Analysis: Fighting for deterrence

Regional turmoil hits Israel's southern, northern borders.

Israeli soldiers on Gaza border 370 (photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
Israeli soldiers on Gaza border 370
(photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
Defense chiefs have long suspected that this moment would come, when regional turmoil would directly affect the southern and northern borders simultaneously.
In the North, despite several warnings to the Assad regime in Syria, mortar shells fired by the Syrian army continued to fall in the Golan Heights. Just as the Syrian civil war has spilled into Turkey in the past, its mortars were now knocking on Israel’s northern door, and the IDF decided that the time had come to send an unmistakable signal to Damascus.
The firing of an advanced guided missile at a Syrian military artillery battery is historic – it’s the first time IDF ground forces have fired on the Syrian army in 39 years. The decision was the result of months of deliberations in the IDF and its Northern Command.
Soldiers on the Golan Heights have been hearing the exchanges of fire between rebels and the Syrian army for many months, and by the summer, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and planners in the Northern Command had already formulated a plan of action to deal with an escalation.
According to the plan, Israel would begin with verbal warnings to Syria; those have already been passed on through the UN repeatedly, and had no effect, as the Syrian mortars kept on exploding in Israel.
Phase two involves the firing of a warning shot. An ordinary artillery shell fired back into Syria would not do.
In a display of hi-tech firepower, the IDF launched an expensive guided missile called Tapuz, in order to send the message that although this was a only warning, future Syrian transgressions would be met with more punishing replies.
The ball is now in Assad’s court. To the extent that he maintains control over his forces, Israel’s warning may prompt him to order his army to be more careful when it fights rebels near the Israeli border.
An unlikely possibility also exists; that Assad may use the incident as an excuse to enter into a confrontation with Israel. With his forces so heavily involved in the civil war against Syrian rebels, gaining a new enemy on the battleground seems a most foolish option, but it cannot be discounted altogether, for desperate dictators may take desperate steps.
The IDF cannot discount the danger of an escalation on the Syrian border, and would presumably have all of the required armored vehicles, infantry, and artillery forces in place to ensure that Israel is prepared for any development.
Meanwhile, in the south, the IDF is being forced into a confrontation with Gazan terror organizations. These are feeling especially brazen in light of the Islamist ascendancy in Egypt. As a result, Israeli deterrence is currently at rock bottom, and the terrorists are firing rockets at will into southern Israel.
As regional turmoil continues, new and old threats will seek to exploit the chaos to attack Israel. The IDF is on guard for developments on multiple fronts, while seeking to rebuild its deterrence.