The Thin Red Line is a famous painting depicting the Battle of Balaclava, which took place in 1854 during the Crimean War. British troops (a large number of whom were from Scotland) stand on a hilltop in a line formation. With their red fatigues they manage to stand firm against the advancing Russian cavalry.
The painting seeks to convey one over-arching message: the people on the battlefield are what makes the difference between a crushing defeat and a stunning victory.
The Israel Defense Forces and other security agencies -- ranging from the Mossad to the Israel Police -- serve as our red line, in the broadest sense of the word. They are Israel's insurance policy. We cannot trust anyone but them; they are on our side.
Insurance costs money. We must not forget the horrific memory of the Yom Kippur War, whose 40th anniversary was earlier this month. I recently penned an article in which I shared my experience in the war. I recalled how I got mobilized with a strapless Uzi gun (I eventually used a shoelace to carry it on my shoulder). I made my way to the front on a half track whose metal had been perforated by shrapnel in previous battles. What's worse, the mortar shells we were handed could just as well have been used by a World War Two Sherman tank.
When I visited the Golan Heights only two years ago I saw a REO cargo truck. Even though it had the same make and model as the trucks that were used in World War Two, it was still being utilized. The IDF had transformed it into a makeshift water tanker. It just stood there on the side because of some malfunction. Its hood was open.
New features constantly make their way to the modern battlefield; it is becoming more sophisticated by the day. It is becoming more electronic and more digital; information technology is becoming dominant. In military lingo, this was once C2 (command and control); now the more appropriate term is C4ISR - command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Each of these terms refers to the sophistication of the modern battlefield -- from unmanned aerial vehicles, to satellites, laser beams and the special listening devices assembled by the IDF's famous signal intelligence unit, Unit 8200. Everything fits nicely into one big puzzle, from the first tier of weaponry to cutting edge technology.
This integrative battlefield is designed to optimize the fighters' performance; it makes it easier for them to carry out their mission with maximum effectiveness while keeping the number of casualties at a minimum. Everything revolves around human lives.
That is why the battle over the defense budget is more than just spin; it should transcend the scare-tactics and the potential effect on Israelis' standard of living. Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has overseen a major effort to restructure the military and prepare it for the modern battlefield. He too knows that even as he streamlines the army and turns it into a better, more effectively force, he must also cut where there is fat. You all know what I am talking about: that office grunt who might be redundant; that overstaffed headquarters of some unit; possibly even the over-the-top pension benefits officers get upon being discharged.
As the government deliberates the fate of the defense budget, it must think of the adverse effect this might have on the infantryman or the battalion commander who stand on guard along our borders. These are the same people we would turn to when there is a need to answer the call of duty. We must not send them into battle on an armored personnel carrier if the enemy has the technology to penetrate it; they must not be shamed nor should they be portrayed as selfish people whose goal is to get rich on the taxpayers' dime.
They are our thin red line.