Israeli Deterrence Restored?

barak.jpg Among the many theories of just what Israel was up to during its Sep. 6 overflights inside Sryia, one that is beginning to emerge — at least in regards to the “why” — is the likelihood Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak and the military establishment are trying to restore Israel’s deterrent power in the aftermath of the country’s disastrous war against Hizbullah in 2006, through a series of brazen measures. In other words, reminding their regional enemies they’re still the big bad Israelis. If the reports turn out to be true that the Israeli Airforce (IAF) was targeting a shipment of nuclear material from North Korea, then any Israeli defense minister could have been expected to order a strike similar to the one allegedly carried out Sep. 6. However, if the IAF was merely targeting another shipment of Syrian weapons en-route to Lebanon, they were certainly making a statement, while keeping it’s details shrouded in mystery. Israel’s uncharacteristic silence about the overflights in the face of intense international speculation and condemnation also point to this conclusion. One thing is certain, Syria was successfully deterred from a military response in this particular case. This carries real significance given that Israel was commonly assumed to have lost much of its deterrent power vis a vis Syria, and given the growing chorus of reports, including official U.S. statements that Israel not only conducted overflights into Syrian territory but carried out strikes as well. By Israel’s own standards this amounts to a casus belli (recall the arguments Israel provided in support of its invasion of Lebanon last summer after Hizbullah violated its sovereignty in a cross border attack).

MI Chief: Israel has restored its capabilities of deterrence (Haaretz)

Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin on Sunday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel has restored its deterrence capabilities since the Second Lebanon War last summer.

Address the panel on the issue of the Iranian nuclear threat, Yadlin added that the rehabilitation of Israel’s power of deterrence would have an effect on the entire region, including Syria and Iran.

Don’t say a word (Jerusalem Post)

It sounds almost like a scene out of a Hollywood action movie. Soldiers disguised as Hamas militiamen abduct a senior Hamas terrorist who stops in the middle of a road in southern Gaza after an “old man” leaning on a cane collapses in front of his car.

If the Palestinian reports are true, then elite Israeli forces penetrated deep into the heart of Rafah late Friday night to nab Mohawah al-Qadi, a senior member of Hamas’s armed wing and a commander in the Executive Force believed to be connected to last year’s kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Schalit.

According to the Palestinian reports, Qadi was abducted by Israeli forces and then taken to the abandoned Dahiniye Airport, where he was picked up by an IAF helicopter and transported into Israel.

While the details of the operation are fascinating, its timing is also of immense importance. The alleged abduction took place two nights after IAF fighter jets allegedly infiltrated Syrian airspace late Wednesday night.

While it is still unclear what happened over the coastal city of Latakia, if anything at all, the alleged Syrian flyover – as well as the alleged IDF abduction – have one thing in common: they are both mysterious operations, the type of which have the potential of restoring Israel’s deterrence in the eyes of its enemies.

Israel is officially refusing to comment on either incident and prefers in both cases to leave the public in the dark.

While praising the IDF’s “outstanding bravery and incessant work,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the cabinet meeting on Sunday: “The nature of this work is such that its details cannot always be disclosed to the public.”

By withholding what transpired in both cases, Israel is not demonstrating fear or weakness but rather self-confidence, the type that demonstrates to its neighbors that the IDF has long-reaching capabilities and that, as Olmert said Sunday, “Whoever sponsors terrorists will be harmed; we will reach them anywhere.”

The last known time Israel kidnapped a high-level terrorist connected to an MIA was in 1994, when Mustafa Dirani, a former senior official in the Lebanese Amal group believed to have held missing IAF navigator Ron Arad, was abducted by IDF commandos from his home in Lebanon.

The chief of General Staff at the time of Dirani’s abduction was Ehud Barak, who last week – now as defense minister – would have needed to give the green light for both alleged and daring operations in Gaza and Syria.

A former commander of the IDF’s General Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal), Barak is quite familiar with a wide range of covert and creative operations carried out behind enemy lines.

Since taking over as defense minister two and a half months ago, Barak’s influence has been felt on many of the recent developments in the IDF.

Unlike his predecessor Amir Peretz, who was a staunch proponent of restraint vis-à-vis the Kassam rocket fire in Gaza, Barak has ordered the IDF to adopt a tougher stance in responding to the Palestinian attacks and to take greater risks when operating inside Gaza.

If Peretz would have held back from allowing an air strike that could end in civilian casualties, Barak, defense sources say, is more inclined to say yes.

According to the officials, Barak has also ordered the IDF to use riskier intelligence-gathering methods when operating against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

Israel and Syria
Mysterious happenings
(The Economist)

“I CAN’T remember a time when our interests and theirs converged like this,” says a former Israeli defence man. For several days after Syria complained that Israeli aircraft had penetrated its airspace, neither country wanted to talk about what had happened. The unaccustomed silence was broken first by Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, who apparently complained to European diplomats that Israel had bombed targets in Syria; and then by unnamed American sources, who confirmed to CNN and the New York Times that Israel had carried out air strikes.

What Israel bombed and why is still unclear. The American reports suggest that it was weapons destined for Hizbullah, the Iran-backed Islamist Shia movement that dominates southern Lebanon, but these have been passing through Syria for years. One theory is that it was suspected nuclear material from North Korea (apart from Iran, North Korea was the only country to leap indignantly to Syria’s defence); another, that Israel was trying out flight paths for a possible war with Syria or attack on Iran, or testing out new Syrian air defences that were reportedly recently supplied by Russia. Syria’s own muted response and failure to retaliate suggest that whatever happened, it was most embarrassing.

Certainly, Israeli air force officers are said to be jubilant about the mission’s success, though officials have stayed tight-lipped, and those Israeli journalists who hint that they know what happened aren’t telling. Whatever the target, it must have been something special for Israel to launch an attack now, at a time when both countries have been building up their forces for a possible war while trying to reassure each other publicly that they do not want one. Indeed, having the leaks come from America rather than Israel may have been an attempt to avoid further escalation.

That attempt may be working: despite unconfirmed reports that Syria was calling up its reserves, no firm promise of military retaliation has come. And the raid will certainly have given Syria pause. Though both countries have been building up their defences since Israel’s war with Hizbullah last summer, Syria has for a while been calling for new peace talks over the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war. A number of prominent Israelis echoed that call this year, after a former Israeli diplomat and an expatriate Syrian-American revealed that they had had a series of meetings to talk peace.

Proponents of talking to Syria argue that doing so would encourage it to reduce its involvement in Lebanon, loosen its ties with Iran and stop letting insurgents cross its border into Iraq. Sceptics, who predominate in the Israeli and American governments, argue that Syria merely wants peace talks with Israel as a way to ease the pressure on it, and should show it is serious about relinquishing its influence in Lebanon first. The latest raid may have weakened Syria’s hand. If Israel can slow Hizbullah’s arms supply or foil Syrian air defences, then, so the theory goes, it dents Syria’s ability to use either its influence in Lebanon or the threat of a war with Israel as bargaining chips.


One Response to “Israeli Deterrence Restored?”

  1. Assert Yourself « The Green Line Says:

    […] itself increasingly in the region through a series of brazen measures, which falls in line with my earlier assessment that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is much tougher than his predecessor and wants to […]

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