Preparing for the Third Lebanon War

In a thorough study, Gideon Sa’ar and Ron Tira consider the threat posed by Hizballah’s acquisition of high-precision weapons (which it may soon be able to build itself), its presence, together with Iranian forces, along the Israel-Syria border, and the high likelihood of another war much like the 2007 conflict but more devastating to both sides. Sa’ar and Tira caution that war would be unlikely to lead to anything resembling a decisive victory, but they also stress the need to risk the possibility of war in order to keep Hizballah and its allies from acquiring the most advanced weapons. They write:

In certain senses Israel is unusual in its vulnerability to precision weapons, as on the one hand it is a Western country with advanced critical infrastructure, and on the other hand, it is a small country with concentrated critical infrastructures and little redundancy. . . . [For example], the six largest electricity-generating sites in Israel (including private ones) account for 51 percent of the national capacity for electricity generation. Thus the threat represented by even a small number of precision missiles that breach Israel’s countermeasures and strike critical systems, such as electricity generation, could be unprecedented. The picture is similar with regard to other critical systems. . . . [Therefore], Israel must be prepared to escalate even as far as [all-out] war in order to thwart Hizballah’s precision-capability buildup.

Indeed, Jerusalem could face a situation much graver than the threat of an asymmetric war with a guerrilla army:

[The] military buildups by Iran and Hizballah in Syria, and the production of [advanced] weapons in Lebanon, . . . could be seen as an attempt by Iran and Hizballah to create a symmetrical strategic equation with Israel, if not more than that. . . . Indeed, it is possible that the temporary and partial suspension of the Iranian nuclear program is incentivizing what looks like an attempt to reach a strategic balance against Israel in other spheres, resulting in a dynamic of escalation. These processes could very well put the regional system at a crossroads, and raise the probability of war.

To make matters worse, Sa’ar and Tira note that Russia has thrown in its lot with Iran and Hizballah, raising the stakes considerably:

An extension of the fighting [in an Israel-Hizballah conflict] to Syria . . . could interfere with Russian attempts to stabilize its own order in Syria. Therefore, Russia could try to limit Israel’s political, strategic, and even operational freedom to act. . . . In its six previous campaigns [since 1993 against Hizballah and against Palestinian terrorists], . . . even when Israel made mistakes, the price of such mistakes was tolerable in strategic terms. But the [use] of improved-precision weapons and the [involvement] of Russia could fundamentally change the characteristics of the next conflict, so that it will not be the “seventh in a row.” It is possible that Israel cannot allow itself to delay taking decisions, as it had in the past, and the price of error will be far greater.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Russia, Syria

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war