Operation Northern Shield Could Reshape Israel’s Northern Front

The recent discovery of Hezbollah’s invasion tunnels has removed a critical component of the organization’s — and Iran’s — plan for war against Israel. The discovery robbed them of the ability to surprise Israel through an offensive (under)ground assault into Israeli territory, which was to be a central element in creating a shock to the Israeli psyche and challenge to the country’s security. Israel’s aggressive measures are compelling Hezbollah and Iran to reassess their perception of the entire conflict.

In addition, the raids have again embarrassed Iran and its proxies because they exhibit Israel’s superior level of intelligence, following the exposure of Iran’s nuclear archive.

The question right now is to what extent Israel will succeed in leveraging this intelligence disclosure to turn the situation on the northern border to its advantage, with an emphasis on the following objectives:

1. Teaching Lebanon and the international arena that Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, is not the “shield of Lebanon,” but in reality a huge danger to that country. Hezbollah is developing strong offensive capabilities against Israel from within Lebanese civilian facilities, and is even working beyond the international border (inside Israeli territory) to serve Iranian interests only. Hezbollah acts in a manner that is a clear violation of Israeli sovereignty and justifies a sharp Israeli response that will cause harm to the country of Lebanon and its citizens. Israel’s recent activity should also be presented as an Israeli effort to prevent damage to Lebanon. The ones putting Lebanon in danger are Hezbollah and Iran, while the one who is looking after it is Israel.

2. Increasing the deterrence against Iran and Hezbollah so that they will be reluctant to continue their attempts to find new ways to threaten Israel, such as improving the accuracy of their rockets and building infrastructure on the Golan Heights.

3. Educating Europe that any attempt to differentiate between the military wing and the political wing of Hezbollah is ridiculous. Does anyone really believe that a handful of rebellious, diligent Hezbollah terrorists decided independently to dig a complex system of tunnels, which demanded so many resources and extended into Israeli territory? It is amazing to see how the Europeans have confirmed the existence of the tunnels and expressed their support for Israel’s right to destroy them, yet refuse to blame Hezbollah and acknowledge that there is no distinction between the military and political wings of the organization. A change in the European position would lead to a significant shift in Hezbollah’s ability to manipulate the Lebanese system, and would penalize it with the heavy and appropriate price they should pay for their violation of Israeli sovereignty.

4. Encouraging UNIFIL to finally implement UN Resolution 1701, asserting that only the Lebanese army is allowed to operate in southern Lebanon, and to make use of the extension of its mandate that it received in 2016. So far, UNIFIL has confirmed the existence of the tunnels, but it has refrained from asserting that Hezbollah has thereby significantly violated Israel’s sovereignty.

5. Intensifying focus on Iran’s role as the master dictating Hezbollah’s activities. It is clear that the buildup of Hezbollah’s forces, especially since the Second Lebanon War, including the invasion tunnels, is intended to serve Iranian purposes and enable Iran to strike at Israel.

The high media profile that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot have given to this operation is intended to influence international, Israeli, Arab, Lebanese, and Iranian opinion. However, it needs to be accompanied by diplomatic activity to achieve these objectives. The problem is that European cynicism is creating a significant obstacle to realizing these goals, and the tense relationship between the United States and Europe is eroding the power of American leverage in this regard.

The article was published on The Algemeiner


NETANYAHU, IRANIAN FM SPAR AT MUNICH CONFERENCE

PM shows piece of downed Iranian UAV, warns Israel will act against Iran if it must • Zarif dismisses Netanyahu’s ‘cartoonish circus’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, brandished a piece of the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle that Israel downed a week ago after it entered Israel’s airspace and warned Iran “not to test Israel’s resolve.”

Israel, Netanyahu said at the conference that was attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, “will act not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”

Zarif, who addressed the conference later in the day, dismissed Netanyahu’s presentation as a “cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response.”

Netanyahu, who said Zarif “lies with eloquence,” warned the conference participants that Zarif will “brazenly deny Iran’s nefarious involvement in Syria.”

“Iran also denies that it committed an act of aggression against Israel last week, that it sent a drone into our airspace to threaten our people,” Netanyahu said, pulling out the Iranian prop from behind the podium and holding it high up with one hand.

“Well, here’s a piece of that Iranian drone, or what’s left of it after we shot it down. I brought it here so you can see for yourself. Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours.”

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to have ever addressed this prestigious conference, and the overwhelming majority of his 15-minute speech and 15 minutes of Q and A, dealt with Iran.

With former US secretary of state John Kerry, one of the key architects of the Iranian nuclear deal, sitting in the front row, Netanyahu ripped into the accord as he has done many times in the past, saying that the inspection regimen is completely insufficient, and that when the sun sets on the agreement in some 10 years’ time, the Iranians will have an “open highway” to build not only one nuclear device, but an entire nuclear arsenal.

To have nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said, “you need a gun, bullets, and gunpowder.”

The gun is the ballistic missiles that the Iranians are developing, unchecked by the nuclear deal and undeterred by UN Security Council resolutions, he said.

“They should be stopped and slammed with the most crippling sanctions to prevent them from continuing the development of these [nuclear] delivery systems, these guns,” he said.

Furthermore, the Iranians are hiding the “casings for the bullets” in military sites, which the nuclear deal has placed out of bounds to inspectors, he said.

And the third element – the gunpowder – is the enriched uranium, “which is the toughest thing to make for a nuclear weapon, because it is the most difficult to manufacture, requires big plants and precision engineering.” When the sun sets on the agreement, he said, Iran will be given “free rein to enrich uranium without limitations.”

Lifting Iran’s limitations on uranium enrichment should not be linked to a calendar, Netanyahu said, but rather to Iran’s behavior, which as a result of the deal has gotten worse and more aggressive in the region, not better.

Netanyahu predicted that the Iranians would “do nothing” if the nuclear deal is not either “fixed or nixed.”

FURTHERMORE, he said, the countries of the world would have to decide whether they prefer dealing with the US or with Iran, which – despite the fact that it has some 80 million people as compared to Israel’s 8.5 million – has an economy about the size of Israel’s.

“I think the time to stop them is now,” he said.

Netanyahu said that Iran, through nefarious moves in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, is trying to change the status quo in the region.

If they do change the status quo, he said, the rule he will follow is one established by the early Zionists when dealing with problems: “They said nip things in the bud, stop them before they get big. That’s basically what our policy is.”

Netanyahu also conveyed a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad, stressing that Israel’s decision to stay out of the Syrian civil war for the last six years, except to grant humanitarian aid to thousands of Syrians in Israeli hospitals, could change.

Assad understands that if he invites Iran to entrench itself militarily inside his country, he is challenging Israel, he said. “If Mr. Assad invites Iran in militarily, that changes our position. So that is up to Iran and to Mr. Assad.”

Zarif, in addition to dismissing Netanyahu’s presentation as a “cartoonish circus,” said the recent shooting down of an Israeli F16 after it bombed an Iranian site in Syria had shattered Israel’s “so-called invincibility.”

“Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors,” Zarif said, accusing Israel of “mass reprisals against its neighbors and daily incursions into Syria, Lebanon.”

“Once the Syrians have the guts to down one of its planes, it’s as if a disaster has happened,” Zarif said.

“What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled.”

He accused the United States of using the conference to “revive hysteria” against Iran and denied that Tehran was seeking “hegemony” in the Middle East.

Zarif also poked at Netanyahu for his legal problems, saying, “Israel’s major problems are its years-long criminal occupation policies, and I’m not even talking about its corruption.”

Kerry, meanwhile, said at the conference that it was wrong to assume that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon as soon as the scope of the deal ends.

“If your house is on fire, are you going to refuse to put it out because you are concerned it will light on fire again in 15 years? Or are you going to put it out and use the intervening time to prevent to ever catching fire again?” he asked.

Before addressing the conference, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, visited a memorial to the 11 Israeli Olympic athletes killed in Munich in 1972.

“There is [a] special meaning to the fact that we are standing at the place where 11 of our athletes were murdered just because they were Jews and Israelis. Millions were slaughtered here just because they were Jews,” he said. “The great difference is that we have a state and this state has acted, and is acting today, against terrorism and those who would destroy us.”

Netanyahu then led the members of his delegation in singing “Hatikva.”

The Article was published on The JPost