Israel gears up for northern conflict

Mina Adel, Tuesday 9 Apr 2024

Israel is preparing for potential military actions on its northern border with Lebanon, with various entry plans under study.

Israel gears up for northern conflict

 

On 27 March, Israeli reconnaissance aircraft were conducting  intensive patrols near Lebanese and Syrian airspace.

G-550 Oron aircraft were used for early warning and integration along with G-550 Shavit intelligence planes, both from Squadron 122. The presence of these aircrafts usually means Israeli strikes will be carried out on neighbouring locations.

The next day, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) assassinated Ali Abed Akhsan Naim, deputy commander of the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah’s rocket and missile section, in a drone attack on his car in the Bazouriye district of Tyrein Lebanon.

This was not the first time that the IOF have killed Hizbullah leaders or Iranian experts on Lebanese or Syrian soil.The most recent incident was assassination of the senior IRGC Quds Force Commander Mohammad-Reza Zahedi on 1 April, bringing the number of the dead to more

than350 through Time Sensitive Targeting (TST) and Dynamic Targeting (DT)and requiring extraordinary cooperation between reconnaissance planes.

It is also vital that intelligence elements on the ground maintain the tracking of the target and verify the trajectory to hit it with a missile at a sufficient range. The Israelis typically use Spike NLOS missiles on such missions in order to do so.

According to Israeli military correspondent Emmanuel Fabian, “Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he observed the strike on Ali Naim, the deputy commander of Hizbullah’s rocket unit, and the military will expand the campaign [against Hizbullah] and increase the rate of attacks in the north.”

“Israel is turning from defending itself to pursuing Hizbullah. We will reach wherever the organisation operates in Beirut, Damascus, and in more distant places,” he concluded after an assessment at the Israeli Northern Command in Safed.

The Times of Israel website then quoted official sources in the Israeli army as saying that the “Military has approved a new training programme for the IAF [Israeli Air Force] amid the war, with an emphasis on preparing for war in the north.”

“The training programme will focus on increasing the Air Force’s readiness for war in the northern arena and in other theatres, amid prolonged combat,” the IOF was quoted as saying. It says that the drills will include “massive, long-range strikes, flights deep in enemy territory, decision-making in war conditions… and surprise exercises will be held for the various units.”

“According to the IOF, the drills have been adapted to not harm the IAF’s routine operations amid the war in the Gaza Strip and on other fronts,” the newspaper said.

This is not the first time that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has trained for this type of operation or multifront wars. The most notable was in Cyprus in May 2022 and called “Chariots of Fire,” according to the Dutch online Scramble magazine, a military publication.

“For the second year in a row, the IAF continues to train with US Air Force in offensive missions, especially to attack high-value and fortified targets that are protected from air-defence units of all kinds, long and short range,” it said.

The scenario is a simulation of a multifront war with threats to the north and south of Israel coming from different countries. After stability was regained by air defence units and reducing pressure by means of tactical attacks by fighter aircraft, the IAF shifted to the attack mode and exercised various Offensive CounterAir (OCA) and deep strike missions.

They included the deployment of an entire battalion of Special Forces soldiers with air support by combat helicopters.

This type of exercise may send an indirect message to Iran, Gallant said in Washington, noting that Israel is fighting on “seven fronts” and that Iran is behind threats to them. He asked for weapons “in pretty much every meeting” he was in with US officials.

The US State Department authorised the transfer of 25 F-35A fighter jets worth roughly $2.5 billion and new arms packages including more than 1,800 MK84 2,000-pound bombs and 500 MK82 500-pound bombs, according to theWashington Post.

Israel will have three squadrons of fifth-generation F-35 fighters as a result, which have offensive characteristics and can carry out attack missions deep inside enemy air defences. The IAF’s eagerness to have more of the planes highlights the IAF’s offensive strategy and matches with current events.

According to Iranian Ambassador to Syria Hussein Akbar, Israel demonstrated its strength by bombing the building located between the Iranian and Canadian Embassies in Damascus on 1 April.

He claimed that six missiles and F-35 fighter jets were used, but in fact high-precision Small-Diameter Bombs, probably GBU-39s or the Israeli version called Spice, were used, with these posing a challenge to the Syrian armed forces because they necessitate coordination among Syrian SA-22 Pantsir SHORAD (Short-Range Air Defence) systems to track and intercept them.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post, Israeli commentator Seth Frantzman said that “for the optimistic, this is fine. Hizbullah is just doing tit-for-tat strikes to show it supports Hamas. Hizbullah doesn’t want a major war. In this interpretation of events, Hizbullah is just doing the bare minimum. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, the optimistic says.

In the meantime, Israel is finalising preparations for potential military actions in the north. According to Israeli Channel 13, this month the IOF appointed Moshe “Chico” Tamir, who formulated the Israeli entry plan into Gaza, and gave him responsibility for preparing several possible plans for a ground operation in Lebanon, while drawing lessons from the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

A number of entry plans of various scope, including limited entry aimed at pushing Hizbullah eight to ten km from the border, are said to be under study.

A distance of 10 km as a buffer zone from the Israeli border is a logical scenario to neutralise the threats represented by the Iranian Almas “diamond” missiles used by Hizbullah to target Israeli outposts.

There has also been an increase in the number of attacks on surveillance and intelligence sites such as those on Mount Meron, highly valuable and very sensitive to the Israeli army because their primary mission is to predict potential attacks from the north.

The Iranian missiles are local copies of Israeli Spike missiles seized in the 2006 war in Lebanon.

The conservative buffer zone is the direct result of lessons learned from the 2006 war, which revealed a number of issues bearing on IOF ground military operations. Studies conducted in 2008 concluded that many factors such as the poor professionalism of the officer corps and over reliance on the IAF had harmed the chances of ending the war with any significant military achievement.

The Israeli forces did not achieve a battlefield victory against Hizbullah, while a grand strategy could not be achieved due to limitations on attacking infrastructure targets in Lebanon.

Commentator Franz-Stefan Gady wrote in the US magazine Foreign Policy last year that “at the strategic level of political and military decision making, the fixation on high tech has had direct consequences for the character of Israeli Forces operations.”

It has helped shape a more defence-oriented tactical doctrine relying on firepower (primarily missile strikes from the air) rather than manoeuvering ground forces to achieve military objectives, he said, and has been best expressed by the strategy of “mowing the grass” with the result that the Israelis have seen even less need to be ready for large-scale ground operations.

As a result, the combined arms skills of its line units on the ground have declined in recent years. Gady concludes that “without traditional military assets such as larger-scale, rapidly deployable forces, the IOF risks having no Plan B to quickly respond to a dynamic attack or other fast-evolving military situations.”

Israel is currently developing a new operating concept called Decisive Victory, which risks falling into the technological trap once again. It is built on the premise that superior ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capabilities paired with AI and smart munitions will increase the Israeli Forces’ combat effectiveness while reducing the size of the forces needed to effectively conduct military operations.

According to open-intelligence sources, there are four Israeli divisions on the northern border, divided into two territorial divisions, 210 and 91, and two armoured divisions, 36 and 146, that include many infantry, tank, and artillery battalions.

They were allocated to the border after Hizbullah’s escalation, with the group currently having more than 130,000 rockets, according to the International Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a US think tank, and anti-ship missiles that have already managed to hit an Israeli Naval Sa’ar-5 corvette, along with more sophisticated air-defence systems.

However, despite its capabilities, it is clear that Hizbullah suffers primarily from the Israeli intelligence security breach, and if a fight occurs between the two parties, especially after the airstrike against the consular wing of Iran’s Embassy in Damascus, it may raise fears of a direct clash with Iran. This may cause the latter to de-escalate its militias throughout the Middle East.

 

The writer is a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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