Military Affairs: Can Israel handle a multi-front war?

With fronts ripe for conflict to break out at any moment, the IDF’s ability to operate effectively on multiple fronts simultaneously is crucial for Israel to deal with the region’s unpredictability.

IDF tanks are seen along the Golan Heights border with Syria (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF tanks are seen along the Golan Heights border with Syria
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Wednesday night was a busy one for the Israel Defense Forces, striking Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip while almost simultaneously attacking Islamic State positions in southern Syria.
The strikes in Gaza came after an IDF officer was shot by sniper fire in an ambush near Kibbutz Kissufim. The officer, who was struck less than a week after an IDF soldier was killed by sniper fire in the same area, was evacuated in moderate condition by helicopter to Beersheba’s Soroka hospital.
The strikes against the Islamic State were in retaliation for two errant BM-21 Grad rockets fired by the Islamic State against regime troops landed in the Kinneret.
Tensions with Gaza have significantly risen, with hundreds of rockets and mortars being fired from the coastal enclave towards southern Israeli communities and the IDF striking over a hundred Hamas targets throughout the Strip.
On Thursday morning, Hamas’s military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, announced that it upped the readiness of its fighters in expectation of a possible full-blown war with Israel.
Israel for its part, is making “great strides” toward a broad military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told Kan radio.
But beyond the bold statements, neither side wants another deadly conflict.
Hamas, which itself is under intense public pressure due to the humanitarian situation in the coastal enclave, knows that it cannot militarily stand another conflict against the IDF.  The IDF itself knows that another military confrontation against Hamas and the various other terror groups in the Strip, despite it being more prepared than before, will not end with it being a clear victor.
And on top of Gaza, Israel is watching warily as Syrian President Bashar Assad retakes the Syrian Golan Heights from rebels and ISIS.
“We are managing tough fronts both in the south and in the north,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday at the Meitav base at Tel Hashomer, where the July 2018 recruitment of the Border Police and the Paratroopers Brigade was held.
In recent weeks the Syrian government forces backed by Russian airpower have been retaking large swathes of territory on the Syrian Golan Heights from rebel groups along the Israeli border.  Iranian advisors along with Shia militia and Hezbollah are said to be playing a minor role in the offensive.
The intense fighting has led to incoming rocket sirens wailing in Israel’s usually pastoral and serene north several times in recent weeks due to errant projectiles, drones or fighter planes crossing into Israeli airspace.
Just one day before the errant ISIS rockets, Israel used Patriot missiles to intercept a Sukhoi fighter jet, which mistakenly crossed into Israeli airspace and the day before that launched David’s Sling interceptor missiles for the first time against SS-21 Tochka tactical ballistic missiles.  Two Syrian drones have also been shot down by the IDF, with one falling south of the Kinneret after it flew some 10 km. into Israel before being intercepted by a Patriot missile.
Israel has experience in fighting in two arenas at the same time such as during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 where Hamas starting carrying out terror attacks in Gaza.
But 12 years later, Israel’s enemies have changed and their military capabilities increased tremendously with massive rocket and missile arsenals aimed at the Jewish State’s homefront.
“Israel is coping with threats on two major fronts. The IDF was built for and is able to operate on both simultaneously. That being said, it is important to differentiate between urgency and danger: The southern front is more urgent while the northern front is more dangerous,” former IDF Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin tweeted Thursday.
While the northern front is more dangerous due to the capabilities of Iran and Hezbollah being “many orders of magnitude greater than those of Hamas,” the southern front is what Yadlin believes will explode next, “even today.”
“In the South we are well on our way to the sequel for Operation Protective Edge. Hamas has tried to impose rules that allow it leeway in committing acts of terror against Israel and it has done that largely because it is aware that Israel would like to avoid a full-on confrontation. Only a behind the scenes political effort to broker a new understanding can prevent us from arriving at a wider conflict,” Yadlin tweeted.
While the most imminent threat for war is on the southern front, the risk of a military confrontation in the northern arena at the same time is not far fetched. But Israel also has to be ready for a third arena, with the possibility of an escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem as well.
And Israel blame Iran for feeding the fire on all three fronts.
During a speech given to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya at the start of January, IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told the crowd that “big, strong Iranian umbrella is hovering” over the fronts that pose threats to Israel’s security.
In the north, Jerusalem has repeatedly said it would not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence anywhere in Syria and has carried out hundreds of strikes to destroy Iranian positions or Hezbollah weapons convoys.
In the south, the Islamic Republic had increased its funding to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to the tune of $100 million in order to have more influence in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank Iranian backed terror cells planning attacks against Israeli citizens have been broken up by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Israeli officials have also accused Iran of growing involvement in funding terror groups such as Hamas to carry out attacks against the Jewish state. According to Netanyahu, Iran is engaged in terror against Israel “not only by assisting terrorist movements such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, but also in trying to organize terrorist activities inside Israel and against Israeli citizens.”
With fronts ripe for conflict to break out at any moment, the IDF’s ability to operate effectively on multiple fronts simultaneously is crucial for Israel to deal with the region’s unpredictable and explosive nature.