Israel’s Multifront Escalation
This week’s Israeli operation in response to Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) attacks from Gaza, called Shield and Arrow, seeks to enforce redlines and restore deterrence against the Iran-backed terrorist group. These concerns are particularly acute, since this latest flare-up comes in the wake of an unprecedentedly coordinated effort last month by PIJ and other Iranian proxies to attack Israel on multiple fronts from Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza.
All these recent events have occurred as Iran and its proxies seek to gauge and exploit possible Israeli weaknesses and distractions stemming from its internal political turmoil, persistent strains in its bilateral partnership with the United States, and Washington’s own perceived retrenchment from the Middle East.
Because Israeli deterrence is increasingly vital to uphold enduring U.S. interests and stability more broadly in the region, American policymakers should strengthen their visible support for Israel’s right to self-defense while also reducing the risks and costs of further escalation by providing Israel with critical military capabilities that it needs now.
Iranian proxies are demonstrating increased capacity, capability, and synchronization in targeting Israel. On top of the 500-plus PIJ projectiles fired from Gaza this week, Israel faced sixteen rockets from Gaza on April 5, and at least thirty-four rockets from Lebanon on April 6 – the largest from that country since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, and the first since Israel and Lebanon last exchanged fire in August 2021. Israel also faced attacks by a quadcopter drone from Lebanon on April 7, and six rockets from Syria on April 8. Increasingly, Hamas feels confident enough in its own position in Gaza to amass and fire weaponry from Lebanon now as well.
While the April conflict dissipated after a few days, these events are microcosmic of a future multifront war, as detailed in a recent analysis from the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA). Since the 2006 war, Hezbollah has expanded its arsenal of rockets and missiles from roughly 11,000 to 130,000, including a growing arsenal of advanced precision munitions that could overwhelm Israeli defenses and inflict massive casualties and destruction. In recent brief conflicts, Palestinian militants have shown increased willingness and ability to fire massive barrages as well. During the 2021 and 2022 conflicts between Israel and Gaza, Palestinian militants launched roughly fifty-five percent more projectiles per day than Israel faced on a daily basis during the high-intensity 2006 Lebanon War with Hezbollah.
By leveraging recent tensions at Al Aqsa Mosque and Israeli domestic disputes over potential judicial reform, this multifront bombardment sought capitalize on Jerusalem’s potential inability to respond effectively, even against low-intensity rocket attacks. A growing number of Israeli reservists have pledged not to report for training if the judicial reform moves forward. Given Israel’s small size, it relies heavily on such reservists, especially for pilots and elite combat units.
This context underscores the significance of this recent assault, since it also came on the heels of successful Israeli strikes against Iranian military targets in Syria – strikes which, in turn, are part of a years-long concerted Israeli effort to degrade and deter Tehran’s military and nuclear expansions. Additionally, the multifront attack on Israel followed recent incidents involving Israeli police at Al Aqsa during Ramadan and Passover, raising worrisome parallels to May 2021 when Hamas leveraged similar tensions to escalate its rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. And while Hamas and Hezbollah remain on the sidelines in this current flare-up, they still could seek to escalate and capitalize on any further perceived gaps in Israeli deterrence.
These concerning developments highlight the growing need for the United States to strengthen its public support for Israel, given that the latter is the only force anywhere right now that is actively supporting regional security and other U.S. interests by imposing direct costs on Iranian aggression. And as Western nations have learned in arming Ukraine, providing military support takes time and is more difficult during wartime than pre-conflict. Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Defense should urgently replenish America’s obsolete and recently depleted stockpile of prepositioned materiel in Israel, called War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I), so that it includes precision guided munitions (PGM) that Israel could use to deter or, if necessary, improve its ability to prevail in any larger multifront war with Iran and/or Hezbollah.
Simultaneously, the Biden administration should stop publicly distancing itself from Israeli action to degrade Iranian capabilities, and instead adopt a Plan B of comprehensive pressure to counter and dissuade Iranian aggression and bolster Israel’s deterrent capabilities.
Israel has proved its ability to protect itself against Iran-backed attacks from Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. However, its adversaries are increasingly probing these defenses and improving their coordination with one another, both disturbing trends that augur the outbreak of an eventual much larger war that could draw in the United States, or at least trigger a massive and challenging emergency resupply of Israel in wartime. Each alarm in Israel triggered by an Iranian proxy’s rocket sounds another warning that an even more massive war could be coming. America must move swiftly now to help Israel and reduce the risks of such a catastrophic scenario.
General James D. Thurman (U.S. Army ret.), is former Commander, United Nations Command, ROK-United States Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea, and was a participant in the Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) 2016 Generals and Admirals Program. Jonathan Ruhe and Ari Cicurel are director of foreign policy and assistant director of foreign policy, respectively, at JINSA.
Originally published in Real Clear Defense.