Security Threats to Israel in 2012
The recent test crash of one of Israel’s unmanned aerial vehicles, the Heron TP, was a blow to the Israeli Air Force, financially and militarily. The aircraft, the most advanced and largest UAV in Israel’s arsenal, can reach Iran.
The possibility of a nuclear Iran is at the top of the list of concerns for Israel’s Military Intelligence (MI) in 2012. Iran’s ambition to enrich enough uranium to build several atomic bombs threatens global stability. It has become a major cause for anxiety in Israel, and now, within the international community, as well.
Israeli Major-General Amir Eshel, head of the IDF Planning Branch, spoke to reporters earlier this month in Jerusalem. He commented about the main issue that Israel, the West, and moderate Arab nations are facing in regard to Iran’s unwillingness to stop its quest for nuclear power. "It's way above all the others. It's regional; and, beyond the region… ambitious," he said.
According to Eshel, the immediate threat is Iranian nuclear capability, followed by the possibility that the Iranian Ayatollah’s would use it. In Eshel’s opinion it would create a nuclear arms race in the region. “I'm sure that other players in the Middle East will try to acquire such a capability. I would say, even more, it can create a process that will lead to a global nuclear jungle."
The assessment of Israeli leaders is that, if Iran were able to reach its goal, Israel would be restrained from retaliating against enemy forces such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This would limit the Jewish State, militarily, and create a dramatic change in Israel’s defense posture. The IDF would think twice about going after terrorists in Gaza or Lebanon under an Iranian nuclear umbrella. The result would be constraints on Israeli forces to achieve effective deterrence against hostile threats to the nation.
“I talked about the risks, and I will use what Obama said: A nuclear Iran is unacceptable,” stated Eshel.
The Arab Spring that started a year ago, mostly by a younger generation interested in reform and freedom, has turned into an Islamic Winter for Israel. While U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration have continued to project this dramatic change as a positive development, Israeli leaders have disagreed. Eshel confirmed Israel’s suspicions.
“Unfortunately, our assessment a year ago, that those revolutions would be hijacked by others, came true. Risks for the mid-term and long-term are greater than the opportunities. This is going to be the dominate tone – Islamic – colored by the Moslem Brotherhood.”
The evaluation by the Israeli government is that the Moslem Brotherhood is trying to project to the West that it will take a moderate approach and promote democracy, especially in Egypt. However, the Brotherhood’s real intentions are to solidify their power, and promote greater anti-Israel sentiment within Egypt’s general population. Analysts predict the Brotherhood will have a major influence on the drawing up of a new constitution, and will be able to impose Sharia Law on all Egyptians. There will be increased persecution of Coptic Christians in the nation, as well.
The Moslem Brotherhood has already stated they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish State, and they have claimed they will take future legal action against “the Zionist entity”. In time, the peace treaty between the two nations will be under review, and possibly brought to a national referendum. This would allow a majority of Egyptians who dislike the treaty to overturn it.
Perceiving an ill wind coming from Egypt in the future, Israel is focused on new military plans for its southern border, preparing for the day that peace with Egypt could deteriorate into war.
Eshel spoke about the victory of the Moslem Brotherhood as a reflection on the whole region. "We have to admit here that this movement has been a long time with us, for many years; eight years. And, I would say that some of their beliefs and values are not similar to the ones that are shared by other nations. They are pragmatic; and maybe create opportunities here; but we have to look at the core issues. I don't think from our point of view they are positive." Eshel added, "We are going to see the creation of a new axis; a new Sunni axis created by the Brothers."
In the meantime, Arab leaders in the Middle East are asking the West to find a way to live with political Islam. Some claim that the accusation by Western leaders that Islam and democracy are not compatible is an insult to Arab States. While the Moslem Brotherhood is expected to expand its influence across the region, behind the scenes is the more radical Salafists who adhere to a more fundamentalist view of Islam. Already, the Obama administration has met with the Brotherhood and the Salafists who will have a substantial amount of power in Egypt’s new parliament after a decisive victory in recent elections. The Brotherhood was the biggest winner, obtaining 47% of the seats in parliament. The Salafist parties gained 24% of the parliamentary seats. This creates a strong Islamic block in Egypt.
While the global community tries to adjust to the changing and tumultuous times in the Middle East, especially since the Arab Spring began, U.S. President Barack Obama’s new regional alliances are being scrutinized. The continual contact between American officials and Islamic leaders that have recently come to power in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, is a U.S. foreign policy strategy that could have dire consequences for Israel. One example is the intense pressure that has been placed on Jordan’s King Abdullah to appease Islamists vying for power in his nation. This includes greater freedom for the Moslem Brotherhood to operate there.
Since the attack in Eilat in the summer of 2011, which took the lives of eight Israelis, the rise in terrorist cells occupying the Sinai has alarmed Israeli officials. Hamas is growing in strength and may use the Sinai as a staging ground for more terrorism. Because the Moslem Brotherhood is the “mother” organization to Hamas, close cooperation between Egypt and Gaza is developing. It is leading to a greater presence of arms and terrorists in the Sinai, a safe haven for Israel’s enemies. The IDF is now putting intelligence gathering systems in place on the Egyptian border to prevent attacks from the Sinai.
According to Eshel, “For many players they find it quite convenient to operate from there. There are efforts by the Egyptian military. We know they want to do more; we expect them to do more. If they can deal with it, there will be stability on the border.”
There is a consensus in the IDF that the most volatile front in Israel today is the Gaza Strip. This is a hot spot where the military is currently losing its deterrence capability.
Israel would like to stop the flow of weaponry from Egypt and Libya into Gaza (a 15-20% increase in 2011). Israeli Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz has ordered the Southern Command to complete preparations for an IDF military operation in the area. Meanwhile, terrorist groups in Gaza are trying earnestly to abduct an Israeli soldier. As they did before the 2006 Second Lebanon War, they are digging tunnels under the Israeli-Gaza border that could be used to stage such an attack.
In recent weeks, Gaza terrorists have launched rockets and mortars into Israel in increasing numbers. Israeli forces have retaliated with surgical strikes against these terrorists. The prediction among IDF officers is that this will, eventually, lead to an escalation. While Israeli troops go about their final preparations for a military incursion, they are on high alert for the “trigger” event that will start a war with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups operating from the Gaza Strip.
A war in Gaza in 2012 would be significantly different than Operation Cast Lead that began in December 2008 and ended in January 2009. Israel would not have the advantage of a closed border between Egypt and Gaza. Hamas would be expected to use Egyptian territory as a supply route to refill its weapons arsenals in Gaza; and, to give its terrorist cells the ability to regroup and receive new orders before going back on the battlefield.
Israel is watching developing events in Syria with great unease. When it comes to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, Israeli military officials have stated that it is just a matter of time before Assad is overthrown. The question, they have asked, regarding Assad’s demise is, when, not if.
“What is going to be the day after? I don't know. But, the opportunity is that a major player will be taken out of the radical axis,” Eshel stated. He talked about the future transition in Syria, where various groups already vying for power might be dismantled into factions, similar to what is happening in Iraq. What troubles Israel’s generals is this: Who will inherit the huge stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that Bashar Assad and his late father, Hafez Assad, built over the years?
Eshel admitted, “That's a major concern as to who is going to own those the day after. Up until now, what has been transferred to Hezbollah? What will be transferred? What will be divided between those factions inside Syria? What is it going to create? We are talking about huge stockpiles.”
Gantz has stated that because of Hezbollah’s current arsenal in Lebanon, the threat on Israel’s northern border has increased five-fold. Hezbollah has now acquired 4,000 anti-tank missiles, while Syria, reportedly, has 11,500 of the sophisticated Russian-made weapons. These would hinder Israel’s ability to maneuver inside enemy territory during a future conflagration.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are, reportedly, providing significant quantities of arms, technology, and assistance to Assad’s regime to use against Syrian opposition forces. Israeli leaders are concerned that Assad may try to move some of his air defense systems and longer-range rockets into Hezbollah’s arsenals in southern Lebanon.
While Israel’s government does not think Assad’s regime will hold on much longer, Eshel explained that, currently, it is impossible to assess who will replace him once he is gone from Syria. “It might lead to a process of a different regime. If he won't leave on his own, it might get into civil war. The major challenge of the Syrians that they will face in a few months is bankruptcy. They are running out of money. If he will leave, it might prevent a civil war; otherwise, there will be a civil war.”
Meanwhile, Israel hopes that, once Assad is removed from power, it will decrease the influence of the radical axis that has stretched from Iran to southern Iraq, to Damascus, and to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel has the capability of hitting its adversaries very hard, but the IDF is forming new strategies for war that will give the Jewish State a decisive victory.
According to Eshel, “People tend to have romantic views about knock-out. This won’t be the case. At the physical end of the conflict, we will be exchanging fire until the last minute. We won’t see a white flag waved,” Eshel explained. Yet, he implied that Israel will make sure that its enemies receive enough losses to be constrained from attacking the Jewish State, again.
In the meantime, Israel is changing its national defense strategy to meet new security threats. Military planners have admitted that it sometimes takes decades for the IDF to enhance its capacities in order to retain its qualitative edge over its adversaries. Eshel emphasized Israel’s need to address its vulnerabilities. “The region is unstable. Other countries that have state-of-the-art Western technology might change. We have to take this into consideration.”
According to Eshel, Israel will prepare, establishing capabilities that will address these new challenges. “We can't gamble with our national security. We have to be robust. We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow.”
“Through God we will do valiantly, for it is He who
shall tread down our enemies.”
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.
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