Security Matters: Between North and South
The IDF is on standby as the regional upheaval threatens to reach Israel’s borders.
Irone Dome missile defense system near Beersheba Photo: Reuters
So far, the geostrategic storm raging around Israel’s borders has barely
scratched the surface of our “villa in the jungle,” as Defense Minister Ehud
Barak once famously described Israel.
Nevertheless, the fire of
instability continues to burn beyond the northern and southern borders, and the
IDF is quietly reconfiguring itself to ensure that it is ready for the new
security environment taking shape around us.
One year and nine months
into the new post-Arab “Spring” (or winter) of the Middle East, a number of
patterns can already be discerned.
Security challenges are currently
growing out of two general geographic zones: the Lebanese-Syrian realm to the
north and the Gaza-Sinai area to the south.
Of these, it is the northern
arena – until now the quieter of the two – which poses the more serious
strategic threat and carries the greater potential for a significant
In Lebanon, the Shi’ite Iranian proxy Hezbollah, the most
powerful military presence in Lebanon, armed with some 60,000 rockets and a
well-trained force of guerrilla fighters, is feeling the heat of the Arab
Hezbollah is suffering from waning popularity among Sunni Arab
populations in the Arab world, due to its support of the Assad regime’s war
crimes in Syria.
The Lebanese terror organization is due to lose its
Syrian ally when Assad falls. The collapse of the Assad regime means an end to
the invaluable arms and logistical supply bridge connecting Iran to Lebanon, and
a potentially fatal blow to the Tehran-Damascus-(south) Beirut
Inside Lebanon, Hezbollah is facing a growing chorus of calls by
Sunni politicians and religious figures (who are emboldened by events in Syria)
to give up its menacing arsenal – a demand Hezbollah has no intention of
The more he is squeezed into a corner by a rising Sunni
tide, the more tempting it may be for Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to create
a provocation with Israel, a move defense sources in Israel suggest would carry
a very heavy price tag for Hezbollah.
Israel has closely studied the
painful operational shortcomings of the Second Lebanon War and has
systematically been preparing its ground forces and air force for a far more
devastating reply to Hezbollah, if the need were to arise.
It is believed
that Israel will refuse to overlook any challenge to its sovereignty emanating
A firm Israeli response to a Hezbollah provocation could
lead to more attacks on Israeli targets, and defense planners must therefore
take into account the likelihood that a small incident on the northern border
could quickly lead to a conflagration.
“The quiet is deceitful,” said one
defense source this week.
Needless to say, any potential strike on Iran’s
nuclear sites would also very likely set off a confrontation with
Similarly, the IDF’s Northern Command is committed to a policy
of zero tolerance to challenges to Israeli sovereignty from
Syria’s regular armed forces are fully engrossed in the bloody
civil war with the rebels and are in no position to think about Israel. But as
Syrian sovereignty disintegrates, a myriad of jihadi organizations are moving
into the country and they may soon set their sights on the Israeli border. For
that challenge, too, the Northern Command must be on standby.
the IDF’s Southern Command is dealing with a challenging, yet less explosive
Unlike the situation on the northern borders, Israel
and terror organizations in Gaza are able to deescalate rounds of escalation as
quickly as they begin.
Every few months on average since Operation Cast
Lead in 2009, Israel has found itself dealing with increased rocket fire on
southern cities, towns, and rural areas. The rocket fire by Hamas, Islamic
Jihad, or and smaller groups in Gaza exacted relatively painful pinpointed
Israeli responses in the form of airstrikes on Gazan terror targets.
soon as Israel signals it is prepared to escalate the responses and begin
targeting more valuable assets in Gaza, the terror organizations begin winding
down the rocket fire, using Egypt as a mediator to arrange ceasefires with
Hence, the IDF’s Southern Command has an open channel of
communication with Egyptian security chiefs through which a de-escalation
mechanism exists, allowing Israel more room to maneuver itself through
The Iron Dome rocket defense system has proven to be an
overwhelming success as a protective layer over southern cities, granting
decision-makers even more time to think about their next move during escalations
The growing jihadi base in the Sinai Peninsula is, however, a
major complicating factor in the southern arena. Exploiting Egypt’s lack of
sovereignty in the vast desert province, several jihadi groups, as well as Hamas
and Islamic Jihad, have built terror infrastructures in Sinai, through which
they seek to target Israel .
A potential turning point that could
mitigate this developing threat came earlier this month. A team of jihadi
terrorists, influenced by al-Qaida’s ideology, declared war on Egypt and killed
15 Egyptian security personnel on the border with Israel in a brazen attack,
which was stopped by Israel just as the attackers were making their way with
large quantities of explosives over the border into Israel.
It remains to
be seen whether Egypt, now under firm Islamist civilian political rule, is able
to translate its new understanding that Sinai terrorists are a threat to Cairo
as much as they are to Jerusalem, into tangible results. Israel will watch
closely to see if Egypt is successful in shutting down the Sinai terror
A larger question that looms on the distant horizon is whether the
Egyptian Islamist president, Mohamed Morsy, will seek to one day transform the
secular, US-dependent Egyptian army into an Islamist fighting force. For the time
being, such a goal is blocked by the Egyptian army’s dependence on America’s
$1.3 billion annual military aid package. Without this assistance, the Egyptian
army would be a shadow of its current self.
Morsy will likely first tend
to Egypt’s crisis-hit economy, while seeking to gradually Islamicize Egyptian
society and state institutions.
As events develop rapidly across the
northern and southern borders, it is perhaps worthwhile to take a moment to
appreciate Israel’s longest and most stable international frontier, the border
One must hope that the regional earthquake does not
undermine the pillars of the Hashemite Kingdom – the last of Israel’s secular,