With 4 violent terrorist events on the borders with Lebanon & Syria in just a month, it is no longer an exaggeration to speak of a resurgent northern front, reminiscence of the 1980s-90s.
After four violent incidents on the borders with Syria and Lebanon since the beginning of the month, it is no longer an exaggeration to speak of a resurgent northern front. The wounding of four paratroopers on the Golan on Tuesday was preceded by rockets on Mount Hermon from Syrian territory, the planting of an explosive device on the Golan (which was neutralized) and the explosion of another device aimed at an Israel Defense Forces convoy on Mount Dov last Friday. There has been no such series of events in the north since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The pace is starting to resemble the days when the IDF maintained the security zone in southern Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.
If the current escalation continues, Israel is liable to be drawn into a more forceful response. On Tuesday the IDF made do with artillery fire into Syrian territory, near the area in which the incident occurred. But the IDF has a lot more leeway to act, and it’s possible that it will have to set a higher price tag for attacks from the Syrian border.
Until recently, shooting from Syria territory into Israel was regarded as unintentional misfire from the gun battles between the Assad regime’s army and the rebel forces that are part of the Syrian civil war. But the background to this latest string of events is quite different. The three incidents on the Syrian border took place in regions that are controlled by the Assad regime, or in the Druze enclaves on the slopes of Mount Hermon, where forces loyal to Assad are stationed. The fourth incident, from the Lebanese border on Mount Dov, occurred in an area where Hezbollah is active.
Even if the exact identity of those responsible for these attacks is not clear, what is clear is that these incidents are no coincidence. The Assad camp – the regime, Hezbollah, and militias identified with Syrian President Bashar Assad – are responsible for a series of attacks that were aimed at Israel.
There is no difficulty identifying what sparked this latest wave; it was the attack, attributed to the Israel Air Force, on February 24, which hit a weapons convoy in Lebanon, not on the Syrian side of the border. While this was a deviation of only a few hundred meters, probably out of operational considerations (such as a better chance of hitting the target), it has generated a different response from the other side. When the attacks attributed to Israel occurred in Syria, Assad generally chose to respond with restraint. But Hezbollah is a different story. Only a short time after the organization threatened to respond, the series of attacks began.
It could be that Hezbollah general secretary Hassan Nasrallah sees himself as obligated not to leave any Israeli attack unanswered. But there could be another explanation: The relative success of the Assad-Hezbollah camp in blocking the rebel groups’ progress and the removal of an immediate threat to the regime in Damascus may have boosted both parties’ self-confidence.
During all the years of battling the IDF, Hezbollah specialized in detonating explosive charges. It appears that the latest explosive devices that were detonated or exposed on the border were assembled by professionals. The IDF has been responding correctly to the developing threat on the Syrian border – building a new border fence, deploying new means for gathering intelligence, and establishing a new regional division headquarters specializing in ongoing security operations. But it could be that this latest incident requires that new lessons be learned.
From the initial reports it appears that the attack was designed to lure the forces to a particular spot. The deputy commander of the paratroop battalion and his men went out to investigate some suspicious movement near the border fence and when they got out of their armored vehicle and were relatively exposed, the explosive charge was detonated nearby. In a sector where there is constant operational activity in a state of high alert over so many years, all the enemy’s vulnerabilities and modes of operation are known. In a sector that is now being remade anew, it will take some time to identify and close all the breaches.
In the unceasing warfare between rival camps all around Israel’s borders, Israel is a secondary player, and conventional wisdom has been that the main players are too busy battling each other to attack Israel. But the ongoing instability is gradually wearing down the security bubble in which Israelis have been living in recent years.
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