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By Alex Gallant
Since the May 2021 Truce with Gaza’s militant groups, pressure has continued to intensify on multiple fronts for Israel. On the one side, tensions between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Hamas are again on the brink of armed conflict, and on the other, Iran-backed Hezbollah is threatening the Lebanese and Syrian borders with Israel.
Furthermore, with Iran entering its 8th round of negotiations in Vienna on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tel-Aviv is adopting precautionary measures to counter any future threat lest the negotiations fail.
Cycle of Violence in Gaza
In a recent report entitled ‘’Ending Gaza’s Perpetual Crisis’’ by the Center for New American Security (CNAS), the authors accurately portrayed the ‘’Cycle of Violence’’, or ‘’Doom-Loop’’, happening between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip since Hamas’ takeover in 2007.
Step 1: Israel squeezes Gaza economically to pressure Hamas politically, deter it militarily, and limit its future military capabilities. […]
Step 2: Eventually, humanitarian and economic pressure builds inside Gaza, and Hamas escalates its use of violence […]
Step 3: Israel responds with its own escalation, including military strikes inside Gaza and punitive economic measures that further choke the Strip. […]
Step 4: Political pressure builds among both Palestinian and Israeli constituencies, with violence escalating into a major conflict that does severe damage to all sides […]
Step 5: Egypt steps in to broker a bare-bones cease-fire – as it did in 2009, 2012, and 2014. […]
Step 6: The international community convenes a major donor conference, at which large sums of money are pledged for reconstructing Gaza. Much of this funding never materializes[…]
Step 7: All parties return to the status quo […] and the cycle of violence begins again.
It is then not surprising to see the renewal of tension between Hamas and the IDF, only a few months after the May Truce. Since the start of 2022, multiple clashes have already taken place between the two parties. The current round of confrontations seems to have started following clashes between police and Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Hamas answered to the situation by firing rockets towards Tel-Aviv, followed by the usual overwhelming response from Israel, using attack helicopters, tanks and airstrikes to shell observation posts in Northern and Southern Gaza.
On Dec. 15, 2021, Hamas’ armed wing performed its first military drill since the Truce in May 2021, parallel to the IDF’s own exercise in the Dimona region. These exercises were a definite show of force from both sides, emulating the consequences of a backlash in the reconstruction process of Gaza City, announced by Cairo on Dec. 13. It would not be surprising to see Hamas re-escalate the conflict with the IDF in the next few weeks if no signs of improvement are made.
Islamic Republic’s Threat
In its recent exercise simulating a strike against Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona, Iran unveiled its new strategy against the impervious Israeli Air-Defense System. The use of the Shahed-136 kamikaze-drones to swarm Israel’s defenses, in combination with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, could seriously compromise Tel-Aviv’s ability to defend itself against the attack. The Shahed-136 drones have an approximate range of 2000 km, making them within arms reach of Israel from the Iranian border. However, the ballistic missiles used during the Payambar-e Azam 17 war game had ranges from 350 km to 2000 km, making at least some of them unlikely to be fired from within Iran, especially if they are in fact targeting Domina’s facility. The most probable locations for Tehran to fire these ballistic missiles would be from within its proxies-controlled territories, such as Lebanon and Syria, in closer range to Israel.
The recent increase in Israeli’s Air Force’s (IAF) airstrikes against targets on Syrian soil might indicate a rise in the weapon’s shipments from Iran to its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.
Consequently, some attacks were done unconventionally compared to the IDF’s usual modus operandi. On Nov. 30, Israeli Ground-to-Ground missiles were launched on the outskirts of Damascus in plain daylight, targeting alleged Iranian shipments. As mentioned by Researchers Kat Lawlor and Zach Coles in their report for the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) :
‘’We have seen a lot of indication recently that Iran is importing shipments of precision guided munitions and other high-tech weaponry […] mainly through the main corridor in Syria, but also through maritime routes. […] Iran recently conducted a military exercise that simulated an attack on an Israeli nuclear facility. The missiles used during the exercise, however, had a pretty short range. […] likely the most promising location for that to be launched would’ve been inside Lebanon itself.’’
It seems that the likely course of action taken by the ‘’Axis of Resistance’’ is a well coordinated-offensive on multiple fronts, slowly wearing down Israel’s defenses. The combination of:
- An exhaustion campaign led by the different Islamic-militant groups;
- An over-saturation of the Israeli Air-Defense System targeted from within Lebanon, Iran, Gaza, and Syria;
- An escalation of the ground confrontation in Palestine and Syria;
- And a dislocation of Israel’s internal defense assets (destruction of air-defense, nuclear facilities, ) could gravely endanger Israel’s national security, benefiting Iran’s political agenda.
Towards maintaining the IDF’s grip over the region, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced in July 2021 the increase of its military budget up to US$19.2 billion for the year 2022. According to Kan Public Broadcaster, approximately 14% ($2.77 billion) will be spent on rearmament and strengthening the IDF against Iran’s nuclear program.
To start with, the IDF will continue to invest in its most reliable tool against the Islamic threat: the IAF. As shown in the recent conflicts in Syria, Yemen and American-occupied Afghanistan, the use of ALB (Air-Land Battle) doctrine gives a significant advantage in 21st century warfare. The ability to support the movement of ground troops, while simultaneously constricting the mobility of the opposing force, gives a powerful edge to one side over the other. Reinforcing their intentions to dominate the sky in future conflicts, the IAF held a joint exercise in early
January, along with the U.S. Air Force, in order to sharpen airstrikes and mid-air dogfights capabilities. As in the Six-Day War, Israel will continue to rely on air superiority if it wants to dominate a potential large-scale conflict with Iran or other inherent threats.
Additionally, the Israeli’s Ministry of Defense recently signed an agreement with the U.S. government for the purchase of additional aircraft. The agreement includes 12 Lockheed Martin CH-53K helicopters and two Boeing KC-46 refueling aircraft. This comes in addition to the purchase of another 8 Boeing KC-46 in March 2021. As described by the Jerusalem Post:
‘With a range of 11, 830 km and the capacity to carry 207, 000 pounds of fuel, the KC-46 can refuel over 64 different types of aircraft and allow dozens of jets to remain airborne for up to 12 hours.’’
This logistical improvement could allow aircraft, such as the stealth multirole F-35 Adir, to fly within Iranian airspace, strike critical targets, and return to Israel all in the same outing.
Furthermore, this advancement could also be used to sustain air superiority over Iranian’s proxies’ territory, maintaining the already high pressure of airstrikes against Hezbollah and Hamas.
What’s For the Future?
As aforementioned, it is highly probable that we will see an escalation of violence between Hamas and the IDF in the coming weeks. Although Egypt began the reconstruction process in mid-December, it is doubtful that Hamas will not revive the confrontation amid the 8th round of the JCPOA in support of its economic sponsor. Weakening Israel from within is a long standing tactic of the ‘’Axis of Resistance’’. In retaliation, the IDF will surely answer with overwhelming firepower, returning to the unbroken ‘’Doom-Loop’’. This Cycle of Violence is likely to stay active, until some form of acknowledgement and legitimacy is shown to the Palestinian states. As it is mentioned by journalist Zack Beauchamp in an article from Vox :
‘’Epitomized by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government formed in 1992, it believed that Palestinians deserved a political voice as a matter of principle — either in a single state or, more typically, through a two-state arrangement. Such an agreement would sap Palestinian support for violent groups like Hamas by taking away the population’s underlying grievance: the lack of a state to call their own.’’
Although the future is full of surprises, it is doubtful that a resolution of the current conflict will be achieved in the near future.
On the Northern front, Iranian-backed Hezbollah is likely to increase its volume of skirmishes with the IDF. Considering the heightened tensions between Tehran and Tel-Aviv, it is expected that the proxy group will be encouraged to maintain pressure towards Israel, while still being supported by constant shipments of new technological innovations through Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. It is believed that the rise in violence will be taken advantage of by Hezbollah on the Eve of the elections in Lebanon, as a show of strength by the proxy group might guarantee them the support of Lebanese voters. A heightened number of airstrikes from the IAF in Syria is thus to be expected, targeting ports, land transports and warehouses to decrease Iran’s influence and alleviate the grasp of Hezbollah in the region.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
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