In his book Carnage and Culture, Victor Davis Hanson argues that the success of the West in warfare is a consequence more of the nature of free societies than of resources, skill or bravery of individual warriors, or even technology.
Today, technology — including weapons technology — is available to the highest bidder, and is simple enough to be operated by anyone. A country doesn’t need to have engineers that can design a telecommunications system or a nuclear power plant in order to have one. Illiterate soldiers from tenth-rate powers, or even terrorist gangs, can possess and use weapons that can destroy a tank, bring down an aircraft or sink a ship.
But for an example of why Hanson’s argument still holds, consider the coming conflict between Iran, a nation of 1.6 million sq. km and 74 million people with large oil reserves; and Israel, 21,000 sq. km in area with a population of 7.5 million, and almost no oil.
Israel is a free society in which dissent, free inquiry and the values of self-reliance and adaptability are encouraged and flourish. Iran is a totalitarian theocracy. The combatants are entirely unmatched: Iran doesn’t stand a chance.
In an article with the somewhat silly title “Israel’s Secret Iran Attack Plan: Electronic Warfare,” Eli Lake explains some of the ways that Israel can take advantage of the scientific and technical culture that has developed in its free, capitalist society:
A U.S. intelligence assessment this summer, described to The Daily Beast by current and former U.S. intelligence officials, concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cellphone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.
For example, Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cellphone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions, officials confirmed. The Israelis also have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders.
In a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar, the Syrian military got a taste of this warfare when Israeli planes “spoofed” the country’s air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes.
Israel also likely would exploit a vulnerability that U.S. officials detected two years ago in Iran’s big-city electric grids, which are not “air-gapped”—meaning they are connected to the Internet and therefore vulnerable to a Stuxnet-style cyberattack—officials say…
The likely delivery method for the electronic elements of this attack would be an unmanned aerial vehicle the size of a jumbo jet. An earlier version of the bird was called the Heron, the latest version is known as the Eitan. According to the Israeli press, the Eitan can fly for 20 straight hours and carry a payload of one ton. Another version of the drone, however, can fly up to 45 straight hours, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
This only scratches the surface of the potential of electronic warfare (it obviously doesn’t include any “secret” plans). But it’s easy to think of other lines of attack open to an adversary that understands the technology its enemy is employing.
The Stuxnet worm that damaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges, for example, required intimate knowledge of the Microsoft Windows system in which a “zero-day” vulnerability was exploited as a delivery system, and of the Siemens programmable-logic controllers that operated the centrifuges. This kind of expertise simply does not develop in most totalitarian societies.
I’ve used this cartoon before, but it’s as apropos as ever: