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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Yaakov Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, and Amir Bohbot of Walla, have published a fascinating history of Israel's modern military, entitled The Weapon Wizards.

The book is divided up into chapters that could each stand alone as excellent magazine articles. It starts off with an overview of how necessity was the mother of invention, specifically a secret bullet manufacturing facility under the noses of the British becoming Israel Military Industries and a brief description of the beginnings of Israel's air force.

The following chapters each concentrate on the history of specific technologies that Israel is now a leader in: drones, adaptive armor (as well as the Merkava tank), spy satellites, anti-missile systems like Iron Dome, intelligence capabilities, and cyber-warfare. These are followed with a chapter about how Israel's arms exports have helped Israel diplomatically.

The Weapon Wizards sticks to one major theme throughout: Israel's innovation is the result of decisions taken early in the state's history to concentrate on qualitative advantages on the battlefield, meaning creativity and decentralized decision-making at war as well as the desire not to be dependent on anyone else for Israel's security. Entire sections of the army are dedicated to nurturing the brightest people to come up with brilliant solutions to problems that most nations haven't had to deal with - yet. And the army itself allows and encourages independent thinking and challenging ones superiors.

In may ways, this book is a mirror-image of the now classic Start-Up Nation, just concentrating on how the army produces people that help the IDF innovate, beyond those who use their knowledge to become successful entrepreneurs. But the IDF isn't an island, and in cyberwarfare it is partnering with Israel's cutting edge cybersecurity private sector as well.

I would have loved if the book had spent more time on future innovations, a topic barely touched on in its concluding chapter. It mentions unmanned warplanes and patrol vehicles, and a couple of other things that most students of Israeli weapons technologies already know about.

As a whole, The Weapon Wizards is a fascinating and ultimately exhilarating celebration of Israeli innovation, creativity, smarts and chutzpah in defending herself.

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