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The possibility of witnessing a new war in the Middle East region has been recently the subject of increased debate, namely the possibility of Israel launching a war against any -or all- of Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza Strip.

Such debates were fuelled by the numerous Israeli statements in this context, and the Israeli line of speech against Iran and Syria, “accusing” them of arming the resistance movements in Lebanon and Gaza and infringing upon the balance of powers in the region. Not to mention, the “parades of power” taking place all across the region, in various forms and manifestations: verbal, political, physical, military, maneuvers, threats …etc.

On the opposite hand, a careful analysis of the current regional circumstances indicates that the possibilities of a comprehensive war remain low-to-null in the near future. The same could be said for the possibility of Israeli military assaults of limited scale, against Iran or Syria or Lebanon. Thus remains the possibility of witnessing an Israeli attack against Gaza Strip, most probably of a limited scale as well; but even the latter seems far in light of the current calmness in the Strip, the stillness of the negotiations track and the resort to indirect negotiations. And as long as Israel doesn’t encounter any serious objections or restraints to its expansionist policy of creating facts on the ground, it won’t be of its interest to change the status quo. Thus, the current “calmness” is expected to continue, albeit some serious unforeseen scenarios occur; however, preparations for war will also continue in parallel.



Power Parades

The Israeli War Decision Considerations
1. The Internal Factor
2. External Threats
3. Expected Retaliations and Reactions
4. The US Regional Standing in the Middle East
5. Establishing a Prelude/Pretext

Expected Scenarios
1. Comprehensive War
2. Limited Strikes
3. Continued “Fragile Calmness”

Conclusions and Recommendations


Since its establishment, the Israeli state has focused on maintaining its regional military supremacy, as deterrence constituted a major pillar in its national security. Israel believes that this supremacy is an essential for its thriving in this relatively “hostile” region, and that any defeat it suffers would be an existential threat.

Based on this, Israel maintains a continued state of preparing for war; and to avoid worst-case scenarios, it adopts a strategy of pre-emptive strikes or wars if necessary, to accommodate any rising strategic threat before it grows beyond its reach.

Such sensibilities were further alarmed after the 2006 July war, and the war against Gaza in late 2008/early 2009, and their implications on the Israeli image (military and morally); and in light of Iran’s continuance with its nuclear program, and the rise of resistance movements in Lebanon and Palestine. The Israeli political and military circles feel today an increased need to face these threats, and so, it increased its level of preparations for war, as well as its tone of speech in threatening to use force against those sides (Iran, resistance movements, and their supporters, etc.); thus imposing more tensions on the whole regional scene, and fears of being dragged to a wide regional war whose limits, scale and implications are beyond the control of any side.

Power Parades

Preparations in the recent period were not limited to the Israeli side. The whole region was involved in feverish power parades.

On the Israeli side, we start by mentioning the Israeli military drills series, “Turning Point”, with “Turning Point 4” being launched only last Sunday on June 6th 2010. These drills are intended at training Israel for the possibility of he war on a regional scale, i.e. on all fronts: Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, rocket attacks from inside Palestine, in addition to attacks and self-immolation operations from the West Bank. Add to this, the digging of trenches in Golan Heights, military drills there, and the increased Israeli intelligence activity in the region, the far-range air force drills; the expansion of the Israeli military arsenal; the reiterated Israeli threats with war against each of Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Not to mention the recurring “accusations” of these sides, by Israeli politicians and military figures, in an attempt to establish a pretext or justification for a war. The last of these statements was regarding Syria supplying Hezbullah with Scud missiles, and infringing on the “sensitive balance of powers” in the region.

On the other sides, and starting with Iran, the latter is also proceeding with its military drills in the Persian/Arab Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Following the “Great Prophet 5” drills that were concluded last April, the “Velayat 89” drills were conducted in May on an estimated area of 250 thousand km2 according to the Iranian naval force commander, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari. This was in line with the statement of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that “no side would dare or venture launching a war against Iran”.

In Lebanon, Hezbullah has worked since the end of the July war 2006 on restoring and upgrading its military and rocket arsenal, as well as improving its military and warfare skills, so as to be better prepared for any perspective Israeli aggression. Recently, Hezbullah’s Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, “assured that the resistance today is stronger than what it was before the July 2006 war” and threatened with targeting the Israeli infrastructure in case Israel targets the Lebanese infrastructure. Nasrallah introduced the postulate that became known as “Dahyieh versus Tel Aviv”, threatening to retaliate to any Israeli assault on a target in Dahyieh

[i.e. Beirut’s Southern suburb, Hezbullah’s headquarter and a heavily populated Shiite suburb with Hezbullah’s supporters] by striking a similar target in Tel Aviv.

The July 2006 war effect has also reached Syria, who has worked since then on developing its military capacities, and reinforcing its preparations for war, notably on two dimensions: the first, possessing an arsenal of middle-range and far-range rockets with which it can seriously threaten Israeli strategic areas; and second, training some specialized military forces on fighting with Guerilla warfare tactics and strategies, in order to face any possible Israeli land operation or attack.

In parallel, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Walid al-Mu’allem, issued an unprecedented heavily worded warning for Israel, that any war it will launch against Syria will emerge into a regional war and will include the Israeli cities.

Add to the above the tripartite summit that brought together the Iranian and Syrian Presidents along with Hezbullah’s Secretary General in Damascus last February. This summit aimed at ascertaining that the alliance between these three sides is strong, and that any assault on one of them is an assault on all of them.

Last but not least, remains Gaza, where Hamas has succeeded in maintaining its rule of the Strip stable regardless of the strict siege. Hamas is also working within the possible and available chances on developing its military skills and capacities, training its men and staffing, developing its rocket capabilities, and buying defense arsenal.

The Israeli War Decision Considerations

1.    The Internal Factor
This consideration is currently dominated by Israel’s prioritization to re-strengthening its deterrence influence, which was shaken by its relative failure in July 2006 war and in the 2008-2009 aggression on Gaza. This priority’s scope is not limited to Israel’s image in the eyes of others, but also includes the Israeli public opinion, whose perception of the Israeli army was affected by the two encounters mentioned above.

In this context also comes the Israeli policy to achieve its interests.

On one hand, there are the Israeli benefits associated with the negotiations track, mainly its ability to compel the Palestinian Authority to curb the resistance in the West Bank, and gain additional time to impose yet further its occupational facts on the ground regarding the West Bank settlements and the Judaization of Jerusalem; taking advantage of the internal Palestinian schism.

On the other hand, the prospective benefits for Israel from a military attack against the resistance in Gaza Strip seem to be less tempting; especially in light of the current relative calmness of that front. It could be said that Israel has succeeded in imposing a ceasefire on the resistance without having to offer any concessions, through its recent violent aggression against the Strip. Nonetheless, Israel will not ignore for long the remaining “threat” from Gaza, that exists as long as the resistance exists and have a chance to re-build and develop its military capacity.

A third critical factor in Israel’s internal political decision making considerations, is the Israeli need to guarantee the outcomes before getting involved in any military aggression or war. This means that such a step should not be taken unless it is ensured that Israel will be the victor, in military and political arenas, as well as at the level of media and public relations; noting that any aggression or war could involve later legal pursuit of Israeli politicians and generals.

2.    External Threats
The continued efforts of the resistance movements to develop their military capacity, both in Gaza and Lebanon; and Iran’s consistent pursue of its nuclear program, instill on behalf of the Israelis an urge to “contain a threat before it is eminent”.

Israel considers the Iranian nuclear program on top of its list of strategic threats, describing it as an existential threat. The current Israeli government, headed by Netanyahu, also prioritizes this item on the US-Israeli relations’ agenda.

Then comes the threat of Hezbullah and Hamas, both who are always watched after by the Israeli political, military and security circles. The former’s efforts in restoring and reinforcing their military capacities, is for the latter a “tick bomb” that should also be controlled before it is too late.

On the other hand, the Syrian threat for the Israelis is mainly the issue of Syria’s alliance with Iran and its support for the resistance in Lebanon and Syria. Thus Syria is not targeted by itself from Israel, but rather, what Israel targets is breaking this alliance and eliminating this support; and if this happens, Iran’s position becomes much weaker, and the resistance forces are not only deprived from the Syrian strategic depth/support, but also won’t be able to reach for the Iranian support.

3.    Expected Retaliations and Reactions
This factor is mostly present and reflected as Israel’s fear of an unexpected retaliation/response and consequently a miscalculated scenario, once it undertakes an offensive or aggressive step to launch an attack; not to mention the regional and international stances.

These responses and stances vary depending on the front on which the war is observed. Possibly the least “hurting” reactions for Israel would be those associated with a war against Gaza, where the equation is not expected to deviate from the previous wars and attacks: “destruction from one side”. Israel is capable of inflicting gross human and material losses on the Strip, while the resistance is incapable of significantly threatening the internal Israeli front; and in the case of a land incursion, the Israeli losses will remain “affordable” even in a worst-case scenario –compared to other fronts.

The Israeli hesitation however remains because of an expected international public opinion condemnation of the civilian Palestinian causalities, especially in case these were high. Add to this, the brevity and desperate fierce endurance that was exhibited by the resistance fighters, including Hamas, in Gaza Strip during the 2008/2009; that will be seriously considered by the Israelis before taking any step in that direction.

This factor of “expected/unexpected retaliation and responses” becomes more critical in the of launching a war or attack against Iran or on the Israeli northern front (Syria, Lebanon), as the equation would rather be “two-sided destruction”. All sides (Hezbullah, Syria and Iran) have armament capacities that enable them to reach the internal Israeli front, thus constituting a serious threat. Although these capacities vary between a side and another (Iran has the highest capacity/threat, while Hezbullah has the least), it is all capable of inflicting significant damages on the Israeli internal front, and the infrastructure.

Besides, scenarios on these fronts would be worse for Israel in light of Damascus’ tripartite Summit, as attacking any of these three sides would open all of the three fronts, possibly pushing towards a comprehensive regional war that is beyond the Israeli calculations, preparedness, or capacity.

4.    The US Regional Standing in the Middle East
This factor becomes especially significant in the case of the Israeli decision to launch a war or limited attack on Iran; and it limits the capability of Israel to independently decide in this sense, without getting a green light from the United States. This is because the worst case scenario of such an attack will lead to war that will require the United States to intervene to the side of its “ally” (i.e. Israel); consequently, the Iranian retaliation will include besides Israel, the American troops and bases in the Arab Gulf area. Iran has made it clear that its retaliation will include any neighboring country whose lands were used in any attack against it; thus such a step/attack by Israel might indeed be equivalent to putting the whole region on fire.

5.    Establishing a Prelude/Pretext
This factor is best summarized by the Israeli need to establish or find the suitable circumstances, pretext, and prelude to launch a war; along with preparing the regional and international settings for such a possibility of war. In this context, the media and political campaigns are to be stressed, besides the needed American cover. Gradual military escalation might also be adopted by Israel for this purpose, through minor clashes, selective targeting, or disproportional retaliation to any military step taken by the resistance.

Expected Scenarios

1.    Comprehensive War
This scenario is projected on the assumption that Israel would declare a comprehensive war against one or more of the Iranian, Syrian, Lebanese or Gazan fronts; while being prepared for the possibility of having all these fronts opening simultaneously.

The possibilities of this scenario however remain very little, if any.

In the case of Iran, Israel recognizes that it cannot foresee the possible consequences of a war or attack, and thus guaranteeing that the results would be to its interest will be impossible. Besides, this might necessarily involve an American intervention, and the American situation in Afghanistan and Iraq is enough a quagmire for a yet additional risk; especially that this might lead to a regional war in the Middle East, the primary source of oil for the majority of the world countries including the US.

Add to the above that the size and form of the Iranian retaliation remains unknown, and hard to foresee. Nonetheless, it is definitely capable of reaching the Israeli cities and infrastructure, and possibly extendable to other fronts (namely the Lebanese/Syrian front); and this might put the Israeli internal front on a danger that is beyond its capacity of endurance and preparedness.

In the case of Syria and Lebanon, the comprehensive war is also not of guaranteed consequences for Israel, as it similarly exposes the internal Israeli front to possible targeting and destruction; although this destruction will by no means be comparable to the destruction that Israel will inflict on any of these countries. Other factors that also lessen the possibilities of observing a comprehensive war on this front (the Israeli northern front) include: the possibility of the Iranian intervention according to the Damascus tripartite declaration; the possibility that such a war could result in reinstalling instability at this front, and in the internal Lebanese and Syrian politics, which might not necessarily be in Israel’s interest compared to the current relative calmness on these borders; and the possibility of the instability extending to involve other countries in the region.

Finally in the case of Gaza, the chances of Israel seeking a comprehensive war are similarily weak to null, as Israel is not willing to reoccupy the Strip, i.e. occupy it physically and directly; because this will further increase its responsibility towards the 1.5 million population in the Strip. In addition, a war against Gaza Strip might cause Israel losses in terms of its “international image” and possible legal persecutions for its leaders in case the toll of civilian Palestinian losses was high (which is usually the case).

2.    Limited Strikes
This scenario is projected on the assumption that Israel will resort to the option of limited military strikes of selected targets, on one or more of the fronts mentioned above; in order to fend off large-scale retaliations that might expand to a regional war.

This scenario has higher chances than the above scenario, war, or wide incursion scenarios.

On the Iranian front, such a scenario remains of no guaranteed results, because the candidate Iranian sites to be targeted are numerous, widely scattered geographically, which means that the Iranian nuclear program will not be curdled by such an approach, and the best possible scenario for Israel would be hindering it but not stopping it. On the other side, the Iranian retaliation for such an escalation remains unknown, and the costs to be paid by Israel might be higher than what it could expect or even afford.

Here it should be noted that in such a scenario, the American intervention or participation might be necessarily required; where according to some estimations, the number of needed military strikes to eliminate the Iranian capacity to retaliate, is around 10 thousand strikes, on sites distributed on a huge geographical area, in a very short period of time.
On the Syrian front, limited Israeli strikes are not expected to compel it to distance itself from Iran and the resistance movements. On the contrary, it might push it to reinforce its alliance with them; thus eliminating the Israeli interest in such an act.

As for Lebanon, a limited military attack or strike is not expected to bring down the resistance. The lessons of the July 2006 war are still vibrant in the Israeli military and political arenas, and the chances of observing a limited military strike on the Lebanese front remain very low, except if Hezbollah takes its claimed retaliation to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh. In this case however, the Israeli statements imply that any act taken by Hezbullah will be at a price that should be burdened by the whole Lebanese state and population; i.e. the scale of the Israeli action will not be limited but most probably comprehensive.

Gaza remains the weakest chord among the fronts, and accordingly the most probable target to any Israeli military action during the year 2010. But the current situation of relative calmness in the Strip; the tight siege imposed on it by Israel; and the Israeli capitalization of the Palestinian schism and the stalled negotiations for imposing additional facts on the ground (settlement and judaization activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank); also diminish the possibilities of observing this scenario on the Gazan front. These possibilities increase in case the resistance factions fired rockets from the Strip, or undertook a major operation against Israeli targets.

3.    Continued “Fragile Calmness”
This scenario projects that the current calmness observed on the various fronts will continue, while the various concerned parties will also continue in building their military capabilities and level of preparedness for a war; in anticipation of any possible act that will break this calmness. Examples of these acts include: firing rockets from Gaza by the resistance, or a major operation by the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine against Israeli targets; or similar acts that will incite an Israeli retaliation.

The continued “Fragile Calmness” scenario is supported by arguments that the current Israeli threats, maneuvers, and statements, are merely part of a psychological warfare aimed at increasing the level of tension in the region, in an attempt to pressure Iran and the resistance/”refusal front” parties, and deter Hezbullah and Hamas from considering any serious retaliation act to the assassination of two of their key figures (Mughniyeh and Al-Mabhouh), where the Israeli intelligence (Mossad) is believed to be behind these assassinations.

This scenario is the most probable scenario currently. Nonetheless, tensions in the region remain high, and fears remain that at any instance, Israel might take a military step that might turn the whole region on fire.

Conclusions and Recommendations

For Gaza
–    The Palestinians should end their internal schism and achieve national reconciliation, as this is the most basic line of defense for the Strip in case an Israeli aggression was launched.

–    The siege on Gaza Strip should be lifted, ending the suffering of its population, and its political isolation, as these factors increase the capacity of the Strip to survive any possible Israeli aggression or attack.

–    The security coordination in the West Bank with the Israeli Occupation, and the targeting of the resistance members and its infrastructure, provides Israel with the necessary “dedication” to target Gaza Strip as it nulls the resistance capacities and activities in the West Bank.

This coordination should be brought to an end, and ending it is not only a needed form of protecting Gaza Strip, but essentially a basic requisite for serving the national Palestinian interest.

–    All parties in the region, namely the resistance and “refusal front” parties, should be aware that eliminating the resistance in Gaza Strip or in Lebanon is but the first step in targeting them later and eliminating their resistance/”refusal” in turn. Thus it is not in their interest to allow for the elimination of any resistance party.

–    Arab and Islamic states, especially Turkey and Iran, should take a unified firm position against any Israeli or American aggression in the region; while stressing that the usage of their lands (namely the Gulf countries) in such an attack is strictly forbidden, unacceptable, and will be responded to appropriately.

This Assessment was prepared based on a discussion panel held by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut, with the participation of a select of specialists and intellectuals. Sincere thanks go to Mr. Hasan Ibhais, who has prepared its draft.

The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 25/5/2010