Security and Defense: A year of inquiries and threats

Under constant local and int'l investigation, the IDF finds itself in a serious dilemma as it prepares for future conflicts in Gaza, Lebanon and beyond.

Turkel Committee 311 (photo credit: GPO)
Turkel Committee 311
(photo credit: GPO)
For the IDF, the past year can be characterized not by standard military events –such as wars, small-scale operations or large training exercises – but by investigations.
The year began with the Goldstone report which was released last September accusing the IDF of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009. This threw the defense establishment into a defensive frenzy.
In May, navy commandos killed nine passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara and the IDF found itself facing the Eiland Committee, the Turkel Committee, a probe established by the UN Human Rights Council and another one set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Then in August, the IDF came under a police investigation after the“Galant Document” was leaked to the press.
Senior officers were questioned by police and even Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s wife Ronit had to undergo a polygraph to clear her name from involvement in the suspected forgery case.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak then established his own committee to investigate the IDF top brass and issue recommendations how to prevent such conduct from recurring in the future. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein subsequently nixed that idea, telling Barak he would have to wait for the police to complete their investigation so that there wouldn’t be any possibility of obstruction of justice.
The quantity and pace of the international and domestic investigations have cast a dark shadow over the IDF.
Under constant investigation and inspection by international organizations, it finds itself in a serious dilemma as it prepares for future conflicts in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, conflicts that will take place once again in an urban setting and if predictions are right could make the Goldstone report look like a walk in the park.
But investigations are not the only thing the IDF has to worry about. According to updated Military Intelligence assessments, the remainder of the year will look much like the first eight months. While the probability of war is considered low, it will be marked by the continued efforts by Israel’s enemies to obtain new and unprecedented military capabilities with the objective of reaching a new balance of power.
In private meetings, Ashkenazi calls what is happening “a war over the future character of the Middle East.” It is a war being fought between a radical axis led by Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas against a bloc of Sunni and more moderate countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan whose interests, possibly for the first time, are somewhat aligned with those of Israel.
AT THE forefront is Iran, which according to the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency is continuing to enrich uranium despite the recent international crackdown. According to the report, Iran has increased its supply of 20 percent enriched uranium to 22 kilograms compared with 5.7 kg. in May. It has also already produced 2,803 kg. of uranium enriched to less than 5% compared with 2,427 kg. in May.
The significance of the numbers is quite clear – Iran has obtained sufficient low-enriched uranium for three nuclear weapons. All it needs to do now is make the political decision to go to the breakout stage and enrich the uranium to higher military-grade levels, a process that could take anywhere from six-to-12 months.
MI’s current assessment of Iran’s nuclear strategy is that the country wants to first create a stockpile of lowenriched uranium – possibly enough for as many as five or six weapons – and then wait for the best opportunity to advance to the breakout state. When will that be? When Teheran feels that the world is weak and cannot do anything to stop it.
At the moment, Iran is feeling exactly the opposite.
However much it tries to deny it, the latest round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the follow- up sanctions passed in the US and the EU are having a real effect on its already failing economy.
While skeptical that sanctions will get the job done on their own, Ashkenazi and OC Intelligence Maj.- Gen. Amos Yadlin characterize the Iranian regime as radical but pragmatic.
What this means from their perspective is that tougher sanctions – particularly against the Iranian energy sector – alongside a credible military threat could get the regime to suspend its illicit nuclear program.
The demonstration of a credible military threat can be achieved simply by the US deploying a number of aircraft carriers, missile ships and Special Forces to the Gulf to conduct military maneuvers and then remain there.
Despite recent press reports that Israel is 50% of the way to attacking Iran, the current Israeli strategy is to cooperate with the international efforts to stop Teheran diplomatically.
If these efforts fail and Iran has still not gone to the breakout stage, Israel will then be able to justify an attack against its nuclear facilities.
This decision is not dependent just on the viability of the military option but on the effect such a move will have on the relationship with the US.
The big unknown is what understandings Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu possibly reached with President Barack Obama in their meeting at the White House in July.
There are three possible scenarios. One is that Obama assured Netanyahu that the US will deal with Iran – either diplomatically or militarily – if Israel makes peace with the PA. The second possibility is that Obama assured Netanyahu that if he reaches a peace deal with the PA, the US will not stand in Israel’s way if it decides to unilaterally attack Iran. The third possibility is that no understandings were reached and Netanyahu did not reach an agreement with Obama that linked the peace process with the Iranian uranium enrichment process.
BUT IRAN is not Israel’s only problem. While MI does not believe Hizbullah will initiate a new war any time soon, it is concerned with the possibility that the findings of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon – set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri – could destabilize the country and possibly violently spill over into Israel.
Recent press reports claim that the tribunal will find top Hizbullah officials responsible for Hariri’s assassination.
In response, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has publicly declared that if even one top Hizbullah operative is indicted, it could lead to the end of the national unity government and change the reality in Beirut.
What would happen next is unclear. Would Hizbullah clash with the March 14 alliance which is led by Hariri’s son Saad, the current prime minister, or would it turn its wrath against Israel to divert attention from its own crimes? Israel is “concerned and disturbed,” as one top IDF officer said this week. One possibility is that the tribunal will simply delay the publication of its findings until the situation in Lebanon has stabilized.
On the Palestinian front, the IDF is keeping a low profile but is concerned with the increase in shooting attacks in the West Bank. Ashkenazi visited the West Bank last week after the fatal shooting near Hebron and spoke of three different options: The talks succeed, they quickly collapse and fail or – what is deemed more probable – they have their ups and downs and are marked by some successes but mostly crises.
What will happen if the talks blow up is of most concern. The IDF has significantly boosted its military presence throughout the West Bank over the past week out of fear that Hamas or Islamic Jihad will carry our more shooting attacks or try to infiltrate a city inside the Green Line with ready-to-launch sleeper cells.
What is clear as 5770 comes to an end is that all of the above challenges and threats, as well as the different Israeli and international investigations, will roll over into 5771. How they will end though is a different story.