Israel’s Ruinous Right

Perhaps the gravest threat facing the nation today is the twin perils of a dangerous, delusional “Left” and an impotent, incompetent “Right”, unable to decisively and definitively discredit it.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions – attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, circa. 1150

It is neither an easy nor an enviable undertaking today for anyone trying to alert the public as to the perilous vulnerability in which the nation currently finds itself.

Deceptive signs of success and strength

After all, there are so many reassuring signs that seem to contradict such dour and dire assessments. Everywhere one looks, there are myriad signs of increasing success, affluence and strength—ever-wider highways, spanned by ever-more impressive interchanges, snake through ever-wider areas of the country, ever-more imposing glass and steel skyscrapers soar into urban skylines across the nation, the economy continues to be robust, with GDP spiraling upwards and—almost inconceivably a few years ago—the shekel was deemed the second strongest currency in the world.

Israeli technological achievement is increasingly sought after across the globe, living standards continue to surge, ever-more luxurious hotels and ever-more sumptuous restaurants abound, frequented increasinglyby domestic clientele. Overseas travel, once a rare extravagance for a privileged few, is now an experience enjoyed by millions of Israelis, who flock to far-flung destinations every holiday season. A burgeoning leisure industry, once unimaginable a few decades ago—from mountain biking and wind-surfing through gourmet dining to blue water yachting—flourishes, attracting growing circles of the population.

On the security front, Israel far outstrips its enemies in terms of martial prowess. Many of its traditional adversaries have disintegrated. The meltdown in much of the Arab world has all but eliminated any threat of conventional military assault on the country—at least until very recently.  

Dangerous sense of complacency…or denial?

While all of this is true—and Israel has indeed much to be proud of—it seems to have given rise to a dangerous sense of complacency. Or is it denial?

For while some of the dangers that once confronted Israel have undeniably diminished—even disappeared—others, no less menacing, have emerged. (Indeed, it may even be—as we shall see—that some of the allegedly erstwhile dangers may well be reappearing—with a vengeance).

Of course, compared to the 1970’s, the threat of large-scale invasion by armies of Arab states has considerably receded. However, today the new threat is that of ongoing attrition by state-backed non-state, or quasi-state actors. To gauge the gravity of this threat, consider the following assessment by one well informed pundit regarding Israel’s northern border: “Hezbollah’s augmented arsenal has transformed it, from an Israeli perspective, from a manageable border menace to a strategic threat.” Reflecting similar concern is the ominous caveat from the left-leaning Institute for National Security Studies: “Hezbollah remains the most serious conventional threat Israel is facing, more than Hamas or Iran.

Likewise, in the south, the quasi-state entity, Hamas, has increased its capabilities exponentially since Israel’s 2005 unilateral abandonment of Gaza, enhancing its high trajectory weaponry from ranges of 5 km to ranges of 100 km, and from war heads of barely 5kg to over 100 kg—while excavating a menacing system of attack tunnels and developing naval capability for assaults from the sea.

Unlearnt Lessons from deeds done…and undone

Underpinning the burgeoning military prowess of Hezbollah and Hamas is the support provided by Iran which, if it ever acquired weaponized nuclear capability, could supply a deterrent “umbrella” under which both could operate with relative impunity—together with any other terror organization that Tehran chose to sponsor.

But in recent months, the Iranian factor has acquired even more—and more immediate—significance. Exploiting the gory turmoil of the Syrian civil war, Iran has, with recent Russian backing and with no US objection, managed to set up a formidable military presence in Syria, virtually on the border with Israel, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) operating unimpeded to recruit, train and equip locals to prepare for “battle against ‘the Zionist enemy’.

So with the Iranian presence in Syria, Israel might soon find that it is once again faced with the need to contend with the threat of conventional military forces—on precisely the front where it was considered no longer relevant!

For Israel, the lessons of what it has done—and what it hasn’t—should be clear.

After all, the previously cited instances of non-state/quasi-state actors developing into strategic threats, able to menace millions of Israelis and to paralyze the nation’s economy, were the direct result of Israel abandoning territory to Arab rule—the center piece of the policy prescriptions promoted by the Israeli Left wing.

Conversely, the fact that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is not perched on the Golan Heights, overlooking the entire north of the country, is precisely because Israel did not act in accordance with this perilous prescription.

(Significantly, had the fortunes of war turned out differently, and Sunni rebels prevailed, Israel would still have been in the unenviable position of having ISIS or al-Qaeda affiliates deployed there.)

The significance for the Left/Right divide  

For readers wondering what this rather lengthy appraisal of Israel’s geo-strategic situation has to do with the domestic political divide within the country, the answer is simple.

Wherever the concessionary policy of the Left has been adopted, dreadful danger and devastation—for Jew and Arab—have ensued. Indeed, it is difficult to identify a single danger that the Right warned of that did not materialize, nor a single benefit that the Left promised that did.

By contrast, wherever the policy of the Left has been eschewed, terrible trauma and tragedy has been avoided.

Clearly then, a quarter century, since the Land-for-Peace paradigm was adopted as the centerpiece of Israel’s security and foreign policy, the jury is no longer out—or at least should no longer be out.

After all, virtually all that has —and has not—happened has totally vindicated the Right-wing claim that Israeli territorial concessions would not bring peace and security; and totally eviscerated the Left-wing claim that they would.

Accordingly, it seems almost inconceivable that despite being repeatedly disproven, the political doctrine of the Left has never been decisively discredited and certainly never definitively discarded.

Indeed, the very fact that this hopelessly failed formula continues to be not only a viable political prescription domestically, but one that continues to enjoy dominant international status, is the most strident condemnation of the political acumen of the Right in Israel—and its financial benefactors.

Dangerous delusional Left vs impotent incompetent Right  

Accordingly, if one were called upon to best articulate the prevailing syndrome that characterizes Israeli domestic politics one would be hard pressed to find a more apt and accurate stipulation than the following: A dangerous and delusional Left promoting a fatally flawed and failed formula which an incompetent and impotent Right is neither capable of invalidating nor of producing a convincing, comprehensive and compelling alternative.

Indeed, for a good number of years, the Right conspicuously refrained from offering any countervailing paradigm and focused almost exclusively on denigrating the Left-wing Land-for-Peace proposal and (correctly) underscoring its deadly defects and detriments.

Accordingly, as I pointed out several years ago: “…the political “Right” has found itself unable to respond effectively to the pointed and pertinent question from ‘left-wing’ adversaries: “So what’s your alternative?” With no comprehensive countervailing paradigmatic position to promote or defend, the ‘Right’ found itself gradually forced to give way under the weight of this onerous question, and to adopt increasing portions of the failed formula it had rejected.”  Lamentably, this culminated in Netanyahu’s calamitous 2009 acceptance of Palestinian statehood—which hitherto he had vigorously opposed.

Indeed, “today the formal position of the major ‘right-wing’ faction, the Likud, the party of Menachem Begin, founded on the ideas expounded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, has, except for detail in nuance and tone, become indistinguishable from the positions [once] expounded by the ‘far-left’ Meretz faction.

Left’s sins of commission vs Right’s sins of omission?

Accordingly, up until a few years ago, it could be deemed with a large degree of accuracy, that Israel is mired in an impasse that is the regrettable product of the sins of commission by the Left and the sins of omission by the Right.

However, in the last 4-5 years, some ideas—originating largely from civil society initiatives, rather than incumbent politicians—have emerged and are being advanced as an alternative to the pernicious two-state, Land-for-Peace proposal.

But as well intentioned as they undoubtedly are, virtually all these alternatives are poorly thought through. Almost without exception, their point of departure appears not be Israel’s strategic imperatives and how to adequately address them, but rather an endeavor to provide a proposal that is something other than the two-state Land-for-Peace formula.

Sadly, as appallingly risk-fraught as the two-state concept is, not everything that is not a two-state proposal is necessarily better than the two-state proposal. Indeed, most the alternatives being advanced by the Israeli Right demonstrably endanger the future of the Zionist enterprise no less—arguably, even more—than the two-state paradigm, which they are meant to replace.

Typically, such alternative proposals fall into three major categories:

– Those that propose to preserve the status quo by means of “conflict management”.
– Those that propose the annexation of all the territory in Judea-Samaria, together with its Arab residents.  

– Those that propose partial annexation of Judea-Samaria and suggest allowing some sort of self-rule to Arab residents in a quilted patchwork of miniscule disconnected enclaves in about 40% (or less) of the territory.

The Lebanonization or the Balkanization of Israel

None of these proposals chart a clear path to a strategic future, in which Israel can fulfill the raison d’etre for its establishment – i.e. can endure over time as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Indeed, as I have repeatedly been at pains to point out:

– The “conflict management” approach is little more than “kicking the can down the road”  towards an even more risk-fraught future, waiting for the Palestinian Arabs—for some yet-to-be-articulated reason—to morph into something they have not been for the last 100 years and show little signs of becoming in the foreseeable future. Last week, I underscored the increasingly untenable situation that attempts to “manage the conflict” have wrought in the environs of Jerusalem by quoting the caveats of an erstwhile advocate of this approach. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend what outcomes “conflict management” adherents envisage resulting in the long-run, from a policy of open-ended discriminatory rule over an increasing—and increasingly recalcitrant—population, held in indefinite political limbo.

– The full annexation of Judea-Samaria and the incorporation of the Arab residents into the permanent population with some form of enfranchisement will inexorably result in the Lebanonizaton of Israeli society and the eventual Islamization of the country—even if the optimistic demographers are right in their assessment, and after annexation, the Muslim sector will comprise “only” 35-40% of the population.

– Partial annexation of Judea-Samaria and restricting the bulk of the Arab population to a  patchwork of miniscule disconnected semi-autonomous enclaves will lead to an unsustainable Balkanized situation—with a tortuous border of anything up to 2000 km, making it almost impossible to demarcate and secure Israel’s sovereign territory, effectively rendering that sovereignty meaningless.  

Failure on the Right   

The political Right in Israel has failed to capitalize on its adversaries’ failures, on its own electoral successes and the clear, innate support it enjoys in the Israeli public.

It has failed to convey how ludicrous it is for anyone professing to subscribe to enlightened liberal values to endorse the establishment of yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim majority tyranny—which is of course what the real significance of the two-state formula is.

Inexplicably, still somehow intimidated by disproven dictates of political correctness, the political Right fails to identify the Palestinians for what they really are—and how they define themselves as a collective – an implacable enemy and not a prospective peace partner.

The political Right has failed to correctly conceptualize the conflict as a clash between two collectives with irreconcilable core objectives in which only one can emerge victorious and the other vanquished—and hence, both morally and practically, Israeli collective security must be given priority over individual enemy rights.

It has failed to formulate a policy which adequately addresses Israel’s geographic and demographic imperatives necessary to ensure its survival as the nation-state of the Jews. To the contrary, instead of Israel’s strategic imperatives dictating the objectives of its diplomacy, it has allowed diplomatic difficulties to dictate Israel’s strategic policy.

Only once these failures have been adequately redressed, can the Israeli Right begin to formulate policy alternatives that will be any less perilous than the two-state, Land for Peace paradigm which it rightly—and righteously—rejects.

Is War Between Israel and Hezbollah Coming?

With reports of increased tension between the Saudis, the Gulf States, and Egypt on one side and Iran and its allies on the other, Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately.  This comes on the heels of  the sudden resignation of Saad Harari and the Houthis in Yemen launching an Iranian missile at Riyadh.

Riyadh, Safar 20, 1439, November 09, 2017, SPA — Due to the situations in the Republic of Lebanon, the official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Saudi nationals visiting or residing in Lebanon are asked to leave the country as soon as possible.
The Kingdom advised all citizens not to travel to Lebanon from any other international destinations.

Shortly after this announcement, the Kuwait governmen followed suit.

Given that the only country capable and willing to start a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon is Israel, focus has shifted to the IDF, with most assuming that the Saudis and Israel have decided that it is time to push back against the Iranian advancement.

With the Syrian regime advancing steadily towards the Golan DMZ and more and more battle hardened Hezbollah fighters returning to Lebanon, the time seems now for a push to knock them out.  Already Iran senses that a shift from an Israeli-Saudi defensive position may be shifting to an offensive push against the growing Shiite hegemony.

“You are well aware of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s power and position, and powers bigger than you have not been able to do anything against the Iranian nation,” Iranian President Rouhani warned Saudi Arabia. “The US and its allies mobilized all their possibilities and power, but they could do nothing.”

The Sunni-Israel camp is fast approaching its moment of truth in its battle with an ever expanding Shiite hegemony.  This hegemony is the main destablizing force in the Middle East and as both Israel and the Saudis have found out, its intersection is far reaching through out the region.

How soon is a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah?  Nothing is set, but what is clear is that the rhetoric between the Saudis and Iranians is fast giving way to action and Israel may be asked to shoot the opening shot.

Iran on the Move, But Does it Fit Into Putin’s Agenda for the Middle East?

The fall of Kirkuk to the joint Iraq-Iran army last week may very well be seen in years to come as a gret turning point in Middle Eastern and World history. The collective punditry is that Iran chalked up a big win in its drive for Middle Eastern hegemony.  This is correct, yet the Iranian occupation of Kirkuk, a historically Kurdish city may be the very thing which begins to undo the Shiite advancement in the fertile crescent.

Up until now, there has been a very tight working relationship between the Russian military and the Iranians.  The two armies have consistantly worked together in turning around the Syrian Civil War.  This has allowed Iran to sweep across the Middle East to within 20km of the Golan Heights, a turn of events that has made Israel very nervous.

Yet, the occupation of Kirkuk has alarmed the Russians, as has Iran’s clear movement of military personel and equipment to the frontlines on Israel’s Golan.  Russian president Vladamir Putin needed Iranian ground forces to help crush ISIS and the Syrian rebel groups, but now that the bulk of the war is finished, Putin would like to be viewed as the great statesmand peace maker not destablizer. The Iranians have different plans.  They would like to use their newfound stature to corner both the Kurds and Israel and finish them off.

However, the Iranian advancement towards Erbil seems to have shaken Putin from his daze. For the Iranians, there is no difference between Iraq and Syria. The problem is that Russia does not view the Kurds with any sort of animosity and has gone out of the way to bring the Kurds into their orbit.  Russia has invested billions into Kurdish infrastructure and oil and gas development.  Putin has no interest in seeing these contracts destroyed.

In the coming weeks, Iran will continue to make gains, but a wary Puting will allow mor Israeli military flights over Syrian territory. Putin’s goals are to create the appearance of Russian military might in the face of the West as well as building a reputation as the great stablizer.

This his goal in the Middle East.  To become the address for those in dispute an then only Putin can ensure a stable Middle East.


“Conflict management”: The Collapse of a Concept

While Israel has been “managing the conflict”, its non-state adversaries have been enhancing their capabilities so dramatically that they now a grave strategic threat

…to remain at peace when you should be going to war may be often very dangerous. ..–Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, 431 BCE

This week, Israel conducted its largest military exercise for almost two decades code named “Or Hadagan” (“the Light of the Grain”), reportedly in honor of the late Meir Dagan, former director of Mossad.

Far reaching shift in threat perception

The drill, which took place in the north of the country, and involved tens of thousands of troops from all branches of the IDF, was intended to prepare the Israeli military for a possible future confrontation with Hezbollah.

This, in itself, reflects far-reaching changes in the realities on the ground and the resultant shift in Israeli threat perception and hence in the armed forces’ operational focus and strategic outlook  that have taken place since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Thus, while the Syrian army has been almost totally eroded by six-and-a-half years of civil war; Israel now considers Hezbollah as the primary and most immediate threat, and the Lebanese front, the one of most pressing concern.

In many ways, the recognition of the ascendant threat from Hezbollah comprises a grave indictment of the conduct of the 2006 War—and an admission (at least implicitly) of its gross mismanagement.

This is significant, because the calm that has generally prevailed in the North since 2006 has —despite wide acknowledgment of the disappointing IDF performance in that engagement—led numerous pundits to applaud the deterrent effect that the massive damage inflicted on Lebanon at the time, allegedly produced.  In some cases, this prompted suggestions that a more favorable retrospective assessment of the war and its execution might be called for.

Sadly, there is little to support this benign attitude—and emerging realities serve only to underscore the long term detrimental impact, which  that indecisive encounter—and its subsequent political and strategic ramifications—have had (and are still likely to have) on Israel’s security.

“To defeat, not deter…”

But changing threat perception was not the only major shift in military thinking associated with the drill.  For the reported definition of its objectives seem to indicate an emerging awareness that the approach adopted over the last few decades has been both dysfunctional and detrimental.

Thus, in a recent opinion piece in Haaretz, entitled Israel Dare Not Allow Hezbollah to Strike First veteran commentator Israel Harel wrote: “For many years, including (or especially) the Second Lebanon War, the IDF did not truly aspire, as an army going to war must aspire, to defeat the enemy once and for all, in other words to neutralize its capacity to further endanger the lives of Israel’s citizens, soldiers and infrastructure.”

This time” he noted “the military commentators wrote and broadcast, the “intention” is clear: to finish (the word expressly used by the exercise’s commander) the enemy.”

Articulating the  move towards this new (or rather renewed) aspiration to defeat, rather than deter, the enemy was a report by Haaretz’s military correspondent, Amos Harel (not to be confused with previously-mentioned Israel Harel) in which the sub-headline declared: “Military says it will no longer settle for deterring Hezbollah, which replaced Syria as No. 1 threat on Israel’s borders.” Referring to the professed goal of the “Or Hadagan” drill, Harel wrote“ The objective is to defeat Hezbollah. This time the talk is not of inflicting significant harm to Hezbollah, to deter it, or to quash its desire to fight until the next round of violence.”

Conflict management: A concept discredited

The conceptual paradigm that forms the basis of the IDF’s aversion to victory-oriented strategies is the idea of “conflict management”. One of the prime proponents of this approach has been the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

A synopsis  of “months of debate in BESA seminar rooms”  published about a year ago, reported that a consensus  had emerged among the  center’s experts that “Conflict management is currently the least-worst option”, and that it  “is wiser for Israel to defer action than to take steps that threaten to make a bad situation worse”.

Arguably, one of the most explicit advocates for the idea of conflict management is Prof. Efraim Inbar, formerly BESA’s longstanding director, who declared: “Israel’s recent governments are left, willy- nilly, with a de facto conflict-management approach, without foreclosing any options.” He conceded that: “there are costs to this wait and- see approach”, but counselled “…this was the approach favored by David Ben-Gurion. He believed in buying time to build a stronger state and in hanging on until opponents yield their radical goals …

In a 2014 policy paper entitled Mowing the Grass in Gaza and coauthored with Eitan Shamir, he set out the essence of this conflict management approach as it pertained to Hamas in Gaza:  “Israel is acting in accordance with a “mowing the grass” strategy. After a period of military restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior, and degrading its military capabilities…The use of force… is not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather is a long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities”.

Clearly, this prescription has failed dismally both with regard to  Hamas and Hezbollah, neither of whom have had their capabilities “debilitated”, nor have forgone their “radical goals.

Conflict management discredited (cont.)

After all, not only is there any sign of either of these organizations moderating their radical rejectionist approach towards Israel, but the periods of inter-bellum calm have been consistently used by both to dramatically upgrade their capabilities.

Thus, when Israel left Gaza (2005), the range of the Palestinian rockets was barely 5 km., and the explosive charge they carried about 5 kg. Now their missiles have a range of over 100 km. and warheads of around 100 kg.

When Israel left Gaza, only the sparse population in its immediate proximity was threatened by missiles. Now well over 5 million Israelis, well beyond Tel Aviv, are menaced by them. To this alarming tally, add the massive array of attack tunnels that Hamas was able to develop since the evacuation while Israel was “mowing the lawn”, making any suggestion that its capabilities have been “debilitated” utterly ludicrous.

This is even more so  in the case of Hezbollah, who, since 2006, has reportedly increased its then-already formidable arsenal in South Lebanon, abandoned to them, courtesy of the hasty 2000 unilateral IDF withdrawal mandated by Ehud Barak, tenfold—to anywhere between 100,000 to 150,000!

Moreover, the improvement has not only been in the quantity of the missiles trained on Israel’s population centers, as well other civilian and military targets, but in the accuracy and the explosive charges of the war-heads. Likewise, the ranks of its fighters has more than doubled, and their operational capabilities greatly enhanced, among other things, due to the combat experience acquired through their participation in the Syrian Civil War.

Mistaking “regrouping” for “deterrence”

In light of all these daunting developments, it is clear that successive bouts of limited fighting have done little to deter either Hamas or Hezbollah in the sense of breaking their will to engage in battle. Rather, after every round, they have been forced to regroup, redeploy and rearm—only to  re-emerge spoiling for a fight, ever bolder, with ever-greater (indeed, once inconceivable) capabilities.

In this regard, a far from implausible claim could be made that it was not the consequences of the 2006 war that dissuaded Hezbollah from entering the fighting in 2014 to support Hamas against the IDF during Operation Protective Edge. Rather the fact that the organization was bogged down in the Syrian civil war, propping up their patron Bashar Assad—a fortuitous outcome that cannot really be ascribed to the efficacy of Israeli deterrence policy.

Accordingly, it is difficult to refute the recent cocky taunts of Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, that “Every time an Israeli official refers to Hezbollah’s growing power, he admits Israeli defeat in the summer of 2006”.  Well, at least if not defeat, denial of victory.

Indeed, just how appallingly the Second Lebanon War was conducted can be judged by the fact that, according to Israeli estimates, the number of missiles liable to rain down on Israel in any future confrontation with Hezbollah is somewhere between 1000 to 1500 a day—ten times that which fell in the previous war, and which kept millions of Israelis huddling in shelters for weeks on end.  Now imagine an assault ten-fold larger, factoring in the greater accuracy and greater explosive power of the missiles today—coupled with a possible auxiliary attack from Gaza…  

These are the bitter fruits that conflict management has produced.

There but for the grace of God…

Against this grim backdrop in Lebanon, the developing realities in Syria must be taken into consideration: The deployment of Russian forces and the growing dominance of the Iranian presence in the country.

If the ominous developments in Lebanon can, in large measure, be ascribed to the flaccid policies of the Olmert government; in Syria, they are due  to those of the Obama administration.

The former,  shackled to its political doctrine of territorial concession and compromise, could not take the necessary and timely action to bring Hezbollah to its knees in a humiliating defeat—and end the fighting with a white flag of surrender over the Hezbollah positions and Hezbollah combatants being led into Israeli captivity.

The latter, unshackled from a traditional view of American national interest, created a vacuum into which Russia and Iran inserted themselves. Of course, the Iranian activity in Syria (and elsewhere) has been greatly facilitated by the appallingly naïve (or is that nefarious?) agreement orchestrated by the Obama administration in July 2015 over Tehran’s nuclear program, which greatly empowered the Iranian theocracy, enriched it economically and entrenched it politically.

One of the many menacing aspects of this is that the strong Iranian presence in Syria will allow the deployment of its proxies—including Hezbollah—along the border in the Golan, effectively increasing the length of the front along which Israel will have to confront such forces in any future military encounter.

All this should cause us to shudder with dread at the thought that, had the “enlightened” voices of moderation, reason and understanding of the “Other”, carried the day, and Israel had withdrawn from the Golan, all these perils would be perched on the heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the city of Tiberias and much of northern Israel.

There but for the grace of God…

Backing away vs. backing into confrontations

For several years now I have been warning against clear and present dangers inherent in conflict management—cautioning that it is little more than “kicking the can down the road” into a risk fraught future.  I expressed growing concern that by adopting a policy of avoiding confrontations. which Israel could win, the government  may well back the nation  into a confrontation so severe that it may not—or only do so at devastating cost.

Now, faced with a prospect of thousands of rockets (many accurate and high explosive) being launched daily against Israel  along two possible fronts – an extended one in the north and one in the south; faced with the threat of an array of yet to be discovered terror tunnels—both in the north and the south; with these forces operating under the auspices of near-by Iranian troops and with the possibly inhibiting presence of Russia in the region,  we can only hope that such a crucial confrontation is not upon us.

But  should such a conflict erupt, our fervent wish must  be that the  IDF is not tempted to attempt to “manage” it, but be true to the declared aims of the “Or Hadagan” drill–and strive for unequivocal victory in it…


Threat of Hezbollah Invasion is Real as IDF Holds Largest Drill in 20 Years

In what began yesterday and will continue for 10 days, the IDF will simulate a real war, including invasion with Hezbollah.  Known as “the Light of the Grain,” or “Or HaDagan” the drill is Israel’s largest in 20 years and was called in a surprise fashion due to the growing tensions with Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran.

According to the army, the number of reservists taking part in the exercise is “unprecedented” with one IDF official saying the following:

“The purpose of the large call-up of reservists is to prepare the reserve force for war in the northern arena and to adapt it to the changes and developing threats of recent years.”

Since part of the exercise simulates a Hezbollah invasion of Northern Israel, soldiers are due to dress the part with some acting out enemy roles within pre-selected communities and others acting to repel hem.

The possibility of invasion appears to be so real that the IDF Home Front Command will practice its “Safe Distance” plan.  The plan will see communities near the Lebanese border evacuated farther south in order to keep them out of harm’s way.

Dealing with Three Fronts

As the Syrian regime and Iran consolidate their hold over Syria and Hezbollah strengthens itself in Southern Lebanon, the threats against Israel have begin to multiply.  Given the fact that Russia appears disinterested in helping to tame the situation and will most likely protect Iranian and Syrian regime forces, the coming war is far more complicated than in the past.

Add to this a USA who is phasing itself out of the Middle East and this leaves Israel pretty much on its own. Given the heightened tensions between North Korea and the USA as well as the coming referendum for Kurdish independence, anyone event could very well trigger an expanded regional war leaving Israel to fend for itself.

Putin Holds the Key to the Golan

The pervading assumption is that Vladamir Putin, Russia’s President was willing to work with Israel.  Afterall every time there has been a near conflict of interest between Israel and Russia, Bibi Netanyahu and Putin have met to smooth it out. This was the appearance this past week between the two leaders in the Russian resort city of Sochi.

Reports indicated that Prime Minister Netanyahu did indeed lay out red lines for Putin on Iran’s approach to the Golan, but these red lines have already been obliterated as Arab and Israeli media report that Iranian special forces have taken up positions on the Golan border.  According to reports Iran had asked for this allowance as payback for helping Russia stabilize Syria.

This ultimately means that Israel’s North is now surrounded by Hezbollah and Iran under Russian protection.

Russia as the Keymaster

Voices are being raised in Israel for a preemptive strike to knock out Iranian positions East of the Israeli Golan,  but Russian troops positioned there are providing cover for the Iranian militias and Hezbollah.  Israel has little choice but to either take a chance in opening a wider war between Russian backed Iranian militias, Hezbollah, and the Syrian regime or beg for Russia to force these troops back.

Putin understands Israel’s predicament and will want something in exchange for this move. The only question for Israel will be whether his price is too high.

The coming days will be critical in determining Israel’s next course of action. As Iran strengthens its position on the Golan, Israel may have no choice but to knock out these troops before they become to many to quickly get rid of.

A Deal in the Works?

Yet, in the “Great Game” of the Middle East, there is still time for Putin to give Israel a free hand to rid himself and Israel of Iran by allowing the IAF to wipe out the nascent Iranian positions near Israel. Doing so would send a message to Iran not to approach the Golan and would convey Putin’s view that Iran’s partnership can be terminated whenever he deems fit.

Given the present fluid situation, it impossible to predict the next steps, but what is clear is that the region is fast approaching a point of no return.

Does Russia Have a Deal With Israel on Quneitra De-escalation?

With Russian forces moving into Quneitra as early as July 16th, the realization that Israel is being cornered by Iranian and Hezbollah contingents has now become apparent.  Local Quneitra community councils welcomed the opportunity to force “militants associated with Zionist entity” to lay down their arms.

Russia is aware that the Netanyahu government is not happy about the ceasefire deal hammered out between Trump and Putin at the G-20 on July 7th.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister had this to say:

“I can guarantee that we have done everything and the US side has done everything to ensure that Israel’s security interests within this framework are taken fully into account.”

There is more to this statement than just acknowledgment.

Former National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror said the following on Monday in relation to the Iranian presence so close to the Golan:

“Israel may need to take military action to prevent Iran or Hezbollah from setting up permanent bases in Syria.” 

This is no accidental comment. Amidror is a close confidant of the Prime Minister and his comment was meant to send a message to the Russians.

The idea that Iran and Hezbollah is setting up permanent bases so close to Israel’s Golan Heights may appear to be a dangerous step for Israel.  The Russian forces that have now entered the region have only complicated the situation. The peril for Israel cannot be overstated.  However, Amidror’s comments contain a hint of possible solution to the menace forming on Israel’s border.

The Russian’s have at times allowed Israel to take out Hezbollah and Iranian arms transfers, with analysts observing that Russia itself tipped off the Israeli airforce to the location of the hidden arms and gave it fly by capabilities to destroy the targets.  If Israel can convince Putin it is far better to let Israel defend itself by destroying Iranian and Hezbollah fighters on its border than making the IDF attack covertly, then a similar relation can develop even within the framework of the current ceasefire.

More than 18 months ago I wrote the following:

Many analysts believe that Russia, in the long-term, has no interest in allowing Iran to take over the Middle East. Russia views its relationship with Iran as a tactical necessity to prop up Assad and destroy Sunni radicals. After this task is done, the experts in this particular camp believe their paths will diverge.  

If this is so, then logic lends itself to believe Putin wants relationships and long term strategic partnerships with countries that are not only stable, but also share similar security and economic outlooks with himself, and yet will not step in his way. Israel is one of these countries.

We are about to see if this theory holds weight.  If Russia does not prevent Iran and Hezbollah from building up their forces on Israel’s border, then Russia either will have to allow the Israeli airforce to neutralize the growing threat or risk losing leverage over Israel.

Putin has spent much of the Syrian Civil War navigating a variety of local interests while cementing Russia’s control over the Northern Levant. The question remains: At what point does Putin jettison his relationship with Iran in favor of a more moderate and stable relationship with far more rational actors?

If Russia truly wants a stable Middle East then we may be about to see the beginning of a Russian-Iranian divergence.


Why Does Israel Oppose the Syrian Ceasefire?

Reports in the media indicate that Prime Minister Netanyahu opposes the ceasefire in Southwestern Syria. The Hill quotes a source from Haaretz that “Netanyahu told French President Emmanuel Macron during a meeting Sunday that Israel does not support the agreement.”

The question is why.  Afterall, on paper quiet in the Southwest on the border of Israel’s Golan Heights is a good thing.  No one in the Israeli government would argue with quiet, yet the nature of the ceasefire allows for Russian observers to man the border region.  This is a huge capitulation on behalf of the Trump administration.  Up until the ceasefire, Israel could, when necessary hit back against Iranian, Hezbollah, and Syrian movements and arms smuggling.  Now that Russian are essentially in the same locations, Israel will now have to make sure not to hit Russian forces while battling parties aimed at its destruction.

More than this, Putin seems intent on playing both sides.  While he has set up a “deconfliction mechanism” with Israel, Putin keeps on moving the goal posts closer to Israel, which effectively renders the “deconfliction mechanism” pointless.

Most analysts, including myself are betting on a new round of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel sooner rather than later, regardless of the Trump-Putin ceasefire. Israel will have to hit quick and successfully in order minimize the amount of destruction it receives back at home.  With Russia in the mix, this ability to wipe out Hezbollah missile infrastructure is severely hampered, especially since Iran and Syria have openly allowed Hezbollah to set up forward bases from Syrian territory. Considering our report yesterday about the ballistic missile factory now set up in Syria, Trump’s ceasefire appears to not only harm Israel, but ultimately America.

The Trump administration might have lowered the risks of going against Putin in Syria, but the White House’s decision has left the region far more imperiled than before.

Hezbollah’s missiles will not rust

If we aren’t indifferent to Hezbollah’s expansion of its capabilities, what are we planning to do about it?

Last month IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi made a stunning revelation. Hezbollah and Iran are transforming the terrorist group into a military force capable of independently producing its own precision weapons.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Halevi reported, “We are seeing Hezbollah building a domestic military industry on Lebanese soil based on Iranian know-how. Hezbollah is producing weapons systems and transporting them to southern Lebanon.”

Halevi added, “Over the past year, Iran is working to establish infrastructure for the independent production of precision weapons in Lebanon and Yemen. We cannot be indifferent to this development. And we aren’t.”

Not only is Hezbollah building a missile industry. It is deploying its forces directly across the border with Israel – in material breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 from 2006, which set the terms of the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah at the end of the Second Lebanon War.

Under the terms of 1701, Hezbollah is prohibited from operating south of the Litani River. Only the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and UNIFIL – the UN’s peacekeeping force – are supposed to be deployed in southern Lebanon.

According to Halevi, operating under the cover of a phony environmental NGO called “Green Without Borders,” Hezbollah has set up observation posts manned with its fighters along the border with Israel.

In Halevi’s words, with these posts, “Hezbollah is now able to operate a stone’s throw from the border.”

In a media briefing on Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman discussed Halevi’s revelations. Liberman said that the security community “is absolutely aware [of the missile plants] and is taking the necessary action.”

“This is a significant phenomenon,” Liberman warned. “We must under no circumstances ignore it.”

Perhaps in a jab at his predecessor, Moshe Ya’alon, who years ago argued notoriously that Hezbollah’s missiles would “rust” in their storage facilities, perhaps in warning to Hezbollah, Liberman added, “The factories won’t rust and the missiles won’t rust.”

So if we aren’t indifferent to Hezbollah’s expansion of its capabilities, what are we planning to do about it?

Whatever answer the IDF decides upon, Israel is already taking diplomatic steps to prepare for the next round – whoever opens it.

Last month Israel filed a formal complaint with the UN Security Council against Hezbollah for setting up observation towers along the border and manning them with its fighters.

Not surprisingly, UNIFIL and the Security Council rejected Israel’s complaint. Ever since six UNIFIL soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb in 2007, UNIFIL has turned a blind eye to all of Hezbollah’s operations in southern Lebanon. As to the strike for which the complaint to the Security Council began setting the conditions, what purpose would it serve?

In a future war, Israel shouldn’t aspire, for instance, to destroy Hezbollah as a fighting force. The goal, in my opinion, should be to destroy or neutralize as much of Hezbollah’s missile arsenal and its missile assembly plants as possible. If possible, Israel should also seek to destroy Hezbollah’s tunnel infrastructure along its border.

The first question is whether the threat justifies action. The answer, in my opinion, is clear enough. Over the past 11 years, Hezbollah’s missile arsenal has become an unacceptable and ever-growing strategic threat to Israel. Whereas in 2006 Hezbollah’s missile arsenal numbered some 15,000 rockets, today it fields approximately 150,000.

In 2006, at the height of its missile offensive against Israel, Hezbollah lobbed some 120 missiles a day at Israeli territory. Today it can shoot some 1,000 to 1,200 missile a day at Israel.

And it isn’t only the quantity of missiles that make them an insufferable threat. It’s also their quality. Whereas in 2006 Hezbollah attacked Israel with imprecise projectiles with low payloads, today Hezbollah reportedly fields precision guided, long-range missiles like the Yakhont and Fatah-110.

The Yakhont missiles can imperil Israel’s interests in the Mediterranean, including its offshore natural gas installations. The Fatah-110s, with a range of some 300 kilometers, threaten metropolitan Tel Aviv and key military installations. Both missile types are capable of carrying payloads of hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

To be sure, in the 11 years since the Second Lebanon War Israel has also massively upgraded its military capabilities. Last week air force chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel said the force today can inflict a level of damage on Hezbollah in two days that it took it weeks to inflict in 2006.

The question is not whether Israel has the ability to respond to a Hezbollah assault. Given the lethality of Hezbollah’s arsenal, it would be reckless to assume that Israel can easily absorb an opening volley of missiles.

But battle losses aren’t the only consideration Israel needs to take into account. For instance, there is the US. How would the US respond to a war?

As far as the Trump administration is concerned, the picture is mixed. On the one hand, President Donald Trump and his advisers are much more supportive of Israel than predecessor Barack Obama and Obama’s advisers were.

Under Obama, not only could Israel have expected the US to oppose an attack against Hezbollah’s missiles, but there is reason to believe that the Obama administration would have supported Hezbollah against Israel.

This is the case for two reasons. First, Obama’s team made clear that his most important foreign policy goal was to develop an alliance with Iran.

Second, and in support of Obama’s goal of courting the Iranians, his administration repeatedly leaked details about IDF strikes against Hezbollah weapons convoys traversing Syria en route to Lebanon. These leaks worked to Israel’s detriment and to Hezbollah’s advantage by ratcheting up the danger that Israel’s strikes at Hezbollah convoys would lead to an undesired escalation of hostilities.

At a minimum, Israel can expect that the Trump administration’s response to a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon to be as tolerant as then president George W. Bush’s administration’s response was to Israel’s military actions in the 2006 war.

Bush and then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice immediately called for a ceasefire. But in the early stages of the war, they also supported Israel and blocked anti-Israel resolutions from being brought before the Security Council. Their support for Israel began to weaken as the war dragged on and the IDF ran into trouble achieving significant battlefield gains.

Today, the Trump administration is divided on issues surrounding Israel. Trump’s White House advisers, led by Steve Bannon as well as Vice President Mike Pence and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, are likely to support a war with Hezbollah. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are likely to demand that Israel stand down.

One way to diminish opposition within the administration to a war is to highlight the depths of Hezbollah’s control of the Lebanese government and of the Lebanese military. The latter is particularly significant.

The foreign and defense policy establishment in Washington, with which Tillerson and Mattis are aligned, insistently continue to back the Lebanese Armed Forces, despite the fact that it is demonstrably subservient to Hezbollah.

As recently as May, the US sent assault rifles to the LAF, in its latest batch of military assistance. The strategic recklessness of continued US weapons transfers to the LAF was laid bare last November. US-made armored personnel carriers, identical to the type the US has provided the LAF, participated in a Hezbollah military parade in Syria.

Indeed, barely a week goes by without new evidence of the LAF’s subservient position to Hezbollah. This week, for instance, 150 LAF cadets toured Hezbollah’s military museum with Lt.-Col. Ali Ismail, who serves as the head of the LAF’s intelligence directorate in Nabatiya.

As for Iran, it is hard to know how it would respond. There is a low likelihood that Iran would strike Israel directly with ballistic missiles in the event of a war with Hezbollah. Iran views Hezbollah’s missiles as a means to deter Israel from attacking Iran – not the other way around.

Iran’s most likely immediate response to a war would be to deploy its foreign militia to Hezbollah’s side in Lebanon. Last month, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah publicly asked Iran to send him foreign fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Iran.

Nasrallah’s request, and the likelihood that Iran will grant it in short order, are another reason why war will eventually happen. Israel shouldn’t stand around while Iran sends thousands of fighters to Lebanon to join the next war against it.

As for the Saudis and Egyptians and their allies, they have been clear that they view Iran and Hezbollah as a greater threat than Israel. Indeed, last year they declared Hezbollah a terrorist group. In 2006, they supported Israel until it began getting bogged down.

In a future war, if Israel is able to quickly deliver a serious blow against Hezbollah, the Sunnis would likely applaud it. So it boils down to capacity.

If the IDF can conduct a quick, effective operation against Hezbollah that would destroy, degrade or neutralize a large portion of its missile arsenal and its missile assembly plants, then the benefits of moving forward, in my opinion, outweigh the costs.

Originally Published in the Jersualem Post


Israel’s enemies know there will be a price to pay for attacking the Jewish state.

Tel Aviv, Israel…

The period that encompasses Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Ha’Shoah), Israel’s National Memorial Day (Yom Ha’Zikaron), and Israel’s Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzmaut), all occurring this year on April 24, May 1, and May 2 respectively, are considered by secular Israelis as the National High Holidays.  Tourists find in that week of holidays a strong burst of nationalism and pride.  Israeli flags are hung on people’s balconies, windows, cars, and public buildings.  Amazingly, on Yom Ha’Shoah, the entire nation stands still, in silence, while all vehicular traffic comes to a stop, even in the middle of busy highways.  The same feat is repeated on Yom Ha’Zikaron.  A minute of silence is observed nationwide, and it is respected.

It is in between these hallowed holidays that my good friend, Avi Golan, a retired officer in the paratrooper brigade, and currently a licensed Tour Guide, joined me on a tour of Israel’s northern and northeastern border areas.  I was questioning Avi about our personal security as we embarked on the trip.  He assured me that we are fairly safe.  We drove from Nahariyya, on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Israel, eastward along route 89 and passed Mt. Meron, the tallest mountain in the Galilee.  We then turned north along the border fence with Lebanon.  Literally, steps away from us to the north was Lebanon. We came across a United Nation’s observation post just a few feet away and saw their white vehicles.  A few hundred yards farther north was a Hezbollah outpost, with its yellow flag painted on a water tower.  Once again, I asked Avi why they were not shooting at us since they could clearly see us, and he replied, “They know that they would receive devastating fire from our forces that would turn Lebanon upside down.”  Traveling up the road to Kibbutz Menara, reaching the wide observation deck of the Kibbutz, perched high up, the Lebanese border was a few hundred meters away.  We could see the Lebanese villagers going about their business, and we were assured by local Kibbutz members that Hezbollah has a presence in the village.

Although the peace along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon has been preserved now for over a decade, there is no guarantee it will last for another decade.  It is hard to gauge the true extent to which Israel would be able to deter a Hezbollah attack. But for now, Hezbollah’s deep and costly preoccupation in the Syrian conflict makes it difficult for this terrorist organization to precipitate another conflict with Israel.  Moreover, domestic Lebanese considerations preclude it.  Its involvement in Syria and the resultant flood of refugees into Lebanon is putting pressure on Hezbollah not to provoke another war with Israel, at least not at this time.  In fact, Hezbollah has not fully recovered yet from the 2006 war with Israel. Additionally, Hezbollah’s paymaster and arms provider, Iran, has made the preservation of the Assad regime a top priority for now.  It is likely that Tehran’s ayatollahs seek to reserve Hezbollah as a retaliatory force in case its nuclear facilities are attacked by Israel or by the U.S.

The Hezbollah leaders have nevertheless sought to establish a second front against Israel on the Golan Heights.  Israel has managed however, to eliminate a number of key Iranian and Hezbollah officers operating next to the Golan area.  Still, with an annual income of about $1 billion, Hezbollah has been able to increase its missile arsenal from 15,000 to almost 100,000 with millions in annual funding from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it’s with ties to the Assad regime and increasingly with Russia. Some of these missiles have a ranges of 300 kilometers and can reach most areas in Israel.  Hezbollah has also acquired Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles that have proved to be lethal to Israeli naval ships.

Driving along the border we reached Kibbutz Mishgav Am a bit farther north.  We then swung east towards the Golan Heights, observing Mt. Hermon in the distance on our way to the Druze town of Majdal Shams.  Here, we once again found an observation point a few hundred meters from the border fence with Syria.  We stood at a hill opposite another ‘shouting’ hill belonging to Syria, where Druze families divided by the border used to shout news and greetings at each other. At this place, neither Syrian forces nor Hezbollah terrorists can be seen with the open eye.  In the rugged and mountainous terrain, the border fence is along a patch of green grass with no habitation visible.  Yet, most of the recent skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah have occurred along the Syrian front bordering the Golan Heights.  Clearly, if Hezbollah decided to take action against Israel, it is likely to come from the Syrian side.

The devastated border town of Quneitra is a likely place for a Hezbollah strike.  It is from this direction, on October 6-10, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, that 700 Syrian tanks driving westward encountered about 175 defending Israeli tanks, in the battlefield known as the “Valley of Tears.”  It is named so for the many burned tanks and half-tracks left on this battlefield, along with many dead Israelis and Syrians.  We entered the “Valley of Tears” where Lt. Col. Avigdor Kahalani and his crew stopped the Syrian onslaught, destroying 500 of their tanks.  It was truly a heroic act that saved Israel from a Syrian conquest.

As the sun began to set, we drove down from the Golan Heights toward the Sea of Galilee.  We continued through Tzemach and Beth-Shaan, into the Jordan Valley.  Facing eastward, we could see the lights of Jordanian towns and villages.  Peace with Israel has helped Jordan elevate the standard of living of its people.  New hotels and classy restaurants are now to be found not only in Amman or Akaba, but in the northern cities we now faced to our east.

As the evening set upon us, we headed back to the Tel Aviv area.  The next day was Israel’s Memorial Day, a time to remember the ultimate sacrifices made by the defenders of the Golan Heights.  Israel remembered however, all of the men and women who fell in all the wars and terror attacks, and those who served and fell in the pre-independence underground militias.  Those young men and women gave their lives to establish an independent Jewish state, protect its independence, and safeguard their families and friends.  They fought and died in wars and terror attacks forced upon the Jewish state.

It was quiet and peaceful along Israel’s northern borders, but that is only because Israel’s enemies know that the Jewish state is determined and capable of inflicting a heavy price on those who will attack its people.  The Memorial Day observances make it clear that Israelis will not allow the sacrifice of over 23,000 men and women to have been in vain.