IDF chief to Iran: 'We're watching'; to Israel: 'We're ready' - analysis

Kohavi used the IDF hit on an Iranian convoy as an illustration of the IDF's ability to adapt to new situations and shape reality on the fronts.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at a graduation ceremony of naval officers at the Haifa naval base in March (photo credit: FLASH90)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi at a graduation ceremony of naval officers at the Haifa naval base in March
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Tucked into the middle of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi's 50-minute speech Wednesday on the IDF's challenges and capabilities was an admission that the IDF hit an Iranian convoy on the Syrian-Iraqi border in November.

"We could've been unaware of the Syrian convoy moving from Iraq to Syria a few weeks ago," Kohavi said. "We could've been unaware of what it was carrying, and out of 25 trucks in the convoy, number eight was carrying military equipment. That is where we need to send pilots to attack, hit, and return."

These words, understandably, attracted all the media attention and made headlines. 

What was interesting, however, was that they were said almost in passing, as an aside. It is not as if Kohavi stood up and, early on in his address, said: "In November, the IDF hit an Iranian convoy trying to smuggle arms to Hezbollah." Instead, he used this as an illustration of the IDFs ability to adapt to new situations, shape reality on the fronts where it operates, and integrate tremendous intelligence capacity with operational capabilities.

This was, in fact, the second illustration he used. The first was how during Israel's operation in Gaza in May 2021, Operation Guardian of the Walls, the IDF knew precisely when and where to hit 18 Hamas fighters moving north in an underground tunnel for an attack in Israel.

 IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi speaks during a ceremony on the second night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, at the Nativ program on the Kiryat Moriah campus in Jerusalem, November 29, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi speaks during a ceremony on the second night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, at the Nativ program on the Kiryat Moriah campus in Jerusalem, November 29, 2021 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The IDF was able to neutralize them by knowing exactly how long the tunnel was and how deep it was, having the ordinance that would explode precisely at the depth of the tunnel and having skilled pilots able to ensure that the bombs fell exactly where they needed to fall, and not somewhere else. What is required is impeccable intelligence, the right equipment, and skill. 

The same precision operation was needed to ensure that the exact truck carrying the munitions from Iran to Hezbollah -- truck number 8 out of a convoy of 25  -- was the one hit. It was necessary to know what was in the truck, when and where the convoy would move, and then have the wherewithal and the capabilities to precisely attack it.  

None of that is a given, Kohavi stressed.

But beyond its use for illustrative purposes, the story -- and revelation of how much detail Israel had -- sent a clear message to the Iranians. Even if Israel never claimed responsibility, Iran knew who acted against them. They, too, have intelligence. They may not have known, however, the degree of resolution in the Israeli intelligence picture. This is something that Kohavi shed some light upon on Wednesday.

What were the messages?

Why Wednesday? First the mundane reason: he happened to have a public speech that day planned at the Reichman University In Herzliya. Second, to send a signal to Iran, Hezbollah and Lebanon that Israel knows exactly what they are doing, and will act if necessary. 

Why send that message now? Because of reports that Iran is using Beirut's airport to smuggle in weaponry via Iran's civilian Meraj airline, which recently began direct flights from Tehran to Beirut.  If Israel can pick out the eighth truck in a long convoy and destroy it because of the arms inside, it can take action against planes smuggling arms, even if they land at Beirut International Airport.

There was another message in Kohavi's address as well, which was to the Israeli public. Don't lose heart; the security situation in Judea and Samaria is difficult, but keep things in proportion, the situation on all of Israel's fronts, including in the West Bank, could and has been much worse.

Kohavi, whose stint as chief of staff is to end on January 17, said that if the situation in Gaza remains quiet, then by April, this will be the quietest two years in the south in the last decade and a half. He recalled that just two years ago Israel was dealing with near-daily mass demonstrations on the Gaza fence, inflammable balloons setting fields in the south alight, and rockets fired at Sderot almost every Friday.

That situation, he said, has ended. It ended because of the success of Operation Guardian of the Walls, which significantly degraded Hamas' military assets, including their underground tunnels. An enormous gap was created between Israel's achievement in downgrading Hamas's capabilities, and any lack of achievements Hamas could show from that war.

Hamas' strategy has changed

As a result, Hamas' strategy has changed, something evident in the fact that the organization did not respond to the Flag march in Jerusalem earlier this year, did not respond when Israel arrested Islamic Jihad senior officials and responded forcefully to that group’s rocket fire from Gaza following those arrests, and did not respond when the IDF killed Hamas members during nightly operations in the West Bank.

The use of force over the last seven years in Syria has also thwarted Iran's dream of having thousands of precision-guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon, tens of thousands of militiamen, and a new Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, Kohavi said. 

"As a result of this, and other actions against Iran, the deterrence of Iran has increased significantly, he said, "most of it done covertly, but not all of it, and this is through the uses of force only."

His point: military might can shape reality on the ground. And though there are other ways to shape reality, other tools -- diplomatic and economic -- have limited impact in dealing with Hamas and Iran. The force used needs to match the theater of operation. And one of the army's strengths, he said, is an ability to change and adopt tactics -- using cutting-edge technology -- to the different fronts. 

In the middle of his address, Kohavi quoted from a book written by one of his predecessors as chief of staff, Motta Gur, who recorded a number to horrendous terror attacks that began in May 1974 with the attack Ma'alot and culminated two years later with the Entebbe raid. He then quoted from a recent book by another predecessor, Yitzchak Mordechai, who wrote that from Mach 1969 to August 1970, 507 IDF soldiers were killed during the War of Attrition, and over 3,000 were wounded.

His point: keep today's security situation in perspective. Things have been a lot worse, and they could be a lot worse, and they are not a lot worse because of the IDF's ability to adapt to the changing realities on the ground and, with skilled manpower and state-of-the-art technology, remain ahead of the curve.