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1/20/15 Tensions Very High in the North

by Marc Schulman

Israeli news broadcasts tonight did not open with the latest election news. Rather, the headline this evening was about the Israeli troops sent north to reinforce the borders with Syria and Lebanon as well as the road along the Lebanese border being closed. All of this to guard against reprisals for the killing of high ranking Hezbollah commanders; along with the Iranian general Mohammed Ali Allahdadi who was responsible for liaison with Syria and Lebanon by Israel on Sunday. Today, an Israeli source claimed that IDF had no intention of killing the Iranian general, and had no idea he was part of the convoy that was reportedly attacked. The unnamed Israeli source asserted Israel thought it was attacking a local Hezbollah cell attempting to use the Golan Heights as a launching pad for attacks on Israel.

It would seem the Israeli government is trying to stop the situation from getting totally out of control. Nonetheless, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stated today that Israel should expect “destructive thunderbolts”. Various threats were also leveled against Israel by Hezbollah, vowing it would retaliate. The Israeli government is obviously hoping that reinforcing the border and stating the attack was partially a mistake may be enough to deter Hezbollah and/or Iran from taking action. At the moment, Israel believes it is unlikely Hezbollah, or Iran, wish to get into a major war with Israel – both countries being bogged down in Syria and Iraq, (respectively fighting the Syrian rebels and the Islamic state.) However, Israelis are well aware of the fact that before this summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza the prevailing wisdom was that Hamas was not interested in a general conflict with Israel, (since it was not in its interest to go to war with Israel at that point in time.) In retrospect, the Israeli assessment was correct on one account – it was not in Hamas’s interest to go to war with Israel. This summer Hamas accomplished nothing but bringing widespread misery to its people as a result of the war. However, the assessment that Hamas would choose not go to war, since it was not in their interest proved false. Many fear the same analysis regarding Hezbollah and Iran may indeed be true.

A war with Hezbollah would be costly for Israel. During the last war, eight years ago, Hezbollah fired missies at much of the North. Hezbollah’s missile barrages were, in the part, the motivation for creating the Iron Dome missile defense system currently deployed to protect Israel against missile attacks. Hezbollah is now said to have a extensive supply of intermediate range missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv and targets further to the South. Iron Dome can defend against those missiles. Continuing to deepen its defense arsenal, Israel has also developed a special medium-range missile defense system called “David’s Slingshot” (now in the testing stage), which has not yet been operationally deployed. The fear however is that the 100,000 missiles that are suppose to be in the Hezbollah arsenal may be enough to overwhelm Israel’s missile defense system.

All of the events above are taking place against the background of the Israeli election campaign currently in progress. This is a campaign in which – for the first time – Prime Minister Netanyahu is seen as a slight underdog. The most recent polls show his Likud party trailing “The Zionist Camp” (a.k.a. the former Labor Party), co-led by the team of Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni. There are cynics who claim that the attack on the convoy in Syria was a “wag the dog moment”, an attempt by Netanyahu to use the defense situation, or a new defense threat to strengthen his political standing. There is no doubt that Netanyahu’s political position is aided whenever security matters lead the news cycle. As one prominent Tel Aviv resident (who would not naturally be inclined to vote for Netanyahu) said to me yesterday: “We live in a difficult neighborhood, and you must be strong to live here.” The individual was still not planning to vote for Netanyahu, but…


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