Is Israel ignoring the biggest strategic threat it faces? - comment

Several estimations indicate that Iran-backed Hezbollah has managed to accumulate a few hundred mid to long range accurate missiles by now.

Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah includes $800 million in annual financial support, the supply of 130,000 rockets and missiles (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's sponsorship of Hezbollah includes $800 million in annual financial support, the supply of 130,000 rockets and missiles
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel is using the last days of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in office to intensify its attacks on Iranian operatives situated in Syria, according to local Syrian reports. Alongside the justified fear of President-elect Joe Biden's intention to re-establish a nuclear agreement with Iran, some see the situation as an opportunity to clear the remaining Iranian operatives from Syria in a packaged deal. But the main strategic threat facing Israel is not located in Syria, but in Lebanon, and as it stands, Israel is avoiding dealing with it. 
The frequent attacks attributed to Israel in Syria have managed to disrupt Iran's land and air supply lines to Hezbollah, but they haven't stopped Hezbollah's efforts to establish an independent capability of producing and manufacturing accurate missiles on Lebanese territory. In the summer of 2019 suicide drones destroyed a component that was meant to be used for producing rocket fuel in Beirut. Since then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed on two different occasions in the UN the sites where Hezbollah is attempting to produce missiles. Last year a mysterious fire broke out in another Hezbollah site, but even that has not weakened the organization. 
Several estimations indicate that the organization has managed to accumulate a few hundred mid to long range accurate missiles by now. It seems that the organization does not yet have complete manufacturing capabilities of such missiles but it continues its efforts of converting "dumb" missiles into accurate ones through kits produced in Iran that are installed on top of the warhead and provide it with navigation capabilities. These technological kits can be smuggled in a suitcase, even in a handbag, and the estimates are that Lebanon is currently housing several sites where accurate missiles are being manufactured. 
Israel's reluctance to openly attack these sites is understandable. In 2012 a deterrence equation was put in place, according to which Hezbollah will respond over any Israeli attack on Lebanese territory. Such an exchange of blows can quickly lead to an all-out confrontation, even if both sides are really not interested in one.
Should we expose our cities to dozens of inaccurate rocket attacks that will sow havoc and lead to many casualties just to destroy a few hundred accurate missiles? The easy and convenient answer is that the threat is not that bad yet, and that our defense mechanisms can be improved to deal with such an attack. No one is interested in living through a third Lebanon War. The question is when it should start concerning us. When there are 1,000 accurate missiles in Lebanon? 2,000? 10,000? 
In the past, the IDF defined the threat of accurate missiles from Lebanon as a strategic threat on Israel. When Hezbollah is able to make it rain missiles on the Kirya in Tel Aviv - not somewhere around it, between Kaplan Street and King Shaul Avenue, but exactly on the IDF's headquarters located at the heart of the base - that would be a capability that can shut down complete strategic arrays crucial to Israel. But this kind of definition has not yet been translated into an operative plan that would halt Hezbollah's accurate missiles project.
Just like the boiling frog fable that tells the story of a frog slowly boiling in a pot of water, we too tell ourselves that the water is pretty warm but are still reasonably pleasant and jumping out can wait. The IDF prides itself on its accurate intelligence of Lebanon, so one can assume that it knows exactly what the water temperature is at any giving point. Today, as we near the boiling point, we must define and explicitly determine the temperature that we will no longer be able to tolerate. 
This fable is not an attempt to reduce the complexity of the dilemma or to present it as superficial. Traditionally, Israel has avoided going to war in order to prevent the empowerment of its enemies, or as the late Meir Dagan put it: "We wage war only when the sword is already placed on our neck and starts drawing blood." This is especially true when discussing a war on the northern front, which has the potential to put the Israeli society through a painful experience that it hasn't gone through since the war of independence. But there are points when the threat becomes intolerable.  
In the years that followed the retreat from southern Lebanon, the IDF watched as Hezbollah was hastening its efforts to arm itself and told itself that "the rockets will rust in warehouses." But then, in 2006, those non-rusty missiles dropped on us in the thousands, and took us by surprise. Hezbollah then owned about 14,000 rockets. Today it has about 70,000 rockets and missiles (for some reason, many believe wrong numbers like 120,000 or 150,000 missiles. That is not the case.) 
The human tendency of decision-makers is to kick away such a difficult dilemma and to let it role down the street, hoping that someone else will be forced to bend down and pick it up. But in light of everything that is happening in Lebanon, a different, responsible leadership - political and military-wise - will be required to define our red line that will force us to take action in the upcoming year.  
The Syrian Block
It will take a few long months before the new American administration will be free to deal with the problems in the Middle East, but in Israel the estimations are that Biden's people have already begun establishing a dialogue with Iran. Alongside the justified concern of returning to the terrible nuclear agreement signed by President Obama with Iran, Israel needs to identify the opportunities that arise in such a move. By working together with the new administration, and not against it, it is possible reach an improved agreement with Iran.
Iran has collapsed - economically, socially and medically - and has not true alternative than entering a new agreement. We shouldn't be impressed or worried by the defying actions being taken by Iran like enriching uranium on larger scopes and establishing a factory for manufacturing uranium metal (a crucial component for building a bomb) - they won't really have any significant leverage if met by a determined American administration. Israel must act to clarify this understanding and the determination among Biden's people, and not in a way that will alienate them. 
An improved nuclear agreement will not satisfy us completely, but it can cause Iran a setback of years before it is able to produce a bomb. It also has the potential to leverage the regional changes led by Trump and to disrupt the Shiite crescent currently bracing Syria. With guarantees by our new Gulf allies to help rehabilitate the devastated Syria, it might be possible to convince the Russians and Assad to show Iran out and to bring Syria back to its natural place, among the Sunni world. 
If the Syrian block is ever removed from the Shiite crescent and Hezbollah is denied its supply lines and logistical backbone  - the threat from Lebanon will look completely different. 
The writer is the military commentator of Channel 13. 
This article was originally published in Hebrew by Maariv and translated by Tobias Siegal.