by Amnon Lord
Hat tip: Dr. Jean-Charles Bensoussan
The IDF has unprecedented intelligence on Hezbollah, and believes that even when the Syrian civil war ends, the Shiite terrorist group is unlikely to provoke hostilities
There are assessments in Israel suggesting the end to the six-year civil war in Syria is finally in sight. But the road to the conflict's end is fraught with risks, and the increase in errant fire incidents on the Golan Heights border recently may be part of this process. But the IDF believes that things may look worse than they really are.
This has allowed IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to realize his operational perception, which is different from that of his predecessors, at least with respect to his fanaticism for Israel to "exercise its sovereignty." Eizenkot remembers all too well the trauma of losing Israeli sovereignty on the Lebanese border in the years before the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the 11th anniversary of which will be marked next week.
This is why there is not so much as an inch of soil on the Golan Heights border -- or on the Lebanese border for that matter -- devoid of IDF presence. As a result, anyone who violates Israeli sovereignty is penalized, and contrary to what some irresponsible statements by right-wing ministers have suggested, the IDF's countermeasures include more forceful measures than in the past.
"There is no such thing as not exercising sovereignty to the maximal point," a senior IDF official said, adding the IDF does not see recent escalation as necessarily having a potential for a full-fledged conflict. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been repeating things like this quite recently.
The struggle to shape the reality in Syria the day after the war is underway, as evident from the high-intensity fighting around the border province of Quneitra. But the IDF does not see the escalation as one that would necessarily evolve into a full-fledged conflict, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several statements in the same vein over the past few weeks.
The concept of "exercising sovereignty" has sunk in. According to a former senior defense official, "This is the term on the table right now. What does that mean? If an Iranian division deploys a mile from the border -- does it infringe on our sovereignty? There's great pressure in Israel over where Iranian forces would be deployed. This situation calls for more flexible terminology."
The official claims that the Israeli public is unaware of the considerations guiding the government's policy with regard to the Iranian and Russian presence in Syria.
At the moment, U.S. and Russian efforts to reach an agreement of what post-war Syria should look like are treading water, and only an agreement between the two superpowers could truly end civil war. As for the coordination and understandings between Israel and Russia, that has reached the level of having a direct telephone link between an Israeli Air Force bases its Russian counterpart in Syria.
The fate of Syria will be decided according to territorial control, hence the corridor the Iranians are trying to establish en route to the shores of the Mediterranean. While the IDF is unable at this time to clearly pinpoint a Shiite territorial contiguity, it has identified many areas interrupting it.
In any case, there are other developments that seem more serious, such as the weapons factory the Iranians are trying to establish in Lebanon, which in reality points to the failure experienced by Iran and its regional proxy, Hezbollah. Why a failure? Because if Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Ghasem Soleimani feels the need to set up a weapons production plant on Lebanese soil, it is a sign that all other ways by which he could transfer advanced weapons to the Shiite terrorist group via Syria have been blocked.
The IDF believes that its efforts to generate deterrence vis-a-vis Hezbollah are working well, with a little help from the Syrian civil war.
Some 50 Hezbollah operatives were killed in Syria over the past month alone, and overall, the organization has lost over 1,800 operatives since it entered the fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's troops. This figure hardly encourages Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to provoke a third campaign against Israel in Lebanon, but there is another factor that has become a deterrent, namely the increase in Israel's intelligence on Hezbollah.
Israel currently has an unprecedented intelligence image on Lebanon. "If Nasrallah knew what we knew about him, he would give up any future intentions to start a war," and IDF official said. And Nasrallah understands this, or is at least in a state of ambiguity regarding Israel's intelligence presence, and he suffices with strong rhetoric.
A new strategy
Former National Security Council Adviser Uzi Arad, former Mossad Director Efraim Halevy and Professor Ze'ev Tadmor, formerly head of the Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology, are part of a team of experts currently drafting a unique document is defined as "a super-strategy for the State of Israel." The team believes that the issues of Russia's return to the Middle East sphere and Israel's relations with it are not properly addressed in the public discourse in Israel.
"Russia is becoming increasingly present in the Middle East theater," Halevy said, further explaining that Russia is no longer a superpower that buys its partners and allies in the region as it did during the Cold War -- Russia has simply turned itself into one of the forces that make up the regional theater and it did so by exploiting the vacuum created by the collapse of the regimes in several important Arab states.
The Israeli experts detect a sense of superiority in Russia, which now sees itself as being "on the right side of history," to use a phrase favored by former U.S. President Barack Obama. A Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently visited Israel, said that "democracies are receding." Perhaps worse, democratic powers are experiencing crises that are weakening them, neutralizing some of their capabilities. According to the Russian official, this is demonstrated well by the political turmoil in the United States, Britain and France compared to the more stable Russia and China, and even the more dangerous and fanatical nations like Iran and North Korea.
Where does Israel fit in this equation? Part of the super-strategy document deals with precisely this question. One of the examples its authors name is that of "a man with vast experience in the nuclear issue, who believes that the disruption of the rule of law in a country erodes national security far more than any foreign threats."
In other words, Arad, Halevy and Tadmor believe that the domestic weaknesses in governance, with respect to issues of religion and state, and the deterioration in the level of the educational system, have strategic implications for Israel's future ability to face external dangers.
The debate here is over the question of whether the dynamics in Israel are heading in a positive or negative direction. The very fact that the strategic document was drafted attests to the feelings of anxiety shared by some of its authors, to the extent that their analysis of the Israeli economy's mediocre performance is controversial. An economy that in recent years has shown a steady annual growth of between 4% and 4.5% is not a mediocre achievement.
The per capita gross domestic product in Israel, which lagged far behind European countries 35 years ago and even eight years ago, is now approaching Germany's GDP per capita -- $37,000 compared with $42,000, and it's almost the same as in France. This development has been noted mainly since 2009, when the economy of many Western nations halted or even shrunk over the global recession, while the Israeli economy showed extraordinary resilience, weathering the financial storm, and quickly returned to growth.
However, the authors of the strategy document note a decline in quality, especially in innovation in Israel. But the most prominent and worrisome issue is the drop in economic freedom and friendliness of doing business in Israel. In 2010, Israel ranked 26th in the world on these parameters -- now it is ranked 53rd.
The recent crisis with American Jewry illustrates the existential strategic problem from within.
"If you want a Jewish majority in the country, you can't ignore the question of who is a Jew," Halevy says. "You can't segment Jews in a way that would end up turning us into a minority. This issue requires a strategy and a decision, which means that the issue of conversion is not a religious matter, but a national one." And the government has to deal with it.
This rare, important document is beginning to permeate government ministries. While there is no need to make any decisions according to the nonbinding document, senior officials and ministers should nonetheless study it. Every official, director and legal adviser should ask himself how he may have contributed to the administration's dysfunction, and how he and his colleagues can break the cycle and effect change with regard to the negative trends that affect Israel's strength and resilience.
An ocean of opportunities
As far back as the 1930s David Ben-Gurion, who would later become Israel's first prime minister, regarded India as an extraordinary nation among the gentiles, and argued that in comparison to all the nations with which Israel has an interest in cultivating friendships, India was special.
The tragedy was that India was founded on pro-Soviet, Third World ideology. Its impressive leader at the time, Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, believed investing in his country's ties with Arab nations and tyrants like then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a wiser course of action.
The only pro-Israel individual in Nehru's world was Professor Manohar Lal Sondhi, an intellectual who had no official government standing but was very influential nonetheless. This week, which demonstrated a bond between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu, one must pay homage to Sondhi's work.
Sondhid was the one who, as far back as Nehru's regime, predicted that India and Israel would become close strategic partners.
The beginning of those ties can be traced back to 1991, when one Israeli was killed and another abducted in a terrorist attack in Kashmir. Then-Deputy Director General of the Foreign Ministry Moshe Yegar was dispatched to India, and met with Sondhi. The latter offered his condolences over the incident, but said it was a priceless, historic opportunity to promote the ties between the two countries.
Sondhi organized meeting for Yegar with the head of India's intelligence service, and the Israeli diplomat later met with the chief of staff at the Indian prime minister's office.
From the late 1990s and on, Sondhi was able to position India-Israel relations as an American interest on the one hand and a profound Indian interest on the other, in the wake of what were then unstable India-U.S. relations.
Yegar believes that so far, fostering bilateral relations with respect to the economic, security, technological and strategic dimensions has been excellent yet deficient. Netanyahu himself has also alluded to the fact that there is a need to cultivate the cultural-spiritual dimension, to further deepen ties.
Ben-Gurion once said that when visiting India, he saw the face of scholars even among the most common of people. Israel could promote the establishment of Jewish and Hebrew faculties in Indian universities, just as it has already done in China and Egypt. The only question is, if Israel sends teachers to teach the Indians Hebrew, who will teach it to Israelis.
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