Northern Front Warming Up; Unrest in Palestinian Sector

The firm messages conveyed to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah and the visit by the Israeli cabinet to IDF Northern Command notwithstanding, current intelligence appraisals are concerned about the volatility of the Palestinian front. Meanwhile, in far-away Singapore, Israeli authorities have begun concluding a particularly successful year for Israeli defense exports. Amir Rapaport's Weekly Column

From the Israeli cabinet's visit to IDF Northern Command (Photo: Ariel Hermoni, IMOD)

In the event that a war should break out in the north over the course of the coming weeks or months, it will definitely be run "by the book", as if only one primary lesson is to be derived from the conclusions of the Winograd Commission that investigated the Second Lebanon War, it will be the conclusion that all of the moves, processes, and discussions taking place prior to any belligerent move must be thoroughly arranged and fully documented.

This may provide the background for the visit paid by the Israeli cabinet to IDF Northern Command last Tuesday, only hours before Syria claimed, once again, that Israel had attacked an objective on Syrian soil (if said attack was, indeed, carried out by Israel, it could have escalated into war through an on-going, gradual process).

According to reports in the media, the objective attacked was a weapon system research and development facility near the town of Jamraya, to the north-west of Damascus. It is reasonable to assume that the attack was carried out by aircraft, although the IDF has proven that it is equally capable of attacking enemy targets from a distance – either from the air or from the ground.

The official photograph that documented the visit to IDF Northern Command shows, in addition to the Prime Minister, the Head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and ministers Gilad Erdan, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Minister of Defense Lieberman is shown seated in the middle, next to the IDF Chief of Staff.

Apart from preparing the files for a future commission of inquiry, such a photograph was intended, in all probability, to convey a message to the Syrians, the Iranians and Hezbollah – to the effect that Israel will not blink and will strictly adhere to its policy of preventing, by force if necessary, Iran's attempts to establish strategically-significant weapon production facilities on Syrian soil (the dilemma of whether to attack such facilities in Lebanon as well is much more complicated, as Hezbollah keeps announcing that they will not accept such an attack while maintaining a de-facto mutual balance of terror vis-à-vis Israel).

In retrospect, it would seem that the hasty visit by the Israeli Prime Minister to Russia, about a week prior to the reports of the attack attributed to Israel, was linked to the attack and was intended to reiterate Israel's policy to the Russians, and possibly to obtain their tacit consent to Israel's intended moves.

Against the background of the excessive number of players currently active in the northern sector, the succinct commentary by Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, formerly the Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate and currently the Head of Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in true Twitter style, is of particular interest:

"The attack attributed to Israel points to the fact that Israel pays no heed of Assad's threats to launch missiles at Ben-Gurion airport and that Israel is determined not to allow Iran to develop in Syria an infrastructure for the manufacture of cutting-edge weapon systems. Hezbollah, having realized that it forces Lebanon into a war over the Iranian missile project, attempts to come up with more legitimate pretexts for the Lebanese public: the obstacle system Israel is erecting between the fence system and the borderline and the controversy regarding the maritime border. This controversy involves areas in the Mediterranean Sea that contain massive natural gas deposits. Are they Lebanese or Israeli? The solidarity with Hezbollah shown by the Lebanese Government and President in coming up with pretexts for a conflict further solidifies the approach according to which in the context of the next confrontation, the overriding principle will be "Hezbollah = Lebanon". At the same time, such fanatic statements along the lines of "Sending Lebanon back to the stone age" are counter-productive. We should adhere to deeds that represent and convey the policy, rather than heat up a sensitive sector. Controlling the escalation while preventing the enemy's force build-up is the appropriate policy for this time."

By-the-Book Manhunt

While all eyes were trained on the north, a by-the-book manhunt came to an end earlier this week. That manhunt was in process since the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach at Havat Gilad last month. All of the intelligence resources of the IDF, ISA and the Israel Police were invested in this manhunt, and as far as the wanted terrorist was concerned, the outcome was inevitable.

So, the ISA was able to issue the following report: "At the conclusion of a complex and determined intelligence and operational effort, which started immediately following the attack in which the late Rabbi Raziel Shevach was murdered, early this morning, Ahmad Nasser Jarar, a resident of Jenin, was killed in a combined operation by the Israel Security Agency, IDF and YAMAM – the specialist counterterrorist unit of the Israel Police. Jarar was a prominent activist of the terrorist infrastructure responsible for the shooting attack near Havat Gilad on January 9, 2018, in which the late Rabbi Raziel Shevach was murdered. Jarar was personally involved in the attack. During the attempt to detain him, the wanted terrorist emerged from a building where he had been hiding in Yamun, and was shot by the forces. An M-16 assault rifle and a bag containing explosive charges were found on the terrorist's body. Our own forces sustained no casualties. Investigations conducted by the ISA have indicated that the infrastructure in question was involved in other attempts to stage terrorist attacks and in the planning of other terrorist attacks."

One thing this carefully-worded announcement does not contain is the alarming intelligence appraisals regarding the volatility of the Palestinian front in anticipation of the summer of 2018. The mounting tension was not reflected only by the manhunt and the terrorist attacks this past week.

The two primary reasons for concern are the estimate that Abu-Mazen is nearing the end of his historic path, which could have an adverse effect on the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and the severe economic distress in the Gaza Strip. Of particular concern is the possibility that the northern front might flare up in the coming summer at the same time as the Palestinian front. In the event of a missile war involving both the northern front and the Gaza Strip front, the Iron Dome batteries deployed throughout Israel will not be sufficient to cover all of Israel's population centers and settlements.

Meanwhile, Back in Asia

Far away from the Gaza Strip and Syria, senior executives of the Israeli defense establishment, including the Director General of the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Adam and the Head of the Defense R&D Directorate, Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Daniel Gold, attended the biennial Singapore Airshow – Asia's largest defense conference, which attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

The reason for the abundance of visitors is the fact that in Asia, defense budgets are constantly on the rise, against the background of a series of conflicts (in addition to North Korea, China, too, is involved in conflicts with quite a few of its neighbors, particularly with regard to control over islands and off-shore natural resources).

Generally, Singapore is friendly to Israel, as reflected by the fact that the local air force presented at the show numerous Israeli systems it is currently using.

In Singapore, of all places, there has been a decrease in the budgets allocated to the procurement of weapon systems, but generally, the Asian market is boiling, which led IMOD to come up with figures indicating an all-time defense export record (the figures are yet to be finalized, but apparently, Israeli defense exports for 2017 have crossed the bar of $8 billion for the first time). This is a major accomplishment for the Israeli defense industries and for IMOD's SIBAT (Defense Exports & Cooperation) Division, headed by Brig. Gen. (res.) Michel Ben-Baruch.

Another factor that contributed to this accomplishment was the increase in Israeli defense exports to the USA and to terrorism-stricken Europe.