As Israel Begins its 65th Year, the IDF Prepares for Multi-Arena Conflicts

By Yaakov Lappin
JINSA Visiting Fellow

Israel celebrated its sixty-fifth year of independence this week, an event that saw millions of citizens head outdoors to hold picnics, barbeques, and parties.

By Yaakov Lappin
JINSA Visiting Fellow

Israel celebrated its sixty-fifth year of independence this week, an event that saw millions of citizens head outdoors to hold picnics, barbeques, and parties.

As the flags, ceremonies, and fireworks washed over the land, defense chiefs delivered annual speeches, in which they signaled to the nation that while things appeared to be quiet on the surface, behind the scenes, security tensions are high, and the immediate future is volatile and unpredictable.

The calm should not fool anyone, Israelis were warned. On Israel’s borders, and further to the east in Tehran, threats are rapidly developing, and the IDF is preparing to meet them head-on if necessary.

A day after the Independence Day celebrations ended, two Grad rockets, fired from the Egyptian Sinai, exploded in Eilat, triggering air raid sirens. Luckily, the projectiles exploded in open territory, though one fell in a construction site, narrowly missing a residential neighborhood.

A Salafi jihadi group called the Mujahedeen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem – which has bases in Gaza and Sinai – later claimed responsibility. In the past, the group fired rockets at southern Israel as well.

In addition to attempting to murder and maim innocent civilians, such attacks are also designed to cause damage to Israel’s economy, by scaring away tourists from the Red Sea resort city. The attackers are exploiting the fact that Israel is very reluctant to return fire into Egyptian territory, and are using the sensitive Egyptian-Israeli relations as a shield from which to launch attacks at Israel.

But Wednesday’s twin rocket attack is exactly the type of incident which, although relatively small on its own, has the potential to spark a wider confrontation, which can spread from one arena to another at lightning speed.

It is this type of sudden, multi-arena escalation that the IDF is now preparing itself for.

Taking the Eilat rockets as a case in point, should Israeli intelligence track down the attack’s organizers to Gaza, and carry out an air strike on global jihadis there, Hamas might come under pressure from other armed groups to declare an end to its five-month truce with Israel.

Such a declaration would see the resumption of widespread rocket fire on the Israeli home front, sending a million civilians to bomb shelters and safe rooms. The Israel Air Force would respond by striking a high number of targets in Gaza, and, if the rocket fire continued, Israeli ground forces would amass at a staging area on the border with Gaza, just as they did in the November 2012 conflict.

This time around, the ground forces, made up of tanks, APCs, infantry soldiers, artillery, and other forces, might be ordered into Gaza.

That in turn might just prompt Hezbollah to fire projectiles at northern Israel from southern Lebanon, or order a small terrorist cell operating under a different name to do the same from Syria.

The IAF might quickly identify the source of the attack and neutralize it with an airstrike. Should Hezbollah, armed with 80,000 rockets, respond, the IDF would find itself facing a two-front war. In such a scenario, the IAF will have to employ operational flexibility, dividing its fighter jet squadrons between north and south, while still keeping an eye on developments in Syria. Ground forces as well would have to divide, allowing for two simultaneous land maneuvers, one in the north, and one in the south.

Now, it is important to emphasize that this simulation is predicated on the collapse of Israeli deterrence against Hamas and Hezbollah – a development which, for the time being, does not appear likely.

But the current wave of Middle East instability, and the resulting growth of terrorist organizations such as the global jihadis in Sinai and Syria, might just provide the spark that can set a room full of gas on fire.

IDF intelligence forecasts put the chances of security deterioration this year are high. And since every deterioration has the potential to turn into a multi-arena conflict, the IDF must weigh its every move and counter-move, choosing when to respond, whether to do so overtly or covertly, and defining what constitutes a red line that cannot be tolerated if crossed.

In this type of reality, there is no such thing as a “minor incident” anymore. Any flame can turn into a blaze.

Against the background of this combustible situation, two thousand kilometers to the east, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is continuing to gather pace.

In addition to three potential active fronts, the IDF must also prepare itself for the possibility that it might be ordered to attack Iranian nuclear sites, if the international community’s policy of economic sanctions, diplomacy, and a somewhat vague military threat fails to stop Iran from enriching a critical mass of uranium to the 20 percent level.

These are factors that led IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to declare earlier this week, “Even if it seems that the enemy isn’t knocking on our door, don’t let the quiet fool you. Under the surface, things are bubbling.”

It is the IDF’s intensive preparations for these developing threats that led him to add, “Tonight we take a sober look at our enemies… and I say to you, our shield of defense is more fortified than ever, our sword is sharper than ever… When we’ll be called, we’ll show that we are readier than ever.”

Yaakov Lappin, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a journalist for the Jerusalem Post, where he covers military and national security affairs. For more information on the JINSA Visiting Fellows program, click here.