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


INSIDE LOOK: HOW GAZA PROTESTERS ATTEMPTED TO BREACH THE BORDER FENCE

Over the past eight weeks, protesters in Gaza have altered their strategy as Israel has warned them to refrain from approaching the border fence.

Many questions remain about what led to the deaths of up to 58 Palestinians on Monday. One of the key issues surrounds how the protests are organized. Based on observation and discussions with sources close to the protests, the following presents a clearer picture of what has occurred over the last weeks, and attempts to paint a picture of how the May 14 protests unfolded.

Since the end of March, there have been mass protests along the Gaza border. These protests have been well organized and planned as part of an eight week “Great March of Return,” from the Palestinian Land Day on March 30, to the “Nakba Day” on May 15.

On May 14, the mass protests, which coincided with the US opening its embassy in Jerusalem and came a day before what was supposed to be the last day of the protests, resulted in 58 Palestinians killed and up to 2,700 wounded, according to Gaza-based Palestinian reports.

The protests have been organized around five locations next to Israel’s security fence. Over the eight weeks of demonstrations, protesters used a variety of different tactics and methods. For instance, protesters began lighting massive fires and burning tires during the second Friday, in early April.  Then they began launching burning kites to ignite Israeli farmland. They also tore down a section of barbed wire of one of the fences between Israel and Gaza on April 27. It was during this protest that a reliable source provided some insight into the methods employed by Hamas and the protesters.

The protesters have gathered every Friday with tens of thousands participating. At the very back of the protest, hundreds of meters from the fence, are tents and field hospitals, prayer areas and families. This is where some of the Hamas officials will show up in the morning or early afternoon to rouse the people and encourage them in their protest. Speeches will be made and prayers offered. It is well organized. Buses bring people to the protests. There are people selling food. There is even a macabre element of this, with protesters saying they’ll have a meal before they become “shahid” or a martyr at the front.

The masses of protesters who approach the actual fence are generally made up of young men and teenagers, including youth and children. There are very few women in the area closest to the fence. The protesters know how the Israeli security forces have been operating; they expect to be shot or are cognizant that this is a distinct possibility. There are ambulance teams and medics, as well as numerous spontaneous volunteers, ready to take away the injured, many of them shot in the legs.

As the young men burn tires, and others prepare Molotov cocktails or slingshots, some prepare kites to fly. The goal of the protesters is to get to the fence and, with select groups of young men who have brought wire cutters, to cut through. Most of them don’t make it this far, but some of them do.

Gazans who attempt to reach the main security fence first have to deal with other obstacles. There is a barbed-wire fence in sections to deter protesters from reaching the main fence. Israel has continuously warned since March that anyone approaching this kind of buffer zone would be shot. A section of barbed wire fence was torn down and dragged away in late April. The Palestinians cheered as they brought it back to the protest camp. A sign of victory.

According to reports, it takes about thirty seconds running between the barbed-wire fence and the main security fence.

But what happened in late April was not just the spontaneous chaos of rioters at the fence. Some of those wounded and killed by live fire, as shown on videos, have not been directly threatening the fence, but there are others groups whose sole purpose is to penetrate the fence.

The actual attempt to get closest to the fence and break through it has involved planning and coordination on the Palestinian side. Hamas members, unarmed but clearly directing some of the young men, are in the crowd. They watch for an area of burning tires and people, where the protesters have managed to get close to the fence or breach the first line of barbed wire.

Some of these professional activists are on motorcycles and they may come and go or drive along the line of protests or observe them from a high point. When they sense that a breach can be made, they gather together groups of young men, men who have prepared beforehand for the assault.

Like some kind of First World War charge of death, the young men then rush as a group toward the fence.

During the April 27 events, up to 700 men were reported by IDF spokesman Col. Jonathan Conricus to have assaulted the fence “in a way that we have not seen them assault it before,” according to a New York Times report.

An earlier Times report titled “300 Meters in Gaza: Snipers, Burning Tires and a Contested Fence,” summarized well the planning and details of the protests and confirmed later accounts.

Planning began ahead of the May 14 protests. Joe Dyke, the AFP correspondent in Gaza, wrote on May 10 that, at a “briefing to foreign media, Gaza head of Hamas told journalists today he would support thousands of Palestinians breaking through the border fence next week.”

On Sunday the IDF dropped leaflets on Gaza warning protesters to stay away from the fence. On May 14 Dyke, in Gaza, tweeted: “literally as the US embassy inauguration is beginning, loud speakers east of Gaza City are calling on protesters to prepare to seek to breach the border fence.”

By the end of the day, 58 had been killed.

The article was published in The JPost


‘We’ll blind IDF snipers’

Gaza rioters prepare for additional mass protest this coming Friday, look for ways to neutralize IDF forces on the border.

Arab rioters in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip amassed materials along the border with Israel this week in preparation for yet another confrontation with Israeli security forces on the frontier, planned for this coming Friday.

Last Friday, some 30,000 rioters gathered at the Israeli border, kicking off six weeks of protests against the State of Israel and President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The protests will culminate in a mass demonstration on May 15th, the day after Israel’s 70th Independence Day and the scheduled opening of the new US embassy.

Rioters hurled firebombs at Israeli security forces along the Gaza border, Friday, with thousands of demonstrators attempting to scale the security fence and enter Israel.

IDF sharpshooters opened fire on rioters attempting to enter Israeli territory, as well as terrorists hurling firebombs, as well as two gunmen.

Hospital officials in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip claimed that 17 people were killed by IDF fire, and more than 1,400 wounded by live-fire – a claim the IDF spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manelis disputed. Israeli officials noted that 10 of those killed on the border were members of the Hamas terror group.

The United Nations has demanded an “independent and transparent investigation” into Israel’s actions during the riots. Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, have rejected the UN’s position, arguing that Israel’s right to self-defense justified the IDF’s response.

“Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal,” Liberman told Army Radio Sunday. “As for a commission of inquiry – there won’t be one.”

Since last Friday’s riots, organizers have amassed stockpiles of material for the next mass confrontation.

While hundreds of rioters continue to protest along the border, Friday’s riots are expected to again draw thousands to the security fence on the Israel-Gaza frontier.

Along with firebombs and rocks, organizers of the protests have stockpiled tires, to be set on fire and hurled at the security fence.

Protesters are also exploring ways of neutralizing Israeli security forces on the border, including the use of mirrors to reflect sunlight into the eyes of IDF snipers.

According to a report by Israel Hayom, protest organizers are also looking to open a new front against IDF efforts to defend Israel from the rioters by pursuing charges against Israeli personnel in international courts.

The article was published on Arutz 7


Hamas attack tunnel discovered in Israel

Less than 2 years after Operation Protective Edge, the IDF, using advanced technology, discovered the tunnel in the Eshkol regional council area; it was meant for an attack by Hamas’s elite ‘nokhba’ unit.

Nearly two years after the end of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF has uncovered a Hamas attack tunnel crossing the border fence into Israel, which is believed to have been dug after the 2014 war, it was cleared for publication on Monday morning.

The shaft was discovered inside Israeli territory, just a few dozens of meters from the border fence, in the Eshkol Regional Council, but not very close to nearby communities.

Officials in the defense establishment say the tunnel was likely meant to be used in a strategic attack against Israel, in which dozens of Hamas fighters from the elite “Nukhba” unit would participate.

Since the tunnel’s discovery last week, IDF engineering forces and fighters from elite units have been working in the open area between Kisufim and Kerem to destroy it.

The tunneling took place on both sides of the border, and the Palestinians in Gaza reported on it, but Hamas refrained from using the tunnel or taking other offensive steps against the IDF. And this despite the fact that according to Israeli officials’ estimations that Hamas was aware that the IDF had uncovered and destroyed the tunnel.

At the start of IDF operations, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and GOC Southern Command Eyal Zamir were present. Residents in the area were told that the matter was under IDF control and that there was no real danger, therefore life went on as usual. Even farmers in the area were updated and were given no special instructions.

A senior security source said last week around the time of the tunnel’s discovery, “We are not surprised by Hamas’s efforts as that is an opportunity for them to carry out a strategic attack. Hamas is not rushing to battle. We have identified other tunnels dug by Hamas, but they have not penetrated our territory.”

Hamas’s excavation of this tunnel appears to be have been done relatively fast compared to those dug in the years prior to Operation Protective Edge, pointing to their having learned lessons and invested an unprecedented amount of money – millions of shekels – in the project. Even the depth of the tunnel, about 30 meters, is considered unusual.

Nevertheless, in other respects, it is the same type of tunnel discovered before and during Operation Protective Edge – reinforced walls, digging pathways, branches and inner depth.

According to a senior Southern Command official, Hamas employs 800 tunnel diggers who enjoy high salaries compared to other operatives in the organization, and Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades chief, Mohammed Deif, considers the tunnels a flagship project highlighting the strengthening of the organization’s military wing.

The fact that no weapons were found in the tunnel, and that Hamas realized that the tunnel was discovered almost instantaneously and yet chose not to use it to attack the IDF, reinforces the defense establishment’s opinion that the tunnel was not meant to send terrorists into Israel in the nearby future but rather in further down the line.

Not an Iron Dome-level success yet

Over the past year, after receiving intelligence on the matter, the IDF focused much of its efforts on finding tunnels along the Gaza Strip border. IDF forces have been seen scanning the area in past months, attempting to find shafts and tunnel openings. The IDF responded to any tip by residents of the Gaza border communities, who reported suspicious noise, even in cases involving towns relatively far from the border fence.

The new tunnel’s discovery is the result of field action, intelligence work by both the military and the Shin Bet, and above all, the result of the IDF’s new tunnel-discovery technology, which has been used along the border over the past year.

The IDF is treating the discovery of this tunnel as an initial step, heralding the new system’s full implementation in a few months. The new system is part of the IDF Southern Command’s “Southern Glow” operational plan, which includes the fortification of border measures against a mass invasion by Palestinian forces, as well as the deployment of early warning trackers which should aid in the discovery of terrorists crossing into Israel. Assuming the planned receives the required budget, “Southern Glow” is expected to be implemented during the next two years, starting with higher-risk areas.

IDF officials expressed their approval of the new technology used in discovering the tunnel, but the security community prefers not to call this a revolutionary moment or compare it to the implementation of the Iron Dome missile defense system. Still, the results of Israel’s investment in this technology over the past few years have led a number of other countries to send representatives to learn how to combat the tunnel threat from Israel.

“We need to make this discovery into a method, with the test coming in the next few months, in which we will try and find more tunnels,” said a senior Southern Command officer. “This is an ability that allows the discovery of very small spaces at depths of 30-40 meters, down to the level of ground water. We are still developing our method of handling this system. What we thought would happen during a certain time period with this system is taking four times longer (than expected).”

The senior officer doesn’t rule out the possibility that Israel’s breakthrough in the anti-tunnel fight could cause an escalation of violence on Israel’s southern border.

“We have defined the mission as being the destruction of all attack tunnels without reaching an escalation, but an escalation will not deter us. Hamas knows we’ve strengthened our defenses and that it will have a hard time surprising us. If we end up in a war over this – then so be it. This is a long, protracted struggle. Hamas is a sophisticated enemy. It learns lessons and implements them fast. Each one of these tunnels that we foil is a loss for it. Hamas will have to contend with the dilemma of whether or not to act if it sees itself losing other attack tunnels.”

The article was published on Ynetnews website ,18 April 2016