In the last week or so, many people have been sharing images of what they feel are alarming amounts of military air traffic culled from various online tracking websites, purporting to show a “highly unusual” increase in air traffic throughout the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean (a.k.a., “The Levant”).
For those who are exploring a new landscape on the internet, such as aircraft and ship tracking websites, these images can, in fact, look incredible. Most of the online maps are indeed very cluttered, to such an extent that many computers have a hard time keeping up with the running updates, unless a user “drills down” to a very narrow region.
And to be fair, given the recent events within the region, with terrorist massacres in Israel, leading to brutal counterattacks by Israel, and the hysterical responses from throughout not just the region, but the threat of this new “Yom Kippur War” expanding to include most of the region – something that the few sane leaders of the world ‘body politic’ is desperate to prevent – is certainly making many people terrified of anything new and strange, that is presented with either incomplete, or flat-out wrong context, deliberately or otherwise.
The short answer to the “unusual increase” in aircraft activity in the Middle East is that it is a giant “nothingburger.” The long answer is far more mundane…but not so the reason behind it.
The fact is that Israel has severely neglected its defenses, both internal and external, for at least twenty years. Externally, Israel fell into the complacency trap of “Victory Disease” (the laziness and complacency resulting from too many victories), in that it felt that its “Iron Dome” missile defense system was mostly unbeatable, while its more conventional forces could easily handle anything that “Iron Dome” could not.
Internally, this dangerous complacency was compounded by Israel’s disastrous moves, beginning in 2012, to restrict the ability of Israeli citizens not on military or police duty, to owning or possessing military style firearms.
And on October 7, 2023, Israel and its citizens were given a stark wake up call as to why you should never beat your swords into plowshares before the right time.
As a result, Israel suddenly found itself in a desperate, grueling and bloody war against an implacable and bloodthirsty enemy at one end of its country, while facing another potential – and much more dangerous – foe to their north. While this is certainly not an unusual circumstance for Israel, Israel the state, as well as Israeli citizens, now finds itself being rudely forced to reorient its mental perspective on reality.
All-out war, as should be clear to anyone who has read an article on the Russo-Ukrainian War in the last almost two years, consumes people, ammunition, vehicles and supplies at a ferocious rate. While the scale and pace of the war in Israel may not currently be at the same overall scale as what is happening in Ukraine, when adjusted for scale, Israel is not much better off than Ukrainians.
In answer, the United States – long Israel’s only truly reliable ally – has doubled down on US support to Israel in the current conflict, complete with sending two complete carrier battle groups to the region, potentially committing US forces to direct combat in the conflict.
And fears of a widening of the conflict have already been realized, as the USS Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, has shot down multiple missiles launched by Houthi insurgents from their base areas in Yemen.
Obviously, no matter the Reader’s feelings – one way or another – about the current conflict, the United States has to supply Israel with weapons, ammunition and much else, exactly as it has for Ukraine. Normally, such supplies are sent by ship, and then by rail or road. The reason is simple: it is vastly more efficient than air transport.
Sometimes, however, speed is essential. Relatively small and light supplies, like ammunition and medical supplies, can be rushed to a conflict zone relatively quickly, as these are always the most critical supplies that would be needed early on in a conflict. In the case of any sudden uptick of military air traffic, however, there is currently another factor:
In 2010, a series of volcanic eruptions from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland in April of that year completely shut down all air traffic in Europe outside of Spain and a tiny portion of France. That was, obviously, a very annoying situation for many travelers, as it up-ended flights throughout the world.
Military planners, already struggling to juggle the delivery of supplies to multiple active and potential combat areas, now have no choice but add the potential of a natural disaster shutting down European airspace for an unknown period. The only real option is to start drawing supplies from existing bases in the region, and sending those to Israel…by air.
At the same time, however, those supply bases will need to be restocked, and fast, given the potential for regional escalation. This problem can be solved via a surge in sending war materials and equipment to those bases via conventional shipping…that seems to be happening.
The Ready Reserve Force ship MV Cape Orlando is currently underway from Tacoma, WA, crossing the Pacific Ocean. The Cape Orlando, originally berthed in Oakland, was actually boarded by pro-Palestinian protesters on November 4th, delaying its departure for Tacoma. (The protestors were not charged.)
While the MV Orlando is certainly the most public of the ships potentially carrying supplies to the combat area, it is also certainly not the only one.
What is happening is clear: a giant “shell game” is underway, with supplies being shuffled as quickly as possible, to cover as many holes as have been left open by shockingly poor military policies by the West and its allies over the preceding c.30 years…But such circumstances cannot endure forever.
Because, as the Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote some 2,500 years ago, if you try to defend every point equally, every point will be weak.