Israel grappling with tribal threats at home and abroad

November 24, 2016 23:18

As they say in the Israeli intelligence community, in order to see into the future, one has to first penetrate the fog of the present. And the consensus right now is that the fog is very thick in the Middle East.

Today, a primordial soup of jihadi terror groups, "pragmatic" Sunni fighters, and Shia militias are ignoring traditional sectarian divides and signing desperate pacts in southern Syria. Israel, meanwhile, appears to be on the point of signing a breakthrough deal with a collection of Sunni Arab states.

As Major General Herzi Halevi, Chief of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, told the Herzliya Conference on Wednesday: "It's not just that the rules of the game are changing. The pieces on the board are changing, too."

Amid this uncertainty and blurring lines, however, one threat has remained constant and clear: Hizbollah. Although the Shia outfit gained a new, damaging brief at the outset of the Syrian war - to protect Iranian assets to the east - it is still as busy as ever using its operational channels in Syria to bring new, more sophisticated weaponry into Lebanon, where it is deployed in preparation for war with Israel.

But the 100,000 missiles positioned in the Galil and Golan, and Hizbollah's growing battle experience, are only part of the growing threat posed by the terror group.

The Shia organisation has been bringing Iranian military commanders ever closer to the Israeli border, and it is a commonly held IDF view that Israel will eventually see entire Iranian Revolutionary Guards battalions from their Golan observation points.

Maj Gen Halevi issued a clear warning to Hizbollah.

He said: "If Nasrallah knew what we know [about their preparations], he would not take the risk. Never before has an army known as much about its enemy as we know about Hizbollah. If there is another war, Israel will recover and rebuild. We are a strong, advanced society. Lebanon will become a country of refugees… Hizbollah will lose its political support."

He added that Syria's military-industrial sector had resumed producing weapons for Hizbollah, and stressed that these weapons were also destined for use against Israel.

Mr Halevi said Israel would have to "grapple with" the jihadi threat in the medium term. He warned that a successful major attack on Israel by a group such as Daesh would whet jihadi appetites for more such assaults.

"They have been successful in arousing a high level of commitment from their foot soldiers. Their English pamphlets and videos… are extremely effective."

However, the former head of Israel's National Security Council, Uzi Arad, told the conference that Israel's primary strategic challenge lay inside its borders.

"The strategic challenge of our time is to identify our strategic challenge, then make a change," he said.

In Mr Arad's view, Israel's various "tribal" interest groups - the Charedim, the national religious camp, the Israeli Arabs - were threatening long-term security by battling each other and creating instability.

The result, he said, was a government in thrall to small segments of the population, and a weaker, less unified Israel in the long term.

November 24, 2016 23:18

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