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Sword and Shield of Zion: The Israel Air Force in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-2012

Sword and Shield of Zion: The Israel Air Force in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948–2012 by David Rodman. Sussex Academic Press, 2013, 168 pp.

Without pretending to examine the actions of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) completely and exhaustively, David Rodman’s Sword and Shield of Zion manages to discuss in some detail the broad and important scope of its activities in military and humanitarian affairs. The book addresses how the IAF succeeded in its four main combat roles (air superiority, close air support, interdiction, and strategic attack) as well as four noncombat functions (troop transport, casualty evacuation, logistical support, and reconnaissance), focusing most of its attention on the time after the 1956 Suez War. During this period, the IAF began to give Israel a major advantage in combat against its hostile Arab neighbors.

Organized efficiently and effectively, the book first introduces Israeli national security and national airpower matters and then comments on the support role of Israeli airpower and the Arab-Israeli conflict before taking up its principal subject. Rodman also discusses how the IAF has helped Israel win diplomatic recognition through its humanitarian efforts after natural and man-made disasters in a way that simultaneously allows the country to maintain its capacity to deal with potential conflicts. After reviewing airpower and maneuver warfare in the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars, the author then turns to Israel’s dependence upon the IAF for attritional conflicts against Egypt (1969–70), Hezbollah (2006), and Hamas (2008–09), concluding that decisive results required the Israel Defense Forces to provide ground troops and that dependence on the IAF alone produced stalemates. He then comments at some length on airpower, counterinsurgency, and special operations that take place between major wars and that form part of the day-to-day duties of the IAF, showing that its role in such matters began in the 1960s and has become more important. Rodman then hints at the significance of the IAF’s remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) before closing with a discussion of ground-based air defense, space-based reconnaissance, and the infrastructure of the IAF; he also comments on its past and future contributions to the well-being of Israel as a whole (and, to a lesser extent, the world at large).

Despite the fact that Sword and Shield of Zion uses a fair amount of military jargon, it remains accessible to both general readers attracted to military history or issues of grand strategy and to those concerned with the confluence of tactics and political goals as well as Israel’s particular interest in logistics and attacks on its enemies’ logistical capabilities. All readers will be especially intrigued by the author’s broad hints about the advanced capabilities of Israel’s RPAs (popularly known as drones) and the possibility that it possesses the means to use satellites in an attack role in future conflicts—areas in which the IAF desires to employ its indigenous military capabilities for deterrence.

One should also note that this book, though critical of some aspects of Israel’s political and military behavior (especially with regard to its leadership), staunchly supports the larger aims and goals of the nation’s military. From its use of pro-Israel terms for territory (e.g., Judea and Samaria instead of West Bank) to its firm labeling of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, it makes no pretense of being unbiased but openly and unabashedly assumes a pro-Israeli perspective. Consequently, Rodman paints an essentially favorable picture of the IAF and its role in preserving both Israeli security and the safety of the Jewish people (historically done through airlift operations like those that brought the Falasha Jews of Ethiopia to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s), as well as helping Israel in its diplomatic ambitions through extensive humanitarian aid in such diverse locations as Turkey, Mexico, India, Japan, and Haiti.

A slim but detailed volume containing a striking amount of analysis of the function and importance of the IAF in the overall defensive strategy and capabilities of the state of Israel, Sword and Shield of Zion will be of considerable interest to students of airpower. It reveals not only the immense capability of a well-developed nation to defend itself and control battlefields in enemy territory but also the limitations of airpower in achieving strategic and political goals without employing ground troops against determined opposition. The book should also appeal to those who study revolutions in military affairs—especially its revealing intimations about Israel’s drone capabilities. A close reading will prove rewarding in terms of understanding the prowess and strategic doctrine of the IAF. Clearly, anyone who has an interest in the IAF and its activities will find Sword and Shield of Zion worthwhile.

Nathan Albright
Portland, Oregon

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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