Analysis: Israel’s deterrence needs a boost

Rule applies to Hamas in Gaza as well as the LAF.

Israel Lebanon clash (photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel Lebanon clash
(photo credit: Associated Press)
On Friday, a Grad-model Katyusha rocket, fired from the Gaza Strip, landed in Ashkelon. On Monday, six Katyusha rockets, fired from Egypt, landed in Eilat and Aqaba, and on Tuesday, clashes on the Israeli-Lebanese border left a senior IDF commander dead.
The rapid sequence of events and their timing left some defense officials wondering Tuesday whether the three attacks on the nation’s borders were somehow linked and possibly connected to the pressure Iran is currently under with the new round of international sanctions.
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What is more likely, though, is that Israel’s deterrence is eroding and needs to be bolstered to prevent similar attacks in the future. This rule applies to Hamas in Gaza – behind the rocket attack on Friday and possibly the Katyusha fire on Monday from Egypt – as well as the Lebanese Armed Forces, which attacked the IDF on Tuesday.
The attack on Israeli troops near Misgav Am did not come as a surprise for the army’s Northern Command. In 2009, LAF soldiers pointed their guns at IDF troops on five occasions, mostly after the Israelis crossed into enclaves that are Israeli but sit between the border fence and the Blue Line. Since the beginning of 2010, the number of times the LAF has pointed its guns at Israeli troops has climbed significantly and the Lebanese soldiers now cock their weapons as well.
The IDF has also noticed a radical shift within the LAF top command, which has increased its anti-Israel rhetoric. When this is the spirit of the top command, it is not surprising that mid-level officers, like the company commander who is positioned opposite Misgav Am, ordered his troops to open fire at the IDF on Tuesday.
The LAF today is more than 60 percent Shi’ite. Many of the soldiers openly cooperate with Hizbullah, assisting the terrorist group in hiding its activities and arms caches in southern Lebanon from UNIFIL.
For this reason, Israel is hesitant to transfer intelligence information on Hizbullah positions to UNIFIL, since the peacekeepers need to coordinate their operations with the LAF, which then leaks the information to Hizbullah.
On the other hand, the LAF likely did not expect the situation to escalate so quickly. Tuesday’s first shots were fired from within a group of LAF and UNIFIL soldiers, surrounded by cameramen and journalists. The idea, intelligence analysts in Israel believe, was for the LAF to flex its muscles, to get a picture in the paper of its troops shooting at the Israelis and to create an appearance that it is a serious player in the region.
Where is Hizbullah?
In the meantime it is watching and making sure to stay uninvolved. In his speech on Tuesday night, Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah did what he was expected to do and praised the LAF. But Military Intelligence believes that Nasrallah will remain restrained, as he has been in the four years since the Second Lebanon War.
Hizbullah today, with all of its tens of thousands of rockets, is too important to the Iranians to be wasted on a new war with Israel that has no real purpose. It is needed to serve as an Iranian threat for what Israel will face if it decides to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
How Israel should respond to the Lebanese aggression was hotly debated in the top levels of the IDF. Some officers pushed for restraint; others believed Israel needed to be more aggressive and since it already knows where all of the LAF positions are in southern Lebanon, perhaps it should have attacked more of them and not just one.
The response chosen was meant to achieve two objectives – to be disproportionate, in the sense that it would cause the LAF severe damage that would deter it from future attacks, but at the same time to not be so disproportionate that it would lead to a larger conflict.
The second objective, judging by the quiet that prevailed along the border by nightfall, seemed to have been met. It will take time to know if the first objective was achieved.