Tensions are rising between Israel and its northern borders

Israel is seeing some tensions growing with Hezbollah and Iran in Syria as Iran continues to plot against Israel.

 IRAN’S PRESIDENT Ebrahim Raisi meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tehran, earlier this month.  (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL WEBSITE / REUTERS)
IRAN’S PRESIDENT Ebrahim Raisi meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tehran, earlier this month.

On Thursday morning, an error in identification caused Israeli air defenses to launch interceptors in the North. Alarms were heard in several communities. Analysts believed a drone flown by Hezbollah might have been the culprit, but it all turned out to be a false alarm and apparently a mistake.

Two days before, however, Hezbollah had indeed launched a drone and Israel had to down the threat.

The context is that Israel is seeing some tensions growing with Hezbollah and Iran in Syria. These two issues are related because Iran is a growing threat to Israel and continues to plot against Israel. This week Defense Minister Benny Gantz flew to the US to meet with American officials. His trip came as the new head of US Central Command flew to Israel to meet with Israeli counterparts.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi met with US Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, and according to the IDF the two participated in important meetings and briefings. This included a meeting attended by the head of the Strategic Planning and Cooperation Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Tal Kelman, the head of the Intelligence Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, and the head of the Operations Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Oded Basiuk.

“The meetings discussed the joint challenges of the IDF and the US Armed Forces, first and foremost being the Iranian nuclear threat and Iranian regional entrenchment throughout the Middle East. The senior officials also discussed operational cooperation between the two militaries and opportunities for expansion in light of the IDF’s realignment to the US CENTCOM area of responsibility,” the IDF said.

 Defense Minister Benny Gantz meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, May 19, 2022.  (credit: SHMULIK ALMANI) Defense Minister Benny Gantz meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, May 19, 2022. (credit: SHMULIK ALMANI)

Kurilla also observed the large-scale ongoing drill called Chariots of Fire. This is the largest drill in decades, reports have said. It comes as Israel is rolling out new technology related to a program called Edge of Tomorrow. All of this looks tailored to the rising threats that stretch from Lebanon to Syria via Iraq to Iran.

This is a “large-scale exercise, which is focused on a month-long campaign, and demonstrates updated operational plans, adjusted military capabilities, new combat methods, including practicing operational cooperation with the US Armed Forces,” the IDF said.

Kohavi said  that “at the conclusion of the exercise, the Israel Defense Forces’ readiness for a campaign will be at its peak.” He highlighted the importance of close cooperation with the US.

The Kurilla visit is actually the second high-level CENTCOM visit in the last weeks. Two weeks ago Maj.-Gen. Scott Benedict, director of strategy, plans and policy of the United States Central Command, visited Israel.

“The meetings incorporated discussions regarding common challenges of the two militaries in the Middle East. Also discussed were the operational and intelligence cooperation between the two militaries,” the IDF said.

Gantz said this week that “Iranian proxies are attacking oil reserves, airports and civilian facilities. Iran itself is conducting attacks via its Quds Force. It is developing operational systems throughout the region, equipped with accurate capabilities including cruise missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and UAVs, capable of reaching thousands of kilometers. The quantity of strategic weapons in the hands of Iranian proxies has increased significantly in the last year: in Iraq there are hundreds of weapons, in Yemen the number has also increased, and the Houthis hold dozens of weapons.”

He discussed an attempt by Iran to fly drones from Iran over Iraq toward Israel. The drones were downed, but he revealed they had parachutes attached that might have been for the purpose of delivering weapons to terrorist organizations in Gaza or in the West Bank.

“The mission failed, and the UAVs were intercepted in Iraq.”

Reports previously had said the US intercepted the drones. Gantz also noted that “in Syria, too, attempts continue to be made to transfer and produce accurate weapons. Israel will continue to thwart these efforts and face any threat to its citizens and the region.”

What this tells us is that CENTCOM cooperation with Israel is key. Gantz is in Washington to discuss cooperation.

Meanwhile, Syria is heating up as well. Reports in foreign media said there were airstrikes in Syria on May 13 that struck a site near Masyaf. Subsequent reports showed images, published by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International, of a site allegedly struck by Israel on Friday, which show its complete destruction. Reports said that for the first time an S-300 was fired at the jets involved in the attack. It was not clear whether it was a Syrian or Russian S-300. Russia had supplied Syria with S-300s after a 2018 incident in which Syria used S-200s to target Israeli warplanes and ended up shooting down a Russian plane by mistake.

The issue here that is important is that the field in Syria may become more complex. If Russia is giving the Syrian regime hints that it should use S-300s, that could affect policy. On the other hand it could be a one-time event.

The context of the Central Command visits and Gantz going to Washington seem to indicate that more is going on. The Iranian regime has an economic crisis and is facing protests at home. In Iraq there is failure to form a government, and anti-Israel incitement has led to a new proposed law that would punish those backing normalization with Israel. The Syrian regime is also seeking to weigh what might happen in the wake of recent elections in Lebanon. Hezbollah is also concerned now that it might be losing influence in Lebanon.

All of this is a toxic mix because countries and terrorist groups know that the world is focused on Ukraine. It could be that Iran and its proxies are seeking to raise tensions with Israel. This could come amid a more complex battlefield in Syria, as well as increased Israel-Central Command cooperation.

One piece of the puzzle that still lacks clarity is whether Israel will increase its work with the naval component of Central Command, known as Navcent.

A recent briefing by V.-Adm. Brad Cooper discussed how Navcent wants to focus on the Red Sea and how it wants to use more unmanned surface vessels. Israel is an expert at unmanned systems, such as drones, and the technology that drives them.

Cooperation concerning the Red Sea would be good for Israel, amid rising threats from the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. Israel has done a drill with the US, Bahrain and UAE in the past. It would be a good time for Israel to begin more work with Navcent.