Israel needs to prepare for the possibility that its battle to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria may have to be expanded to Lebanon or to Iran directly.
That is one of the recommendations that appeared in the Institute for National Security Studies Strategic Assessment for Israel 2018-2019, which was released and rolled out by the Tel Aviv-based think tank at a ceremony at the President’s Residence on Wednesday.
According to the report, the most serious threat facing Israel in 2019 would be an all-out war in the north – the First Northern War – that would include Iran, Hezbollah and Syria. Such a confrontation would also likely spill over to the south, and Israel would additionally find itself battling terrorist organizations from the Gaza Strip.
This “whole case” scenario, according to the report, “is a possibility that Israel must be prepared for.”
That “whole case” scenario is also the worst-case scenario.
The report also broke down the threats individually, and ranked them according to their severity.
“As for the threats, there is an inverse relationship between the severity of the threat and its degree,” the report read. In terms of severity, it listed the threats in the following order: the Iranian nuclear program, Hezbollah, Iran’s activities in the northern arena, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
But in terms of urgency, the report noted, it is precisely the situation in Gaza that is liable to escalate in the immediate future, more than in other arenas.
Regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the report asserted that US President Donald Trump is adopting a “tough policy” toward the Islamic Republic and has made getting it to alter its behavior in the Middle East a central component of US foreign policy, because this behavior harms US strategic interests and America’s chief allies: Israel and Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, the assessment asserted that “it is important to understand that the United States is focusing its efforts on Iran on the diplomatic and economic levels and is not ready for a military confrontation.” This reluctance to get into a military confrontation in the Mideast was “clearly exposed,” the authors of the report said, by Trump’s recent decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.
The report recommended that Israel work at reaching clear understandings with the US regarding intelligence sharing and deterrence efforts vis-a-vis Iran, defining clear redlines in case Iran stops complying with the 2015 nuclear agreement, and preparing a joint diplomatic and military plan to stop Iran if it crosses the redlines.
“In view of Trump’s departure from the nuclear agreement and the possibility that Iran will resume its nuclear activities, the defense budget and Israel’s deployment and force buildup should enable operational readiness for a move against a nuclear Iran,” the report read. “There is also a need for understandings with the United States, according to which if a new version of the nuclear agreement is formulated, the compromises required to formulate it will not harm Israel’s interests.”
Regarding Hezbollah, the report recommended that Israel continue to systematically prevent the transfer of high-quality weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as long as the strategic conditions allow it. In addition, Israel must prepare itself for action against the precision missiles in Lebanon and the technological infrastructure for their production.
“Iranian support for Hezbollah’s power buildup in Lebanon is not new, but the quality of the weapons transferred over the past two years to Hezbollah is worrisome,” the report read. “The main sources of concern for Israel are the project to convert inaccurate missiles and rockets into precision missiles, to improve Hezbollah’s air defense capabilities, and to supply long-range sea-to-sea missiles to the organization.”