Commentators on the Arab world are watching Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot with interest following media reports that he canceled an important meeting in Germany called for next week, and the reasons for his cancellation remain obscure.
They believe it is connected to developments on the northern border, and not specifically to the situation in Gaza following the renewal of Egyptian contacts with Israel and Hamas to advance the understandings for calm.
The Iranian leadership is sure that Israel is weak, and this is the right time to strike against it.
At the 32nd International Islamic Unity Conference, which took place in Tehran on Nov. 24, Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei made the following statements about Israel:
The Zionist enemy crumpled against the Palestinian resistance after only two days. … All this proves that the Zionist regime is significantly weakened. … The pace of weakening is increasing.
What are Iran and Hezbollah planning?
Senior security sources in Israel are suspicious of secret activities by Gen. Qasem Soleimani, leader of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Lebanon, who is planning to inflame the northern sector against Israel in two ways:
- Deploying Hezbollah and pro-Iranian forces close to the border fence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, with the assistance of local (Druze and pro-Iranian) elements, which, in exchange for financial payment, would construct terrorist infrastructure for attacks against Israel. These include laying mines and IEDs, firing anti-tank missiles at IDF patrols, and launching mortar attacks on Israeli communities in the Golan Heights.Gen. Soleimani and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah prefer this option, instead of the attacks launched from southern Lebanon as it would neutralize Israel’s possible counterstrike and the destruction of Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure.Opening a new front against Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights would also divide IDF forces among several fronts.
- Constructing factories inside Lebanon to upgrade the missiles in the possession of Hezbollah to become more accurate and capable of hitting strategic targets deep in Israel more accurately. These targets include Ben-Gurion Airport, the atomic reactor in Dimona, refineries in Haifa and various IDF bases.The working assumption of Hezbollah and Iran is that Israel would not dare to launch a preemptive strike on these factories out of fear that this would lead to an all-out war.
Syrian opposition groups left southern Syria in September, and the entire region is now under Syrian army control.
In the past, Hezbollah’s Nasrallah attempted to open a new front against Israel in the Golan Heights using a local infrastructure. He gave this mission to Samir Kuntar (a Lebanese terrorist who sat in an Israeli prison for nine years) and Jihad Mughniyeh (son of the infamous arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh). However, according to foreign news reports, the IDF assassinated both of them in 2015, before they carried out any attacks.
The Hezbollah leader has apparently placed this issue at the top of his priorities in order to settle his accounts with Israel. Israel is aware of Nasrallah’s intentions, and this was reflected in Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot’s tour of the border area in the Golan Heights in November, 2018.
Israel shares fully with the Trump administration all of its concerns about possible developments on the northern border.
Can any scenario be ruled out?
The possibility cannot be ruled out that Iran, via Hezbollah, is planning a new war of attrition against Israel from the Golan Heights border at the same time as the war of attrition with Hamas on the southern border through its “Return Marches” campaign.
The developments on the northern border are worrying. Israel’s freedom of aerial action in Syrian airspace is limited following the incident when a Russian spy plane was brought down by a Syrian air defense system in September, 2018. Russia blames the Israeli air force for the interception.
Russia transferred S-300 missile batteries to Syria, and with Russian guidance, these have been integrated gradually into the Syrian air defense system.
The possibility that Israel will launch a military preemptive strike on the Hezbollah weapons factories in Lebanon, before they become operational, seems very far off, but not illogical.
Iran and Hezbollah constructed these factories after Israel managed methodically and over a period of time to destroy game-changing advanced weaponry being transferred in convoys from Iran to Lebanon.
With the weapons’ destruction, Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani decided to construct the weapons factories inside Lebanon to prevent Israeli attacks.
We are now in a very tense period regarding security on the southern and northern borders, and with growing Iranian intervention in the region, no possible scenario can be ruled out. The IDF can handle several fronts at the same time. It has done so in the past, and it can also do it again in the future.
Israel is determined to protect the security of its citizens. But it may have no other choice other than to carry out actions that may not seem to be rational right now.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.