by Howard Rotberg
20-20 eyesight is a normal and good eye-sight. We now are in the year “2020”. We wonder, in the context of historical knowledge and recent political, economic, and cultural events, whether the year 2020 is going to usher in for Israel and its friends in America, a clear vision of geo-political threats and appropriate actions and words. The big issue is whether 2020 will see a war between Israel and Iran and/or between Israel and Iran’s terrorist proxies. The Iranian leadership continues to seek power, influence and territory, from Iraq to Syria to Yemen, even as the Iranian people themselves are showing discontent with that leadership.
Sadly, both America and Israel, while blessed with outstanding leaders who understand the threats to Israel, are bogged down in political and legal disputes, which takes up much of the media reporting. The year 2020 has already exposed certain lessons. President Trump, despite constant attempts by the American Democratic Party and its media shills to chase him from power, has shown great strategic success in assassinating the leading Iranian terrorist Solomeini and re-framing, in his Deal of the Century, the paradigm for peace between Arabs and Israel, and possibly has encouraged some rapprochement between Israel and certain Sunni Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates, who now realize that Iran, not Israel, is the leading threat.
In January 2018, Israel’s Mossad intelligence service seized over 50,000 pages of documents and 160 compact discs of data from a Tehran warehouse that housed Iran’s clandestine nuclear archive. The New York Times determined that the documents “confirmed what inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, in report after report, had suspected: Despite Iranian insistence that its program was for peaceful purposes, the country had worked in the past to systematically assemble everything it needed to produce atomic weapons.” Since the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Iran Nuclear Deal, there is ample evidence that Iran has re-started its nuclear program. The big problem is that for many years, at least since 1994, Iranian leaders have promised to use a nuclear bomb to “wipe Israel off the map.”
As reported in https://www.memri.org/reports/former-iranian-president-rafsanjani-using-nuclear-bomb-against-israel, former Iranian president Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani gave the Al-Quds Day sermon onDecember 14, 2001 at Tehran University. In the sermon, he addressed solving the problem of Israel with nuclear weapons.
Rafsanjani said Jews as an “extraneous matter” in the Middle East would be removed from the region by the world of Islam, and those who have gathered together in Israel would one day be dispersed again.
He stated that if the world of Islam comes to possess the weapons currently in Israel’s possession [meaning nuclear weapons] – on that day Israel’s “global arrogance” would come to a dead end. This, he said, is because the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam.
Trump’s sanctions against Iran seem to be succeeding to induce the opposition to rise up and try to cast off a leadership that imposes its totalitarian will, along with depriving its citizens of elementary freedoms. The mullahs can now be blamed for causing oil and gas shortages in a country with enormous oil reserves but no refining capacity. When people cannot get enough gas to run their cars as usual, it doesn’t take long for people to end their enthusiasm for a government that has mishandled its oil revenue.
In November, thousands of Iranians came out to protest against the regime, leading to a violent crackdown from the Mullahs that saw at least 1,000 and as many as 1,500 killed and thousands more imprisoned. There were further protests in January, after it became clear that the regime was responsible for the shooting down of a passenger jet during the tensions with the U.S. after the U.S, killed Soleimeni.
Fox News reported on February 15, 2020, at https://www.foxnews.com/world/iranian-dissidents-call-for-boycott-elections-regime-disqualifies-thousands.amp?cmpid=prn_newsstand that Iranian dissidents including National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) President-elect Maryam Rajavi are urging their fellow citizens not to vote in next week’s elections, which they describe as a ‘sham’ — calling on them to instead work to overthrow the struggling regime.”
It is clear that the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimeni in a U.S. strike has shaken the regime and boosted dissidents.
The BBC reported that any candidates from groups opposed to the Islamic Republic, or who want to change the system, are disqualified from running in the election.
The internal dissent seems to be a factor that weakens the regime, no matter how many rockets it has.
The Times of Israel in a recent report at https://www.timesofisrael.com/zarif-says-iran-could-reverse-nuclear-breaches-if-europe-gives-economic-relief/ writes about Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments that Iran could reverse some of breaches in the nuclear deal, from which America has withdrawn in favour of financial sanctions, if Europe gives it some economic relief.
The Iranian Foreign Minister stressed that benefits from European states must be ‘meaningful,’ and added that US sanctions have caused “irreparable harm”.
Combined with anti-government protests, the financial pressures then seem to be effective. We hope that Europe refrains from appeasement when a strong response might encourage more protests and a possible revolution.
We have had to watch years of American and European appeasement of Iran’s Islamist theocracy, especially from Democratic party presidents like Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, But now the signs of discontent by the Iranian people should make it clear that Trump’s policies towards Iran, his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, his biting sanctions and his willingness to fight back against Iranian terrorist leaders like Solemeini, are hurting Iranian power.
I wrote a 2003 novel about Israel during the Second Intifada, called The Second Catastrophe: A Novel about a Book and its Author. The title referred to a Canadian professor, son of a Holocaust survivor, who, after his daughter was injured in a terrorist attack while studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, becomes obsessed with the threat of Iran getting nuclear weapons and using them against Israel in an attempt at a second Holocaust.
And so for the last 17 years, I watched in dismay, as such leaders as Barack Obama, with his pathetic Iran Deal, were content to appease Iran and even allow it to develop a nuclear bomb as long as that was pushed off for a decade or so. In addition, I watched as Iran’s terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, in contravention of United Nations assurances, stockpiled some 130,000 missiles in Southern Lebanon, and embedded them in residential areas, using Israel’s morality against it, knowing that Israel was loath to kill too many civilians. Dangerous also is the growth of Iranian expansion, not just in Lebanon but in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and by means of Hezbollah terror cells now operating in the wider world.
It is now clear that there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s “political wing” and its “military” wing, and those countries who seek to obfuscate that are guilty of appeasement of evil. It should also be clear that Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Quds force are all parts of the Iranian regime and Iran must be held accountable for terrorism or other militant actions on its behalf.
Most serious analysts argue that with the spread of skirmishes as Iranian military advisers together with Hezbollah fighters, move from active service in Syria to Southern Lebanon, an active war becomes more and more likely.
Wars between Hezbollah and Israel have been off and on since the Jordanians expelled the PLO leadership and many entered Lebanon, upsetting a type of compact between Lebanese Christians and Muslims. A Lebanese Civil War resulted extending from about 1975 to 1990. By 1985, Hezbollah was playing a more prominent role compared to the PLO in calling for an armed struggle against Israel. When the Lebanese civil war ended and other warring factions agreed to disarm, Hezbollah refused and the continuation of Hezbollah actions at the northern border weakened Israeli resolve and led to an Israeli withdrawal in 2000 to their side of the UN designated border.
Citing Israeli control of the Sheba farms territory, Hezbollah continued cross border attacks intermittently over the next six years. The capturing of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah ignited the 2006 Lebanon War. Its ceasefire called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the respecting of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon by Israel.
UN resolution 1701 which ended the war, provided for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which was supposed to monitor compliance with the cessation of hostilities.
Not only did Hezbollah continue to fire rockets into Israel during the years 2013 to 2015 but Hezbollah re-armed and its sponsor Iran, under the noses of UNIFIL, provided some 120,000 to 150,000 rockets and many are embedded in civilian areas. So much for UN peacekeeping.
This Hezbollah takeover of Southern Lebanon of course resulted in Israeli jets overflying hostile Lebanese territory – which is often cited in attempts to morally equate Israel and Hezbollah by Israel’s enemies.
Israel’s attempts to deal with Islamist terrorism from Lebanon has generally been seen as unsuccessful. As Hezbollah fighters and rockets are deeply embedded in residential areas, it is difficult for Israel to carry any fight into these areas without killing or injuring civilians, and being strongly condemned for that, even if Israeli civilians are being killed or injured or traumatized by indiscriminate Hezbollah missile attacks. Even though many of the missiles are not guided, the fear is that these will gradually be replaced by guided missiles or other higher technologies. Israel’s Iron Dome high-tech missile defense system can shoot down a high percentage of rockets, but Hezbollah has so many thousands of missiles, the use of same in a mass attack will cost many Israeli lives and injuries.
Accordingly, let’s summarize the main issues that should be attracting the attention that they deserve before the next mid-East war breaks out and the Islamist-Leftist alliance blames it all on Israel. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Iranian regime and its main proxy Hezbollah, compared to the object of its obsessive threats, the Jewish state of Israel?
As noted above, Hezbollah rockets and other military assets are embedded in residential areas of South Lebanon. If Israel cannot shoot down a high percentage of the missiles, that is demoralizing for Israeli civilians. We also know that Hezbollah has been active in building tunnels to the border, with the idea that entering Israel through the tunnels would allow Hezbollah to massacre civilians in towns and farms in Israel’s far north., which would further demoralize Israelis. However, the IDF by the spring of 2019 completed Operation Northern Shield to locate and destroy all the tunnels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiNbnWnB-8g . The IDF spokesman in this video shows one huge tunnel and says some of the tunnels were so deep and long and had communications and power services that they cost many millions of dollars to construct. When Iran was awash in oil revenue and was spending Barack Obamas released cash to them, the loss of these tunnels was one thing; however as Iran is financially hurting due to President Trumps cessation of appeasement and imposition of sanctions, one can conclude that rebuilding tunnels will not be easy for Hezbollah.
An IDF Home Front Command report says that in a future war, roughly thousands of rockets and missiles will be launched into Israel, thousands of homes will be hit and hundreds of Israeli civilians will be injured or killed. Hundreds of thousands are expected to be evacuated from their homes. This sums up the magnitude of the threat, even despite Israel’s air defense systems, which are among the best in the world.
Hezbollah is trying to train Special Forces to cross the border into Israel and invade Israeli towns. Hezbollah refers to this as “Occupation of the Galilee”, and hopes to have small groups of well-trained Special Forces from the “Radwan Force” infiltrate towns, carry out widespread massacres on the residents, and take others captive as leverage for bargaining. The “Radwan Force” is currently operating in Syria and gaining experience in urban ground raids and taking control of towns. Israel no doubt has plans to stop this.
Islamists like to conduct psychological warfare by stressing (or perhaps over-emphasizing) that many of its warriors are prepared to die in martyrdom. The idea that Islamists worship death while Jews worship life, supposedly gives them an edge in battle. At https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/04/hezbollah-readies-for-new-war-against-israel-lebanon-drone-strikes/ , a Hezbollah fighter says:
“We would love to be martyrs and find God… There is a difference between the Israelis waiting and fearing death, and us, who run toward it. [The Israelis] haven’t fought a real war since 2006. We fight in Syria every day. We have training, experience. The Israelis have trained, but they have no heart for war.”
In my view, whether one is susceptible to psychological warfare depends on one’s ideology and even religious beliefs. One the one hand we have David Daoud, writing in Haaretz, at https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-hezbollah-s-propaganda-war-threatens-israel-far-more-than-its-missiles-1.7345897,
who says: “Fear is Hezbollah’s lethal weapon. And its propaganda war is working: Hassan Nasrallah’s extravagant threats, endlessly amplified by the Israeli media, sometimes constrains IDF action against the Iranian proxy group.
In https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/hezbollah/hezbollah/hezbollahs-threat-to-the-israeli-home-front/ , an IDF publication, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, is quoted as saying on February 16, 2016: “Today Lebanon has its own nuclear bomb. All of our rockets plus the ammonia tanks in Haifa results in a nuclear bomb … In a region that populates 800,000 people, a few tens of thousands will be killed.”
On the other hand, as I have written in my study of western submission to Islamist threats and actions, The Ideological Path to Submission … and what we can do about it, ideological predispositions have a lot to do with how one reacts to the Islamist war. Israelis are a resilient lot, and being surrounded by genocidal foes, and having lived through many mini-wars with rocket attacks, strengthens their commitment to national preservation. In the Hezbollah rocket attacks of 2016 that hit Haifa, Israelis to the south opened their homes to residents of Haifa and area under rocket attack, while in the 2019 rocket attacks from Gaza, residents of the north returned the favour to residents of the south.
Iranian influence and control of militant organizations throughout the Middle East is sometimes viewed as an important benefit to Iran and its capability to create a multi-pronged attack against Israel. However, this Shi’ite imperialism is costly in terms of finances, and discontent in one area has a tendency to spread. And so, civilian protests against the Iranian regime and the shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner, in both Iran and Lebanon show the state of a nascent revolution against the Mullahs. The animosity of Sunni Arabs toward Iran worsened after it partnered with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to crush an uprising in Syria, primarily carried out by the country’s Sunnis, that began in 2011. In addition, the bloody war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shi’ites in Yemen, exacerbates the hostility between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
The attack on Saudi oil industry have now been proved to be from Iran or one of its proxies. Jon Cambrell, writing for Associated Press, says that two reports confirm that the gyroscopes inside the drones that hit the oil industry have only been found in drones manufactured by Iran, and in drones being shipped from Iran to its proxy group, the Houthis, in Yemen. In any war commenced by Iran or Hezbollah, the Saudis may not be neutral or fight alongside Islamist Iran but might in fact be ready to retaliate against Iran.
Moreover, as Iran tries to control its Mid-East empire, it is finding that not all Shi’ites are absolute allies: There are in fact Iraqi civilian protests even among Shi’ites in Iraq. Iran may find that its financial and military commitments may be onerous for it to meet, especially when people at home in Iran are protesting against the regime.
In the past, when Lebanon had independent-minded leaders and Hezbollah was not in control of half the country, Israel was loath to attack all of Lebanon in response to military actions by Hezbollah only. However, now that Iran controls Lebanon through Hezbollah, any attack from Lebanese territory will now cause massive Israeli action against all of Lebanon. As Lebanon’s economy is in bad shape, this possibility can only become an obstacle to Iranian hegemony in the future, especially when Iranian finances make more difficult its supply of weapons beyond Hezbollah. Israelis in the past asked why Israel tried to fight only Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel Kasnett, writing in the Jewish News Syndicate https://www.jns.org/lebanon-poses-acute-threat-to-israel-with-hezbollah-iran- HYPERLINK “https://www.jns.org/lebanon-poses-acute-threat-to-israel-with-hezbollah-iran-controlling-its-government/”controlling-its-government/ quotes Israeli security expert and expert on missile defense, Uzi Rubin:
“I don’t see any reason,” Rubin said matter-of-factly, “why residents of Beirut can go on sipping coffee in coffee shops while we are being bombarded by rockets.”
Those who emphazise Iranian and Hezbollah power make the point that fighting in Syria has given great battle experience for hardened troops, who are now increasingly available to be switched to the Israeli front.
They also say that attacking Israeli civilian infrastructure and military bases and natural gas platforms will tie up Israel’s military while tens of thousands of Israeli civilians die at the beginning of any war. This point was made recently at a Toronto lecture by former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Vivian Bercovici, who noted that in a new war, the Israeli military would have to protect its military bases, soldiers and equipment as first priority and its civilian infrastructure as a second priority, and that the protection of civilians would necessarily become third in priority.
However, Israeli civilians have, what is now termed, by Uzi Rubin a “passive defense” of safe rooms in their homes:
The Times of Israel at https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-safest-room-in-the-house/ reported that “ Residential buildings built in the last 20 years now have either mamaks — merhav mugan komati — safe rooms for each floor, or mamads built in each apartment, usually one on top of the other, creating a core of safe rooms in the building. In older buildings, owners can create fortified rooms, reinforcing a standard room with 12 centimeters of concrete and adding a specialized steel door and window and a reinforced ceiling. Another, cheaper, option that can be built according to government code is a steel cage in an existing room, covered by another layer of cement. And for those lacking a safe room or bomb shelter, there’s always the stairwell, usually cast in concrete and surrounded by pillars that keep the building standing, making it the safest place in the building.”
Uzi Rubin says that the amount of national income being spent on safe rooms is more than the expense of the Iron Dome air-defense system.
The Home Front Command has taken steps to get civilian authorities prepared. Col. Itzik Bar, head of the IDF Home Front Command’s Northern District, which prepares noncombatants for war, is quoted at https://www.jns.org/under-shadow-of-massive-hezbollah-arsenal-israels-home-front-prepares-for-major-scenarios/ : “The home front will always be surprised. In war, even if you prepare and take steps to defend, there will be a change in perception among civilians. Our job, as part of the preparations, is to meet this challenge. To recover from surprises quickly and return things to full functionality…these measures include training with local authorities over a three-year training cycle and installing ‘war rooms’ (also known as command and control centers) in all local authorities, which will allow them to track and control units such as local police and rescue teams.
“These rooms are being fitted with the means to keep them functional, such as incorporating electric generators.”
Israel has its eyes on both short and long term threats. Long term threats include the spread of nuclear weapons to both Iran and the Arab world. There are also other weapons of mass destruction being developed.
A long term problem is that the growth of the Haredim or Ultra-Orthodox sector, which has a low rate of service in the army. This refusal of the Haredim to defend themselves is both an existential problem and a source of domestic political problems. For example, Avigdor Lieberman who heads a secular party supported by Russian immigrants, refuses to be in a coalition with the Ultra Orthodox parties and that is prolonging the present stalemate preventing a workable coalition government without numerous elections.
Israel loves President Trump and his actions in support of Israel and his attempts to create a reasonable peace plan – which is the first peace plan that doesn’t hand over territory to terrorists but instead requires actual steps for peace on both sides. The problem however is that the Democratic Party candidates like Sanders and Buttegeig are anti-Israel, and they are connected to such anti-Israel pro-Palestinian voices as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. If the Democrats keep moving in this direction and eventually take power, Israel will suffer. We know that Europe, increasingly populated by Muslims with a high birthrate and having native populations which are not replacing themselves, is becoming more Islamist in orientation. Israel will not have many friends there, and so we see Netanyahu, acting realistically to improve relations in Africa and even in the Sunni world of the Middle East.
Yaakov Lapin writing at https://www.israelhayom.com/2020/01/16/hezbollahs-plan-for-precision-missiles-risks-new-escalation-in-2020/, assesses the chance for war in the coming year. He writes:
“At the top of the list of immediate threats is the Iranian-Hezbollah plan to construct precision-guided missile factories on Lebanese soil. This represents a top proliferation challenge for Israel in 2020, and Tehran is continuing to lean on Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to proceed with the construction of the factories. Judging by the comments of Israeli officials in recent months, Jerusalem has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards such activity.”
Lapin also sets out the most significant threats concerning a war this year:
Regarding the nuclear threat, both the U.S. and Israel say they will prevent it from coming to fruition. Lapin notes however, Iran’s announcements of resumed uranium-enrichment activities at Fordow and Qom. “At the current rate, by this coming spring, Iran’s nuclear program could be six months away from having a sufficient quantity of enriched uranium for a bomb. It’s far from a given that Iran would choose to rush one, due to the risks of inviting American or Israeli strikes, but the fact of the matter is that the program is advancing without anyone stopping it.”
On the regional front, Lapin notes that Iran is still working hard to transfer advanced weapons to militias and terror entities throughout the region. He states: “Under major duress due to the American ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against it and facing significant internal instability, Iran is reacting aggressively. It’s building missile bases in Iraq to threaten Israel and Saudi Arabia, and transferring missiles to Yemen. It is also likely that Iran has transferred cruise missiles to Syria for use against Israel… (and) are trying to build a network of surface-to-air missile batteries across their sphere of influence to challenge Israel’s air superiority.”
The issue is whether supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will react to American sanctions, and domestic protests, by seeking war or by standing down.
It is difficult to accurately assess the effects of Iran’s economic and political instability on its control of Lebanon. Years of corruption and mismanagement and protests against it, finally forced the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October, which led to more political paralysis and put the country on the verge of a financial collapse.
A new Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, was chosen, and although he is a Sunni Muslim (as the constitution requires) he has more support from the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc of Shiites and pro-Syrians, than from Saudi Arabia and the West who usually prefer a Sunni Muslim as a bulwark against Iran. Accordingly, this just further strengthens Iran’s grip on Lebanon.
Another potential problem is whether a weakened Iran might put aside its great emnity towards the Sunnis and cooperate in the common cause of Israel’s destruction.
The Iranians have even begun tactical cooperation with ISIS. We know that. Iran-backed militias have supplied weapons to ISIS in Iraq, and in Syria as well. It seems that very radical Sunnis like ISIS have as much hatred for moderate Sunni groups and therefore will cooperate with Shi’ites against the moderates as well as against the West. This is another issue worth watching.
When we discuss all the military and political and economic issues, however, there is one fact that friends of Israel must keep in mind. In an article in Times of Israel at https://www.timesofisrael.com/listen-security-expert-iran-and-hezbollah-may-shut-israel-down-in-next-war/, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council Chuck Freilich says, “I don’t think most people in Israel, let alone the international community, understand the level of destruction that the Israeli homefront is going to experience in the next war with Hezbollah.”
Freilich bluntly states: “For the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there’s going to be an Arab actor, Hezbollah, which is going to be able to not only disrupt Israel’s mobilization processes by hitting mobilization centers and warehouses, but also to disrupt our offensive capabilities … They can hit critical national infrastructure – power stations, water facilities, communications nodes. The State of Israel may be shut down for a lengthy period of time as a result of this. So we face a critical year at a time when our political leaders are involved in other matters,” he said.
But, Freilich,s “nightmare” scenario, is that it is “entirely possible” that multiple nuclear powers emerge in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
In a future war, Hezbollah’s main effort will be placed on firing hundreds of rockets and missiles at Israel per day. The majority of this barrage will be of high statistical accuracy, with some missiles capable of reaching nearly the entire State of Israel.
According to an IDF Home Front Command report that describes the threat Hezbollah will pose to the Israeli home front in a future war, thousands of rockets and missiles will be launched into Israel, thousands of homes will be hit and hundreds of Israeli civilians will be injured or killed. Hundreds of thousands are expected to be evacuated from their homes. This is the threat, but Israeli defenses are improving all the time.
On the ground, Hezbollah trains Special Forces to cross the border into Israel and invade Israeli towns. In this scenario, which Hezbollah has referred to as “Occupation of the Galilee”, small groups of well-trained Special Forces from the “Radwan Force” will infiltrate towns, carry out widespread massacres on the residents, and take others captive as leverage for bargaining. The “Radwan Force” is currently operating in Syria and gaining experience in urban ground raids and taking control of towns. Israel, no doubt, has plans on how to stop them.
In recent speeches, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has expressed his destructive intentions in a future war with Israel. Marking the annual “Al-Quds Day,” he threatened the “Israeli enemy” that conflict between the two foes would “open the way for hundreds, even thousands of fighters from all over the Arab and Islamic world to participate.” Thus, he himself views the conflict as a regional one, striving for the entire Arab world to unite against Israel. However, based on reporting from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, these anti-Iranian Arabs are not at all likely to take marching orders from Iran. Moreover they may now see greater rewards from cooperating with Israel rather than attacking it.
In their essay, “The Great Middle Eastern War of 2019” at https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/08/20/the-great-middle-eastern-war-of-2019/
N HYPERLINK “https://www.the-american-interest.com/v/nadav-ben-hour/”adav Ben Hour and Michael Eisenstadt weigh the chances of a war.
They examine in particular the efforts by Hezbollah and Syria with their patron, Iran, to produce accurate missiles in Lebanon and Syria that could make life for Israelis intolerable; and Iran’s efforts to transform Syria into a source for military operations against Israel.
Iran, however, they contend, “has shown that it seeks to avoid conventional wars and consequent heavy losses to its own forces. Instead, it relies on proxy operations, terrorism, and non-lethal shaping activities. Yet it has occasionally been willing to venture high-risk activities that entail a potential for escalation. (Example: Iranian forces in Syria launched an explosives-laden UAV into Israeli airspace in February; it was shot down, but the incident sparked a round of clashes.)”
Israel also seems intent on avoiding war; however, they argue that Israeli actions show that it is willing to accept the risk of escalation to counter certain emerging threats, such as manufacturing of accurate missiles in Syria or Iraq. Accordingly, since 2013 it has carried out more than 130 strikes in Syria on arms shipments destined for Hezbollah, and since late 2017 it has expanded this to target Iranian military facilities in Syria—without, thus far, seeing their actions create a wider war.
Mssrs. Ben Hour and Eisenstadt however, note that the two major Arab-Israeli confrontations of the recent past (Lebanon 2006, Gaza 2014) resulted from unintended escalation. They suggest that the new paradigm of Shi’ite power extending beyond Iran to its allies in what is termed the “axis of resistance” is a “formula for a third major ‘accident,’ and so deserves careful analysis.”
Israeli diplomats have been working hard in recent years to push other countries to recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. For a long time, many countries drew a false distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political wings. Now, this is finally beginning to change and a number of countries now recognize it as one organization.
Israel Kasnett, writing on February 7th for Jewish News Syndicate at https://www.jns.org/lebanon-poses-acute-threat-to-israel-with-hezbollah-iran-controlling-its-government/ with regard to Lebanon, says that “protestors, upset over years of government mismanagement, sectarianism and deep-rooted corruption forced the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October, which led to more political paralysis and put the country on the verge of a financial collapse.
Seeking to address these imminent concerns, the country formed a new government in January under Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a 60-year-old technocrat and engineering professor at the American University of Beirut.
“While under the country’s constitution the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, Diab received little support from his own Sunni community, who traditionally aligned with the West and Saudi Arabia, and instead his appointment was largely backed by the Hezbollah-allied March 8 parliamentary bloc, which comprised mostly of Shi’ite Muslims and pro-Syrians. This means, of course, that Iran—Hezbollah’s chief sponsor—now holds a tighter grip on Lebanon and its terror proxy has broader reign.”
According to Jonathan Spyer, writing in August for the Wall Street journal, at https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-iran-israel-war-is-here-11566947384 “in a future contest between Israel and Hezbollah-Iran, the state of Lebanon, under its Hezbollah-dominated government, will constitute the enemy. This, in turn, will enable Israel to exercise the full range of options available to it from a conventional military point of view.”
Spyer’s essay contends that the Iran-Israel war has actually started already.
A similar pessimistic view is that found in a report by INSS; Tel Aviv University Institute. According to the Institute, Israel’s most critical threat in 2020 is the possibility of a war along its northern border region with the armed forces posted there: Iran; Hezbollah in Lebanon; the Syrian regime and pro-Iranian militias.
with the IDF having to prepare for a multi-front war as the leading scenario in the area.
Such an escalation, should it deteriorate into all-out war, could transpire in one of two primary scenarios.
- A “Third Lebanon War” with Hezbollah, a conflict that would be far more ferocious and deadlier than its 2006 predecessor.
- “The First Northern War” with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but also with forces in Syria and even Iraq, Iran or other factors in the region
On the other hand, Col.(res.) Shlomo Mofaz, writing on February 10, 2010, in Israel Defense at https://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/41921, takes a different view, based on the difficulties facing both Iran and Hezbollah and the Quds Force: “ The organization’s recent response to Israel’s offensive action against it made clear that Hezbollah is not interested in a conflict, despite the military capabilities it has acquired, particularly the 150,000 missiles and rockets at its disposal that threaten the majority of Israel’s territory.
“Hezbollah will continue to build its power, and will try to speed up the precision missile project, help the new Quds force commander and his deputy fully assume their posts, try to calm the internal arena and stabilize the new government that was established under its auspices. The organization’s economic difficulties negatively influence its functioning. Hezbollah, which is still deterred by Israel, will avoid unnecessary adventures and thus the probability of it initiating a significant attack against Israel is low. At the same time, if Hezbollah is forced to respond to attacks attributed to Israel in Lebanon, the response in its view will be measured, and not impulsive, in order not to cause an escalation of hostilities with Israel.
David Daoud, writing in Haaretz at https://www.
Daoud notes that Nasrallah, while stressing that Soleimani’s death was an attack on the entire “Resistance Axis” and not just Iran or any one faction, went on to say that Iran wouldn’t demand a response from its proxies, and instead the forces of the Resistance Axis must each decide for themselves, how will they deal with this event.
In his essay, Daoud notes how fragile is the Lebanese economy, “unemployment is expected to rise exponentially, the Lebanese pound has unofficially become unpegged from the dollar, and even basic foodstuffs are becoming unaffordable. If, in response to any further Hezbollah attacks on Americans in the Middle East, the American’s levy further economic sanctions against Lebanon, Daoud argues that the economy could collapse.
However, in the Middle East, organizations sometimes disguise who they are and commit terrorist attacks in the name of some new organization to make it difficult for the enemy to go after them.
Lebanon is hardly the only one of the resistance axis that is of concern to Israel. Al Jazeera reports that Iran-backed armed groups, led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, now hold power in vast areas in eastern and southern Syria as well as several suburbs around the capital:
It also reported in Al Jazeera’s January 15, 2020 edition that Syria confirmed that Israeli jets attacked the main T4 airbase in Homs province: https://www.
The report states: “The Syrian army statement said Israeli war jets flew from Tanf, to the southeast, where the US has set up a base near Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan.
“The Tanf base is available to be used to halt Iranian influence in Iraq and Syria because it lies on the strategic Damascus-Baghdad highway, a major supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria.”
Israel has repeatedly bombed Iran-backed militia targets in Syria, in an effort to end Tehran’s military presence there.
Nati Yefet and Judah Ari Gross on February 10, 2020 at https://www.timesofisrael.
Bennett is reported to have urged at an election campaign event “direct aggressive action against Iran and its proxies, arguing that Israel’s previous strategy of targeting individual arms shipment was inherently inefficient.”
They report that Bennett said that Jerusalem and Washington have divided up the fight against Iran, with Israel taking responsibility for countering the Islamic Republic in Syria and the United States in Iraq.
This Times of Israel report on Bennett’s strategy to deal with the threat posed by Tehran, saying his “aim was to expel Iranian forces from Syria within a year and to turn Syria into the Islamic Republic’s ‘Vietnam,’ a reference to the disastrous American war in the east Asian country.
“That territory called Syria — we have intelligence superiority and aerial superiority there,” he said. “It’s a bad place for Iran to be.”
They report that Bennett said that Israel and America had agreed to work in tandem to block Tehran’s efforts to create a corridor through which it could move men and materiel from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and out to Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.
Of course, the Mediterranean is of great importance, not only since Israel ships and receives so much product through this vital shipping lane, but now with the discovery of vast natural gas reserves, there is a large extraction platform visible along the coast of northern Israel which, no doubt, would be an Iranian target.
“We have significantly intensified, including this week, with very strong attacks against Iran, against the Iranian presence, against Iranian bases, against Iranian surface-to-air missiles, against Iranian fighters, against Iranian militias in Syria and more and more and more, and look at how we’re turning their strength into weakness,” Bennett said.
Israel now takes the position that it will not allow a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Therefore, it has conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets in recent years. Israel does appear to have a policy however of not acknowledging specific airstrikes.,
Bennett is quoted as saying that “Foreign media reported this week that 23 Syrians and Iranians were killed there. Those are large numbers and we will do more and more.”
Bennett added that he would aim to avoid sending Israeli troops into Lebanon or Gaza in potential future wars. “That is playing on their home turf, and I want to relocate the game to our home turf,” he said, arguing that weakening Iran would inevitably weaken its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas.
Judah Ari Gross, of Times of Israel reports on February 13th, at https://www.timesofisrael.
The Momentum Plan, is a complex plan to improve the military for the types of threats it believes it will face in the near future. Some parts of the plan will await the results of a new election before it can be fully funded. It has been approved by Minister Bennett, but requires final confirmation by the security cabinet, which in turn awaits a clear election result.
The main goal of the Momentum Plan, is to emphasize the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology.
There will be intelligence working groups that bring together representatives from different fields — human intelligence, signal intelligence, analysis — to use speed to its advantage, recognizing that the longer a war continues, the more Hezbollah will claim it to be a victory.
In theory, technological advances will allow better integration of military efforts, such as giving infantry troops access to drone footage of the areas they will be entering to more quickly see threats on the ground, and giving fighter jets in the sky rapid intelligence for targets.
This integration will rely on a computer program that the military refers to as the “Waze of War,” a play on the name of the popular navigation app.
The fact that the plan requires a new position on the IDF General Staff to deal only with the war against Iran seems to reflect a growing awareness that Iranian efforts in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen will inevitably lead to direct war with Iran, rather than just its proxies.
The IDF understands the threat from short range rockets and mortars that sometimes escape the short-range Iron Dome, mid-range David’s Sling, and long-range Arrow systems. It seems that Israel is developing defenses with lasers.
According to the Times of Israel at https://www.timesofisrael.
Rafael says its Drone Dome C-UAS successfully intercepted multiple targets and shot them down with a laser beam and had 100% success in all scenarios, including stopping maneuvering drones.
Drome Dome provides “effective detection, full identification and neutralization of multiple Micro and Mini UAV threats,” said.the Rafael spokesperson.
The Times of Israel reports that in a video of the tests, “a vehicle-mounted system was shown engaging the targets, including drones that were sharply changing direction. In one test, three drones flying in formation were shot down in succession.”
“Drone Dome is designed to address threats posed by hostile drones both in military and civilian sites, offering advanced solutions for maneuvering forces and military facilities, critical border protection, as well as civilian targets such as airports, public facilities, or any other sites that might be vulnerable to the increasing threat of both terror and criminal drones,” the company said.
“Previous reports have said that in addition to melting drones with its laser for a ‘hard kill,’ Drone Dome has sophisticated electronic systems that enable operators to interfere with the signals of a hostile drone and even take control of the device, bringing it to ground in a ‘soft kill’ interception”
On the ground, the Kfir Brigade, which has been used mostly to counter Palestinian terrorism, in Judea and Samaria (the so-called “West Bank”) and in Gaza, will be upgraded so that it can fight on all fronts.
The plan envisions that certain ground forces heretofore commanded from headquarters will be integrated with air force jets for better integration of fighting tactics, and will be named the “Attack Brigade” to reflect this.
The Attack Brigade will also have greater training in urban combat, as terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas will operate from populated areas, and not so much from traditional military operations which are meant to reduce civilian deaths.
Most readers will know that Israel in the past two years has suffered damage, including many fires, from what the popular press calls balloons, but which the military terms “airborne incendiary devices”, launched from Gaza. In December 2019 Israeli security forces revealed details about another new laser system they hope will counter these devices.
The system, developed by a combinations of private sector engineers and university researchers, and called “Light Blade”, is intended to shoot the threats out of the sky before they cross the borders into Israel.
What effect will Israeli political instability, including Netanyahu’s upcoming trial, have on the Iran/Hezbollah problem? Netanyahu, like Trump during the impeachment trial, can be expected to keep matters firmly in hand. In fact, Arutz Sheva on February 16th reported on Netanyahu’s speech before Annual Leadership Mission to Israel by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He stated in his speech:
“I’ve been developing contacts with the Arab countries and Muslim countries, and I can tell you there’s scarcely one, two, three Muslim or Arab countries around the world that we don’t have deepened ties with. Sometimes it comes out in the open. A year ago, Sara and I were on a very moving visit, an open visit to Oman, and two weeks ago, we had a very moving visit with the president of Sudan. That’s an Arab, or rather a Muslim country, speaking Arabic, that hosted the Khartoum Conference. And in Khartoum they have all the noes against Israel. Remember the noes? No recognition, no Israel basically. And now, we’re discussing rapid normalization,” said Netanyahu.
“I’m just telling you what is above the surface. How much is above the surface in an iceberg? It’s about 10%. What you’re seeing is about 10%. Vast changes are coming because Israel is now a power to contend with, and because collaboration with Israel helps you prepare, secure the future of your people and ensure a better future for your people. Securing the future, the safety of their people is obviously something on everyone’s mind, and the greatest threat to the security of the countries of the Middle East and countries in the world, is the attempt by Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.”
Netanyahu stressed, “Israel will never let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Second, we do not let Iran entrench itself militarily right in our backyard, in Syria. We resist that mightily. We take every action that is necessary to prevent that. And I believe we’re succeeding. We have taken up arms against a foe that openly calls for Israel’s liquidation. Obviously, we’re not going to wait.”
Howard Rotberg founded Mantua Books, Canada’s sole conservative values and pro-Israel publishing house, after a prior career as a lawyer and developer of housing. He is author the author of 4 books: The Second Catastrophe: A Novel about a Book and its Author, Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada’s Lotus Land, TOLERism: The Ideology Revealed, and The Ideological Pathway to Submission: …and what we can do about it.