For the IDF, the past year can be characterized not by standard military events
–such as wars, small-scale operations or large training exercises – but by
The year began with the Goldstone report which was
released last September accusing the IDF of war crimes and crimes against
humanity during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009. This threw the
defense establishment into a defensive frenzy.
In May, navy commandos
killed nine passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara
and the IDF found itself facing
the Eiland Committee, the Turkel Committee, a probe established by the UN Human
Rights Council and another one set up by UN Secretary-General Ban
Then in August, the IDF came under a police investigation after
the“Galant Document” was leaked to the press.
Senior officers were
questioned by police and even Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s
wife Ronit had to undergo a polygraph to clear her name from involvement in the
suspected forgery case.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak then established his
own committee to investigate the IDF top brass and issue recommendations how to
prevent such conduct from recurring in the future. Attorney General Yehuda
Weinstein subsequently nixed that idea, telling Barak he would have to wait for
the police to complete their investigation so that there wouldn’t be any
possibility of obstruction of justice.
The quantity and pace of the
international and domestic investigations have cast a dark shadow over the
Under constant investigation and inspection by international
organizations, it finds itself in a serious dilemma as it prepares for future
conflicts in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, conflicts that will take place
once again in an urban setting and if predictions are right could make the
Goldstone report look like a walk in the park.
But investigations are not
the only thing the IDF has to worry about. According to updated Military
Intelligence assessments, the remainder of the year will look much like the
first eight months. While the probability of war is considered low, it will be
marked by the continued efforts by Israel’s enemies to obtain new and
unprecedented military capabilities with the objective of reaching a new balance
In private meetings, Ashkenazi calls what is happening “a war
over the future character of the Middle East.” It is a war being fought between
a radical axis led by Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas against a bloc of Sunni
and more moderate countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan whose
interests, possibly for the first time, are somewhat aligned with those of
AT THE forefront is Iran, which according to the latest report by
the International Atomic Energy Agency is continuing to enrich uranium despite
the recent international crackdown. According to the report, Iran has increased
its supply of 20 percent enriched uranium to 22 kilograms compared with 5.7 kg.
in May. It has also already produced 2,803 kg. of uranium enriched to less than
5% compared with 2,427 kg. in May.
The significance of the numbers is
quite clear – Iran has obtained sufficient low-enriched uranium for three
nuclear weapons. All it needs to do now is make the political decision to go to
the breakout stage and enrich the uranium to higher military-grade levels, a
process that could take anywhere from six-to-12 months.
assessment of Iran’s nuclear strategy is that the country wants to first create
a stockpile of lowenriched uranium – possibly enough for as many as five or six
weapons – and then wait for the best opportunity to advance to the breakout
state. When will that be? When Teheran feels that the world is weak and cannot
do anything to stop it.
At the moment, Iran is feeling exactly the
However much it tries to deny it, the latest round of sanctions
imposed by the UN Security Council and the follow- up sanctions passed in the US
and the EU are having a real effect on its already failing economy.
skeptical that sanctions will get the job done on their own, Ashkenazi and OC
Intelligence Maj.- Gen. Amos Yadlin characterize the Iranian regime as radical
What this means from their perspective is that tougher
sanctions – particularly against the Iranian energy sector – alongside a
credible military threat could get the regime to suspend its illicit nuclear
The demonstration of a credible military threat can be achieved
simply by the US deploying a number of aircraft carriers, missile ships and
Special Forces to the Gulf to conduct military maneuvers and then remain
Despite recent press reports that Israel is 50% of the way to
attacking Iran, the current Israeli strategy is to cooperate with the
international efforts to stop Teheran diplomatically.
If these efforts
fail and Iran has still not gone to the breakout stage, Israel will then be able
to justify an attack against its nuclear facilities.
This decision is not
dependent just on the viability of the military option but on the effect such a
move will have on the relationship with the US.
The big unknown is what
understandings Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu possibly reached with President
Barack Obama in their meeting at the White House in July.
There are three
possible scenarios. One is that Obama assured Netanyahu that the US will deal
with Iran – either diplomatically or militarily – if Israel makes peace with the
PA. The second possibility is that Obama assured Netanyahu that if he reaches a
peace deal with the PA, the US will not stand in Israel’s way if it decides to
unilaterally attack Iran. The third possibility is that no understandings were
reached and Netanyahu did not reach an agreement with Obama that linked the
peace process with the Iranian uranium enrichment process.
BUT IRAN is
not Israel’s only problem. While MI does not believe Hizbullah will initiate a
new war any time soon, it is concerned with the possibility that the findings of
the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon – set up to investigate the 2005
assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri – could destabilize the
country and possibly violently spill over into Israel.
reports claim that the tribunal will find top Hizbullah officials responsible
for Hariri’s assassination.
In response, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has
publicly declared that if even one top Hizbullah operative is indicted, it could
lead to the end of the national unity government and change the reality in
What would happen next is unclear. Would Hizbullah clash with the
March 14 alliance which is led by Hariri’s son Saad, the current prime minister,
or would it turn its wrath against Israel to divert attention from its own
crimes? Israel is “concerned and disturbed,” as one top IDF officer said this
week. One possibility is that the tribunal will simply delay the publication of
its findings until the situation in Lebanon has stabilized.
Palestinian front, the IDF is keeping a low profile but is concerned with the
increase in shooting attacks in the West Bank. Ashkenazi visited the West Bank
last week after the fatal shooting near Hebron and spoke of three different
options: The talks succeed, they quickly collapse and fail or – what is deemed
more probable – they have their ups and downs and are marked by some successes
but mostly crises.
What will happen if the talks blow up is of most
concern. The IDF has significantly boosted its military presence throughout the
West Bank over the past week out of fear that Hamas or Islamic Jihad will carry
our more shooting attacks or try to infiltrate a city inside the Green Line with
ready-to-launch sleeper cells.
What is clear as 5770 comes to an end is
that all of the above challenges and threats, as well as the different Israeli
and international investigations, will roll over into 5771. How they will end
though is a different story.