ANALYSIS: Israel Braces for Attack as IS, Hizbullah Threaten

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel has been undergoing a wave of terror for over a hundred days, but in the last week, attention has also focused on threats from the direction of Hizbullah, which seeks revenge for the liquidation of Samir Kuntar, and from Islamic State, which has joined the threats, declaring that in the next phase its operations will be directed at Jewish targets.

Israeli farmers in the Galil, the region next to Lebanon and Syria, have already refrained for several days from going out to work in their fields close to the border. Monday night, the IDF established checkpoints and blocked traffic on the roads near the border. The assessment is that the enemy does intend to act, and therefore they must be ready for any possible scenario.

A few hours after it became known that the IDF would reinforce its units on the northern borders, in anticipation of retaliation by Hizbullah for the killing of the terrorist Kuntar, Army Chief of Staff Gabi Eisenkot appeared before soldiers in the north, and during his talk, sent a stern warning to both Hizbullah and Islamic State, saying that he recommends to Israel’s enemies that they not attack.

“Our enemies know that if they try to harm the security of the state of Israel, they will suffer serious consequences,” Eisenkot said.

“Also, for those beyond our borders on the north, we stand ready for any challenge, and as we have shown in the past, we know how to find and hit all those who seek our harm.”

The assumption in Israel is that a response will come for the killing of Kuntar. Last time, after a similar action that was attributed to Israel, Hizbullah retaliated with an operation on Har Dov in which several soldiers were killed and others wounded. But this came only 10 days after.

This time it is also unclear when and where the retaliation will come. It could be in the area near the border, or it could be far from there. In Europe. The Far East. In the air or on the sea. It is doubtful that Hizbullah will restrain itself completely, although it is possible. In any case, they are not expecting something big and dramatic that will drag the sides into a broader armed conflict. The main interest of the Iranians and Hizbullah today is the survival of the Assad regime in Syria, and not the opening of a new front with Israel. The Iranians are also not eager for a confrontation. They are waiting for the lifting of the sanctions on them, and this is not a good time for them to get involved in new fighting.

The presence of the Russians in the region will also contribute to the restraint of those who desire revenge for Kuntar’s death. Still, the Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke this week, twice, promising revenge. Usually, when he promises, he keeps his promises. So it is necessary to take him seriously and to be prepared.

Samir Kuntar himself prepared a will several years ago. He wrote in it that he is among the targets for assassination, and that maybe they will succeed in killing him. If this happens, he wrote, don’t rush into war over it, “something that is impossible to control.”

However, the decision whether to launch an attack will in the end not be made in Beirut but in Tehran. At the highest echelons of the Revolutionary Guard, whose attention these days is focused entirely on the war in Syria, where much blood is being spilled. If they think that this is not the time to act, they will instruct Hizbullah to wait for a later opportunity. If a retaliation will come, clearly the word will come from Iran, and they will take responsibility for the consequences.

In the meantime, the Islamic State has entered the picture. But in Israel they are less concerned about them, and believe that a strategic decision to attack Israel directly flows from its difficult position in Syria and Iraq, where in the last month it suffered setback after setback. They lost large swathes of territory, and for some time have failed to extend their control, along with a deteriorating financial picture.

In situations like this, it suits Muslim and Arab leaders to make threats against Israel. But the Islamic State knows very well that fighting Israel isn’t like fighting the Jordanians or the Iraqis. Not even like the Russians or Americans. Israel is close to their territory, knows how to fight terrorists like Islamic State, and in a conflict with Israel they will also lose whatever possessions they still have.

To talk and to threaten is one thing. To act – that’s something else. However, the Israelis do not rule out the possibility that Islamic State operatives in Sinai, for example, in the Gaza Strip, or in the Golan, are liable to launch rockets or set up mines or ambushes. That is the reason for the high alert on all the borders, but particularly with Sinai and Gaza, in recent days.