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Iran and Hamas Test Limits of Israel’s Patience
Israel responds to emerging threats and establishes credible deterrence.
By Ari Lieberman
Three weeks ago, the BBC revealed that Iran was in the process of constructing a military base just south of Damascus near the town of Al-Kiswah, 31 miles from the Israeli border. The British broadcaster displayed what it described as satellite photos showing a series of symmetrical structures arranged in a deliberate pattern, and connected by a road.
That base was hit over the weekend in the early morning hours of December 2. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that loud explosions were heard in the vicinity of Damascus and electricity was cut off in parts of the city. The Times of Israel, citing Arab media reports, noted that at least 12 Iranians were killed in the blasts and some of their names were posted on accounts of a messaging app associated with Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
As is its wont, Israel has not commented on the attack, preferring instead to keep its enemies guessing. Some reports have suggested that Israel employed Jericho surface-to-surface missiles while others maintained that the Israeli Air Force fired a number of missiles while over Lebanese airspace.
Regardless of the manner of attack, it is clear that the Netanyahu-led government will not permit Iran to create a new front on Israel’s border. Israel has on numerous occasions attempted to convey this message through diplomatic channels utilizing the Russians as interlocutors. Notwithstanding these diplomatic efforts, the base was not dismantled thus compelling military action.
For Israel, the creation of an entrenched Iranian forward operating base on its northeastern border is a red line that cannot be crossed. In January 2015, an Israeli strike liquidated 12 Hezbollah and IRGC operatives reconnoitering along the border. Among those killed were several senior commanders. Israel seeks the expulsion of Iran and its proxies from Syria but for now, has limited its goal to maintaining a sizable buffer – the figure of 60 km has been mentioned – between Iranian-backed proxies and the Israeli border.
Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have thus far not publicly commented on the strike. Russia has no interest in escalation and Iranian retaliation would not serve Russian objectives. Constrained by its primary patron, Iran has few options. Nevertheless, Israeli forces in the north are on a high state of alert, ready for any contingency that may develop and that includes an attempt by Iran to utilize Hezbollah to initiate a localized provocation on the Lebanon border. But such a provocation, even if “localized,” can swiftly transform into full-scale conflagration which again, does not serve Russian interests.
While Israel’s northern border is marked by tension, Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip is no less volatile. On November 30, terrorists, believed to be affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 12 mortar rounds at an Israel Defense Force post situated northeast of the border. The post incurred light damage but there were no injuries. The IDF swiftly responded with tank and aerial strikes against six PIJ and Hamas posts. Though Hamas did not fire the mortars, Israel holds Hamas – Gaza’s governing authority – responsible, much the same way it holds Assad responsible for errant spillover fire on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.
The cause of the PIJ attack is anyone’s guess. Israel’s genocidal enemies often act irrationally and unpredictably leaving us to speculate as to motive. On October 30, fifteen terrorists – 12 belonging to the PIJ and three affiliated with Hamas, were killed when Israel blew up a terror tunnel that intruded into Israel by several dozen meters. Perhaps the PIJ fired 12 mortar rounds in symbolic retaliation for the deaths of 12 of its members during the tunnel collapse. One Israeli journalist speculated that the attack had something to do with the death of a West Bank Arab, killed earlier in the day by an Israeli security guard. The guard, who was escorting a number of school children on a hike acted only after a large group of Arabs began pelting the children with stones and threatened to lynch them.
Neither Hamas nor the PIJ responded to the Israeli counterstrikes. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in the midst of negotiating a delicate reconciliation agreement. Hamas knows that a war with Israel now would almost certainly nix any form of reconciliation with the PA and would only cause the terrorist group more distress. In addition, Hamas has still not fully recovered from its 49-day war with Israel during the summer of 2014.
One thing remains certain. While Israel’s enemies have in the instant cases refrained from retaliating, they are constantly testing the bounds of Israel’s patience. Whether it is the construction of Iranian military bases in Syria or Hamas tunnels in Gaza, Israel must be on constant guard to meet each developing threat and must act in a robust manner to establish credible deterrence.