Strike or Not to Strike, That is the Question
Israeli estimates of the number of missiles terrorist
powerhouse Hizballah has in Lebanon increased last summer from 100,000 to
150,000. The Shi'ite army continues to gain strength, unhindered by the token
presence of United Nations troops in what was supposed to be a de-militarized
zone following the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Hizballah's promises of capturing the Galilee – that have inspired
a feature-length Lebanese movie on the subject – are oft-repeated.
The imminent release (as a result of the P5+1 nuclear deal) of billions of
dollars to its guardian angel and guiding hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran,
promise more money and materiel will be placed at the disposal of an
organization that has already fought two vicious wars against the Jewish state,
a state whose existence it refuses to recognize.
Hizballah's growing strength, and its acquisition of advanced
weapons, (undoubtedly aided of late by Russian air strikes in support of the
Syrian army), has Israeli leaders thinking hard about how long they can allow
such a build-up to go unchecked, and whether there is a growing case for
something more than sporadic cross-border interventions to temporarily stem
Hizballah's growing firepower.
"We operate in Syria from time to time to prevent it
turning into another front against us," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Dec. 1 at the Galilee Conference in Acre. "We act, of course, to
prevent the transfer of deadly weaponry from Syria to Lebanon."
His surprise comments came on the back of two reported
airstrikes on Syrian weapons convoys – attributed to the IAF – apparently
destined for Hizballah.
Two days later, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon again highlighted
the increasing danger posed by Iran's overt support of the Hizballah,
telling members of the U.S. Congress, "We are very worried about Iran's
presence in Syria... This regime generates terrorism and undermines many of the
regimes in the Middle East, and this is not good news for the region, not only
Reports last week of Iran completing
a second medium-range ballistic missile test in contravention of U.N.
Security Council resolutions did little to ease Israeli fears. On Dec. 10, in
another indication of the urgency with which it views the Iran-Hizballah threat, Israel
successfully tested its Arrow 3 missile defense system, an extra layer of
defense on top of the Iron Dome, David's Sling, and the Arrow 2 system that may
well prove critical in defending against the Iranian-made Shihab 3 longer ranger
In an exclusive interview with the Investigative Project on
Terrorism, a senior IDF official – who for security reason must remain
anonymous – spelled out the likely scenario should Hizballah live up to its
promises and attack Israel from the north. He did not discuss the likelihood of
an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Hizballah, but painted a sometimes grim
assessment of what the Israeli public can expect.
"The next war will be different. As an Israeli citizen,
father to two boys in the army, I really hope we will find a solution to peace
in the area... but we have to deal with this," the IDF official explained.
"I believe that in the next war we will see that Hizballah and Hamas will
both launch missiles. They have the same interest here."
Earlier this month, subsequent to this interview taking place,
Israel's Channel 2 news reported that Shadi el-Meni, the
Islamic State leader in the Sinai Peninsula, met with Hamas leaders to
discuss increased weapons supplies to the Gaza-based terrorists. The ideological
differences between the two sides seemingly set aside in the pursuit of
preparing an enhanced assault on Israel.
The IDF officer suggested that during the 2014 Gaza War more
than 70 percent of the Israeli population was covered by the Iron Dome as it
intercepted missiles coming from the Hamas-controlled enclave. But with rockets
raining down from Israel's north and south, Iron Dome's use would be limited.
There will be occasions when civilians will not be protected when defending
strategic installations take priority.
"We understand that Iron Dome next time will not do the
same work," he said, "because you will not always put it on
populations; you will put it in strategic locations that we need to defend like
chemical factories, and gas [installations], of course."
Israel's third largest metropolitan area, Haifa, is home to a
huge Mediterranean port and a major Israeli naval base. Defending such a massive
target will be "very hard" he said. "We have Iron Dome, the Arrow
and the Patriot as well, but when you have 150,000 missiles from Lebanon, you
cannot assume that every missile they will launch will [be intercepted]. This is
what we need to explain to the Israeli population. A lot of [apartment blocks],
a lot of industrial zones, a lot of factories will be targeted, and at the same
time Hamas will launch from Gaza. This is our understanding."
He suggested there will be sustained bouts of simultaneous
rocket attacks in the north, although there is no doubt that Hizballah's arsenal
offers the capability to reach as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
"I think the enemy has [learned] very well. Today we see
Hizballah fighting in Syria. Hizballah a few years ago said they are just
defensive, now we see they are an offensive force. After the  operations
near Israel's Gaza border, we understand that kibbutzim near the [Lebanese]
border may be 'evacuated and moved back.' We think it is possible [Haifa] will
be without electricity for 72 hours," he continued. "No phones. No
talking to your family. We have practiced evacuations to shelters and built
civilians rescue teams in the towns and villages."
teams have trained to help get people into shelters and in emergency
response in Jewish towns and Arab villages alike. Haifa, for example, is home to
a wide variety of communities, including around 30,000 Israeli Arabs, (both
Muslim and Christian), Druze, and followers of the Baha'i faith.
"We assume everything Hizballah sees in Syria they can
try to bring into Lebanon, so I assume that they will try to bring missiles such
as Scuds and try and launch them all over Israel. In [the Haifa] district what
we will see is the 122mm – they have thousands of these Katyushas that have a
range of up to 45 kms - and that would take them from the [Lebanese] border to
Tirat HaCarmel [on the south side of Haifa]. This is the main problem for the
first days of the war."
"Hizballah has advanced weapons. You don't need to be in
uniform to know that if they take the C-802 that they launched at Eilat in 2006
they will try launching it [again]. They have very good, advanced weapons,
anti-tank missiles – a huge stockpile."
And, under the cover of missile fire, the senior IDF officer
said he has little doubt Hizballah will attempt some degree of land invasion.
"I think that there are maps of this," he said.
"We understand this when [Hizballah leader Hassan] Nasrallah says he will
be in the Galilee and will take it from Israel. I don't think that he will
[achieve] it. So, they will take Metula, or Shlomi, or Hanita for a few hours
and they'll raise a flag. Okay, so they will launch thousands of rockets. It
will be hard, but Israel will continue to exist. With Hizballah fighting in
Syria in offensive attacks with tanks, infantry, UAV's, you understand they are
building a very powerful military with much practical experience."
During the long and bloody fight against ISIS, Al Nusra and
others in Syria, Hizballah has picked up large amounts of weaponry from the
battlefield, weapons manufactured around the globe, some likely from the U.S.
who have armed the Free Syrian Army. Whatever they captured could be fired on
Israel when the war everyone expects finally breaks out.
With the exception of its border with Jordan, Israel faces
non-state actors at all points of the compass. Hizballah in south Lebanon,
Hizballah, ISIS and the Al Nusra Front in Syria, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in
Gaza, and ISIS and al-Qaida in Sinai. There are also signs that the Fatah-run
Palestinian Authority is increasingly vulnerable to radical Islamists from Hamas
or ISIS as the stabbing terror spree against Israelis continues into a third
Could the awful Paris attacks in November have finally brought
Europeans around to understanding the Israeli predicament in facing terror
organizations on virtually all sides?
"I think that all over the world we have problems with
radical Muslims. What we see... is a common enemy. These radical terror
organizations have similar tactics and I hope the world will understand what
Israel has [faced] in the last decades. I think maybe we don't know how to
explain our story [very well]. I hope that maybe now they will understand what a
threat the world has, facing non-state actors and terrorist organizations - and
we know it is Iran that gives money to Hizballah and tries to give them missiles
to hit every place in Israel."
The best opportunity for Israel to intervene might have
presented itself last summer, when Hizballah appeared to be on the ropes.
"One can conclude that Israel may see an auspicious
opportunity to make a preemptive attack to destroy Hezbollah's massive ordnance
in southern Lebanon, stockpiled since the 33-day Israel-Hezbollah war in
2006," Iranian-Canadian political analyst Shair
Shahidsaless wrote at the Huffington Post in June.
That was before the game-changing Russian entry into the
conflict that has seen the balance of power sway back towards Assad and
Hizballah. But could there still be a window of opportunity, unpalatable as much
of the international community might find it, of Israel launching a pre-emptive
strike against what is widely perceived as a massive and increasing threat to