1. High Tide/Low Tide. When the “Second Intifada” broke out in October 2000, IDF used to refer to the riots and terrorist attacks in the Judea and Samaria area, as well is inside the territory of the State of Israel as “High Tide/Low Tide”, as each wave of riots was followed by a period of relative quiet, and then a new trigger emerged, leading to a wave of renewed violence, and so on.
Eventually, the “High Tide/Low Tide” incidents assumed a pattern of a murderous terrorist offensive, which took the lives of more than a thousand Israelis through suicide attacks, until the Intifada finally subsided in 2004.
The wave of riots and terrorist attacks that erupted about 15 years later, in the fall of 2015, appears to be connected, in some way or another, to the state of instability that characterizes many areas throughout the Middle East. For the last few years, the lion’s share of the fighting takes place in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions more became refugees.
The major question that arose within the Israeli defense establishment in the fall of 2015 was whether this latest wave of terrorist attacks marks the outset of a “Third Intifada”. Although outwardly the Israeli interest is to announce “This is not a new Intifada,” in effect, there is talk about a “new situation” and no one knows how it will evolve.
Analyses performed within the defense establishment point to a number of reasons that suggest that this is a significant wave of terrorism which could turn out to be prolonged, as well as to reasons that justify the claim “This is not a new Intifada”.
One of the reasons that this wave of attacks is serious and could be prolonged is the religious motive: the Israeli media does not speak about it too often, but the Arab world is raging around rumors or reports that Israel actually intends to change the status quo on Temple Mount.
Even when one attempts to fish only “comfortable” data out of the statistics of the latest terrorist attacks, it is impossible to ignore the increase, by tens of percent, in the number of violent incidents throughout the Judea and Samaria area as well as within the “Green Line” during the last few weeks.
On the other hand, one significant difference between October 2015 and “Black October” (following the outbreak of the Second Intifada 15 years ago), is that the Israeli security forces are currently operating freely throughout the Judea and Samaria area. Consequently, entering the hospital in Nablus did not call for tactical support by tanks and aircraft. During the Second Intifada, on the other hand, it took the IDF and ISA quite a long time before they succeeded in regaining control over the centers of the Palestinian cities, pursuant to Operation Defensive Shield, and even then, the control achieved was only partial.
The recent events erupted despite the fact that IDF and ISA operate continuously against terrorist detachments. In each of the last few years, 2,000-3,000 Palestinian inhabitants were arrested. 80% of them were sentenced by the courts to prison terms of several months minimum.
It is still difficult to predict how the events will evolve over the next few months, but in any case, it seems that we have “a new security situation” on our hands.
2. Vladimir Putin. Many people regard the regional instability as the direct result of the American strategy of minimizing US involvement in the region, due to separatism processes and shifting the focus of world attention to Eastern Asia and the Pacific region (among other things, owing to the reduced dependence on Arab oil).
The party that stepped very effectively into the vacuum left by the USA was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who currently positions himself as the regional “Sheriff”.
No one can overestimate the importance of the moves made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who deployed military forces to Syria this fall and continues to position himself as the strong man of the Middle East who never abandons his allies, while the USA has “transmitted” that her allies cannot rely on US support (as the USA had abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011).
This fall, the Russians deployed to Syria fighter aircraft that attack targets of the rebels opposing the military of President Bashar al-Assad. These moves were carefully coordinated with Iran, which, for her part, deployed hundreds of troopers (who are currently helping Hezbollah withdraw some of its forces back to Lebanon).
The Russian-Iranian move may have been intended to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia that supports the rebels, as well as to raise the price of oil, which is important to the economies of both countries.
Complicated? Even if there is no connection between the moves in Syria and the energy market, there is a definite connection between the fighting in Syria and the war raging in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. A solution in Syria may project on the war over there, as in both regions Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides, with the conflict between the Shi’ite and Sunni factions of Islam as the backdrop.
Behind the scenes of the latest developments in Syria there has always been a Russian plan to bring about the end of the civil war in Syria by dividing it into areas of influence, with about 30% of the territory, in the Tartus and Lattakia area, remaining under control of the Alawite community of the current President, Bashar al-Assad.
Russia is interested in the sea ports in this area, and much less in maintaining Assad in control over a part of the disintegrated country. The Russians will not yield to the American demand to remove Assad from power until they have guaranteed their important interests. The party expected to pay the price is Israel, which may find itself, within a few months, facing a de-facto Iranian and Hezbollah domination on the other side of the border with Syria on the Golan Heights.
This situation could evolve despite the fact that Israel and Russia coordinate some of their respective moves, as indicated by the trip made by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s to Moscow last September, accompanied by the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, and Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hertzi Halevi, during which they met with “Sheriff” Putin.
3. Meanwhile, in the South. The good news come from the south, where Egypt under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is determined to defeat the forces of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State that operate throughout the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt, Israel and the USA cooperate closely in the context of this effort, owing to their shared interests.
El-Sisi regards Hamas in the Gaza Strip as an enemy, owing to the cooperation between Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is engaged in an on-going conflict with his regime.
Hamas itself is under tremendous pressure from different directions: from Egypt, which cuts off the underground tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with the Egyptian territory, as well as from al-Qaeda and elements identifying with the Islamic State, who urge the leaders of Hamas to renew the fighting against Israel and occasionally even launch a rocket into Israeli territory in order to motivate Israel (which regards Hamas as the party responsible for such launches) to attack Hamas.
The reality that emerged in the Gaza Strip is yet another example of the complexity in our region. Iran, encouraged by the signing of the nuclear agreement with the superpowers, has renewed its support for Hamas, both financially and militarily (despite the fact that Hamas identifies with the rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad in Syria and in Iran itself).
The positive bottom line is that Hamas, owing to its own considerations, does its best to maintain the ceasefire agreement reached with Israel following Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. That state of affairs remained in effect until the fall of 2015 but reality, as everyone knows only too well, is highly dynamic.
4. A Small Military. One of the most significant moves expected within IDF in November is the endorsement of the long-term plan for the coming five-year period, and the conversion thereof into an effective order for execution.
“Gideon” is the name of the new multi-year plan led by IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. The plan is intended to rely on the long-term budget allocated to the IDF according to the recommendations of the Locker Committee, and will come into effect in 2016, after five years during which IDF have operated without a long-term plan, as the previous plan had ended as far back as during the tenure of Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as Chief of Staff. The Gideon plan is intended to convert the IDF into a technological, cyber-based military organization, possessing fast maneuvering elements equipped with accurate, lethal weapons and enhanced sea and air branches. Above everything else, the most substantial investment will be made in intelligence.
The greatest concern among quite a few elements within the defense establishment pertains to the size of the military, as the new plan calls for the demobilization of quite a few units. One of the principles of Israel’s national security concept since the days of David Ben-Gurion is the need to maintain a strong, substantial military force, based on hundreds of thousands of reservists. The principle is still valid, but in effect, the emphasis is placed on intelligence, air power and commando operations. The substantial ground army, along with its massive tank OrBat, is reduced dramatically – which is inconsistent with the aforesaid principle.
5. Defense Exports. Nearing the end of 2015, the Israel Ministry of Defense and the Israeli defense industries embarked upon a massive sales effort. Between October and December, they will take part in not less than five major defense exhibitions in the USA, South Korea, Japan, Colombia and Thailand.
Even if that effort proves successful, the statistics for 2015 will indicate that Israeli defense exports still follow the downward trend that began in 2014. At best, the defense exports for 2015 will amount to US$ 5 billion, as opposed to US$ 7 billion in 2013.
The main reason for this decrease is the end of the global campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several major deals that are still on the agenda, mainly in India, can still change the picture before the end of 2015 and lead to a positive trend in terms of the scope of exports. In any case, the contribution made by the defense exports, which amounts to billions of dollars, to the Israeli economy and to the Israeli security resilience is immense. The massive proceeds enable the Israeli defense industries to continue to invest funds in research in order to develop products at the cutting edge of technology.