Israel’s four ‘hot borders’

The IDF has to be alert to threats from Gaza, Sinai, Syria and Lebanon

Map of Israel521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Map of Israel521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a recent briefing, IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned that “for the first time in dozens of years, Israel has four borders threatened by terrorist breaching.” He was referring, of course, to the active Gaza and Sinai borders in the South and the Lebanese and Golan borders in the North.
Hamas has presented a constant threat of rocket and terror attacks along the Gaza border for years and Hezbollah has repeatedly struck at Israel from Lebanon since it emerged in the early 1980s. The Golan and Sinai borders, however, had been fairly quiet over recent decades, until the turmoil of the Arab Spring suddenly rendered them extremely unstable.
As chaos has reigned in Cairo and brutal civil war has torn Syria apart, radical Islamist militias have moved into the security vacuums created in both Sinai and the Golan Heights, giving Israel’s security establishment new headaches to deal with. Hamas and al-Qaida elements are operating in Sinai, while al-Qaida and other Sunni militias have now driven the Syrian army from the Golan border area and begun firing into Israel.
So how serious are these new threats? And what is Israel doing to meet them? “We definitely see a deterioration in the capacity of our neighbors to control their side of the borders,” assessed Prof.
Efraim Inbar of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. “They are consumed with domestic disputes and have little energies to wage war with us. But it is true that radical groups with high motivations are now moving into these border areas.”
“So we see greater low-intensity challenges from Gaza, Sinai, Lebanon and now the Syrian border is warming up,” Inbar told The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. “As long as they are not state supported, we can manage.
But if they get state sponsorship, as we’ve seen from Iran’s backing of Hezbollah and Hamas, then the threat is amplified.”
In this regard, Kochavi noted in his recent security briefing that “for the first time in many years the four main [regional] powers – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt – are controlled by religious leadership... The State of Israel is considered by them as unacceptable.”
In the South, the terror and rocket threat from Gaza and Sinai has been growing for some time now, and has worsened in Sinai as Egypt has descended into chaos due to the Tahrir Square uprising.
“Egypt not only has lost control of Sinai but the new Islamic regime in Cairo has lost some of its motivation to make sure the peace treaty is kept and there are no attacks on Israel,” said Inbar. “I think they actually enjoy the fact that sometimes the terror groups are bleeding Israel a little.”
Cross-border terror raids, kidnapping attempts and rocket barrages have all been launched from Sinai in recent years. The spent shells of mediumrange Grad rockets fired from Sinai have been found near several southern Negev communities, including as far away as Mitzpe Ramon. A Salafist group also brazenly fired rockets into Israel from Gaza during US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Jerusalem.
According to a recent UN report, an array of lethal weaponry from Libya has also found its way to jihadist militias on the Gaza/Sinai front, including portable air defense systems, explosives, mines, and small arms and ammunition.
To meet this growing security challenge on the southern front, Israel has pressed ahead with developing and deploying the Iron Dome missile interception system, which performed so brilliantly in last November’s Operation Pillar of Defense – intercepting 85 percent of the rockets headed for populated towns.
In addition, the newly completed 260- km. security fence along the Sinai border has quickly stemmed the flood of African migrants into Israel and presented a serious impediment to terrorist infiltrations. Built in record time, the barrier includes a five-meter steel link fence backed by a simple barbed-wire fence, a sand road for tracking, a parallel patrol road, and communications centers, monitoring cameras and state-of-the art radar.
The IDF also has created the special Rimon commando unit to patrol the southern border, which includes units of female combat soldiers that have seen action against Arab militiamen who targeted work crews constructing the fence.
The successful border fence will now be duplicated on the Golan frontier with Syria, with completion expected by mid-summer, and then later on the country’s eastern frontier with Jordan.
Speaking to his new cabinet last month about the mounting threat in the North, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel needs to construct a border fence on the Golan because “the Syrian army has moved away, and in its place global jihad elements have moved in.”
Indeed, in recent weeks, the Syrian government withdrew several thousand of its best troops from the Golan Heights to defend the regime’s tenuous hold in Damascus. Rebel groups have moved into the vacuum, and both Jerusalem and Washington fear that jihadists will use the area as a staging ground for attacks on Israeli targets.
“The last thing anyone wants to see is al-Qaida gaining a foothold in southern Syria next to Israel. That is a doomsday scenario,” one US diplomat told The Washington Post.
Alarmingly, Syria has become the new breeding ground for jihadist fighters, with thousands of foreign “holy warriors” joining the fight to topple President Bashar Assad. The Free Syrian Army commands about 50,000 fighters, but they are outnumbered by an estimated 70,000 radical Islamists spread among several al-Qaida affiliates and Saudi-backed Salafist militias. Some analysts even expect the moderates and extremists to wage a separate internal battle for power in Syria after Assad is ousted.
Jihadist forces in southern Syria have already begun spraying gunfire and artillery shells towards IDF patrols in the Golan, with Israel responding each time.
The armory of weapons now available to these radical militias includes those captured from Syrian troops, arms shipments funded by Arab Gulf states, as well as Libyan munitions smuggled into the country. There are fears they may even possess advanced anti-aircraft missiles which could be used to target Israeli military and commercial planes.
But Israel’s biggest fear is that some of Syria’s deadly stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of either Hezbollah or the rebel Islamist militias. (In line with those fears, UN officials have now launched an investigation into claims by numerous sources that chemical agents have been used in the Syrian civil war, most likely by Assad loyalists.) To prevent this from happening, international reports indicate that Israel recently carried out air strikes on a convoy of chemical warheads being moved from an army base in Syria towards the Lebanon border.
Launched with a green light from Washington, the air raid was reportedly meant to send a signal to Damascus and Hezbollah not to cross an Israeli “red line.”
Amid the jihadist takeover of southern Syria, the UN observer force deployed along the demilitarized Golan border zone for the past 40 years looks to be in serious jeopardy of collapsing.
The UNDOP has recently lost troops from Croatia, Canada and Japan, and Austria is considering a pull-out, which would leave only 600 peacekeepers from India and the Philippines, putting the mission at risk.
With the Golan border an active front once more, Israeli leaders are scrambling to erect the security fence and considering the urgent deployment of Iron Dome batteries in the North.
They are also hoping Jordan and the West Bank do not fall prey to the political upheavals rocking the rest of the Arab world, lest jihadist elements get greater footholds there too and heat up the rest of Israel’s borders. •