The coming year is shaping up to be tough for the Israeli military, on a front that has seen relative quiet in the past few years, along with the foes that constantly threaten Israel’s borders.
It’s usually the Gaza Strip that concerns Israelis, as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad can fire thousands of rockets at the home front during any conflict with the IDF. This past summer’s last bout of violence saw over a thousand rockets launched in less than a week of fighting.
But this time, the military’s main focus is on the West Bank.
There were 34 shooting attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem in the past month alone. That’s more than once a day. The data marked a 47% increase from the 23 shooting attacks in August and a 126% increase from the 15 in July.
According to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), there were a total of 212 attacks compared to 172 in August, a rise of 23%. Meanwhile, July saw 113 attacks, and June had a total of 147 attacks.
The majority of attacks were Molotov cocktails – a total of 139, compared to 135 in August and only 75 in July. In addition, there were 53 pipe bombs, compared to 39 in August and 27 in the previous month. September also saw four stabbing attacks, compared to only one in September.
There were also four assaults and four vehicular ramming attacks.
September was also deadly, with 14 Israelis wounded and two killed.
In one violent attack, four soldiers were wounded in an attack on a bus traveling the Jordan Valley on September 4. Not only was the bus fired upon, but the attackers tried to set it on fire. Instead, the car that the attackers were traveling in caught fire, leading to two of the three involved being badly burned. They were arrested by security forces, but the third, the father of one of the suspects, escaped into Jenin, where he was seen surrounded by gunmen in the beginning of August.
Jenin and Nablus have become hot spots during the latest round of violence in the West Bank. Dozens of attacks have taken place in and around the city, and numerous terrorists involved in deadly attacks have come from the city or surrounding villages.
On September 15, 30-year-old Maj. Bar Falah from the Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion was killed after two Palestinian terrorists opened fire on him and his force near Jenin. A week later, on September 21, 84-year-old Shulamit Rachel Ovadiah was killed only 50 m. from her home in Holon after she was beaten by a 28-year-old Palestinian who was legally in Israel.
The suspect, Mousa Sarsour, was later found hanging in an abandoned building on central Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, 15 Israelis were wounded during the attacks in August, both civilians and troops. There were no fatalities
The IDF began Operation Break the Wave in April in an attempt to rein in the violence and terrorist attacks originating in Palestinian cities and towns across the West Bank, with a focus on the northern part and in the cities of Nablus and Jenin.
The increase of troop deployment to the area (a record 24 battalions) and the increased incursions into the cities and their crowded refugee camps have made it easy for militant groups like the Lion’s Den as well as lone Palestinian gunmen with no affiliations to target troops, sometimes by a massive amount of gunfire.
The military and political echelon have vowed to continue the operation for as long as necessary, with whatever means necessary. But while the raids by the IDF, Shin Bet and Israel Police are essential to stopping ticking bombs from exploding, they raise another worrisome issue.
The more the IDF enters deep into the casbahs, the more resistance it faces. And when there is heavy gunfire leveled at troops, as well as explosive devices hurled at them, the forces as well as snipers return fire. Over 100 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year in these clashes – the majority since Operation Break the Wave began.
And while there have been discussions about a more wide-ranging operation similar to Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, it seems unlikely that the military will embark on such an offensive before the November 1 elections, if at all.
Defensive Shield was the largest military operation in the West Bank since 1967, and it aimed to stop the terrorist attacks plaguing Israel by regaining control of the West Bank, in particular the cities in Area A.
The heaviest fighting was in the cities of Jenin and Nablus. Twenty years later, the heaviest fighting remains in those two cities, where the IDF and Palestinian Authority Security Forces turned a blind eye to the growing militarism over the past decade.
Israel’s defense establishment needs to find a solution to the violence in the West Bank, and to once again restore relative quiet to the area.
IT’S NOT only the West Bank and the Palestinian gunmen that concern the IDF. The northern border with Hezbollah and Iran’s involvement there remain a top priority. Despite a possible deal with Lebanon regarding the maritime border between it and Israel, the tension in the north can be cut with a knife.
A senior political official recently said that Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah was playing with fire with his threats against the Karish gas rig, and that he certainly has the ability to interfere with the agreement.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned on Thursday that “whether a deal is signed or not, we are prepared to protect our infrastructure and our sovereignty. If Hezbollah harms it, then he [Nasrallah] and Lebanon will pay a very high price.”
Gantz on Thursday held a situational assessment along with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Defense Ministry Director-General Maj.-Gen.(ret.) Amir Eshel and Operations Directorate head Maj.-Gen. Oded Basiuk.
Following the assessment, Gantz instructed the defense establishment “to prepare for any scenario in which tensions increase in the northern arena – including defensive and offensive readiness,” his office said.
While the border itself is quiet, Hezbollah continues to entrench itself deep in the villages and towns of south Lebanon, with missiles and other arms aimed at the Israeli home front stored in almost every second home.
In addition to Nasrallah’s ongoing rhetoric, the group’s operatives continue to prevent – sometimes violently, through its Radwan Unit operatives – the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon from doing its job and patrolling south Lebanon. The group has also called back many of its operatives from Syria to reinforce its troops in south Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s Green Without Borders continues to grow, with new caravans and outposts popping up all along the border, including next to UNIFIL posts.
While the IDF says that it remains on alert for any hostile action by the group, Nasrallah is extremely calculating and is unlikely to begin a war that he knows would absolutely devastate Lebanon.
The land of the cedars has been experiencing a catastrophic economic disaster in recent years, and as much as Hezbollah is a terrorist group, it has a large political role in the country. Plunging the country into a war is not something that would bring the group much support from the population, which can barely afford to put food on the table.
Lebanon’s economic meltdown has not ignored the country’s armed forces, which have received strong support from the United States, including advanced weaponry and training.
Soldiers in the Lebanese Armed Forces used to receive the equivalent of some $1,000 per month, but since 2019 the salary of soldiers plummeted to a meager $30 per month.
And it’s not only the salaries that have taken a hit. The LAF has been finding it hard to feed its soldiers, with a June report by the Middle East Institute saying that the military had adopted a vegetarian diet because it couldn’t afford to buy meat. Families of soldiers, who are finding it hard to afford food to place on their tables, have taken on the role of feeding soldiers, the report said.
If the LAF can’t feed its soldiers, the LAF can’t fight a war.
And while Lebanon’s military is going hungry, Iran continues to feed its proxy Hezbollah with billions of dollars each year.
Hezbollah operatives will be the ones on the front lines against Israel. And it is those same Hezbollah operatives, who have spent years gaining battlefield experience in Syria, that Israel has to worry about.
Israel has been conducting its “war between the wars” campaign for close to a decade in an attempt to thwart the smuggling of advanced weaponry from Tehran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The targets of the campaign, hit almost weekly in recent months, are sometimes strategic weapons that Israel does not want to be in the hands of Hezbollah. Nevertheless, Iran continues to send weapons to Syria, as well as officers with training and knowledge.
While the Iranians might be known for their patience, Israelis are known for their stubbornness. And Israel won’t give up – not when it threatens the country’s existence.
Former Operations Directorate commander Brig.-Gen. Yaron Finkelman said Tuesday during his change of command ceremony that the people of Israel can’t even imagine what the military does, day in, day out, to protect the country.
“The IDF operates all the time, on all fronts, in all dimensions,” he said. “And we do it with creativity, determination and courage. Many of the operations are hidden from view and exceed – and it’s not an exaggeration – anyone’s imagination. It’s good that the people of Israel don’t know what’s been done, but it’s a bit of a shame.”
Finkelman, who was replaced by Brig.-Gen. Shlomi Binder, was not exaggerating. The threats to the country have increased throughout the years, and will very likely only continue to escalate as the years go on. The military must remain on high alert, to thwart all threats, on all fronts, if it wants to continue to put off the next war.