High Alert in all Sectors

The declaration of President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's Capital, the mounting tension at the northern border, the missile that was not launched, and the controversy regarding the integration of women as IDF tank crew members – all in Amir Rapaport's weekly column

Photo: AP

The declaration by the President of the USA recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital City of the State of Israel, as justified as it may be, was made at a less-than-ideal time: it shifted the attention of all of Israel's defense and security organs from the northern region to the Judea and Samaria – and not because the situation in the north had calmed down.

Let's start with Judea and Samaria: the IDF Chief of Staff and supreme command convened last Wednesday at the HQ of the regional division in Beit-El to discuss various scenarios. The "estimates of the defense establishment" reported by the media are, in this case, meaningless as no one can really foretell how things would develop following the "Days of Rage" already declared. The real test case, as always, will involve the Muslims' Friday prayers.

Experience has shown that Jerusalem is the most volatile issue in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. False rumors regarding Temple Mount and such events as the opening of the Western Wall Tunnels or the visit by Minister Ariel Sharon had led to quite a few bloody incidents in the past. On the other hand, this time it is not a matter of the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself, and in any case – many past estimates of expected bloodshed were proven wrong.

Especially now, the Palestinian side does not necessarily have a definite interest (nor does it possess the energy) to launch yet another substantial round of violence. However, no one can tell what goes on in the minds of individuals, who might stage terrorist attacks at their own initiative pursuant to President Trump's declaration.

Consequently, the Israeli defense and security organs must maintain a real state of high alert.

Fire in the North

In the north – if the latest reports are correct – escalation has already shifted from talk to action. Following a political campaign intended to prevent the establishment of an Iranian base in Syrian territory (the diplomatic efforts focused on Washington and Moscow) and a massive media drive (announcements by the Defense Minister, and presumably leaks initiated by Israel to a series of media channels with the intention of demonstrating that Israel is aware of the Iranian presence in Lebanon), it would seem that Israel is acting to prevent the establishment of the Iranian base by actual strikes, among other things.

This, at least, provides a reasonable context in which one should view the reports of last Saturday, to the effect that the Iranian base being erected near the town of Al-Kiswa, to the north of Damascus, was attacked again.

According to the latest reports, Israel, as a rule, maintains a policy of ambiguity as far as assuming responsibility for strikes in Syria is concerned. In some cases, Israel does assume responsibility, as in the case of the strike of last March, while in other cases the response is "No Comment." This time, there was no official response from Jerusalem.

Some of the reports alleged that Israel used Jericho missiles for the attack in Syria. This is a complete folly. According to various reports, the Jericho missiles were developed to engage targets at ranges of thousands of kilometers and were intended primarily to carry nuclear warheads – not conventional munitions launched to ranges of a few dozens of kilometers, within reach of the artillery rockets and short-range missiles available to the IDF Ground Arm and IAF. However, if there is any truth in those reports, they may indicate the fact that the IDF has switched to the employment of stand-off fire, thereby abolishing the monopoly IAF fighters had for decades with regard to attacks against relatively remote targets.

The attacks in Syria attributed to Israel, whether they are launched from the ground or the air, are still accompanied by complementary diplomatic efforts on Israel's part, in an attempt to clarify (mainly to Russia, as the USA is no longer a significant player in this theater) that Israel will continue to insist that no Iranian base would be established in Syria. The problem, however, is the fact that the Iranians are just as determined. They insist on harvesting what they regard as the fruits of their victory in the Syrian civil war, in which they had shed blood (mainly the blood of Hezbollah).

As long as both sides are obstinately digging in, tensions will continue to mount. The story is far from ending.

Meanwhile in the Town of Arad

The prompt resolution of the murder of IDF trooper Yitzhak Kochia has shed some light on the processes taking place within the Bedouin community in the Negev. The investigation by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) led to two brothers from the Bedouin community, who were found in possession of the firearm that had disappeared from the murder scene.

The complete investigation will remain covert for a few more weeks at the very least, but several trends have already become visible: while an overwhelming majority of the members of the Bedouin community are not involved in terrorism, we can no longer ignore radical religious groups belonging to the Salafist movement that operate within the Bedouin community. The members of these groups may affiliate themselves with ISIS or with some other 'hit' of the world Islamic Jihad movement. As far as they are concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood Movement is "passé" and politics are repulsive. The commandments of the Quran are very explicit with regard to the killing of Jewish infidels, and it is extremely difficult to reach those brainwashed individuals in time (even those brainwashed through the Internet) as they are taught not to plan the next murder, but rather to execute it almost spontaneously.

This state of affairs presents a tremendous challenge to ISA and the other security agencies. The number of terrorist attacks staged by individuals (or as in this case – by siblings) could increase, especially if the recent American declaration, recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital City of the State of Israel, triggers a mounting surge of Islamic sentiments.

The Missile that was not Launched

Something else that happened this week – a major test of the Arrow-III missile system was halted halfway through, while many senior officials were preparing to watch the launch from the ground control trailer of the trial.

This disappointment took place on Monday morning after an aircraft had already launched the target missile intended to simulate an incoming enemy missile approaching Israel.

In trials of this type, every split-second or even the smallest distance can mean the difference between success and failure, and the weather can have a significant impact, too. According to standard procedure, after the target missile had been launched, all of its flight data are reviewed, and unless they are 100% compatible with the expectations, the launching of the interceptor missile will be called off.

This was how things developed last Monday, disappointingly – and not just for Israel: the USA is a full-fledged partner in this project. The cancellation of the trial is not expected to have a substantial effect on the rate at which the future capabilities planned for the Arrow-III system are being developed – like the ability to cope with a warhead that splits into multiple warheads in mid-air.

The Woman in the Tank

One last thing about the 13 female troopers that completed their training as IDF Armored Corps tank crew members earlier this week: in the context of the debate regarding the integration of women in the IDF, different parties are making emotionally-charged claims.

The arguments being voiced by religious parties are familiar. On the other hand, secular female troopers find it difficult to understand why they are required to wear long athletic tights with shorts over them at the height of summer, while the male troopers can wear shorts only, thereby exposing their hair and sweat.

The bottom line: a situation where none of the parties involved is really pleased with the "proper integration" rules introduced by the IDF could possibly indicate that these rules are fairly balanced after all, constituting "The Lesser of Two Evils."