Sunday, May 20, 2007

A War This Summer?

A War This Summer?
By Ze'ev Schiff
Fri., May 18, 2007 Sivan 1, 5767

With great fanfare, it was announced this week that the Israel Defense
Forces was conducting a general command drill. Last week, it held an
important war game. One would have to be naive to think the Arab camp
is just sitting there and not conducting drills, maneuvers and
large-scale training exercises.

The Syrians are talking about a major military exercise that will last
more than a week. They say all the preparations must be complete by
June 1 in case Israel attacks. While Hezbollah continues to lick its
wounds, it is trying to establish new defense lines, rearm and step up
training. One of its new approaches is to recruit Shi'ites who
belonged to Amal, as well as Sunni volunteers. Hamas is continuing its
efforts to build up a semi-regular army in the Gaza Strip. The
organization's self-confidence is growing because it sees that Israel
cannot stop the barrage of Qassam rockets.

Reactions to the Winograd Committee report also tell us something
about the Arabs' military preparations. The Syrians say the report's
conclusions will increase Israel's frustration, and one must be wary
of frustrated people who seek revenge and see war as an outlet.
Radical Arab organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas claim to have
found a tactic to prevent Israeli military victories - continue the
war of attrition. Moderate Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan are
worried about the Israeli government's weakness. A weak government
will not be able to make political concessions, and this increases the
danger of armed confrontation.

Many people say there will be war this summer. Are the pessimists
right? The question that should be asked is whether one of the sides
plans to declare war. Apart from Israel, there are four parties -
Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas - who must be asked this question.
Iran will determine whether Hezbollah launches a new war. Tehran is
involved in large-scale military operations in a number of places:
Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, but its
primary focus is nuclear development. A major war today, initiated by
Iran, could endanger its main objectives. For Iran, a steady stream of
low-key military action combined with cash flow is preferable. Tehran
has ordered Hezbollah to halt its efforts to topple the Lebanese
government. Iran also knows that kidnapping more Israeli soldiers will
set off a major conflagration.

Hezbollah will not embark on an all-out war if Iran is against it. If
it could, Hezbollah would renew its war of attrition, but the
organization's freedom of action in Lebanon is limited. Unusual
circumstances would be needed for Hezbollah to go to war again today.
Another problem is Hamas; Hamas could ignite a war in the Gaza Strip.
This organization's military arm is frustrated by the Palestinians'
successes. The more serious leaders of Hamas know that a war this
summer would be too early to serve their purposes.

In a year from now, the Gaza Strip will pose a greater threat to
Israel, especially if the government doesn't come up with better
solutions to the conflict. What is happening today to Sderot could
happen someday to Ashkelon. It is a mistake to think the IDF has any
desire to reoccupy the Gaza Strip today. There is no need to "save"
the government from extremist generals. There are greater extremists
among the politicians.

The most complex problem is Syria. There is no question that Syria is
readying for combat. Again, the question is whether it has plans to
initiate a war, or suspects that Israel does. The military emphasis of
the Syrian army is on firepower - various kinds of heavy artillery
rockets, some of them new models, missiles, and state-of-the-art
anti-tank weapons. The Russians have also equipped Syria with
sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles. Syria is capable of surprising
Israel, mainly through hit-and-run attacks. But it knows there could
be a heavy price to pay for a large-scale war, including the fall of
the Alawite regime.

A cautious conclusion is that none of the parties today are interested
in an all-out war. But war could erupt by mistake. For example, if the
other side's intentions are incorrectly assessed, or if a local
military campaign veers out of control and sparks a major showdown.
For safety's sake, Israel needs to step up its vigilance in the sphere
of intelligence, as well as to reinforce IDF troops on the Golan
Heights and hone the army's quick-response capabilities.

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