Escalating terrorist and rocket attacks against Israel during Passover are only the first stages in the war of attrition being waged by the “Axis of Resistance” led by Iran. Tehran’s “uniting the fronts” strategy was devised by the late Gen. Qassem Soleimani, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. The current round of fighting is only the first stage in Iran’s phased plan to destroy Israel.
The Axis of Resistance estimates that Israel’s judicial reform debate and its recent crises in relations with the United States have weakened the Jewish state. They believe that the Israel Defense Forces cannot fight simultaneously on several fronts while dealing with tens of thousands of rockets, precision missiles and drones launched across several borders, accompanied by a wave of terror in the West Bank.
Since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah’s power has grown exponentially; today, it has an estimated arsenal of 150,000 rockets and precision missiles. Moreover, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah claims he is not afraid of a military confrontation with Israel (while continuing to operate from a bunker deep under Beirut).
Following the pummeling of Hamas in the 2021 Gaza war, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas established Hamas bases in Lebanon, recruiting fighters from refugee camps north of Israel. The IED bomb explosion at Israel’s Megiddo Junction on March 13, 2023, was believed to have been rigged by a Hamas operative who crossed into the country from Lebanon.
Recent disturbances inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque were also planned and provoked by Hamas. As expected, Israeli police dispersed rioters by force, and the stark images of the clashes were quickly distributed on Hamas social media and beyond. The social media posts triggered outrage and a call for revenge across the Muslim world. The Temple Mount violence also sought to ignite Israel’s Arab sector to riot as it did in May 2021 during the “Guardians of the Walls” military operation against Hamas in Gaza.
The overall goal of the Axis of Resistance is to gradually weaken the IDF, tarnish Israel’s image as a democracy, erase the IDF’s reputation as the strongest army in the Middle East, and erode the morale of the Israeli public. Iran’s strategic vision is to trigger a significant conflict liberating all of “Palestine” from Israel, “from the river to the sea”—which the regime sees as possible.
Iran is in no hurry; it believes the battle is long. It believes that the first stage in the disintegration of Israel has begun, the Zionist project has begun to collapse and that the pressure on Israel should be increased gradually.
“We have said that [Israel] will not see the next 25 years, but it seems that they are in a hurry and want to leave quickly,” Khamenei said on April 4, 2023, commenting on the country’s internal political crisis. “This entity [Israel], since its inception, has never faced such terrible problems as it has today, and it is now suffering from political instability, and within four years, it has changed four prime ministers, and party alliances are disintegrating before they are formed,” he added.
Nasrallah has scheduled a speech ahead of Jerusalem Day, which falls this year on May 19, in which he is to address the recent events on the Temple Mount, Gaza and the Lebanese border. His deputy, Sheikh Naim Qassem, foreshadowed the message on his Twitter account on April 7:
“Zionist leaders’ arrogance was threatening; deterrence is active. The Palestinian Jihad fighters are in the field, and the entire axis of resistance is vigilant. The defeats of the Zionist enemy are accumulating, and victory will come.”
Iran estimates that Israel is at one of its lowest points since its establishment, while Iran’s strength waxes. The Islamic Republic is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. It has joined the Russian-Chinese axis, while the United States is being pushed out of the Middle East. It has improved its relations with Saudi Arabia and will soon draw closer to more countries in the Gulf.
In Iran’s estimation, the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in its favor. Israel’s military attacks on Iran and Hezbollah in Syria cannot defeat them. The Palestinians, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon have a common interest in uniting with Iran against Israel.
The Israeli Response
Senior political officials in Jerusalem say that the Israeli military response to the rocket attacks from Gaza and southern Lebanon was careful and measured so as to not lead to an all-out multi-front war. Israel does not seek such a war at the current time.
The Resistance Axis’ unification of fronts is dangerous for Israel, and it needs to find the right way and time to deal with it. In the most recent fighting, Israel lost the initiative and the ability to surprise. It had to respond to the enemies’ aggression in a way that would not lead to further escalation.
The primary consideration of the political echelon was to quietly pass the current period until after Passover, Ramadan and Israel Independence Day celebrations. Israel’s leaders will avoid being dragged by the provocations of Hamas and Hezbollah.
According to a senior security official, the Axis of Resistance is utterly wrong in its assessment of the situation regarding Israel’s national strength. It is Lebanon that is in danger of disintegration, not Israel, the official said. Despite Hezbollah’s large arsenal of weapons, a strong Israeli strike against Hezbollah and Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure will lead to its collapse.
Israel is now preparing for a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and will not allow it to obtain nuclear weapons. Israel has the power to achieve this goal.
The last word has not yet been said, and Israel is now reorganizing to thwart Iran’s phased plan.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.