Analysis: A sign of what Israel could face

Security officials think rockets fired from Lebanon should serve as warning of what could happen if alternatives are not exhausted.

By
November 29, 2011 21:50
3 minute read.
Amatuer video of blast in Iran

Amatuer video of blast in Iran 311. (photo credit: Press TV)

 
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Israelis went to sleep Monday night to reports of a mysterious blast in the Iranian city of Isfahan, home to a key nuclear facility. Just a few hours later, they woke up to explosions in northern Israel caused by Katyusha rockets launched from Lebanon.

Coincidence? Most likely, although the possibility that Tehran asked Hezbollah to instruct a splinter Palestinian group to launch rockets to divert attention from its own troubles was considered within the IDF on Tuesday.

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The problem is that such explosions could lead to larger conflicts in a region as tightly wound as the Middle East, even if the sides involved don’t intend them to.

On the other hand, a scenario more carefully scrutinized was that Hezbollah decided to ease its tight grip over these groups and enable one of them to fire four rockets in order to send Israel a warning.

The last time rockets were fired from Lebanon was about two years ago. The Palestinian groups behind those attacks have not disappeared. What has changed is Hezbollah’s control over southern Lebanon and its strict refusal to allow these groups to operate against Israel.

If the rocket attacks are meant to be interpreted as a signal by Hezbollah, then Israel might need to be concerned.

On the one hand, the Islamists might be signaling that they have the ability to ignite Israel’s northern border at the behest of their Iranian or Syrian patrons, both of which are facing major challenges. On the other, it could be Hezbollah’s way of reminding Israel of its capabilities as it contemplates the transfer of advanced military equipment from Syria to Lebanon due to concern over the stability of President Bashar Assad’s regime.

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Hezbollah is believed to have already brought in some advanced systems – possibly Scud missiles – that it was storing in Syria, but it has more there and is concerned that they will be lost once Assad is toppled.

Israel also knows how to signal.

Its response to the rocket launches – artillery fire in the direction of the launch sites – was not meant to achieve an operational goal. Instead, it was intended to show Hezbollah that the days when Israel sat on its hands are over – that it is on high alert along the border with the ability to act immediately if and when needed.

Meanwhile, the cause and target of the explosion that hit Isfahan on Monday remain a mystery.

It is possible that things will stay that way – or that the explosion really wasn’t anything.

As Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor said Tuesday: Not everything is from a James Bond movie.

Either way, Iran is back in the headlines this week with two of Israel’s former spymasters making their first public comments since retiring earlier this year.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, former head of Military Intelligence, held a press conference on Tuesday to mark his appointment as head of a think tank in Tel Aviv, and ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan gave an exclusive interview to the Uvda (Fact) news program on Channel 2.

During their concurrent tenures, Dagan and Yadlin did not always see eye-to-eye and frequently clashed over budgets and operations.

Yadlin, for example, was not happy with Dagan’s success in securing multi-million-dollar budgets from consecutive Israeli governments at MI’s expense.

This week, however, they are completely coordinated, not only in their timing but also in their general message, which is that Israel has time before it needs to launch a military strike to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

The two disagree over the damage that would result from the war an Israeli strike would cause. Dagan dismissed Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s comment that fewer than 500 people would be killed here, and said that “there will be many more [dead].”

Both share the same concern that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak have already made up their minds to attack Iran. In closed briefings, Barak already speaks like there are no alternatives.

The ex-spymasters think there are, and the rockets fired from Lebanon on Tuesday should serve as a warning of what could happen if those alternatives are not first exhausted.

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