Israel must remain alert

A general view shows the Lebanese-Israeli border as seen from Kfar Kila village, southern Lebanon December 21, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A general view shows the Lebanese-Israeli border as seen from Kfar Kila village, southern Lebanon December 21, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At an academic conference that took place last week at Netanya Academic College, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo stated that, as far as he’s concerned, there is only one existential threat the State of Israel is facing, and that is the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
It is somewhat surprising to hear such a definitive and misleading statement made by a senior Israeli security figure. All heads of Israeli defense organizations from the IDF chief of staff on down, have been explicitly stating for the past two years that the State of Israel is not currently under any existential threat whatsoever.
This statement is correct. Currently, there is no external element or military in the Middle East that is capable of threatening the existence of the IDF and the State of Israel at an existential level.
Even Hamas in the Gaza Strip does not constitute an existential threat to the state. Iran serves as a fundamental problem due to its support of global terrorism and Hezbollah.
But if we take Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s exaggerated scare tactics regarding Iran down a notch, we’ll see that Iran does not actually pose a threat to Israel’s existence.
The most serious threat to Israel is Hezbollah with its tens of thousands of rockets. However, even though Hezbollah could cause a tremendous amount of damage with these rockets, it still does not pose an existential threat to the country.
Of all these possibilities, the Palestinians are the last to pose an existential threat to the state. It is true that we are in need of a solution to the conflict, or at least an arrangement that will separate the two communities and ensure the security of Israel’s citizens.
It is also true that, in the absence of a clear Israeli political plan, the situation is apt to deteriorate and maybe even escalate into a third intifada.
Even the eruption of a third intifada, however, is still quite far from posing a threat to Israel’s existence.
On Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah continues to arm itself at a rapid rate and to dig and prepare traps in case the IDF invades Lebanon.
Although Hezbollah has suffered heavy hits during the last three years in numerous battles with ISIS, it still has a full arsenal of weapons that are aimed at Israel and a large number of soldiers.
From time to time, a weapons transport making its way to Hezbollah is bombed, but these small blows do not influence the balance of power on Israel’s northern border and do not lessen the threat to Israel.
Hezbollah has no intention of initiating a skirmish with Israel, because it knows full well that Israel would retaliate immediately and that they would be irreparably damaged from such an exchange. And they are also happy to have this time to recover from their lengthy battles with ISIS in Syria. However, we must not forget that Hezbollah’s rockets are there at the ready should the situation change.
There’s not too much we can do today on the Syrian border. Israel must remain vigilant to what is happening in the international arena, to Russia’s involvement, and to the fighting status within Syria so that we can be prepared for any impending threats. The political map within Syria is still in constant flux, and Israel needs to show the world that it is not willing to compromise its security.
The rebel groups fighting inside Syria are clearly interested in heating things up on Israel’s border in order to drag us into the war.
ISIS as well as Jabhat al-Nusra are both making efforts to take control of the region on Israel’s border so that they can launch rockets into Israeli territory. On our southern border, Israel is dealing with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula.
Hamas in the Gaza Strip is preparing for another round of war. Whether or not they respond to the assassination of Mazen Fuquha or not is irrelevant. Hamas will attack when it is ready and at a time it chooses.
This is how it was with the previous Gaza war, too. Hamas digs tunnels, rearms, prepares its strategies and tactics and then attacks.
Israel, on the other hand, waits, watches, follows what’s happening on the other side of the border, carries out minor attacks against Hamas here and there in response to their rockets, but nothing connected with any grand plan or strategy. Nothing is being planned which will make the next State Comptroller’s Report any different than the previous one.
From what we can gather, it appears that Hamas is not planning on initiating any broad offensive against Israel in the near future, since it requires more time to continue digging and rearming. Hamas knows that Israel only responds to provocation with “proportionate” responses, and so every so often it shoots rockets aimed at Israeli citizens and towns.
We must take note, however, that Hamas has a new leader: Yahya Sanwar.
He is an extremist and very violent – a leader who is hoping to leave his mark. All our indications show that another round of fighting will break out within months or up to a year. The exact timing, of course, will be determined by Hamas.
A different phenomenon is taking place in the Sinai Peninsula. Over the past five years, dozens of terrorist attacks have been carried out there by the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis Brigades and its cohorts that have sworn allegiance to ISIS. They have practically turned the Sinai into an Islamist stronghold.
Another group active in the region is Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen of Bayt al-Maqdis, which identifies with Al Qaeda, and which officially proclaims that it intends to return the entire Middle East to the rule of Allah, and to fight against the Jews who control Jerusalem.
There are two smaller Islamist groups that also operate out of northern Sinai: Jaysh al-Islam and Takfir wal-Hijra. Dozens of Egyptian soldiers, and also a number of foreign tourists vacationing in the area, have died at the hands of these four Islamist organizations. They’ve also shot a number of rockets into Israeli territory.
The aim of these groups is clear: to create fear and a sense of anarchy that would allow them to harm both Egypt and Israel. In order to repress this activity, Israel must increase its cooperation with the Egyptian security forces.
It is clear that the main threat to Israeli security would be the failure to identify and prepare a strategy to deal with the threats building around us.
On our northern border, we have Lebanon and Syria, and in the South we have Hamas in the Gaza Strip and ISIS in Sinai.
It is important to note that not one of these four organizations is a representative of the Palestinian people, or has any intention to fight for their cause. The Palestinians themselves certainly are not prepared to wage such a war, and therefore the most likely scenario vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority is that we will continue suffering from lone-wolf attacks alongside Hamas terrorism, and possibly another intifada which could erupt in the absence of progress in political channels.
It is unlikely that a war will erupt in the region in the near future, since none of the entities has the ability or the interest to initiate one. However, the region is heating up, anarchy is building up in Israel’s neighboring regions, and terrorist organizations are acquiring more and more weapons.
In order to defend ourselves in the face of these great threats, the State of Israel must plan and carry out political and military initiatives, and strengthen its alertness and security defenses.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.