PostScript: Drones and consequences

As Hezbollah well knows, when it comes to iron Katusha rockets being lobbed over the border, Israel does not have any magical or effective responses other than brute force.

IAF shoots down UAV 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
IAF shoots down UAV 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman's Office)
The drone incident that captivated us all over the weekend has provided much food for thought. The generally accepted explanation of what happened is that an Iranian-made drone, launched by Hezbollah from Lebanon, was sent to spy on Israel’s nuclear facilities near Dimona.
The drone apparently flew from Lebanon out to the Mediterranean, south along Israel’s coast to Gaza, where it turned inland and headed east to Dimona.
Israeli officials admit to tracking the drone for 20 minutes before shooting it down, though one can assume it was on the country’s radar screens long before that – or one at least hopes so.
By admitting that it had followed the drone for at least 20 minutes, Israel is essentially telling Hezbollah and the Iranians to assume that the drone’s data emissions were being read, traced and studied, not to mention possibly manipulated, for at least that period, if not a lot longer.
As Hezbollah well knows, when it comes to iron Katusha rockets being lobbed over the border, Israel does not have any magical or effective responses other than brute force.
But when it comes to dealing with sophisticated weapons systems, Israel’s advantage is huge. To wit: In the Second Lebanese War of 2006 Israel could not stop the barrages of Katyusha rockets till the last day, but it destroyed Hezbollah’s entire stock of medium- and long-range rockets and missiles in under half an hour. Give the IDF an electronic, magnetic or infra-red print, and those responsible know exactly how to pull the plug.
Which is what makes this latest drone incident all the more interesting, especially given the tensions with Iran over its nuclear program and Hezbollah’s own vulnerability given the situation in Syria, with its line of supply to money, training and Iranian support all but severed.
The questions arise as to why the Iranians would want to provoke Israel, and stoke its paranoia, by sending a drone to Dimona. Surely they knew the drone would be intercepted, earlier rather than later, and that the chances of it ever reaching the Dimona facility itself were less than zero. So hermetic is the area around Dimona that even Israeli pilots who have ventured there by mistake have been shot down.
So what was the point of the provocation? How are we to understand it? Given the near certainty of discovery, this can only be assumed to have been a mission with a message, not a stealth operation, but what could that message be? That the Iranians are preparing to strike Dimona if we attack their nuclear facilities? Gee, never thought of that until this drone came along. Wow! I have long failed to grasp the logic of the minds of those now running Iran, and the number of bad decisions they have made lately is getting longer, faster than their currency can fall. Particularly galling was the near idiotic plot by Iranian intelligence that has come to light, to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US while he was having dinner in a downtown Washington restaurant. Once could have thought that the Marx Brothers wrote the script.
The drone’s penetration of Israeli air space was a clear violation of international law, though we can’t claim to be virgins in this regard. Iran’s use of Hezbollah surrogates, far away from its own borders, against Israel, could be interpreted as an act of aggression by proxy, worthy of an appropriate response. The sensitivity of the drone’s target, Dimona, has huge implications in the context of the international situation in this regard, and can be interpreted as nothing else but a distinct, sinister and overt threat to the heart of Israel’s defense, its nuclear program.
This said, one wonders where the defense establishment was when this was all happening, how come no one woke up on the morning after, phoned the prime minister and said: “We have just had a godsend. Let’s meet for breakfast.”
This is the situation: Hezbollah has tens of thousands of missiles and rockets stashed away for the day Iran orders them launched against Israel. The cost these weapons can extract in life and destruction to Israel’s heartland is immense. It is assumed, even known, that if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, these weapons will surely be launched against Israel. They have to be taken into account in the context of any Israeli action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Their removal as a threat would greatly enhance Israel’s overall freedom of action in any attack it may be planning against Iran.
That’s the first point. The other is that never before has Hezbollah been more isolated and hated, and weaker. One major patron, Syria’s Bashar Assad, is fighting for his life.
The other, Iran, has massive problems of its own, has lost its base in Syria, and would find it almost impossible to re-stock Hezbollah with new missiles if these were destroyed.
So, while one has to wonder what possessed the Iranians and their surrogates to send a drone toward Dimona, one is also left wondering why Israel has done so little so far in terms of leveraging the drone crisis to its advantage, such as destroying all the Iranian missiles being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. It would have been an excellent excuse to get a necessary job done with the enemy left with very few real assets with which to respond. There would have been little international outcry, Iran’s shares being at an all-time low at present, and many Israelis would have slept better at night, knowing Hassan Nasrallah’s itchy finger has been removed from Hezbollah’s stock of conventional weapons of potential mass destruction, and it would have removed a serious obstacle should Israel need to exercise a military option to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear.
One hopes the next drone will come after the upcoming elections, when our leaders will be refocused on the country’s survival, and not just their own political survival. Sending the drone was a pretty stupid thing for Iran to have done and a huge risk for Hezbollah.
One hopes they’ll make the same mistake again.