Something happens almost every day that tells us that Israel’s enemies are preparing for war. On the other hand, Israel’s responses to these events indicate that Israel is not preparing for war.
Three separate events last week exposed this distressing state of affairs.
First, on Monday, Iran and its proxies in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen marked the second anniversary of the U.S. assassination in Iraq of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. At a ceremony in Tehran, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pledged to kill former president Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Not only did the Biden administration not condemn the Iranian regime for threatening the life of a former president and secretary of state, but on the day Raisi made the threat, President Joe Biden’s nuclear negotiators were in Vienna beginning another round of nuclear talks with Raisi’s emissaries. U.S. officials told reporters ahead of the talks that they expect to close a deal with the Iranians, perhaps a partial one, in the near future.
To go by the reports of the negotiations, a deal means nothing less than complete U.S. capitulation to Iran’s demands. Last week, Britain’s Spectator published a report titled “Inside Joe Biden’s Disastrous Negotiations with Iran.” It described how the Western position has collapsed due to the radical pro-Iranian posture of the U.S. team led by Robert Malley.
British and other negotiators characterized Malley as “the most dovish official we’ve ever seen.”
One official said that Malley bent over backwards so far that “he now speaks to Tehran between his legs.”
Malley, they explained, presented the Iranians with what was supposed to be the U.S.’s final take-it-or-leave-it offer at the opening session of the negotiations. After the stunned Iranians “caught their breath and climbed back onto their chairs, they set about demanding further concessions.”
And it’s all been downhill from there. Iran has made no concessions of any kind. Clearly, under these circumstances the only way that an agreement—even a partial one—can be reached is if the United States abandons the ostensible purpose of the agreement—to prevent Iran from achieving independent military nuclear capabilities.
Israel’s response to the collapse of America’s diplomatic position has been to paper over the oceanic rift between the U.S. position and that of Israel. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pretended away the problems, saying, “We’re not a teddy bear that just says ‘No.’ We’re not looking for a fight, there could be a good deal [with Iran].”
In short, the U.S. policy is to appease Iran, and Israel’s policy is to appease the United States. But no one is blocking Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
The second event occurred the day after Raisi threatened to murder Trump and Pompeo, and Biden’s negotiators renewed their genuflections to Raisi’s underlings. On Tuesday, Iran’s Lebanese foreign legion, Hezbollah, launched a UAV into Israel. The IDF responded by downing the drone.
On the surface, the drone story is no cause for concern. But it cannot be seen as an isolated event. Over the past several months, infiltrations and probes of Israeli territory by drones, “laborers,” drug smugglers and others from Lebanon have become routine occurrences along the northern border.
Hezbollah, which exercises complete control over the Lebanese side of the border, allows all these infiltrations and directs most of them. There is a method to these actions. Among other things, Hezbollah uses them to probe Israel’s operational readiness, its force structure and deployments, its intelligence capacity, its speed of response and competence.
Hezbollah’s operations at the border, in turn, cannot be seen in isolation from its “Radwan Plan.”
Around a decade ago, Israel discovered that Hezbollah plans to invade the Galilee in the next war, and seize a village or hostages from a village. Hezbollah intends to use the Israelis it kidnaps either as “human shields” for Hezbollah operations or as bargaining chips in extortionate “negotiations.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah publicly unveiled the Radwan Plan in 2015.
The Radwan force, an elite Hezbollah unit with 2,500 soldiers, is charged with invading Israel. Its members are veterans of the wars in Syria and Iraq. Although Hezbollah announced the program years ago, and Israel in 2018 uncovered sophisticated underground tunnels Hezbollah had constructed for transporting forces into Israel, Israel has yet to fortify the border. To date, only 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) of a concrete border wall have been constructed, due to lack of funding for the project. No discussion of preemptive operations to prevent Hezbollah from carrying out the Radwan plan has entered the public arena. And there is no indication that any such operations have taken place.
This brings us to the third event Israel’s foes initiated this past week. Apropos of nothing, last Saturday, Hamas launched two missiles at Tel Aviv. Later, it attacked IDF helicopters with surface-to-air missiles.
Israel’s leaders routinely attribute the “quiet” between Hamas missile and terror onslaughts to Israel’s deterrent strength. But last week, Hamas terror master Ismail Haniyeh dismissed Israel’s claims.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Haniyeh said that since “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, Hamas has used every respite between campaigns to upgrade its strategic capabilities. It built its domestic missile production capabilities and smuggled thousands of advanced projectiles from Iran to Gaza between campaigns. It built a subterranean tunnel complex for offensive and defensive capabilities between campaigns. Ahead of Hamas’s most recent offensive against Israel in May, it built operational coordination with Arab Israelis that enabled Hamas to use Arab-Israeli pogromists as an integral component of its assault.
The assessment that the Arab mobs who lynched Jews and burned Jewish cars, homes and businesses in mixed Jewish and Arab cities, and the mobs that blocked major traffic arteries in the Negev and the Galilee, were orchestrated by Hamas moved from suspicion to certainty when the violence ended as soon as Hamas agreed to a ceasefire.
Israel’s response to Hamas’s missile assault on Tel Aviv was deflating. In the interests of “preserving the quiet,” Israel’s retaliatory airstrike was tepid, at best. Indeed, according to IDF officials, the Prime Minister’s Office was so intent on not provoking Hamas with the response that it sacrificed operational security by telling the media the attack plan before the aircraft took off for Gaza. The PMO denied the allegations, but Israel coordinated its response with the Egyptians, who are serving as go-betweens with Hamas.
Israel’s extraordinary efforts not to provoke Hamas with its counterattack lead to the distressing conclusion that the “quiet” between Hamas campaigns isn’t a testament to Israel’s deterrent strength. It’s a testament to Hamas’s deterrent strength.
Israel did initiate one event in recent weeks: Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s meeting with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Like Bennett, Gantz insisted the meeting didn’t mark the start of a new “peace process.” Both men claimed Gantz’s meeting with Abbas at Gantz’s private residence was necessitated by Israel’s national security.
During their meeting, Gantz agreed to give the P.A. hundreds of millions of shekels, which Abbas will use to pay salaries to terrorists and their families. Gantz agreed to permit massive Palestinian building in Area C of Judea and Samaria, which Israel requires to defend its national security and its communities in the areas. And he agreed to permit 10,000 foreign Arabs residing in the Palestinian Authority illegally to receive permanent residency status.
Obviously, taken together and separately, Gantz’s concessions to Abbas do not advance Israel’s security. They impede Israel’s security. Gantz wasn’t trying to augment Israel’s security by meeting with Abbas. He was trying to appease a terror-supporting adversary.
Israel remains more powerful than its enemies, but those enemies are no slouches. They lack armored divisions and air forces, but have compensated for those deficits by building three-pronged forces tailor-made to fight Israel. Their operational components are missiles, terror and unconventional weapons.
The missile threat Israel faces from Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Yemen and Iraq has no historical or global precedent. Israel has more missiles pointed at it than any nation on earth. In a future war Israel can expect to absorb thousands of missiles a day from Lebanon, thousands more from Gaza, and more still from Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Enemy arsenals include tens of thousands of precision-guided missiles as well as rockets. While Israel has the most sophisticated missile defense system in the world, that system cannot withstand thousands of rockets a day. Many will get through.
As for terror, Israel will face both grand terror, of the type envisioned by Hezbollah’s Radwan plan, and local terror, from Abbas’s P.A. and from Arab Israelis who are now integrated into Hamas’s force structure. The purpose of terror is to disrupt civilian life, to undermine IDF mobilization and transport of troops to the battlefield, and in extremis, to bring Israel to its knees.
As for unconventional threats, the most ominous one—Iran’s nuclear weapons program—is apparently not operational at this point. Syria, though, has a large arsenal of chemical weapons. Iran and Hezbollah also have considerable offensive cyber capabilities. In recent months, cyberattacks have hamstrung Israeli hospitals and other critical facilities.
IDF commanders routinely declare that Israel is ready for the storm gathering against it, but it is hard to see evidence of that readiness. For decades, David Ben-Gurion’s doctrine of moving the battle to the enemy’s territory was the guiding concept of Israel’s defense doctrine. Today, that offensive doctrine is barely a flicker of memory.
Israel is not preemptively striking Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s missiles in Lebanon and Gaza. It is not killing their terror commanders. Arab Israelis who participated in the organized violence against Jews and blocked roads during Hamas’s missile offensive in May have mostly been released from jail. Police and military forces are not confiscating the massive quantities of stolen and smuggled weapons that are nearly ubiquitous in Arab Israeli communities.
Lebanon’s economic ruin is of no concern to Hezbollah, which is largely to blame for the penury of the former Paris of the Middle East. Nasrallah and his terror forces remain scope-locked on readying themselves to attack Israel when given the order by Tehran. The same is the case with Hamas, which rules impoverished Gaza with an iron fist.
Israel’s political and military leadership needs to recognize that appeasement is not a strategic doctrine. It is a political move—and for Israel, a very stupid one. Our military and national leaders need to recognize the gravity of the situation and match Israel’s actions, force levels and resources to the dynamic and deadly form of war our enemies have developed to destroy us.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jewish News Syndicate