DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis December 1, 2014,
In Israel’s Defensive Edge campaign that wound down three months ago, its defense forces under Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and his deputy and successor Maj. Gen. Gady Eizenkott were found wanting by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He found they lacked the operational and tactical capabilities needed for winning the far more extensive conflicts with Iran and Hizballah which, according to military intelligence forecasts, confront Israel in the spring.
Compared with Hizballah, the IDF appeared under-prepared for taking the fight deep inside its foe’s territory. Netanyahu therefore preferred Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, 52, to lead Israel’s armed forces in the contests ahead. He accordingly dragged out his confirmation of Eizenkott, 54 and father of five, as Israel’s 21st chief of staff as of next February out of political considerations, in deference to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and the army hierarchy. They compromised by approving Golan, former OC Northern Command, as Deputy Chief of Staff.
It was Golan who on Oct. 29 issued a public warning of the preparations Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, the Shiite Hizballah was putting in place for war against Israel – possibly as soon as April 2015. Gen. Golan had this to say. “We have no positive information that there are tunnels… That said, the idea of going below ground is not foreign to Lebanon and is not foreign to Hizballah. And so we have to suppose as a working assumption that there are tunnels [leading under the border into Israel]. They have to be looked for and prepared for,” said the Israeli general.
DEBKAfile’s sources cite Israelis living near the Lebanese border as reporting mysterious noises of digging and blasting under their feet in the last six months.
Confirmation that Hizballah plans to fight Israel on the Jewish state’s home ground came from the horse’s mouth on Nov. 4, when Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah shouted: “You should close all your airports and ports, because there is no place… in the land of occupied Palestine that the resistance’s rockets cannot reach.”
Tehran later confirmed that Hizballah had been supplied with the new Iranian surface rockets, Fatah the Conqueror, which are fitted with warheads weighing half a ton, have a range of 350 km and a speed of 1.5 km per second.
As part of these preparations, our military and intelligence sources disclose that Hizballah troops have begun peeling away from the Syrian military units fighting to repulse rebel forces advancing from the South and threatening bases defending southern Damascus. These rebels are backed by the US and more discreetly by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Hizballah has separated its units from the Syrian conflict for two objectives:
1. To regroup in the Syrian-Lebanese border Qalamoun mountain region, where its strategists and those of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards forecast the next clashes will erupt between Hizballah and Israel and Hizballah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS.
2. To transform its Qalamoun bases into launching pads for shooting rockets against Israel from Syrian soil.
With its Qalamoun base of operations in place, Hizballah is getting set for a major all-out war that could involve Iran, the Syrian army, Al Qaeda and ISIS and Hamas in Gaza – or a running conflict that occurs as a series of drawn-out skirmishes against Israel erupting from diverse quarters.
Moscow took a hand in developing this blueprint and augmenting its backing for Syrian ruler Bashar Assad with a pledge, announced Sunday, Nov. 30, to let Damascus have advanced S-300 anti-air missiles systems, as well as other weaponry needed by his army to throw back the Syrian rebel advance on the capital.
Netanyahu, while himself restraining generals Benny Gantz and Gady Eizenkott from deep incursions into the Gaza Strip in the recent conflict, nevertheless judged them short of the level of assertiveness and scope for taking on the conflicts predicted for the coming year. He does attribute to Gen. Golan the required qualities for fighting a lightening war deep inside enemy territory. He therefore insisted on having Golan appointed as Deputy C-of-S in the belief that the Eizenkott-Golan duo would offer an assertive military leadership capable of rapid offensive tactics.
Golan is in line for the top slot when Eizenkott retires in 2018.
However, this is the second time that the prime minister has backed down on his choice of chief of staff under political heat – the first was over Gen. Yoav Galant in 2010. This may also be a measure of his own assertiveness against political pressure.