Why didn’t Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah attack Israel yesterday or today in the midst of the chaos that has subsumed the country?
Is it more likely now – following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday night – that one of these or other enemies will escalate with attacks on the Jewish state, hitting the country while it is down and distracted?
The multipart answer is, probably. They already have, they probably will again, but they will carefully limit the nature of the escalation.
Most defense experts concur that the firing of Gallant was an extremely dangerous move. Gallant himself talked about Iran being closer than ever to a nuclear weapon; about the Palestinian arenas in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem all igniting one another; and about new levels of friction with Hezbollah.
He has spent recent months getting up to date and building a full team at the ministry to maximize the IDF’s power in the short and long terms.
Not having a defense minister, or having a brand new defense minister who is less qualified than Gallant, would mean that the most crucial national security post after prime minister and IDF chief is empty.
Preparing for major conflict
It would also mean that whoever fills the post will not be ready for a major conflict at least for the coming month, which could be a major disadvantage in procuring weaponry for the IDF mid-conflict, as well as in maintaining key backing from the US and others.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin just visited Israel, primarily to meet with Gallant. He may not visit again for another year or two, meaning the next defense minister will not have anywhere near the same connection.
This shakeup could slow Israeli efforts and request to speed up delivery of the KC-46 refueling aircraft, which Israel wants for a potential future strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
This is all theoretical – the question of if something bad will happen. But there have likely already been some negative impacts given the public messages about IDF reservists striking.
Let’s start with Hezbollah, which has already tried to probe Israel’s readiness by sending an operative to explode a bomb deep inside Israel at Megiddo junction in the North.
Security officials on high alert
THIS WAS unprecedented and, for at least for a few days, led top security officials to jump to alarm. There was a sense that the rules of how dangerous Hezbollah might try to be vis-à-vis Jerusalem might have changed.
Not much has happened since then. Uncharacteristically, the government and the IDF have largely buried the story (the government even tried to delay the story’s leaking), especially any talk of a tough Israeli response.
This means there was talk of a response at the time of Israel’s choosing, but other than that there has been none. In the great game of using force to send messages, Israel has taken a sizable hit without responding. Why?
Partly because there was no follow-up from Hezbollah, and if this was a one-off attack, then Israel has no interest in escalating further.
Moreover, if the Megiddo attack is the only or most extreme Hezbollah test of Israel, then the perspective suddenly flips from an initial, “Wow, that was a big deal” to, “Actually, that was pretty meaningless in the broader picture.”
There have been several terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank in recent weeks. All signs point to Hamas and other groups paying attention and being ready to test Israel.
Except that once more, these attacks, including a third attack in Huwara within a short period, were at most, measured escalations. Some of them may not even have been organized terrorism as much as the ongoing general friction that dates back a year, long before Netanyahu retook power.
In Iran, the ayatollahs have not launched any ballistic missiles at Israel, but all public evidence is that they continue to try to test the Jewish state. Sometimes, this is with ongoing smuggling of advanced weapons to Syria, which Israel continues to bomb in its “war between wars.” Sometimes this is by being the 70% financiers of Hamas and other Gaza terrorist groups, and the nearly 100% financiers of Hezbollah.
So why have none of Israel’s enemies launched a major new offensive; something that would tear up Jerusalem’s sense of stability?
Because even with rumors about IDF reservists striking, and even with an empty or new, inexperienced defense minister, they know that the IDF is multiple levels more powerful than they are. If they miscalculate, and the IDF is still ready, they could lose years of work rebuilding and rearming in a matter of days.
This also means that they are more likely to continue narrowly targeted probes of the IDF’s capabilities and responses, as opposed to any sudden leap to escalate.
Alternatively, Gallant’s firing might have set off a greater readiness to attack more aggressively, and we may just be in the gap period between the planning of a new offensive and it being carried out.