Leaks from the State Comptroller’s report, due out Tuesday, Feb. 28, have sparked a storm of recriminations among the politicians and generals who led the IDF’s 2014 operation, which ended nearly a decade of constant Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel. The argument centers on how the security cabinet headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the military, led then by defense minister Moshe Yaa’lon and former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, prepared for and grappled with the threat of terror tunnels. A cabinet member, the hawkish education minister, Naftali Bennett, accuses them of falling down on the job. They charge him with going after political capital.
DEBKAfile’s military sources take exception to the furious focus on a past war – the post mortem of any conflict will always pick at faults – when the new menaces staring Israel in the face should be at the forefront of the national discourse.
Some of the most striking examples are noted here:
1. President Bashar Assad has just informed Iran that he is willing to place Syrian territory at the disposal of the Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah for shooting missiles into Israel.
Israel’s policy of non-intervention in Syria’s six-year civil war has therefore become a boomerang. Hizballah has been allowed to relocate a second strategic missile arsenal to the Qalamoun Mountains in Syria, after procuring advanced weapons systems from Iran, and gaining combat skills on the Syrian battlefield. The Shiite terrorist group has learned out to fight alongside a regular big-power military force, such as the Russian army.
It is therefore not surprising to hear Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah bragging confidently about his ability to vanquish Israel.
So what is Israel doing to counter this peril? Not much. From time to time, the IDF mounts an air strike against a weapons arsenal or missile depot in Syria. That has as much effect on the military threat building up in Syria as the tit-for-tat air strikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
How was Hizballah allowed to attain a capability for shooting thousands of rockets a day at Israeli cities from two countries? Why were the air strikes staged over Syria not directed against Hizballah’s rocket depots in Lebanon?
Many words have been poured out over the Hamas tunnels from the Gaza Strip., but what about Hizballah’s tunnels from Lebanon? After years of denial, the IDF is now ready to admit that Hizballah has built two kinds of tunnel running from Lebanon under the border into Israel. One type is meant as a pathway for Hizballah Radwan Force commandos to infiltrate northern Israel and seize Galilee villages, in an area up to the Mediterranean town of Nahariya. The other type will be crammed with hundreds of kilos of explosives for remote detonation.
How are Israel’s army strategists addressing this threat?
One answer came a few days ago from Maj. Gen Yoel Strick, commander of the home command, who is about to step into his new appointment as OC Northern Command.
He recently disclosed a plan to evacuate entire locations which are potentially on the front line of a conflict with Hizballah. He is aware of the shock effect on the country, which abides by the national ethos of never retreating before an enemy. But he also argues that the only way the IDF can effectively fight Hizballah invaders and eject them from Israeli soil is to keep civilians out of the way of the battle.
4. On Thursday, Feb. 23, an Israel Air Force fighter knocked down a miniature unmanned flying object over the Mediterranean coast of the Gaza Strip. It is already obvious that drones of one type or another, including the cheap and easily available quadcopter pocket drone, will serve the enemy in any future war, in large numbers.
When scores of pocket drones loaded with explosives are lofted, some may be shot down by Israeli warplanes and air defense systems, but some will escape and drop on target, because they are too small to be detected by the radar of air defense systems like Iron Dome and blown out of the sky.
Nevertheless, Israel can address these dangers, provided its generals embrace a major change of strategy, or doctrine. It is incumbent on the IDF to discard the doctrine which holds that modern wars can never end in a straight victory or defeat. This preconception has ruled the thinking of Israeli generals in the 11 years since the 2006 Lebanon war, although it is alien to the Middle East conflict environment.
Take, for example, the Syrian civil war. The Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah’s armies have clearly won that war and preserved a victorious Assad in power.
In Yemen, too, the Saudi army and its Gulf allies are fighting to win the war against the Houthi rebels but falling short of victory, notwithstanding their superior Western armaments.
In 2014, the Islamic State beat the Iraqi army and captured vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. The jihadists are still holding onto most of this territory – even against US-backed military efforts three years later. They will do so until they are vanquished on the battlefield.
For Israel, this no-winners, no-losers doctrine has saved the radical Palestinian Hamas from ever having to hoist a white flag. It caused the IDF’s two successful anti-terror Gaza wars of Dec.2008-Jan. 2009 and July-Aug. 2006 to be stopped halfway through. The troops were left to cool their heels until the government decided how to proceed. In both conflicts, the troops were ordered to stop fighting in mid-operation and pull back behind the border. Although the second operation managed to halt Hamas’ long rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip and allow Israelis living within range normal lives, Hamas was left in belligerent mode.
Because of this doctrine, Hizballah, like Hamas, feels free to build up its arsenal ready for the next war. Iran’s Lebanese proxy watches the IDF withholding action for containing its buildup. Certain that Israeli generals won’t be fighting for victory, Hizballah and Hamas have always felt they were in no danger of being wiped out.
Hamas, therefore, chose the tactic of inflicting maximum damage and casualties on Israel, without fear of major reprisals. Hence, in the early 2000s, the Palestinian terrorists ruling Gaza began shooting primitive Qassam rockets at Israeli civilian locations, moving on over the years to more advanced missiles, followed by terror tunnels and are now building an air force of exploding pocket drones.
If State Comptroller Joseph Shapiro had addressed those present and future threats when he exposed the mishandling of the tunnels of 2014, his report would have served an important security and national purpose. But since he confined himself to determining who said what to whom – and why – his report is just a platform for political bickering.