In 2021, the IDF saw action on six fronts

MILITARY AFFAIRS: Despite tensions with Iran, a rise in violence in the West Bank and simmering tensions with Hamas in Gaza, the IDF is optimistic for 2022.

 SOLDIERS RECEIVE a briefing from a commander during an IDF exercise. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
SOLDIERS RECEIVE a briefing from a commander during an IDF exercise.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

It’s been a busy year for the Israeli military, with thousands of operational sorties by the Israel Air Force, thousands of targets struck on multiple fronts, tens of special operations, and hundreds of drills.

The IDF has been active on six fronts in six different dimensions throughout the year, and despite May’s 11-day conflict with Hamas and fighting ongoing terrorism in the West Bank, the military views the past year as a success.

It carried out operations almost every day in the Middle East over the past year, and Israel’s continued “war between the wars” campaign has led to a decrease in weapons smuggling by Iran into Syria, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi has said.

“The increase in the scope of operations over the past year has led to a significant disruption of all smuggling routes into various arenas by our enemies,” he told reporters on Sunday ahead of the New Year.

To put it in perspective, the IAF conducted dozens of airstrikes on targets in Syria with hundreds of bombs, an increase from the number of operations in 2020 and nearly twice as many as in 2019.

 A Firefighter douses flames after Syrian state media reported an alleged Israeli missile attack in a container storage area, at Syrian port of Latakia, Syria (credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A Firefighter douses flames after Syrian state media reported an alleged Israeli missile attack in a container storage area, at Syrian port of Latakia, Syria (credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Not only have the strikes in Syria destroyed an immeasurable amount of advanced and strategic weaponry, but Iran’s air, land, and sea corridors didn’t function for 70% of 2021, due to operations carried out as part of the “war between the wars” campaign.

DESPITE THE work to prevent advanced weaponry from getting into the hands of its enemies, the IDF warned that the main threats to Israel remain the rocket arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran’s nuclear program and potential nuclear weapon, and infiltration forces like Hezbollah’s Radwan Unit.

With a boost of funds and positive results from its ongoing “war between the wars” campaign, the Israeli military will continue to work to curb Iran’s nuclear program and regional hostility.

With one military officer likening the campaign to a game of cat and mouse, he said that Israel would prefer to be the cat and be on the offensive.

And as hopes fade regarding ongoing diplomatic talks aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program, Israel’s military has continued to accelerate its preparations for a potential strike on the country’s nuclear facilities.

It is believed that should Iran decide to move forward with building a nuclear bomb, it could reach that goal within two years. According to estimates, Iran has significantly improved its air-defense array and its arsenal of long-range missiles and would make any strike against nuclear facilities complicated.

Military officials have stood behind comments made by the incoming Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Tomer Bar who said that Israel could successfully strike Iran’s nuclear program tomorrow, if needed.

When asked in an interview with Yediot Aharonot whether Israel could successfully destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, Bar, who currently heads the Force Design Directorate, said that “there is no way that we will operate there, one thousand kilometers from here, and I will return home without being able to say ‘I completed the mission.’”

Officials confirmed that should the time come and the political echelon give the order, the IDF has the ability to strike. But, they said, Israel must be prepared for a large-scale retaliation that would come directly from Iran as well as through its proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah.

The decision to attack Iran isn’t black-and-white and depends on a number of factors, most critically being if the IDF believes that it will actually destroy or set back the program. The military currently has the ability to bomb the Natanz enrichment site, but striking the Fordow site would be far more difficult without powerful bunker-buster bombs, as it is buried deep underground.

The military is concerned that such strikes, if ordered now, would likely have only a limited effect.

But even a limited strike would cause Iran to retaliate ferociously, including directly from its territory with ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, as well as by its proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza, and perhaps even the Houthis in Yemen.

Thousands of missiles including, precision-guided missiles targeting strategic assets and military bases, would rain down on Israel from all fronts.

Israel has to be ready for that.

To prepare for such a scenario, the IDF has increased its intelligence-gathering for future operations, is procuring additional weaponry, and updating operational plans for all fronts.

It has also increased training exercises over the past year, updated its target banks, increased intelligence-gathering capabilities, and though the amount of precision weapons it has is 10 times the number it had on the eve of the Second Lebanon War, the IDF is continuing to procure a large amount of precision and special munition.

In his talk with military correspondents, Kohavi said that “the IDF’s force building program has progressed significantly, and in the past year at an accelerated pace. At the center of this force buildup are significant improvement in the scope of our target bank and intelligence gathering, completion of deals for a significant increase in munitions and Iron Dome aerial defense interceptors, and the promotion of the defense program.”

The defense establishment has also signed several large contracts to expand and strengthen Israel’s air-defense array, and is pushing forward with its laser air-defense system as well.

In addition, “the IDF’s maneuvering capability has been significantly improved on the basis of its ability to transfer quality intelligence to various units, increasing the scope of munitions, completing measures and manpower for the regular service maneuvering system and the deployment of fire support operators and strike units at the various levels,” Kohavi said.

The NIS 58 billion defense budget set for the IDF in the coming year is expected to allow the military to focus on the threats posed by Iran across the region, with some NIS 3.5b. designated specifically for this.

IN TERMS of the Palestinian arena, despite a significant jump in violent terrorist attacks in the West Bank, the number of civilians killed there in attacks remains low, with only two killed in the past year. Another Israeli civilian was killed in a terrorist attack in November in the Old City of Jerusalem.

According to data released by the military, over the past year, there have been 5,532 incidents of rocks being thrown, 1,022 Molotov cocktails thrown, 61 shooting attacks, and 18 stabbing attacks.

On the other hand, there has also been an increase in nationalist attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians. Many times, IDF soldiers were filmed standing by as Palestinians were attacked.

The military said that the ongoing security coordination with the Palestinian Authority continues to be close, and that PA Security Forces are succeeding in regaining control over hot spots such as the Jenin refugee camp.

But, at the same time, the number of Palestinians illegally entering Israel through holes in the security barrier is viewed as a significant problem and led the IDF to establish two additional Border Police companies to help bring the phenomenon to an end.

Regarding the Gaza Strip, data released by the IDF show that it’s been the longest and most significant period of operational quiet in relation to the four most recent operations against Hamas.

In the six months following the operation, only five long-range rockets were fired from the Hamas-run coastal enclave toward Israel. In comparison, 22 rockets were fired following Protective Edge in 2014, 196 rockets were fired following Cast Lead in 2009, and 76 were fired following Pillar of Defense in 2012.

The military says that the quiet along its southern front is a mix of Israel’s civilian policy toward Gaza and Egyptian mediation with Hamas.

The IDF also believes that while there are enough internal reasons to launch attacks from the Strip, the change in policy regarding retaliation for incendiary balloons and rockets has also deterred the terrorist groups in the Strip from launching additional attacks on Israel.

But, there have also been incendiary balloons launched, and on Wednesday a man was lightly wounded after he was shot in the foot by a Gazan sniper while carrying out maintenance work along the Gaza border fence.

IDF tanks retaliated with artillery shells, wounding three Palestinians.

In addition to what the military says are stronger retaliatory strikes against Hamas and PIJ targets, Israel has also increased the number of permits given to Gazans to work in Israel, with about 10,000 workers and merchants leaving the Strip on a daily basis to make a living in Israel.

The Israeli military has also completed building its 65-kilometer upgraded barrier with the Gaza Strip, three years and over a dozen rounds of violent conflict after work began. The military says that due in part to the technology on the fence, the IDF was able to thwart many surprise attacks planned by Hamas and PIJ, including cross-border attacks using tunnels during the fighting in May.

IT MIGHT look like stormy seas ahead for 2022, but the IDF is confident that the coming year will continue to see a positive future for Israel’s security, with the majority of the country’s enemies deterred from initiating a large-scale war with the Jewish state.

Intelligence and operational cooperation along with joint exercises with foreign and regional countries are also helping Israel’s security and are of great significance, the military believes.

A year after the signing of the Abraham Accords, which led to normalization with several Arab countries, the potential for cooperation and the building of significant military manpower is already evident, and has provided Israel with a greater ability to operate in the region and more regional legitimacy.

So with 2021 having been a busy year for the IDF, it looks like 2022 might be just as busy.