analysisIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Israel updates primary war scenario amid heightened tensions

‘Hezbollah’s provocations and Hamas’s ability to operate on multiple fronts could trigger war even unintentionally.’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant holds a situational assessment along the border with Lebanon, March 16, 2023. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense Spokesperson's Office.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant holds a situational assessment along the border with Lebanon, March 16, 2023. Credit: Israeli Ministry of Defense Spokesperson's Office.
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

In light of threats by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and heightened tensions on the northern border, Israeli Cabinet ministers are expected to discuss the primary annual war scenario—the assessment of what a broad conflict would look like, Israel’s Channel 13 reported recently.

The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to present war scenarios to the Cabinet, and an upcoming discussion on the scenario is likely scheduled for this month, according to security sources cited in the report.

The IDF General Staff is preparing to present its main war scenario for the Cabinet’s approval by the end of the year.

During these discussions, several scenarios related to a confrontation with Hezbollah are being raised. These include a multi-front conflict involving Lebanon, Gaza and Syria, which could include high-volume long-range projectile attacks on Israel and clashes in mixed Jewish-Arab cities.

Professor Eyal Zisser, vice rector of Tel Aviv University and holder of a chair in the contemporary history of the Middle East, told JNS, “I don’t think we’re talking about new [enemy] intentions, and I don’t think anyone in the region really wants a full-blown war. The broader scenario is of uncontrolled deterioration—and here everyone can contribute to things getting out of control.”

Listing factors that could spark such a scenario, Zisser noted that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah feels more confident than previously in confronting Israel and initiating provocations along the border.

“And then one doesn’t correctly read the other’s reactions, or misunderstands them. And in such a case, we have an unplanned and undesired escalation,” said Zisser.

“Clearly, the risk for this has increased this year because, due to the events in Israel [the division over judicial reform], mainly Hezbollah but also Hamas assume that Israel is weaker and is deterred from confrontation— hence they are more daring,” he added. “So this is more relevant this year.”

Authorities in Israel take all such scenarios into account and want to be prepared, while also conveying a deterrent message to the enemy, Zisser assessed. “From this, in my opinion, comes the release [to the media of the Cabinet discussion] and essentially the discussion on this topic itself,” Zisser said.

Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, said that “there is no doubt that the challenges Hezbollah places in the north against us are growing and that at any time, a provocation can take place. A long series of provocations has occurred, and the situation can explode with or without intention. I don’t see anyone having an intention of a wider war.”

Karmon said that for Gaza, too, there is a message being sent by Israel of deterrence, following recent demonstrations on the border fence and Hamas’s firing of rockets at the sea—possibly to signal improved rocket accuracy capabilities.

“This places Gaza as a bigger threat than it was beforehand,” Karmon said.

He also drew attention to the surge in terrorism in Judea and Samaria, a substantial portion of which is being fueled by the effort of Hamas’s deputy leader, Salah al-Arouri, who is based in Beirut.

“If Israel assassinates a Hamas operative, and I think there is an [Israeli] decision to eliminate al-Arouri, the question is where would it happen, in Lebanon? He moves around and also arrives in Tehran. We saw the message from Nasrallah stating that in such an event we’ll see a big response. This is the most substantial [possible] trigger for a wider event,” Karmon assessed.

He added that the Netanyahu government feels a need to prove it has made achievements. Eliminating a Hamas catalyst for Judea and Samaria violence could deter other orchestrators, including in Gaza, who can also do targeted, he said.

Zisser said that while he doubted that Hamas would “fight for Hezbollah, it can operate from Lebanon, as it probably did in the past, and Israel can respond to that by striking Gaza, and here is the recipe for sliding into [war on] two fronts.”

The more likely scenario is one of provocations and a low-level confrontation, Zisser said, adding, “But one must consider that there could be a deterioration because things get out of control.”

Karmon said the decision to release information on the latest assessments could be part of an effort to prepare Israeli public opinion.

“On the other hand, the U.N. General Assembly [annual general debate] is coming up [with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to attend and meet with United States President Joe Biden]. I don’t think a major Israeli move is likely before the General Assembly,” said Karmon.

He also pointed out that last week, following a major surge in Palestinian terrorism, the IDF arrested some 150 security suspects in Judea and Samaria, and that this could spark attempts at revenge among a wider circle of Palestinians.

“Iran all of the time injects money, propaganda and arms into the region,” said Karmon.

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