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Future Confrontations with Hamas & Hezbollah

Saturday, November 26, 2016 15:22
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Future Confrontations with Hamas & Hezbollah
The primary challenge IDF will face in the coming years will consist of
hybrid opponents, namely – non-state organizations that had developed
military strength combining guerrilla tactics and regular armed forces,
notably Hamas and Hezbollah
Ehud Eilam 24/11/2016
http://www.israeldefense.co.il/en/node/27682

The familiar defense challenges Israel faced until the last few years were
conventional military confrontations against the armed forces of such Arab
countries as Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, but the likelihood of such
confrontations has been drastically reduced pursuant to the signature of the
peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, the disintegration of Iraq and the
civil war raging in Syria since 2011, which has severely weakened the Syrian
Army.

In the last decade, Iran has evolved into the most substantial threat facing
Israel, mainly if it ever succeeds in manufacturing nuclear weapons. As long
as this option remains unfeasible, the primary challenge facing IDF will
involve hybrid opponents, namely – non-state organizations that had
developed military strength combining guerrilla tactics and regular armed
forces, notably Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Rocket Rage

Hezbollah is kept busy by the fighting in Syria and is not currently
interested in a confrontation with Israel, but a flare-up between this
organization and the State of Israel might develop nevertheless, for
example – if an incident along the Israeli-Lebanese border or the
Israeli-Syrian border got out of hand, particularly if one of the parties
involved had sustained heavy casualties and responded aggressively.

Hezbollah is regarded as the hybrid organization that is the most dangerous
for Israel as it has in its possession some 150,000 rockets and missiles.
This arsenal practically covers every point within Israel’s territory and
has the potential of inflicting substantial damage. This applies in
particular to high precision missiles and/or missiles fitted with
substantial warheads. During the next war, up to 1,500 rockets might be
launched into Israel every day. Hezbollah can hit and even paralyze vital
infrastructures like Ben-Gurion airport. In view of this threat, the State
of Israel should consider a preemptive strike. On the other hand, Israel had
dealt with more serious opponents than Hezbollah in the past, and some of
those opponents have faded away while Israel was spared the cost of a war,
as was the case with Syria.

A future confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah could evolve into a
massive operation, extending from the Beqaa Valley and Beirut in Lebanon all
the way to the Negev. In response to massive rocket fire against military
and civilian targets inside Israel, IDF will stage a large-scale offensive
into Lebanon, on land, in the air and at sea. Battles will be conducted in
open terrain, in cleft areas and in some cases in densely foliated areas,
and mainly in urban areas, where Hezbollah had deployed their rockets.

The “IDF Strategy” document published by IDF in August 2015 states that the
objective will be “To deny the enemy the will and ability to continue
fighting and operate against our own forces.” Israel cannot annihilate
Hezbollah as this organization would always be able to continue fighting
using guerrilla tactics and terrorism, even if IDF dominated considerable
parts of Lebanon as was the case in the past. From the outset, Israel will
have no intention of remaining in Lebanon again, certainly not longer than a
few weeks, so as not to sink into the Lebanese mire once again, as was the
case in the 1980s and 1990s. Consequently, IDF will stage a major raid-like
operation whose strategic objective would be to deliver a heavy blow to
Hezbollah, namely – to inflict maximum damage and casualties to this
organization, thereby punishing, weakening and deterring it and deferring
the next round as much as possible.

At the operational level, Israel will strive to destroy as many rockets as
possible, in particular the more effective and lethal ones, before they are
launched into Israeli territory. Accordingly, IDF will focus on some 200
villages and towns in southern Lebanon, where the rockets are deployed. IDF
will rely on high-precision fire, mainly from the air, along with a ground
maneuver. An offensive move incorporating a ground maneuver that may
penetrate deep into Lebanese territory cannot be ruled out. Such a move may
be required in order to deliver a decisive operational blow to Hezbollah,
namely – to directly threaten the organization’s centers of gravity, in
order to convince its leaders to accept a ceasefire subject to terms that
are as favorable to Israel as possible.

Israel will have to minimize the losses and damage inflicted on it by
Hezbollah fire using such active defense measures as the Iron Dome system
along with passive defense, while relying on the IDF Home Front Command and
effective coordination between the various local and government authorities.
This cooperation has been tested through a series of training exercises
conducted since the last confrontation in 2006, like the last national home
front training exercise conducted in mid-September 2016. In June 2016, an
exercise involving the massive evacuation of civilians was conducted in four
settlements along the border with Lebanon. In the event of a war, 14
settlements located close to the border with Lebanon could be evacuated,
owing to concerns regarding enemy fire and a possible raid by Hezbollah into
Israeli territory.

Better the Enemy You Know

On the other side of the map, Hamas in the Gaza Strip is locked between
Israel and Egypt. Both countries are hostile to it, which hinders its
aspirations to grow stronger. At the same time, Hamas invests in its
military power, especially in the manufacture of rockets and the excavation
of underground tunnels. Compared to Hezbollah, Hamas is less dangerous as it
possesses fewer rockets – only a few thousands, and the range and warhead
size of those rockets are inferior to those of the Hezbollah rockets.
Additionally, Hamas, despite its aspirations to agitate the Judea and
Samaria district, is not currently interested in a confrontation in the Gaza
Strip. This trend may change, however, and in any case, an incident in the
Gaza Strip that gets out of hand could drag both sides into a confrontation.

The Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip can be toppled within weeks or even days
by capturing the Gaza Strip. However, a confrontation with Hamas could drag
on and exact a costly toll on Israel on several levels, in the form of
casualties, economic costs, international criticism, deterioration of
relations with Arab countries, et al. Israel prefers to have the Palestinian
Authority regain control over the Gaza Strip, but the PA is unwilling and/or
incapable of accomplishing it. The Palestinian Authority has a very
difficult time, despite massive assistance from Israel, preventing Hamas
from dominating the Judea and Samaria district. Israel could capture the
Gaza Strip and then withdraw, but ironically, after such a confrontation
Hamas may prove to be too weak to once again enforce its authority over the
Gaza Strip. Some parts of the Gaza Strip, if not all of it, could evolve
into a no-man’s land and even worse as far as Israel is concerned – into a
staging area for Islamic organizations more radical than Hamas, like those
identified with al-Qaeda or ISIS. As far as Israel is concerned, Hamas is
“the devil you know”, namely – a hostile Arab regime, but one with which
understandings may be reached, albeit unofficially, as Israel has done in
the past and could do again in the future on other fronts as well.

During a confrontation between Israel and Hamas, Turkey could aspire to
prove that it is on the side of Hamas, which could undermine the fragile
reconciliation agreement concluded recently between Israel and Turkey.
Turkey could also act as mediator between Israel and Hamas, assuming that
both Israel and Hamas trust it. Iran, on the one hand, will aspire to
support Hamas against Israel, but on the other hand, an on-going conflict
has clouded the relations between Hamas and Iran for some time, pursuant to
Hamas’ refusal to align with Iran’s Syrian ally, Assad. Even if Iran wanted
to support Hamas, the isolation of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the blocking
of the tunnels leading from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip will make it
extremely difficult for Iran to deliver supplies to Hamas.

The Preparations of the IDF

On January 18, 2016, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot defined
Hezbollah as “The primary enemy facing IDF”. IDF have been preparing for
confrontations on other fronts as well, notably the Gaza Strip front. There
is also the possibility of simultaneous fighting on more than one front. In
mid-September 2016, IDF conducted a large-scale general staff exercise that
examined a scenario of escalation in the Judea and Samaria district that
leads to a war against both Hamas and Hezbollah, namely – a confrontation on
three fronts simultaneously.

The IDF manpower is based on reservists. At the same time, especially in the
event of a small scale operation on a single front, IDF may rely on their
regular units, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as these units are readily
available year-round, they are easier to train. Additionally, if a heated
dispute develops within the Israeli public regarding the operation, then,
unlike the regular (compulsory service) troopers, the reservists may prove
to be more critical, which may include criticism voiced in public, and IDF
strive to avoid such situations. Relying on the regular forces will be a
calculated risk, assuming the operation does not erode those units
excessively, especially if there are no indications of another front opening
during the war or immediately thereafter. Deploying worn and exhausted
regular units to another front before they had a chance to recover could
result in the mission not being accomplished and in heavy casualties among
the IDF troopers.

The motivation of the troops will, as always, be of the utmost importance.
Enemy fire sustained by the Israeli rear area will make the importance of
the mission abundantly clear to every trooper. Nevertheless, morale may
develop some cracks, for example among those who believe that Israel used
excessive force or that the objectives of the operation are overly ambitious
in the event that Israel aspired to annihilate Hezbollah and/or to knock
down Hamas, which would require an extensive and prolonged operation in
Lebanon/the Gaza Strip. Conversely, if the operation ends with
Hamas/Hezbollah still undefeated, many troopers may feel frustrated and
disappointed, in view of the risks they had taken and the price paid in
human lives.

The Israeli Air Force will enjoy total air superiority. Hamas and Hezbollah
have no aircraft generally and interceptors in particular – only
anti-aircraft missile systems (especially Hezbollah). The latter
organization might shoot down one or more Israeli aircraft. Israel must do
everything to prevent the enemy from gaining such a propaganda victory,
namely – not to emphasize the loss of an aircraft, as it is a part of the
normal cost of the operation. Fighter aircraft and attack helicopters will
attack various enemy objectives while supporting the ground forces.
Coordination between those two arms has improved in the last few years.
Naturally, safety rules would have to be observed, like keeping a safe
distance between the target and the nearest friendly ground force, although
in some cases they may have to be overlooked, for example – when a ground
force has to be extricated.

In March 2016, IAF conducted a highly intensive training activity intended
to test its forces in a situation of a massive rocket fire attack against
Israel. The IAF squadrons practiced an extensive range of scenarios at the
tactical level, with the intention of generating the highest strike mission
output. In late June 2016, an IDF General Staff exercise was conducted to
test the three arms in the context of different scenarios, with the emphasis
placed on the northern front. IAF, for example, practiced air strikes. The
IDF Navy practiced attacks against coastal targets and support for the
ground forces. In any future confrontation, the IDF artillery will be a part
of the fire support effort, with the emphasis placed on the use of
precision-guided munitions against targets in built-up areas, to avoid
unnecessary deaths among Arab civilians.

The spearhead of the IDF ground forces will consist of armored elements
employing Merkava Mark-IV tanks fitted with the Trophy system that provides
protection against enemy antitank weapons. The IDF 401st Armored Brigade,
for example, operates such tanks. Namer APCs will be essential to provide
effective protection to the IDF infantry. The combat engineering forces will
clear paths through the battlefield by neutralizing various types of EODs,
IEODs, mines and so forth. Combat engagement inside the underground tunnels
will constitute a particularly complex challenge. IDF will have to avoid
such engagements to the maximum extent possible, and focus on protecting the
troopers on the ground, as inside the tunnels IDF will lose their
advantages – outnumbering the terrorists and possessing superior firepower.

In conclusion, a future confrontation with Hezbollah or Hamas will not
threaten the State of Israel like past wars against a coalition of Arab
countries had done. Nevertheless a war, especially against Hezbollah, will
be a major challenge. IDF will not be able to accomplish total overbalance
over the enemy, but intelligent preparations will enable Israel to deliver a
painful blow while sustaining minimum casualties and damage. Such
preparations necessitate a sober definition of the objectives of the future
war while preparing IDF to accomplish those objectives and always retaining
the necessary flexibility that may be required during the actual operation.

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