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מקור בכיר בצה”ל: כדי להימנע ממלחמה שאיש איננו רוצה בה, הסכימו ישראל וחיזבאללה מראש (בתיווך רוסי) על חילופי אש ללא נפגעים
Ron Ben Yishai, the military affairs correspondent for Yediot, dropped a bombshell when he reported that the Israeli navy is patrolling the Bab al-Mandab strait off the shores of Yemen. It marks yet another regional military intervention, this time on behalf of its new Sunni allies, specifically Saudi Arabia. Last week, Israel attacked four of its Arab neighbors in two days (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza). It’s an almost breathtaking set of coordinated attacks attempting to showcase the IDF ability to conduct multi-front operations in the event of a war with Iran and its allies. It is an escalation of hostilities in a region already sitting on a powder keg.
One of the attacks involved two Israeli drones targeting a Hezbollah position in Beirut. Israel claims it was targeting an advanced device used to upgrade missile propellants and improve their precision. The Lebanese group has denied the Israeli claim.
This marked the first Israeli attack on Lebanese soil in years, and a violation of the UN-brokered ceasefire negotiated at the conclusion of the 2006 Lebanon war. Hassan Nasrallah promised revenge at a time and date of his choosing. The first act of apparent retaliation came Sunday when Hezbollah fired two missiles into Israel. It claimed to have destroyed an armored personnel carrier and killed several soldiers. The IDF denied any casualties and returned fire, shelling southern Lebanon with 100 salvos in response.
Hezbollah released a video of its attack which appeared to contradict Israel’s version of events. It shows two missiles fired at what Israel says was an armored military ambulance. The first missile appears to be a near miss and the vehicle continues at high speed. But the second missile appears to strike the vehicle, though it’s difficult to say given the dust that swirls around it.
The IDF then dispatched a helicopter which apparently pretended to evacuate two wounded soldiers. They were brought to an Israeli hospital, where video footage showed them arriving on a stretcher. Later, the army said this entire episode was a ruse designed to make Hezbollah believe it had drawn blood on Israel. It apparently believed that if Lebanese could see they’d caused casualties that it would lessen their desire to continue attacks on Israeli targets.
Whatever happened, this was a near miss that could have led to all-out war. If the five soldiers in the ambulance had been killed, Israel would have launched a massive retaliation targeting Hezbollah positions throughout Lebanon. In turn, this would’ve forced Nasrallah and his Iranian allies to make a fateful decision about how far they were willing to take the fight. In 2006, a similar incident in which several IDF soldiers were kidnapped and then died, led to Israel invading the country. Nearly 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, died. All of northern Israel was evacuated for nearly a month and there were scores of Israeli military and civilian casualties from Hezbollah rocket fire.
Israeli media and military sources have released a flurry of narratives of how the incidents of the past few days played out. One report says that Israeli war planes were airborne and poised in the sky around Lebanon for an all-out attack on Hezbollah positions in case the militant group mounted a massive rocket attack against Israel.
But a confidential Israeli source reported to me that the entire episode was an elaborate ruse agreed in advance by both sides under the mediation of Russia. Neither side seeks a war. But the Lebanese in particular needed to appear to have successfully avenged the Israeli attack on its Beirut headquarters. The agreement called for the Lebanese militants to shell Israeli bases which had been evacuated previously. When Hezbollah fire struck, the IDF pretended to evacuate the “wounded” to an Israeli hospital. Israel agreed that it would direct its fire on barren Lebanese hills. In support of this version of events, it’s worth noting that the two Hezbollah units which mounted the original rocket attack appear not to have been targeted during Israeli return fire.
Will There Be a War?
Israel appears convinced eventually there will be war with Hezbollah. Of course, its military strategists claim that the cause of the war will be the enemy’s aggression. But the problem with believing your neighbor wants to go to war, is that you will almost inevitably do things that ensure such an outcome.
Add to that, an upcoming Israeli election in which Netanyahu fights as never before for his political survival. He is beset by parties even farther to the right than his own, all of whom are seeking to peel off voters who believe the prime minister is too soft on Arabs, Palestinians in particular. No Israeli politician ever lost an election by being too bellicose and too hard on “the Arabs.” Standing up to the enemy, kicking him around on the battlefield, is a surefire way for a prime minister to establish his security bona fides.
Netanyahu faces an equally grim accounting with the attorney general, who will decide sometime after the election whether to charge the PM with bribery and other corrupt acts in three different criminal cases. Israel’s leader feeds off adversity and victimhood. In this way, AG Avichai Mandelblit, who was once Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, is a perfect foil for him. He can rail against the police and state legal authorities persecuting him, seeking to paint himself as a victim of what Trump would call the Israeli “deep state.”
Israeli intervention in the Gulf on Saudi Arabia’s Behalf
Just as journalists were shocked at Israel opening a new military front in Iraq, a country it had not attacked since 1981, they will be equally surprised that Israel is providing naval security in the waters off Saudi Arabia.
Ron Edelist, a Maariv columnist, is one of the critics of this Israeli projection of power. He writes:
“What the hell is Israel doing there [in Yemen]? What did we lose in the Strait of Hormuz? As if we don’t have enough raging security problems of our own to contend with right here and now.”
While Netanyahu appears to be distracted in saving his career, his foreign minister and chief yes-man, Israel Katz, has stepped once more unto the breach. After returning from his own tour of the Gulf, he told the Knesset defense committee that Israel was a partner in the U.S. coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf.
What a change 30 years and four presidencies has wrought! In 1991, the first Bush administration pointedly told Israel to remain on the sidelines, so as not to antagonize Arab states in its “coalition of the willing,” which opposed Saddam Hussein’s takeover of Kuwait. Today, Israel is a welcome member of this club, as its Arab members abandon their former Palestinian brethren in order to fight the new bully on the block, Iran.
Edelist is shocked that Israel appears not to have learned its lesson from its bad bet on ISIS and al-Qaeda (creatures of the Saudis), who sought (and failed) to dislodge Bashar Assad from power. After hundreds of Israeli air attacks on Hezbollah weapons convoys and Iranian bases; multiple assassinations of Hezbollah, Iranian and Syrian generals; and supplying weaponry to its Islamist allies in the Golan, Israel has precious little to show.
“Our major contribution [to the U.S. military coalition] involves the security of the Bab al Mandab straits. There Houthis threaten the tankers of the Arab oil states…We have a presence of our missile frigates, stationed there to, at first glance, [protect] against pirates. But the mission is actually to protect civilian shipping from the Houthi, who operate from the western coast of Yemen, damaging Saudi tankers and firing on American destroyers.”
In response, Edelist asks: “do the activities of the Houthi threaten Israel?” Of course, the answer is “no.” Israel has far more pressing problems than whether a Houthi fighter damages a Saudi oil tanker.
Yes, he notes, Israel should mobilize to address “ticking bombs.” That is, threats that pose immediate and mortal danger to the State and its citizens. But does a secret preventive war, in which the IDF effectively becomes a mercenary force on behalf of the Saudis and Americans, really offer such a threat?
He closes his piece with this emphatic rejection of Israel’s military gamble:
I don’t see a single good reason for being there. Don’t tell us about intelligence secrets and exciting partnerships with Arab “lovers of Zion.” We’ve already been there, done that. All in all, this is a presumptuous initiative that reeks of political-imperialist motives. It mixes pure politics and a childish delight in showing off our military capabilities…This is a Yemenite step we’re dancing to the tune of a Saudi flute.
The truth is that there is no covert or overt operation of ours that will change the outcome [of the war there]. But it will involve us on the wrong side in the slaughter of a people.
Imagine a scenario in which the Houthis attack an Israeli naval ship either by missile (they have already launched missile attacks on Saudi airports) or an act of sabotage like those that damaged several tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Imagine Israeli sailors wounded or killed. What would happen then? Israel might feel the urge to retaliate. Even if Netanyahu didn’t want to escalate, the pressure from Israeli hardliners night be too much for him to resist. That would not only suck Israel further into the Yemen quagmire, it would be another lit match held over the oil roiling the waters of the Persian Gulf, waiting for an ignition source.