On Sunday morning five Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel. They did not hit anything, but one landed near the town of Kiryat Shmona. Israel responded with a volley of tank shells toward the source of the fire.
When one thinks of rocket fire from Lebanon into Israel, one may well think of Hizballah. According to Israeli assessments, though, Hizballah was not the source of the Katyushas. The Shiite organization is heavily involved in the fighting in Syria, and considered unlikely to open an additional front with Israel.
Instead, it’s believed the rockets were fired by global jihadists of the Sunni variety. Amid the chaos wrought by what was once called the Arab spring, they’ve been infiltrating the area by the thousands lately. That includes Sinai, where Egypt’s control has been weakened by the turmoil in the country; Syria, where the jihadists are fighting the regime head-on; and Lebanon, where they hope to challenge Hizballah’s hegemony and are probably behind a recent wave of attacks on its strongholds.
Indeed, Israeli military analyst Yoav Limor responded pessimistically to Sunday’s Katyusha incident, saying it was
most likely a preview of the future security reality along Israel’s borders, entailing surprise terror attacks by an unknown and undeterred enemy, leaving Israel with only a limited ability to respond.
As for what motivated the Katyusha-firers, Limor cites two views among Israeli defense experts. Some believe they “sought to create an escalation that would force Hezbollah’s hand in the matter”—that is, get it pounded by Israel. However,
Other experts believe reality may be simpler: world jihad groups seek to eradicate all those they deem as infidels, be they Muslim, Christians or Jews. Once an opportunity to strike Israel presented itself—just like it did earlier this month when explosives were planted near the border—there was no reason to hesitate.
Sunday’s incident, in any case, comes in the wake of the killing last week of an Israeli worker by sniper fire from Gaza, and an incident earlier this month of mortar fire into Israel from Syria. For Israel, Middle Eastern developments do not occur in some abstract world of speculation but have real, direct consequences.
There is, though, one border—and one only—that has been quiet: Israel’s Jordan Valley border with the Hashemite Kingdom. Israel and Jordan share an interest in containing the radicals and engage in quiet, effective security cooperation.
In light of that, it is hard to look forward to Secretary of State John Kerry’s next visit to Israel, set for later this week. Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” now centers on the Jordan Valley—which can only mean undermining the current stability and replacing it with something worse.
According to various reports, that “worse” could mean diluting the Israeli presence with Palestinian, American, or other foreign forces, or dismantling the Israeli civilian communities in the valley. Israel’s defense minister Moshe Yaalon opposes that idea on security grounds, viewing those communities as “critical” to maintaining control.
But Yaalon is, after all, merely an elected Israeli official and a general with decades of experience, inferior in expertise to diplomats from Washington who plan Israel’s future for it.
And there is also the time factor, with, again according to various reports, Israel supposed to abandon the valley five, ten, or fifteen years after the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Defense Minister Yaalon is not the only Israeli who doesn’t like these ideas. A recent poll found 63 percent of Israelis opposed to a pullout from the Jordan Valley even if international forces were deployed there, and 74 percent opposed to international forces replacing the Israeli army there.
And on Sunday, in a symbolic but important vote, Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted 8-3 to apply Israeli law to the valley.
With firing incidents from Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria and Secretary Kerry once again on his way, it is hard not to feel beleaguered. The United States has an old habit of strengthening Israel with one hand and weakening and threatening it with the other. Under Obama and Kerry, it’s become an obsession.
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