Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, head of the international media branch of the Israel Defense Force's (IDF) Spokesperson's Unit, spoke to Middle East Forum Radio host Gregg Roman on February 5 about the varied military threats against Israel posed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
There isn't "any other country in the world so small in size that faces the amount of different and [varied] military threats," according to Lt. Col. Conricus. "Ever since the Arabs lost ... the Yom Kippur War" in 1973," Israel's enemies have come to realize that "they can't beat us on the battlefield," relying instead on terrorism by guerrilla forces "embedded inside ... densely populated urban areas using the civilian population as a shield." This encompasses a range of threats:
[O]n the lower end of the spectrum we have to deal with car ramming attacks, Molotov cocktails .... [O]n the higher end of the spectrum, we have to be capable of intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles ... with conventional ... and ... maybe ... unconventional warheads.
Countering these threats requires everything from "classic maneuver warfare" to "counter-terror ... and counter-guerrilla" operations. Today's IDF objective is focused not on controlling territory but rather on "negating enemy capabilities ... to act against us."
Lebanon's Iranian-funded terrorist organization Hezbollah is currently the "most imminent military threat" facing Israeli civilians. Hidden behind schools and civilian locations in Lebanon, Hezbollah has "more than 130,000 rockets ... aimed at Israel." In the past, there was a distinction between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Armed Forces acting under the orders of the Lebanese government, but it has been blurred. "Today there is a worrying trend of a growing influence of Hezbollah over the Lebanese Armed Forces ... deployed in the southern parts of Lebanon."
Hezbollah is aiming to develop missiles rather than merely add to its stockpile of rockets. Conricus explained:
[T]he difference between a rocket and a missile is that a missile is accurate and can strike a very specific target. ... Hezbollah is trying industriously to be the first internationally recognized terrorist organization to have its hands on PGMs, precision guided munitions. ... [T]hat is a very strategic threat ... we are committed to stopping.
Despite talks of a truce, Conricus said the Palestinian Islamist Hamas organization "continues to fire rockets and to launch balloons carrying explosives from [the] Gaza strip into Israel," forcing the IDF to respond with targeted military strikes against the terror group, taking care to avoid civilian casualties. Israel is faced with "a significant dilemma." On the one hand, "the IDF ... understands ... that the better the civilian situation [in Gaza], the lower the likelihood of instability and fighting ... [F]rom a moral ... and military point of view, we try to improve the situation." On the other hand, goods and supplies that Israel allows into Gaza "Hamas and Islamic Jihad ... use ... to fight against Israel, piling on suffering for the civilian population."
The assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani has set back the threat posed to Israel by Iran, and its impact is still being assessed by the IDF. A "game changer," the Iranians "are having difficulties filling the void." The appointment of Mohammed Hejazi as deputy commander of the Qods Force in January indicates that they're trying to "compensate" for the fact that Soleimani's replacement as Qods Force commander, Ismail Ghani, has relatively limited experience in the Western part of the region where Iranians conduct anti-Israel operations. Hejazi's experience working with Hezbollah could prove critical in Syria, where the IDF assessment is that the Iranians "will try to entrench themselves militarily" and bring "offensive weapons systems ... within striking range of Israel."
Marilyn Stern is the producer of Middle East Forum Radio.