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[Deterred or patient?] Deterrence, Miscalculation, and the Next Round

Saturday, October 22, 2016 14:22
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Dr. Aaron Lerner – IMRA: When an enemy opts to patiently prepare a build up
of military capabilities under the cover of “quiet for quiet” rather than
fight before they complete their preparations is it appropriate to describe
the enemy as “deterred”?
Deterrence, Miscalculation, and the Next Round
INSS Insight No. 863, October 19, 2016
Amos Yadlin

SUMMARY: Recent security incidents to Israel’s north and south brought the
country’s attention back to its most explosive fronts. On both fronts the
IDF faces terror organizations, Hezbollah and Hamas, that have
institutionalized and taken on characteristics of states. Despite the lack
of interest in escalation on the part of all relevant parties, deterioration
on both fronts could lead to an outbreak of hostilities. Israel’s supreme
interest is security and quiet on its borders. Hezbollah and Hamas have not
given up on the intent to destroy Israel, and both organizations regard
military conflict as a central path to achieve this goal. Stopping them
requires strong deterrence and damage to their respective military buildups.
Yet in the event that it is dragged into another confrontation in the north
or the south, Israel must prepare wisely and diligently, in contrast to the
experience of the last rounds of fighting in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Thus before entering into military confrontation in either of these arenas,
Israel’s political leadership and the IDF must study and clarify critical
strategic and tactical issues. This article lists and discusses briefly ten
of these issues.
Recent security incidents to Israel’s north and south brought the country’s
attention back to its most explosive fronts – against Hezbollah and against
Hamas. On October 5 and 6, 2016, rockets and mortar shells were fired from
Gaza by an extremist Salafist organization, and Israel responded forcefully,
primarily from the air. At the same time, it was reported that a Hezbollah
cell of Kafr Rajar residents was caught; the cell had planned to carry out
attacks in Israel. These events raise the question of a watershed against
the terrorist organizations on both fronts, and whether another round of
fighting in the south or north, or perhaps on both fronts, will take place
soon. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas is interested in escalation at present,
but there is a chance that tactical events may lead to deterioration. This
article analyzes the balance of forces and factors that could disrupt the
calm, and highlights the issues that Israel must examine prior to the next

Both fronts have similar characteristics, as on both the IDF faces terror
organizations that have institutionalized and have taken on characteristics
of states. On both fronts, the enemy is currently not interested in fighting
with Israel. Israel achieved strong deterrence in previous rounds of
fighting against both Hezbollah and Hamas – the Second Lebanon War and
Operation Protective Edge, respectively. This deterrence was achieved due to
the heavy price paid by the two organizations and their constituencies.
However deterrence is a tricky term, and future actions and different
calculations may weaken it.

Deterrence against Hezbollah has even passed critical tests, including
targeted assassinations of leaders and attacks on convoys of high quality
weapons transferred from Syria, both attributed to Israel. Due to
Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the fighting in Syria, which has caused the
organization major losses as well as a budgetary crisis (predictions are
that Iran will increase financial aid following the nuclear deal and the end
of the sanctions), Hezbollah is even further deterred from war with Israel
and reluctant to open a new front.

In the south, Hamas is occupied with internal issues – the reconstruction of
Gaza following the previous round of fighting, and military buildup. Like
Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas also suffers from significant erosion in
public legitimacy, and is a target for severe public criticism for the
extensive harm incurred by the population during the last conflict with
Israel and poor achievements by Hamas in that campaign. In the political
arena, Hamas faces a confrontation with Egypt, due to the organization’s
affinity to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian regime sees as an
enemy and existential threat. Egypt has severely damaged the tunnel
smuggling system from the Sinai Peninsula into Gaza; this compounds the
damage to Gaza’s smuggling operations following Sudan’s distancing itself
from Iran, which makes it more difficult for Hamas to restore its military
might to its pre-Operation Protective Edge level. Countries that support
Hamas, particularly Turkey and Qatar, do not provide sufficient operational
or military support, and are not expected to aid the organization should
another round of fighting begin.

Despite the lack of interest in escalation on the part of all relevant
parties, deterioration on both fronts could lead to an outbreak of
hostilities. Hezbollah seeks a response to the attacks on its weapons
convoys, including an operational response with similar characteristics to
these attacks, which could include covert operations that obviate the need
to take responsibility (in the historic dynamics between Hezbollah and
Israel, covert operations are met with covert operations). These are
precisely the parameters that the Rajar cell could have provided for
Hezbollah: the exposed sabotage attempt was supposed to be carried out with
few footprints, without a direct link to Hezbollah and without
responsibility taken by the organization. Hezbollah will presumably continue
to try to develop operational tools for attacks on Israel in this manner.
Moreover, additional attacks against weapons convoys to Hezbollah,
especially within Lebanon, are liable to result in a response against
Israeli targets by a sleeper cell or Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure
abroad, alongside border attacks in the Golan Heights and Israel’s border
with Lebanon. The danger of escalation increases should the attacks cause
loss of life – Israeli or Lebanese – to an extent perceived by both parties
as requiring a response.

The southern front is less stable than in the north, where there are two
sides in a situation that is therefore more easily controlled. Despite
limitations, Israel and Hezbollah can anticipate the other side’s moves and
halt deterioration toward fighting with relative ease. Additionally, in the
north there are no elements that create continuous friction, which increase
the risk of deterioration. On the southern front, however, there is constant
friction, including restrictions on entering and exiting, a naval blockade,
tunnel digging into Israel, and tension surrounding the humanitarian need to
rebuild civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. In addition, the southern
front is extremely complex due to its many players. Salafist organizations
fire at Israel, more to defy Hamas than to harm Israel. They assume
correctly that Israel, which considers Hamas responsible for the situation
on the ground, will respond against Hamas. Therefore, the shooting creates a
significant dilemma for Israel. Ostensibly, the Israeli government’s policy
regarding any fire from the Gaza Strip is well defined: forceful responses
against Hamas targets. However, it is clear that this policy has a dangerous
aspect, regarding the possibility of miscalculating Hamas’ response. For
example, should Hamas feel that it is losing assets too quickly, or should
too many lives be lost in the Gaza Strip, the organization may respond with
extensive fire on Israel. From there the road to another round of fighting
is short.

Policy Recommendations

Israel’s supreme interest is security and quiet on its borders. Hezbollah
and Hamas have not given up on the cause of destroying Israel, and both
organizations regard military conflict as a central path to achieve this
goal. Stopping them requires strong deterrence and damaging their respective
military buildups. However, another round of fighting in the north or south
may be postponed should Israel balance between the desire to maintain quiet
and the need to reinforce deterrence and prevent the strengthening of these
terrorist organizations.

At present, the tension with Hezbollah is well contained. The quiet has been
maintained for over a decade thanks to strong Israeli deterrence (some would
argue mutual deterrence), Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, and the
bilateral nature of the dynamic. The buildup issue is addressed carefully,
with policy focusing on preventing quality arms supplies to Hezbollah
(precision missiles, air defense, drones, surface-to-ship missiles, and
chemical weapons), and generally avoiding responsibility for the attacks
that are usually carried out in Syria only.

In parallel, the Israeli defense leadership must be sensitive to the fragile
quiet in the south. Israel must reconsider its policy of automatic response
to any weapons fire from the Gaza Strip. The involvement of a third party –
Salafist groups interested in bringing Israel and Hamas into confrontation –
is a problematic factor, and ways to address it must be found. It is right
to prioritize striking the groups that are responsible for violating the
ceasefire, if both operationally and through intelligence, though Hamas must
not be relieved of its responsibility. All this must be taken into account
knowing that damage to power components dear to Hamas or significant loss of
life in Gaza will lead both to changes in the organization’s conduct and to
open conflict.

The “every attack will receive a response” policy is too mechanical. One of
the most important achievements of the Second Lebanon War was Nasrallah
losing his confidence in predicting Israel’s reactions. Uncertainty about
Israel’s response restrains the enemy, since it is difficult for it to
manage risks while walking on the brink. Currently, Israel is too
predictable, and rogue organizations (Salafists, Syrian rebels, the Islamic
State), can “order” attacks by the Israeli Air Force against the regime they
are fighting (Hamas or the Assad regime), whenever they like.

This leads to a fundamental conclusion in addressing the possibility of
escalation: for Israel, it is right to enter into a comprehensive
confrontation only if the review process of Operation Protective Edge has
been completed, with lessons applied and better solutions established to
strategic, operational, and tactical issues where Israel and the IDF failed
in that campaign. It would not be right to slide again into an unplanned
confrontation, as in Operation Protective Edge, which lasted 50 days and
ended with no change in the strategic situation, without rules or
regulations to prevent future buildup of Hamas and no painful damage
inflicted on the organization, especially its military wing. .The IDF must
act on a better intelligence about the enemy’s intentions and its

Therefore, before entering into military confrontation in the south or in
the north, the political leadership and the IDF must study and clarify the
following strategic and tactical issues:

1. What strategic purpose does Israel seek to achieve, and what are the
implications of each alternative?

2. What is the main leverage for achieving this goal – directly or
indirectly? Does it include attacks on the enemy’s national infrastructure
supporting its military efforts?

3. How can the operation be shortened, and what are the mechanisms to
terminate it?

4. How will the political campaign be conducted at the international and
regional level? In this context: will international and regional actors
intervene (threats, sanctions, or even military involvement)? When will
international and regional actors demand an end to the operation? When and
how will negotiations take place about Security Council decisions, if at
all? How can international and regional actors be used to shorten the
operation and achieve its goals?

5. What is the correct timing of the operation? Can a preemptive strike
be conducted, or at least can tactical surprises be created that could lead
to significant achievements at the outset?

6. What is the quality and level of Israel’s intelligence about the
capabilities and intentions of the enemy? In this context, what is different
now from the previous campaign? Where and how will Israel be surprised? On
what issues could planning reflect incorrect intelligence, or operational or
political conceptions?

7. Does the operation include ground maneuvers, and if so, to what
purpose? What is the proper timing and depth? Should Israel prepare for
occupation or a temporary presence?

8. How will Israel conduct targeted attacks of the organization’s
leaders? What capabilities are required and what will be the impact of these

9. How should the Israeli civilian arena be prepared for the campaign?
Can the public’s expectations be managed? How? What is the level of
resilience level of the home front?

10. What are the risks that a second front could be opened
simultaneously, and how can this possibility be prepared for?

Each of these topics requires in-depth cabinet deliberations that should be
conducted before and not during or after the fighting in front of a
commission of inquiry. A responsible leadership will choose correct and
appropriate timing for the operation, and not let uncontrolled escalation
dictate the timing and conduct of the operation. If Israel is fated to be
dragged into another confrontation in the north or the south, it must
prepare wisely and diligently, in contrast to the last rounds of fighting in
Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.


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