Israeli Defense and Security in 2015: Strong on Tactics, Weak on Strategy

[This analysis was written for The Jerusalem Post by Yossi Melman, co-author of books including “Spies Against Armageddon.”]

In the euphoric years between the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the leaders of Israel — with defense minister Moshe Dayan chief among them — had a tendency to boast that “our situation has never been better.”

Within a relatively short time, reality flipped on them and the illusion died at the painful price of some 2,700 fallen soldiers. Since then, the same turn of phrase has been avoided.

Nonetheless, there is no better phrase to encapsulate Israel’s military situation in 2014.

According to most estimates, evaluations, and analyses by experts and all those correctly viewing reality — without any personal, political, or ideological bias — Israel?s military situation improved in the past year and its qualitative edge over its enemies has grown.

In actuality, Israel is the strongest military power: not only in the Middle East, but in the entire region stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. There is not a single state or coalition of states that has the military ability to threaten Israel’s existence or defeat it on the battlefield.

THE EASTERN FRONT: SYRIA AND IRAQ

In the East, the two large armies that made up this front in the past — those of Syria and Iraq, which in the past were considered major threats by Israel — have completely receded.

Iraq today is a country disintegrating into three or four parts. Despite the tens of billions of dollars invested by the U.S. in Baghdad?s army, it collapsed like a house of cards in the battles of the past half-year against Islamic State (ISIS).

In Syria, the civil war continues and March 2015 will mark four bloody years of conflict with no end in sight.

Armed Hezbollah fighters (courtesy The Israel Project)

Armed Hezbollah fighters (courtesy The Israel Project)

Syria is a completely dismantled state. Bashar Assad’s regime controls only around a quarter of the country’s territory, mostly Damascus and its surroundings, the coast, a few other cities, and the roads connecting them. Assad’s army has suffered heavy losses in battles with the various rebel groups, both on the battlefield and through the desertion of tens of thousands of soldiers, including high-ranking officers.

Even without a U.S. attack on Assad — as threatened by Barack Obama after Syria’s army used chemical weapons — the international community has confiscated the regime’s chemical weapons, which had been developed and produced to answer the nuclear capability that Israel is reputed to have.

Even if the Syrian regime retains some residual chemical capability with Sarin gas and certainly chlorine, as is estimated among Israel’s intelligence community, that still does not pose a real threat.

This is evidenced by the fact that Israel stopped distributing gas masks to the public.

THE NORTHERN FRONT: LEBANON

In the North, Hezbollah has been significantly weakened over the past year. The group is up to its neck in the Syrian civil war, in which it serves as an Iranian military wing in defense of the Damascus regime.

However, the price that Hezbollah is paying for becoming more and more of an Iranian proxy and less and less of a Lebanese Shi’ite group is very heavy.
Hezbollah has lost hundreds, if not more than a thousand, of its best fighters in the Syrian war.

Among those lost are senior commanders with abundant battle experience. They are being buried in the dead of night in order to hide the ugly reality  from the Hezbollah’s members.

Morale is low. Many in Lebanon, especially within the Shi’ite community on which the group relies, are asking the key question: Why do young Lebanese men need to sacrifice their lives for a foreign regime? In a certain manner, Syria is Hezbollah’s Vietnam.

At the same time, the war in Syria is crossing over into Lebanon itself. ISIS and extremist Sunni organizations such as Jabat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, are transferring the war to Lebanese territory. They are blowing up car bombs in the heart of Shi’ite strongholds, planning ambushes on the Shi’ite group’s fighters, and forcing Hezbollah to take cover and defend its home.

IN THE NEXT POST:

ISRAEL’S SITUATION VIS A VIS EGYPT AND IRAN

January 2, 2015

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