The State of Israel’s security situation this Yom Kippur is seemingly reasonable, even though a grave threat the likes of which had never threatened the Israeli home front is taking shape on the horizon. However, on all our frontlines and in the territories relative calm prevails at this time.
The war tensions that prevailed a year ago at this time in the wake of the strike on the Syrian nuclear site had greatly dissipated. With the exception of Hizbullah’s intention to avenge the assassination of arch terrorist Imad Mugniyah, at this time there is nothing that may spark a large-scale confrontation in the immediate future.
Even more encouraging is the fact that this situation is not prompting Israel’s security establishment to delude itself. Top defense officials, just like the citizen on the street, are convinced that this relative quiet will not last long.
Therefore, as opposed to the complacency and arrogance that characterized the IDF and our political leadership 35 years ago, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, this year the defense establishment shows a high level of readiness and is in the midst of intense work: The army is vigorously working to correct the flaws in capabilities and values exposed during the Second Lebanon War; the military’s buildup ahead of future challenges is proceeding at a reasonable pace; most areas that are the responsibility of the Shin Bet and Mossad are being handled with praiseworthy efficiency and professionalism; and even the government somewhat improved its decision-making abilities on the security front over the past year.
The problem is that all of the above – the temporary lull we secured and the impressive defense buildup – are still no guarantee that the State of Israel can cope with the growing stratetigic threat on its very existence.
Israel must cope with 'slow destruction' strategy (Photo: Ron Ben-Yishai)
What we lack today is a winning strategy. Such strategy would enable us to successfully cope with the “slow destruction” strategy used by Iran, Syria, and radical Islamic elements to undermine Israel’s staying power and ultimately wipe it off the map. Hizbullah, which utilized this strategy with a great degree of success during the Second Lebanon War, gave it its name: Muqauma (“Resistance” in Arabic.)
In its current format, the Muqauma identifies three Israeli vulnerabilities: The civilian home front, the Israeli public’s sensitivity to civilian causalities and even more so to IDF casualties, and the sensitivity of our political leaders to international public opinion and to the pressures exerted by bereaved families, captives’ families, and the media.
Underground fortifications, tunnels, and bombs
The Muqauma also takes into account the IDF’s relative advantage in accurate air power, the maneuvering and attack abilities of ground forces, and the ability to acquire accurate intelligence information. As a result, the radical Islamic axis has upgraded the Muqauma strategy and premised it on the means and principles that enable its users to powerfully hit Israel’s weak spots while minimizing or annulling Israel’s military advantages: Missiles and ground-to-ground rockets, fired by the dozens and hundreds out of well-hidden sites and civilian population centers, mostly with the aim of disrupting the daily and economic routine and put Israelis in an ongoing state of anxiety. This move also aims to disrupt the IDF’s ability to call up reserve forces and use its aircraft.
Other means include Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons systems that to some extent are immune to disruption (Hizbullah is currently undertaking significant efforts to get radars and anti-aircraft missiles from Iran and Syria, and according to reports from Lebanon it appears to be secretly preparing an anti-aircraft arsenal on Lebanon’s mountains. Even Hamas in Gaza is attempting to equip itself with shoulder-held rockets and heavy machineguns.) Meanwhile, huge quantities of advanced anti-tank rockets are aimed at targeting Israel’s armored corps until heavy casualties prompt Israeli public opinion to press the government to end operations.
Maintaining launching capabilities over time is the main achievement the Muqauma aspires for. The main operational tactics are as follows: Launches, fortification and combat out of civilian population centers, in order to prevent the IDF from acting against or responding to rocket fire (among other ways by enlisting international media); avoidance of direct clashes with IDF troops, while maintaining constant evasion; a system of underground fortifications, tunnels, and explosive devices, that would prevent IDF troops from advancing rapidly; causing casualties and moral setbacks to IDF forces and the civilian home front, among other things by resorting to suicide attacks, shooting attacks, and mostly abductions; threatening the IDF with confrontation in one arena, Lebanon for example, should it decisively operate in another theater, like Gaza.
Expecting Israel’s collapse
All of the above does not aim to prompt Israel’s surrender at once, but rather, to exhaust it time after time, round by round, until it collapses on its own. Iran’s nuclear weapons have an important role to play in this strategy. Most experts are indeed united in their view that even when Iran possesses nuclear weapons it would hesitate to attack Israel for fear of Israeli and American retaliation, as well as the international community’s response.
Besides that, for the time being at least, it is quiet clear that the Ayatollahs and even Ahmadinejad believe that Israel’s collapse and disappearance are nearing as result of the blows delivered against it by the Muqauma, and as result of the leadership and moral crisis it currently faces, with no way out. Therefore, there is no need to get entangled in a nuclear adventure – all that is needed is some patience.
Yet even without using nuclear weapons, if and when Iran acquires them, Muqauma groups and Syria would enjoy greater freedom to utilize the strategy. Israel’s ability to respond would be limited, which would serve to boost the sense of helplessness and anxiety among our citizens; not to mention the danger to be posed to Israel by the prospects of nuclear proliferation across the Middle East.
This strategy was not devised by an ingenious Islamic planner. It emerged out of trial and error since the 1970s: The Katyusha rockets and infiltrations from Lebanon, and later the fighting in the South Lebanese security zone; the missiles fired at Israel in the First Gulf War; the intifadas; and the latest upgrade – the Second Lebanon War.
What’s amazing is that after so many years of contending with the Muqauma, the IDF, other security branches, and Israel’s political leadership have been unable to formulate a strategy and an arsenal of means that would enable us to win. Currently there are several schools of thought among the defense establishment and political circles with each claiming to offer the right combination of diplomatic means, military methods, and weapons that would enable the State of Israel to deter the Muqauma – and should deterrence fail, to defeat it without great bloodshed among our troops and without finding ourselves internationally isolated.
First part of series by Ron Ben-Yishai