankets, and much more. Now, IsraAid is looking to offer education to Christian and Yazidi children who have not been to school in months and who are in need of psychological counseling.
At the same time, Lt. Col. Ibrahim Lukman, the commander of a Yazidi militia in Iraq, made a public appeal to Israel for military aid. As he told the Middle Eastern-oriented media outlet Al-Monitor, “We appeal to the Israeli government and its leader to step in and help this nation, which loves the Jewish people. We would be most grateful for the establishment of military ties—for instance, the training of fighters and the formation of joint teams. We are well aware of the circumstances the Israelis are in, and of the suffering they have endured at the hands of the Arabs ever since the establishment of their state. We, too, are suffering on account of them.” The Israeli government has not yet responded to his plea.
Beyond the Middle East, Israel has been helping a number of countries address their security concerns. One of these countries is India, one of Israel’s strongest supporters in terms of public opinion. Since Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister last year, military cooperation between India and Israel has ramped up significantly, in addition to the already strong trade and tech ties between the two countries. Ever wary of the potential threat from neighboring Pakistan, India has decided to purchase the Israeli-produced Barak-8 missile to outfit its warships. Netanyahu has told Modi that Israeli defense companies could produce in India to reduce costs. India is reported to be considering the purchase of the Israeli Iron Dome system, the star of the 2014 Gaza war, to defend its civilians against rocket attacks.
Israel has also helped India’s neighbor Sri Lanka in its decades-long war against the Tamil Tigers terrorist group. Though Sri Lanka is reluctant to specify just how Israel assists its efforts, (it does not want to risk alienating its Muslim population or its Arab oil suppliers,) reports indicate that Israel has provided Sri Lanka with planes, pilot training, naval attack craft and submarine-launched missiles. The Sri Lankan ambassador to Israel, Donald Perera, is a strong supporter of Israel’s war on terror. Additionally, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa made history last year by becoming the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit Israel since both countries gained their independence in 1948.
Kenya, another victim of terrorism, has become one of Israel’s closest allies in East Africa. In 2011, the two countries signed an agreement for Israel to advise Kenya on how to fight its war against the al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab group in neighboring Somalia. Israeli advisors were also sent in after the terrorist massacre at the Nairobi Westgate shopping mall in 2013. Kenya has been a regular customer of Israeli Military Industries and hundreds of Kenyan soldiers have either received training in Israel or have been trained by Israelis in Kenya.
Azerbaijan, Israel’s top oil supplier, is perhaps Israel’s closest Muslim ally. As relations with its neighbor Iran have deteriorated in recent years, Azerbaijan has quietly expanded the scope of its military cooperation with Israel. In 2012, Israel confirmed a $1.6 billion deal to sell drones and missile/anti-aircraft defense to Azerbaijan. Additionally, there is speculation that the Azeri government has opened up the Sitalchay Military Airbase, located 340 miles from the Iranian border, to the Israeli Air Force. The base could be used as a staging ground for an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear targets.
In regards to U.S.-Israeli military cooperation, the two countries regularly hold joint training exercises and have a number of joint technological development programs including the Arrow missile system and Tactical High Energy Laser. At an average of $1.8 billion annually, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid since WWII. Notable examples of U.S. military equipment used by Israel include F-15 fighter planes, AH-64 Apache helicopters and C-130 transport planes. Israeli equipment used by the U.S. military includes the Uzi submachine gun and the IAI Kfir plane.
Israel and the U.S. have also had a longstanding joint police and counter-terrorism training program. Topics covered in the program include border security, treating mass casualties, rescue operations, securing terrorist attack sites, IED attacks, and even illegal immigrants.
Finally, Israel is leading the fight in combating cyberterrorism. In 2012, Saudi hackers leaked the credit card details of thousands of Israelis and managed to shut down the websites of El Al and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Last year, Iranian hackers created fake social media profiles to spy on top U.S. and Israeli officials. And Israel everyday is the target of DDOS (denial of service) attacks in which hackers overload a site with messages to shut it down. In response to these threats, the same company that developed the Iron Dome has also been developing the Iron Dome’s digital counterpart. Dubbed the “Information Grid,” Israel Electric Company’s approach is to monitor electricity flowing from specific sections of the power grid and stop suspicious activities from spreading. Israel has also agreed to help the Japanese government improve its cybersecurity by signing a joint agreement to fund the anti-cyberterrorism efforts of companies and research centers in both countries. Both Israel and Japan are some of the few countries to have developed offensive cyberweapons. Israel is a world leader in cybersecurity, with cybersecurity software exports valued at $3 billion in 2013 alone. Israel recently announced the creation of the National Cyber Bureau to streamline the government’s cybersecurity efforts.
(Sources: Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Ynet News, Israel Hayom, Bloomberg)