The ring of fire around Israel is tightening

Israel must prepare a counter-strategy against a multi-arena threat.

A robotic vehicle and a tank maneuver as part of the IDF's International Operational Innovation Conference at the Tze’elim Base in the Negev last week. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
A robotic vehicle and a tank maneuver as part of the IDF's International Operational Innovation Conference at the Tze’elim Base in the Negev last week. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Eitan Dangot

Hamas has been strengthening its cooperation with the Iran-Hezbollah axis for years and the process only seems to be accelerating. The result is the formation of six fronts of aggression against Israel—a “ring of fire” composed of radical Sunni and Shiite axes.

Previous signs of this cooperation could be found in how the Palestinian Sunni Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah helped one another upgrade their capabilities. Hezbollah began digging cross-border tunnels into Israel from Lebanon (though these were demolished by the IDF in 2018), just as Hamas did for years from Gaza.

Hamas learned from Hezbollah how to overcome its military inferiority and set up rocket bases in civilian areas. Both terror armies have set up elite cross-border ground infiltration units—Hamas’ Nuhba force and Hezbollah’s Radwan force.

The relationship grew even closer after Saleh Al-Arouri, a senior Hamas official, was expelled from Turkey and relocated to Lebanon several years ago. He began building a Hamas headquarters in Lebanon, from which he both orchestrates terrorism in Judea and Samaria and oversees a growing Hamas presence in Lebanon.

Al-Arouri can be seen as Hamas’ own Qassem Soleimani. Like the late Iranian Quds Force unit commander—assassinated by the United States in 2020—Al-Arouri is drawing up a multi-arena attack strategy to surround the State of Israel and he is doing so with Iranian help.

The hub of Al-Arouri’s activity is Judea and Samaria, where Hamas works day and night to both incite and directly orchestrate terrorist attacks.

The fruit of Al-Arouri’s work in Lebanon became apparent on April 6, when Hamas fired 34 rockets at Israel from Lebanon, the largest such salvo since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. A day earlier, after Passover eve, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired some 50 rockets towards Israel.

According to the terror organizations, the rocket fire was a response to clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, but in fact, it was a sign of something far more significant.

The attacks are the latest indication of the accelerated convergence between the Palestinian terror axis and the Iran-Hezbollah axis, creating the multi-arena threat Israel now faces with ever-growing intensity.

The common denominator that unites the Iranian-led axis is the goal of combatting Israel. In addition to Gaza and Lebanon, Israel’s enemies are striving to create a front in Syria, where Hamas could soon be sending operatives after reconciling with the Assad regime, and where Hezbollah is working with Iran-backed Shiite militias to set up offensive positions.

Hamas has become a significant partner in the Iranian quest to surround Israel with a ring of fire. The establishment of a coordinated headquarters in Lebanon with Hezbollah and Palestinian terror factions in 2021 was a milestone in this development.

Iran pours funds and weapons into its regional proxies and partners, giving them the capabilities to realize their objectives. In addition, Iran and its Lebanese and Palestinian proxies have entered a mutually-supportive deterrence framework with Hamas operating from Lebanon under the umbrella of Hezbollah’s arsenal of 160,000 projectiles.

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Yemen are also preparing to enter the multi-arena strategy against Israel through missile and drone attacks.

Meanwhile, the notion of state responsibility over what occurs in their territory has long been irrelevant in Lebanon and Syria, and the ability of the joint Shiite-Sunni radical axes to disrupt life in Israel grows consistently.

These forces don’t need to enter into a full-scale war with Israel. All they need to do is continuously identify optimal points in time to escalate the security situation when they judge Israel to be unwilling or unable to respond forcefully, thus creating regular threats to the ability of Israelis to lead a secure life.

This is precisely what occurred, in the broadest fashion to date, during this year’s Ramadan period.

The pattern we are now witnessing is a direct continuation of the 2021 conflict fought between Hamas and Israel, when Hamas was able to activate another arena—the internal Israeli arena. Widespread violence tore through mixed Arab-Jewish cities, serving as a warning to Israel of what a future multi-front conflict could look like.

All of this serves Iran’s goal of keeping Israel distracted as Iran makes rapid progress in its nuclear program. Iran hopes its program faces fewer disruptions while Israel is busy dealing with Iran’s multi-arena strategy.

This obligates Israel to immediately formulate a counter-strategy, which should be based on high-end Israeli operational capabilities and international cooperation with the U.S. and Sunni states that seriously addresses the dilemma of preemption.

Israel needs to consider the benefits and risks of launching surprise preemptive strikes on Hezbollah targets in response to the force build-up and growing boldness of this primary Iranian regional proxy. In addition, Israel must eliminate its internal crisis as soon as possible by focusing on rapidly building its new national guard, under the command of the Israel Police.

Ultimately, Israel must prepare to operate in multiple arenas, just as its dangerous enemies do.

Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot (IDF, Ret.) is a publishing expert at the MirYam Institute. He concluded his extensive career as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) in 2014.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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