There has been a disquieting phenomenon within the IDF and defense establishment in recent weeks. Alongside impressive operational achievements, such as commandeering of an Iranian arms shipment to Gaza and the discovery of a massive terror tunnel from Gaza, the third this year, some grave and worrying failures have taken place. Failures that indicate a sense of complacency and euphoria among the commanding echelons.
There follows the most prominent of these shortcomings:
1. Two weeks ago, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad surprised the residents of Israel's western Negev with an onslaught of rockets and mortars. The first salvo of 30 rockets seemed to have caught the IDF offguard. How is it that Israel's military intelligence, which knows how to track missiles being shipped inside containers marked as cement from Iran to Port Sudan, cannot alert its citizens when scores of rockets are being fired directly under its nose?
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Granted, the poor weather was a factor, hindering aerial and ground surveillance, but what about rest of the means at their disposal? Given its arsenal, we simply cannot allow Islamic Jihad to fire without having advance warning. There is also a possibility that the military establishment had general information knew about an intended attack, but underestimated its force and thus decided not to issue an alert so as not to expose any informants. Regardless, one does not toy with the lives of one's civilian population.
2. There was has also been a string of failures vis-a-vis a story that began a month ago. The Arab media reported at the time that Israel had attacked a weapons convoy en route from Syria to a Hezbollah's arms storage site in Lebanon. According to the unspoken rules the IDF follows in such situations, Israel did not claim responsibility for the alleged attack, and officials refused to either confirm or deny reports.
This rule, which the IDF follows in what it calls "war between wars", states the army will not claim direct or indirect responsibility for such attacks. This allows their target, in this case Hezbollah and Syria, to save face and forgo a response that would risk dragging the region into greater conflict. Israel's enemies display the same courtesy when they themselves launch such attacks.
For more than 24 hours Hezbollah and Syria held back, but two days later an unnamed Israeli official confirmed to TIME magazine that Israel was behind the attack on the arms convoy. Nasrallah was left without a choice. Unlike the easily disregarded reports in the Arab media, an Israeli confirmation to an international outlet could not unanswered. Hence, Hezbollah announced that it would choose a time and place to respond, and two weeks later began to make good on its promise.
It is clear that Hezbollah and Syria knew who was behind the attack without the official having to boast about it. Furthermore, the attack achieved its goal; it destroyed the shipment and killed a senior Hezbollah operative, creating a level of deterrence. But the indirect claim of responsibility pushed Nasrallah to leave the cozy darkness of "plausible deniability", and embark on repeated attempts to attack IDF soldiers.
3. An additional failure related to the same incident was the reluctance by IDF field commanders to take Hezbollah's threats seriously, thereby opting not to alter their routines along the northern borders. Thus, Hezbollah operatives – or operatives sent at the group's behest – managed last Friday, with the help of the foggy weather, to plant two explosives along the border fence on a road used by IDF patrols.
Military Intelligence had had a general alert, and one can assume that this is why one of the explosives was found and neutralized before detontion. But the second explosive, the one that went off on Friday night, hit a "David" armored jeep on its way to one of the posts in the area. Luckily, none of the soldiers in the vehicle were wounded, but if other security measures had been taken, the second explosive could have been neutralized in advance. It is safe to say that Nasrallah wasn't satisfied with the outcome, and future attacks are to be expected.
4. And this is where the next failure comes in: the bomb attack on IDF soldiers in the northern Golan Heights on Tuesday could have been prevented, or at least minimized. Hezbollah, with the support of the Syrian regime, is probably responsible for the explosive. Brigade 90 of the Syrian army controls the area defined by the regime as the "security strip" against Israel. Hezbollah, with the encouragement of the Syrian army, has been operating in the northern Golan Heights for over a year, and had threatened a reaction if Israel continued to thwart weapon shipments from Syria to Lebanon.
Therefore, once it became clear that Hezbollah was repeatedly trying to physically harm IDF soldiers, the senior commanders should have been prepared for additional attempts. It is not unreasonable to expect the area's top commanders to show a level of alertness, and change patrol procedures along the border fence so as to at least minimize the danger to the soldiers. Just two weeks ago, the IDF foiled a Hezbollah attempt to place an explosive device along the fence, so it is hard to understand why IDF troops fell into this visible trap.
The main puzzle is why the soldiers exited their jeep and crossed the border fence to the spot where the explosive device had been placed. In recent years, the exact same trap ("The Goatherd" - in which troops are lured toward the site of an attack by a strategically placed grazer) has been used several times along the Lebanese border. It is important to stress that the paratroopers involved had followed procedure; the territory they entered is under Israeli sovereignty and under normal conditions, they would have shooed away the man without injuring him, so as to not inflame an already volatile border.
But under these circumstances, given this intelligence, this tension in the area and these recent attacks – the Northern Command and the division commanders should have changed patrol procedure and movement along the fence, at least temporarily. Instead of getting out of the vehicle and approaching the fence, the troops could have stayed put and persuaded "the goatherder" to leave the area, or fired a few warning shots. If they had done that, they wouldn't have been exposed to the attack. But procedure was not changed, and Hezbollah, after several failed attempts, could finally claim success of drawing IDF blood. Macabre as it may be – this "success" will probably calm Nasrallah.
Added to the backlog of operational failures, including the Gaza border incident in which IDF Captain Tal Nachman was killed by friendly fire – is a backlog of miserable and harmful statements straight from the mouths of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
The insulting remarks uttered by Ya'alon will most likely damage our already strained relationship with our superpower defender. Indeed, the US is not only our ally, but it is our sponsor and the one protecting us in the international arena. As an aside, Ya'alon wasn't totally off track regarding the benefits the US receives as a result from its alliance with Israel. But those involved in security and policy know better than to compare what we give to Uncle Sam with what we receive.
We need them. The simple truth is that the US can survive pretty well without Israel as an ally, but the inverse is not the case. Regardless, it is quite simply a basic moral code and and a matter of fairness to be loyal to one's friends and stand by their side in difficult times, a code that also applies to an senior minister in Israel. "Sticking it" to Barack Obama when he is struggling with the Russian bully is unfair and unworthy.
And there will be a price to pay. From my long experience with Washington, covering at least three administrations up close, I am certain that Ya'alon's statements will cast a long shadow on Israeli-US security ties. The provocative remarks were irresponsible, and constitute a serious failure in Israel's management of its security affairs. Eventually the comments backfired and Ya'alon was humiliatingly forced to apologize to the Americans.
Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also went too far when he made broad hints about the IDF's intelligence capabilities. When the prime minister brags about the Israel Air Force and Shayetet 13, it is understood to be out of political need to show off Israel's and the IDF's prowess in the media, but when the cautious and humble Chief of Staff says aloud (to school children, with Channel 10 recording) that the IDF is operating in Iran, this does not sit well with our neighbors in the Middle East.
Gantz's hints issued a challenge to the Iranians and their allies, with no need and no clear purpose. It's true that on Purim it is a mitzvah to irritate the Persians, but let's not forget that Khamenei is not the worthless King Ahasuerus, and Qasem Soleimani (commander of the Quds force) is not a son of Haman. Why irritate the Ayatollahs? It doesn't increase our counterterrorism capabilities, nor advance our deterrence. After all, the essence of Israel's intelligence is to do things quietly, allowing the enemy to avoid a response.
One could view each of these cases as an isolated event, if it weren’t for the common thread tying them together. Most of these incidents stemmed from complacency and arrogance, perhaps saving the tragic incident on the border of Gaza.
Ya'alon's provocative statements would have never been made unless he felt confident of American support. The chief of staff would also have been more careful had he known that his words actually posed a threat to the people of Israel and the IDF's freedom of operation.
Complacency and arrogance are dangerous in this region, especially now when uncertainty and instability rule in the Middle Eastern arena.