Left to right: Ilan Pilo, Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region; Col. Adam Susman, Israel Defence Forces defence attaché to Canada; and Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Ohel Yaakov Community Kollel. (photo from Community Kollel)
While acknowledging that the situation in the Middle East is constantly changing, Col. Adam Susman told those gathered at the Ohel Yaakov Community Kollel on July 18 that the biggest threat to Israel is Iran, “as it has been for years.”
Susman, who is the Ottawa-based Israel Defence Forces (IDF) defence attaché to Canada, was in Vancouver at the invitation of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region.
Born in the United Kingdom, Susman moved to Moshav Sde Nitzan in southern Israel at the age of 3, according to JNF’s website. He joined the IDF’s Givati Brigade in 1987 and became a battalion commander after serving as head of the anti-ballistic and training branches. In 2005, he was appointed commander of Hanegev infantry brigade and chief of staff of the Sinai division, protecting Israel’s southern border. In 2009, he became commander of the Dan district in Home Front Command, working to ensure the safety of civilians in the metro Tel Aviv area. Prior to his appointment as the defence attaché to Canada in 2014, Susman was head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the IDF General Staff.
Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Community Kollel was the emcee of the Vancouver event. “It is fitting to have this meeting during the weekly Torah portion of Matot-Masei,” he said in his opening comments. “In this parashah, a portion of the Jewish people stays behind on the way to the Holy Land, preferring to farm on the other side of the Jordan River rather than go in and fight for the land. They stayed there while the rest of the tribes fought and, later, they joined them. In Judaism, we have great respect for those who risk their lives to protect other people, and especially our homeland.”
Before introducing Susman to those gathered, Ilan Pilo, executive director and Jerusalem emissary of JNF Canada, Pacific Region, presented a brief video about JNF’s activities throughout Israeli history. He then invited the president of Royal Canadian Legion’s Shalom Branch, Ralph Jackson, to speak. Jackson, who introduced himself as “the only Jew in the Scots Guards during World War Two,” presented a donation of $5,000 to Susman for Beit Halochem, a nonprofit that cares for disabled Israeli veterans.
Leonard Shapiro, Shalom Branch vice-president, noted how the branch was formed during a time of great prejudice, when Jews needed their own veterans organization. “It has been a long time now since we’ve gone to war, however, thank God. We don’t get many new members. If anyone here would like to join and support our organization and activities, you don’t have to have been in the army, you just need to be over 18 and not have committed any horrible crimes. Little ones, OK,” he joked.
Susman shared a bit about himself and his experience in the Givati Brigade, which was the most highly decorated brigade in the 2014 conflict, a fact no doubt known to the many IDF veterans in the audience.
Susman is one of 16 Israeli attachés around the world – a small number that, he said, was due to Israel never having been part of a military coalition with another country. He outlined the ties between the Israeli and Canadian militaries, the chief threats to Israel today and the IDF’s response.
“There is cooperation between the IDF and the Canadian military strategically and practically,” he said. “The relations between the IDF and the Canadian military are good.”
Asked if the change of Canada’s federal government to the Liberals from the Conservatives had had any effect on that relationship, Susman said it had not.
Turning to the situation in Israel’s own region, he emphasized the lack of stability.
“The Middle East is an interesting neighbourhood, always changing – what I tell you today may not be true tomorrow,” he said.
“The biggest threat is Iran, as it has been for years,” he continued. “[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad took every opportunity to say that Israel should disappear from the map of the world. The main threat they’ve posed has been building Hezbollah – without Iran, it would be a small organization. In recent years, Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria and they’ve lost a lot of people, but they’ve also gained a lot of operational experience. They have also steadily increased in rocket capabilities and can now reach Eilat.”
Susman said that Syria had previously been a big threat to Israel, but that’s no longer the case, due to its civil war and ISIS, as well as the reduction of the country’s chemical weapons by Western countries.
Hamas in Gaza is the next biggest threat, he said, noting that it is also supported by Iran. “They only exist to fight,” he said. “They are not building up Gazans as they claim. A good example is the tunnel found during 2014 Protective Edge, kilometres of resources that could [have been used] for clinics and schools. Gaza is a piece of cheese, there is 80 metres between the top and the water table, dotted with tunnels. That’s a major challenge.
“The Sinai is also a security problem,” he added. “Nobody controls it, and so everybody is in there. There was no Egyptian military following the peace agreement, so that’s the result. The MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) was created to survey the Sinai and, by the way, there are many Canadians in it.
“Some people say the IDF is a military that has a country,” quipped Susman. “We are strong, and we are good at finding solutions.”
Susman cited Iron Dome as an example. The IDF initially divided Israel into 157 zones with two missile interceptors for each missile. That was successful, he said, but each missile cost $70,000 so that intercepting one fired missile cost $140,000. Therefore, the IDF sought improvements. Israel was divided into 254 zones, he said, and each one had only one missile interceptor per fired missile. This system has a 90% success rate stopping missiles, which is still not good enough in Susman’s view. “We will improve yet further,” he said.
During the question-and-answer period, an audience member commented, “You said Iran is the biggest threat against Israel but you didn’t say what Israel is doing against Iran.”
“That’s right,” replied Susman without further explanation, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The evening ended with the singing of “Am Yisrael Chai,” led by Yeshayahu.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.