Defense Ministry to invest heavily in AI in bid to improve intel on Iran

Director-General Eyal Zamir announces Depth Multi-Year Plan, and creation of robotics and AI body, as Tehran continues to enrich uranium

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir speaks at the 2023 Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023  (Gilad Kavalerchik)
Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir speaks at the 2023 Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023 (Gilad Kavalerchik)

Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir hinted on Monday that Iran would be the primary focus of Israel’s military force design in the coming years, announcing the ministry’s new “Depth Multi-Year Plan.”

A multi-year plan is the military’s guiding framework to investment and procurement, and reflects the primary threats Israel expects to face in the coming years. According to Zamir, the depth plan will feature a particular investment in artificial intelligence, which has the potential to drastically improve Israel’s intelligence and targeting against Iran.

“Our mission is to transform Israel into an AI powerhouse, similar to our role in cybertech,” he said in an address to the 2023 Herzliya Conference. “Israel is a cyberpower.”

In a not-so-subtle reference to Iran, Zamir explained that the term “depth” refers to the distance of military and intelligence operations from Israel’s borders, and said the plan is designed “to widen, broaden, and deepen our capabilities for the ranges of what is called the third circle.”

The “third circle” refers to the most distant of the direct threats facing Israel, the first circle being small terror groups within and on Israel’s borders, like Hamas; the second being larger threats, like the Syrian army and Hezbollah; and the third being countries that do not share a border with Israel, like Iran and Iraq.

A focus on the third circle points to a heavier investment in the air force and intelligence.

In this photo released by the US Air Force on May 2, 2023, airmen look at a GBU-57, or the Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb, at Whiteman Air Base in Missouri (US Air Force via AP)

“Some define AI as the next revolution on the battlefield,” Zamir said, explaining the relevance to the IDF ground forces, which have taken a back seat in Israeli operations in recent decades.

“AI technologies will create many additional capabilities including the operation of platforms in groups and swarms and independently operated combat systems. These technologies will integrate into the battlefield and provide an advantage to those who know how to develop them and use them operationally.”

The Defense Ministry is creating a “dedicated organization focused on AI and robotics,” added Zamir, a former tank commander. “Both are related to each other, and together they are key to solving the emerging challenges around us. This organization will operate under the DDR&D, the leading body for defense research and development.”

Zamir also spoke about the newest layer in Israel’s rocket and missile defense: “The Iron Beam laser system is being developed at an impressive pace, and we will conduct another series of system tests soon. Following the tests, we will gradually begin to deploy the first system in the field to ensure protection against threats from different regions.”

The defense R&D budget will be increased to unprecedented levels this year, Zamir also announced, and will include investments in secure production lines that don’t depend on potentially hostile powers.

“The Defense Ministry has invested in preserving vital, strategic production for many years,” he said. “In an era of a global race for raw materials, we continue to work to ensure our independent capabilities.”

Zamir’s comments came as the Associated Press revealed that Iran is building a nuclear facility so deep in the earth that it is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites.

Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, center, briefs the media while visiting the Fordo nuclear site near Qom, south of Tehran, Iran November 9, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

With Iran now producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers, the installation complicates the West’s efforts to halt Tehran from potentially developing an atomic bomb as diplomacy over its nuclear program remains stalled.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have said they won’t allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

Named multi-year plans are used by the IDF, not the Defense Ministry, and the latest one may be an indication that the ministry intends to play a more active role in determining the direction of IDF force design.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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