The aggressor becomes the deterred

The aggressor becomes the deterred, Israel Hayom, Prof. Eyal Zisser, September 17, 2017

[D]eputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem took pains to assuage the terrorist organization’s alarmed supporters, telling them that Israel was not interested in war. Furthermore, in a calming message directed at Israel, he added that despite the recent airstrike in Syria (attributed to Israel) – which, if true, is a direct blow to Hezbollah’s exposed underbelly – the organization was not looking to retaliate or go to war either. This marks a significant shift in tone for Hezbollah, which has customarily opted for menacing intimidation against Israel, in the knowledge that its threats would fall on open and mainly concerned ears.

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The massive exercise conducted by the IDF’s Northern Corps along the Lebanese front, which concluded last week, indicates a revolutionary new thinking within the military that we can only hope will spill over into minds of the country’s political leaders. Unlike in the past, the IDF is not looking to merely deter the enemy; it isn’t seeking to change the reality along the border in some unclear, amorphous way. This time the IDF wants a decisive victory.

One example of this refreshing new approach can be found in the series of interviews given by senior IDF officers on the eve of the exercise and upon its conclusion. First in line was outgoing Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, who said Israel had restored the first-strike capabilities that had led it to victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. Eshel also touted the IAF’s increased firepower, which in one day of fighting allows it to hit and destroy the same scope of targets that required 34 days of fighting in the summer of 2016.

Other IDF officers emphasized that this time around, rather than settle for passive defense, the army focused its training on attacking Hezbollah, and its host, Lebanon.

Another shift could be seen in the military’s policy of containment, which now comes with clear caveats. As one senior official said: “We won’t play a game of tit-for-tat anymore. If Israeli sovereignty is violated, even once, and Israelis are hurt, the response will be decisive, powerful and cunning.”

If the reactions out of Lebanon are any indication, the drill has already met one of its objectives. Hezbollah apparently received the message and rushed to uncharacteristically deliver calming messages, clearly indicating that it fears a future war with Israel. Hezbollah knows that a future war will exact a far heavier toll on them than on Israel.

Thus, for instance, deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem took pains to assuage the terrorist organization’s alarmed supporters, telling them that Israel was not interested in war. Furthermore, in a calming message directed at Israel, he added that despite the recent airstrike in Syria (attributed to Israel) – which, if true, is a direct blow to Hezbollah’s exposed underbelly – the organization was not looking to retaliate or go to war either. This marks a significant shift in tone for Hezbollah, which has customarily opted for menacing intimidation against Israel, in the knowledge that its threats would fall on open and mainly concerned ears.

Over the years, Hezbollah has engaged in effective psychological warfare against Israel. It has managed to convince the country’s leaders that in a conflict, the damage to Israel would greatly outweigh the damage to Hezbollah and its supporters, and that therefore it should be wary of taking steps toward all-out war. The organization’s success also stemmed heavily from its willingness to take things to the brink and remain there, unlike Israel, which prefers to keep a safe distance. This was merely a form of psychological warfare with very little to back it up, and yet in the battle over minds and perception, Hezbollah consistently gave Israel a run for its money.

Now, however, the tables have turned. The IDF drill changed the discourse and the rules of the game. Hezbollah, formerly the agent of deterrence, is now the deterred; previously eager for battle, it is now pleading for Israel to stand down; the organization that used to regularly threaten Israelis is now preoccupied with allaying the fears of its supporters in Lebanon.

But in the end, wars never erupt in the Middle East because somebody really wants them to. They usually start because of lack of thought or an error in judgment. This, too, must be kept in mind in the wake of Or Hadagan, the code name given to the IDF’s exercise in the north.

Explore posts in the same categories: Hezbollah vs Israel

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