An attempt is made to share the truth regarding issues concerning Israel and her right to exist as a Jewish nation. This blog has expanded to present information about radical Islam and its potential impact upon Israel and the West. Yes, I do mix in a bit of opinion from time to time.
Friday, March 21, 2014
The storm after the calm
IDF intelligence officials have warned for
some time that the northern front -- long Israel's quietest -- was about
to change • Events of recent weeks show that these predictions are now
coming to fruition.
Israeli military vehicles on
the border with Syria [Archive]
Photo credit: Reuters
The events of recent weeks along the border
with Lebanon and Syria leave no room for doubt: The north is once again a
terror front. Eight attacks in the last year, four of them recently,
have made it sufficiently obvious that the years of quiet are now a
thing of the past. One would be hard-pressed to find anyone in Israel
who is surprised by these developments. In 2011, shortly after the
eruption of the civil war in Syria, intelligence officials warned that
terrorist elements were liable to move closer to the border fence on the
Golan Heights. They based this assessment on the success of jihadist
elements to carve out a presence in wide swaths of Syria where the
central government has ceased to function, including in parts of the
The real wake-up call came a few months later,
when hundreds of Palestinians from Syria effortlessly crossed the
porous border fence into Majdal Shams. IDF officers realized that the
emerging circumstances along the border would make it impossible to
prevent future attacks. This compelled them to undertake a quick,
massive construction project that included a reinforced fence as well as
the stationing of advanced surveillance equipment and intelligence
The army also expedited the deployment of a
full-fledged division which would now take responsibility for the Golan.
The thinking was obvious. The Israel Defense Forces would no longer
rely on one armored division tasked with routine patrols, but a division
that is commensurate with those stationed along the frontiers with
Lebanon, Egypt, and Gaza and which would become intimately familiar with
the terrain while developing a combat capability that is tailored to
the Golan front.
Less than two months after it was formed, the
new division is just about up to speed. Its commander, Lt. Col. Ofek
Buchris, certainly remembers quite a number of events during his years
of service in Lebanon, events which served as a guide in the
investigation he headed into the attack which left four paratroopers
wounded on Tuesday. The explosive device was planted in a very
vulnerable area from the IDF's standpoint -- a gated area that lies
between the older border fence and the newly constructed security fence.
These pocket enclaves (of which there are similar ones throughout the
frontier area) were created as a result of engineering considerations,
and they helped those who perpetrated the act to escape without a trace.
A terror signal from Damascus
When the paratroopers' patrol reached the area
in question, they spotted a suspicious figure inside the enclave. The
soldiers initially thought it was a shepherd, and they tried to shoo him
away from the area. They left their jeeps, taking the bait. The moment
they set foot on the eastern side of the fence, inside the enclave, the
explosive device was detonated.
Arab language media sources claimed that it
was a kidnap attempt, but an investigation ruled out this possibility
since no additional enemy forces were spotted in the vicinity. The IDF
also noticed that the explosive device had "Lebanese" hallmarks, and
similar ones were used by Hezbollah in the past. That doesn't mean
Hezbollah was linked to this particular incident. Indeed, there are
plenty of elements in Syria with enough know-how to prepare these kinds
of explosives. Besides, Hezbollah operatives were taught to prepare
these kinds of explosives by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are
also in Syria.
Still, the immediate Israeli impulse on
Tuesday was to blame Hezbollah. The Lebanese Shiite group did declare
its intention to strike at the IDF in late February, when foreign media
outlets reported that Israel destroyed a convoy carrying weapons from
Syria to Lebanon. Israeli officials viewed this incident as a direct
continuation of the bomb which was detonated near an IDF patrol along
the Lebanese border earlier this month. At the time, Israel accused
Hezbollah. The IDF even attacked a number of the organization's outposts
in the Har Dov region in hopes of restoring deterrence.
On Wednesday, the rhetoric toward Hezbollah
was slightly moderated. A senior official acknowledged that Israel
possessed no evidence linking Hezbollah to Tuesday's incident. Instead,
the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of Syria. The official
said it was "clear beyond all doubt" that the Assad regime was
responsible the attack, albeit indirectly.
The organization which carried out the
operation is a terrorist outfit funded by three officially sanctioned
security agencies in Damascus, one of which, the Homeland Security
Force, does "dirty work" and secret operations for the regime. One
indication that points directly to Damascus is the fact that this
attack, like those before it, occurred in an area that is completely
under the control of Assad's military. Other areas of the Golan on the
Syrian side of the border have long since fallen to rebel forces. Thus
far, no terrorist attacks against Israel have originated from these
This certainly doesn't provide Israel with
foolproof immunity from attack, as global jihadist elements will train
their sights on Israel once they dispense of their enemies inside Syria.
From Israel's standpoint, however, the attack shows that Syria is
officially "enabling and assisting" terrorist operations to be carried
out from its territory against Israel.
Avoiding a new front
A more in-depth analysis seems to highlight
the wider regional context in which these attacks have occurred. As we
mentioned before, there have been eight terrorist attacks along the
border with Lebanon and Syria since May 2013. One of them was a rocket
attack on the western Galilee perpetrated in August of last year by the
Abdallah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanese offshoot of the global jihadist
movement. Another rocket attack on the town of Margaliot last December
has yet to be attributed to a specific group.
The other six attacks could be clearly traced
to the Lebanese/Syrian desire to avenge Israeli actions. The rocket
attack on an IDF post on Mount Hermon in May 2013 took place immediately
after an IAF strike on Damascus. Another rocket strike on Mount Hermon
last month was carried out immediately after Israel was fingered for the
attack on the weapons convoy in Lebanon.
The device which was set off on Har Dov was
certainly a response by Hezbollah to that same attack, but the three
bombs that went off on the Golan Heights -- the first which was
detonated near an IDF jeep in the Al-Khader region in December 2013
following the targeted killing -- according to foreign reports -- of
senior Hezbollah operative Hassan Lakhis in Beirut; the second of which
was neutralized near the entrance to Quneitra earlier this month; and
the third which blew up this week and wounded four soldiers -- appear to
be an attempt to create a new balance of terror in the north.
In order to prevent this balance from taking
shape, Israel dispatched IAF jets to strike at targets near Quneitra.
The targets belonged to the three organizations responsible for planting
the explosive device -- the 90th Division, the Homeland Security Force,
and Military Defense, all of whom received messages indicating that
Israel was aware of their involvement as well as a warning against
committing future terrorist activities of this sort.
Most experts in Israel believe that the
message was received loud and clear in Syria, and that it would refrain
from intensifying matters on the border in the immediate future. On the
other hand, a number of officials believe that the Assad regime (with
the obvious encouragement of Iran) will not completely cease and desist
but rather will try to camouflage such actions in the future.
If the latter scenario comes to pass, Israel
will have to re-evaluate whether to intensify its response. In months
past Israel has made do with symbolic, light retaliatory action.
Initially, IDF officers claimed that the attacks on Israel were mere
"ricochets" from the civil war, and that the responses were aimed at
areas near Syrian army positions. The goal was to spur the Syrian
military to act in preventing rocket fire against Israel. But as the
attacks kept coming, the IDF began to directly strike Syrian targets. It
even began using precision-guided artillery and missile fire.
The IAF airstrike this week was yet another
escalation. While the IAF was said to be behind six attacks on convoys
of advanced arms destined for Hezbollah, Israel has never officially
acknowledged this. The last time that targets within Syria were attacked
from the air by Israel -- which officially claimed credit -- was in
October 2003, when it hit a terrorist training camp near Ain es Saheb.
The strike came in the wake of a deadly suicide bombing in Haifa which
claimed the lives of 19 Israelis. The order to carry out the Haifa
attack originated in the headquarters of a terrorist organization in
At the time, Syria did not end its involvement
in terrorism, and it is doubtful it will do so this time as well. There
is too much evidence to the contrary: While the mood in Damascus is not
rosy, it is certainly much better than it was months ago. In recent
months, forces loyal to Assad have made significant gains in the
fighting against the rebels, and they certainly have justification to
feel that, for the time being, the existential threat to the regime has
Another factor working in Assad's favor is the
bolstered international standing of its patron, Russia, combined with
the weakening of the United States, two developments that are certainly
welcomed by the Alawite regime. All that's left for the rebels are the
empty promises of the West, all while Iran and Hezbollah have recruited
thousands of their people in the campaign to boost the Syrian regime.
There are no signs of Syria's renewed appetite
for conflict on the Golan Heights. On the contrary, the immediate
reaction from Damascus following the IAF strike was to accuse Israel of
seeking to destabilize the region. Nonetheless, officials in Damascus
are not too eager to open up a direct front with Israel.
This aversion to conflict can also be found on
the southern side of the border as well. In the last three years,
Israel has maintained its policy of not being sucked into the vortex
raging in the north. Thus far, it has succeeded quite nicely,
particularly in light of the six attacks on the weapons convoys that
were attributed to Israel, according to foreign media reports. However,
in light of recent statements by the prime minister, the defense
minister and the army chief of staff, all of whom declared that the
policy of retaliation would continue, forecasts are quite disconcerting.
Israel is determined to continue acting
against Hezbollah's "increased capabilities," which means retaliating
immediately against any violation of its sovereignty. In light of this
week's events and the need to curtail the motivation of the enemy to
take revenge, the widely held working assumption is that quiet won't
last over time and that the IDF will once again be challenged to
Ya'alon brings calm
Just as the IDF is trying to cope with a
complex security situation in the north, it is also doing the same on
its borders with Gaza and Sinai. The Gaza Strip was quiet this week
after the exchange of blows that took place last week, while Sinai was
preoccupied with its internal affairs following the accidental death of a
top operative from Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, the local branch of global
Just like in Syria and Lebanon, Israel is
being forced to deal with a situation on the southern border that is
characterized by a breakdown in central authority and increasing doubt
as to whether it is possible to genuinely deter the other side. It was
against this backdrop that the press once again resurrected the proposal
by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to reoccupy the Strip.
This idea is not on the agenda, but in recent
days it was difficult to ignore the opinions heard by other ministers
and senior officials with the defense establishment who support harsher
measures by the IDF in response to the rocket fire from Gaza.
The man who has taken the lead in enacting the
retaliatory policy is Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. During the recent
events in the north, Ya'alon once again found himself in the middle of a
damaging verbal spat with the Obama administration. On the surface, it
seems the controversy has been put to rest following a telephone
conversation between Ya'alon and his American counterpart, Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Those who know what is taking place behind the
scenes are aware that it isn't just the Obama administration that is
having a hard time figuring out why it is so urgent for Ya'alon to lob
verbal shots at them. Officials in Jerusalem and the Kirya Defense
Ministry compound in Tel Aviv are also having trouble explaining
Ya'alon's insistence on rehashing the same criticisms.
Veteran Ya'alonologists say the explanation is
quite simple. The man is sincere and frank. His mouth is expressing
what is in his heart, and he says what's on his mind. There is a good
deal of truth to this. Nonetheless, a person who occupied the posts of
Military Intelligence chief and IDF chief of staff is expected to
display a bit more tact, all the more so during these crazy times in
which we live.
In light of the increasing uncertainty along
the border, Israel is liable to find itself at any given moment dragged
into a military confrontation that it doesn't want in the north --
either in Lebanon or Syria -- or in Gaza. In such a scenario, not only
will Israel need to coordinate its steps with Washington, but it will
also need a great deal of backing and legitimacy. Ya'alon knows this
full well, which is why it is reasonable to expect that from now on he
will seek to build bridges with the administration rather than burn
Fortunately for Ya'alon, the media attention
devoted to his sour ties with the Americans has considerably shrunk in
light of the latest developments in the Harpaz affair. The clichéd
phrase, "The IDF is monitoring the events," is appropriate when it comes
to this case, now more than ever. This time, senior officers are
worried they will be summoned for questioning by the police.
One individual well-versed in the details predicted this
week that "the investigation won't impact officers currently serving."
That means Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot is still a
leading candidate to replace Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz next
February. Soon, a new round of senior appointments is expected in the
IDF, chief among them will be new names who will head Military
Intelligence and the Northern Command. These key promotions will be made
in the shadow of the rising tensions and the new circumstances taking
root on the borders.