Identifying the most hazardous threat to the Israelis.
The latest incident in the Golan’s Quneitra border illustrates the security challenges Israel faces in the year ahead. Last week six Hezbollah operatives were killed, including an Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), General Muhammad Ali Allah-Dadi. The presence of an Iranian IRG general and top Hezbollah operatives on the Golan points to an Iranian attempt to build a missile base on the border of Israel.
The al-Manar website (Hezbollah’s mouthpiece) acknowledged that six Hezbollah operatives were killed in Sunday’s (January 18, 2015) Israeli air strike, among whom was senior Hezbollah commander Muhammad Issa and Jihad Mughniyeh, son of former Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008.
Israel’s northern border is expected to heat up in the coming months and years, both in the Golan Heights facing Syria, and on the Lebanese border where Hezbollah is in control. The real existential challenge to Israel however remains Iran. The question of whether to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is bound to rise again, especially around July, 2015, when P5+1 negotiations with Iran are expected to end following two extensions. Iran can be counted on violating the interim agreement which called on the Iranians to freeze their nuclear project in exchange for western powers easing sanctions on Iran. The Obama administration is eager for further extensions despite Iranian history of cheating in its nuclear program.
The National Interest (December 1, 2014) article, by the head of the Arms Control Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University, Emily Landau, and Shimon Stein, Senior Research Fellow at the INSS, former Deputy Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and former Israeli ambassador to Germany, wrote “The interim agreement enabled Iran to dangerously move forward on R&D, into more advanced generations of centrifuges, which offset the significance of the dilution and oxidization of Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, the centerpiece of the interim deal. Both activities relate to the speed in which Iran could breakout with weapons-grade uranium – one route was stopped by the deal, but a second route was enabled and granted legitimacy.”
Landau and Stein asserted that “The terms of the deal did not touch upon Iran’s vast stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), already enough for six or seven nuclear devices if enriched to weapons-grade, or its work on long-range-ballistic-missile delivery systems, which continue unhindered.” Iran has protected its breakout ability while the P5+1 continue to grant Iran economic relief to the tune of $700 million a month. Iran’s weaponization work, under investigation by the IAEA for cheating, has not paid a price either by the UN or the P5+1.
The debate within Israel between doves, who seek international backing for any Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and hawks, who believe that now it the time to act unilaterally if necessary, will continue in earnest this year, especially as the June and July deadline of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran approaches. Regardless of who will be Prime Minister of Israel following the March 17, 2015 elections, dealing with Iran’s nuclear program will be a top priority.
Another war with Hezbollah may be inevitable, albeit, not desired by Israel. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, vowed not to bring another war onto Lebanese soil, but he also announced that he will avenge Israel’s elimination of Hezbollah’s top military leaders, and the Israeli attacks on the weapons convoys from Syria to Lebanon.
Since the second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah has built a huge arsenal of long, medium and short range rockets with a GPS guidance system that could hit all strategic points in Israel, including the Hedera power station, and Tel Aviv. Israel’s Iron-Dome will be able to intercept and destroy most of the Hezbollah rockets, but not all. It is more than likely that Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and the seaports of Haifa and Ashdod would be out of action for several days. Hezbollah will also seek to infiltrate through underground tunnels, into Israeli towns and villages. Hezbollah is not however, an existential threat to Israel, although it is a definite strategic threat.
The growing presence of al-Qaeda (al-Nusra Front) and other jihadist forces, including the Islamic State in the Golan area, guarantees that a serious confrontation with the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will occur. At the moment these forces are preoccupied with combatting the Assad regime and battling each other. But, as soon as they can stabilize their hold on territory, one can be sure of their terror attacks against Israel.
Tel Aviv has now become the arena for a Palestinian stabbing campaign, following numerous stabbing incidents last year in Jerusalem. NPR reported (January 21, 2015) “A Palestinian man is accused of stabbing 11 people (Jews) on a bus in central Tel Aviv today, wounding three seriously, before he was shot in the leg by Israeli police, who took him in for questioning.”
The Palestinian Authority is seen as encouraging individual acts of terror against Israelis in order to stir the situation in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) following the Palestinian failed attempt to secure membership at the UN late last year. Hamas received a heavy blow in last year’s Gaza war, and is activating its west Bank terror cells to act against Israelis. Stabbing and vehicular homicide against Israeli-Jews has become the new form of terror. Because these are individual acts, Israeli intelligence cannot readily uncover them. Palestinian Security forces, together with Israeli security have a common interest to eliminate Hamas’ influence in the West Bank. In 2015, knifing will become a fashionable terror tactic. Yet, there is little chance for a Third intifada.
A rational analysis would rule out another Hamas war with Israel. Hamas’ infrastructure was severely damaged, and it will take a while to rebuild. The same rationale however, would have prevented Hamas from launching last year’s war. The blockade imposed on Gaza by Egypt and Israel, and the conclusion that “they have nothing to lose,” might compel Hamas to try another round of hostilities with Israel.
The threat to Israel from Hamas is tactical, and Israel already proved that it has effective answers to deal with it. Still, the Palestinians pose a political rather than military threat at the moment. That does not preclude attempted kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and civilians in the coming year that might precipitate another serious conflagration with either Hamas or Fatah in the West Bank.
Israel’s offshore gas Tamar platform (Tamar 2 reserves are estimated to be 6.3 trillion cubic feet) has only one pipeline that connects it to land in Israel. Environmental groups in the country oppose additional pipelines, which makes Israel’s supply of gas vulnerable to an attack by Palestinian or Hezbollah terrorists.
Lastly, there is always a possibility of a cyber-attack against Israel. In 2009, in what has become known as Stuxnet, the U.S. and Israeli scientists crippled Iran’s nuclear program by sabotaging industrial equipment, and destroying Iranian centrifuges that enriched uranium. Iran has been hard at work trying to retaliate. The Internet can now be a weapon that can damage Israel’s water and electricity systems, as well as its financial and military system. 2015 will likely witness unremitting attacks on Israel.
In the final analysis, Israel is well prepared to defend itself against the tactical threat from Hamas and the Jihadi groups, and even from the strategic threat Hezbollah presents. The one scary threat to the Israelis remains a nuclear Iran, run by fanatical Ayatollahs.
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