Russia’s intervention in Syria and close interaction with Hezbollah may actually decrease the likelihood of an Israel-Hezbollah conflict erupting in the near future, according to IDF assessments.
For example, dialogue between Russia and Hezbollah could provide an opportunity to rein in Hezbollah responses to reported Israeli air strikes on weapons-trafficking runs in Syria.
The assessments are part of a broader look at Israel’s strategic environment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking the survival of a pro-Moscow regime in Syria where he also has an economic interest. Moscow also wants to keep Islamic State away from the country’s 20 million Russian- Muslim citizens.
Meanwhile, the Syrian war rages on and more than one percent – 300,000 – of the country’s population has been killed in the conflict and more than 10 million people have been displaced.
Hezbollah, which is deeply involved in Syria, has lost 1,300 fighters and another 10,000 of its members have been injured. Hezbollah also faces economic problems due to delays in the transfer of around $100 million a year from Iran, which is 10% of the annual $1 billion Hezbollah budget from Tehran.
At least some of that hold up, according to IDF assessments, is due to a refusal by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to approve all IRGC budgets for Hezbollah because he wants some of that money for domestic spending.
Still, despite its costly intervention in Syria, Hezbollah continues to prioritize the deployment of its fighters to south Lebanon where 240 Shi’ite villages have been turned into rocket and military posts for targeting Israel in any potential conflict.
The IDF believes that the chances of Hezbollah initiating a war with Israel are low,but that the chances of a tactical incident in 2016 inadvertently turning into a bigger conflict remains significant. It expects Israel to be challenged by security incidents along its borders with Gaza, Sinai and Syria, even though Hamas, Hezbollah and even Islamic State-affiliated forces remain highly deterred by Israel at this time, perceiving it as a powerful and unpredictable state.
Meanwhile, the military believes Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, is approaching a key junction next month when elections for its parliament and Assembly of Experts will put to the test US President Barack Obama’s theory that Iran will change by the time the nuclear deal expires in 10 to 15 years.
There is no question among military analysts that the West could have gotten a better deal with Iran over its nuclear program since the regime is anxious about its future stability and economy. Nevertheless, according to the assessments, Iran has scaled back its nuclear program to some degree without any conflict, and the IDF views this as a tangible achievement.
As the February elections loom, an unprecedented number of candidates – 12,000 – have put their names forward, of which 40 percent were approved by the authorities. Of those, however, a mere 30 are from Rouhani’s reformist camp, which has led to open protests by the Iranian president.
These events could result in domestic Iranian instability if the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, does not intervene.
And, while Iran is about to enjoy the fruits of sanctions relief, it will still take several years for the Islamic Republic to rebuild its economy, industries and infrastructure, during which time Iran’s destructive regional influence will continue, the military holds.
Iran is seeking to infiltrate the West Bank, and it encourages Hamas to attack Israel, content for Sunni blood, rather than Shi’ite, to be spilled in the war on Israel. Most importantly, Iran continues to build up Hezbollah’s monstrous offensive capabilities.
Regionally, the military has identified four nation-states that will remain intact in a Middle East where the state model is collapsing all around: Israel, Turkey, Iran and Egypt. All other states face varying degrees of dangers of semi or full collapse.
In the West Bank, lone attackers continue to launch knife and car-ramming attacks on Israels, that are devoid of any involvement by terror organizations or states.
Although the attackers are acting on the same idea – to target Jews and Israel – it is not believed the situation has reached the level of an intifada since the Tanzim armed militia has not sent its gunmen out to carry out mass shootings and there have been no incidents of large-scale rioting.
This is, in no small part, due to the dependence of more than 100,000 Palestinians on Israel for their livelihoods, the IDF say, viewing economic restraining factors as key in preventing further deterioration.
Looking ahead to the day after PA President Mahmoud Abbas leaves power, it is more likely that a group, rather than one leader, will try to take over, according projections. The military’s central concern is that Hamas does not rise to power in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, on Hamas’s home turf of Gaza, the military wing continues to be in conflict with the political wing, while a new, proactive Saudi Arabia is competing with Iran for influence over the terrorist organization.
Hamas’s military wing is loyal to Iran, which funds it with tens of millions of dollars per year and passes on military doctrines, but Hamas’s political wing, headed by Khaled Mashaal, would like to shift toward Saudi Arabia.
To keep up with dramatic, fastpaced changes in the region, the military is placing new emphasis on moving into social media and messaging services has recruited technological officers to assist in intelligence gathering.