In defense simulation, Hezbollah border attack doesn’t lead to war

A cross-border Hezbollah terrorist attack targeting the IDF wouldn’t lead to a largescale conflict, a simulation held recently by military and strategic experts found.

IDF troops on Lebanon border [file] (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF troops on Lebanon border [file]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A cross-border Hezbollah terrorist attack targeting the IDF did not lead to a large-scale conflict, a simulation held recently by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) found.
The simulation included researchers who played the roles of Hezbollah, Israel, US, the Iranian-led radical Middle East axis, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, the US, and Russia. External advisers who are experts in regional security and strategy joined the players.
“The lack of will by all parties to get dragged into an escalation was a central aspect of this simulation,” Gabi Siboni, head of the Program on Military and Strategic Affairs, said in a report published by the Tel Aviv-based institute this week.
“Every side tried to contain the incident and limit it to a short exchange of blows. The Islamic State’s challenge acted as a moderating influence, as did the weakening of the Shi’ite axis in the region,” he added.
The exercise began with a Hezbollah attempt to realize threats to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel in the Har Dov and Golan Heights regions on the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
The players simulated two simultaneous attacks by Hezbollah, in which terrorists set off bombs and fired an antitank missile at an IDF patrol.
The attacks “killed” two IDF soldiers, injured two more, and resulted in one soldier missing in action.
The team playing Israel responded by striking three Hezbollah targets in the Bekaa Valley and a fourth target in Syria the following day. Hezbollah countered by firing an anti-tank missile at IDF positions, and short-range rockets at Nahariya, Safed, and Kiryat Shmona, failing to cause injuries.
In the simulation, Israel’s opening position was defined by the goals of “preventing an escalation and strengthening Israeli deterrence. Since there is an inbuilt tension between these two goals – strengthening deterrence could lead to an escalation through conflict – a number of alternatives were examined,” Siboni said.
These included the “quiet will be met with quiet” formula, aimed at containment.
The second alternative placed pressure on the international community with a call to reign in Hezbollah and get it to stop provoking Israel. The third involved a firm military response that hurt Hezbollah but did not obligate it to carry out a massive response.
“The Israeli side chose a combined approach: It attacked Hezbollah’s long-range and strategic projectiles, turned to the international community, announced that ‘quiet will be met with quiet,’ and demanded the return of its missing soldier,” Siboni said.
Hezbollah’s opening position was based on the goal of creating an improved level of mutual deterrence, from its perspective. In the game, it sought to avoid an escalation, and interpreted Israel’s response as a signal that Jerusalem shared the goal.
As a result, Hezbollah limited its response to firing on a military base and open areas.
It also announced that it is considering the transfer of the kidnapped Israeli soldier to the custody of the Lebanese government.
The team playing the US found that their top priority was to battle Islamic State due to the danger it poses to regional stability, and sought to refrain from diverting resources to another conflict.
It saw Iran as a state that can aid in the war on Islamic State, and in nuclear talks.
The US chose to decline direct involvement, and merely monitored the situation.
The radical bloc led by Iran and Syria looked at events from same point of view.
“Neither state wanted an additional deterioration that could entangle them,” said the report. Both tried to moderate Hezbollah’s response, turned to the US with a request to reign in Israel, but both declared they would stand alongside Hezbollah if the situation deteriorates further.
Hamas saw the crisis as an opportunity to support Hezbollah and renew ties with Iran, thereby weakening the rival Palestinian Authority.
The PA, for its part, worried that the clash would divert international attention away from the Palestinian issue and block the PA’s diplomatic momentum. It worked to prevent pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in the West Bank, fearing they would result in an escalation between the PA and Israel.
The team playing Russia stayed on the sidelines due to a severe economic crisis at home, refrained from provocative moves, and was concerned about the prospect of Israeli involvement in Syria that could threaten Russian interests.
“The simulation gives the impression, perhaps the illusion, that the development of events is under control...
the opposite is true,” Siboni warned at the end of the report. “There is no guarantee that the sides won’t be dragged into a round of violence they do not seek, and that the clash will not spread, due to a mistaken reading by each side of the considerations and maneuvers of the other.”