Sunday, February 12, 2017

Wars To Come In The Middle East - Preparations In Progress, Kim's New Rocket: N Korea Boasts Successful Ballistic Missile Launch

All is not quiet on the northern front

 Standing on the Israeli side of the frontier with Lebanon, one doesn’t need binoculars to see the UNIFIL (the United National Interim Force in Lebanon) vehicles moving along the patrol road, accompanied by troops from the Lebanese army, just a few hundred meters away.

The patrol, with UN and Lebanese army vehicles shuffled among each other, is intended to keep everyone on the same page and prevent mix-ups, especially with Israel.

But on a high point just a few dozen meters away from the vehicles is a military outpost where Hezbollah troops keep close track of the movements on both side of the border.

On the Israeli side, officials are following, almost in astonishment, the deepening cooperation between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.

A spokesperson for UNIFIL, when asked about Hezbollah’s presence near the border, said the blue helmets “haven’t seen entry of weapons or increased tension.”
But according to Israeli officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the cooperation between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah is neither isolated nor apparently is it temporary. The coordination between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army is turning into an almost strategic development that will require Israel to put a great deal of energy and thought into figuring out what to do about the Lebanese army in the next war.

The next time Israel fights the terror group, will the Lebanese army join in the battle against Israel? Will it transfer arms to Hezbollah? Or will it stand on the sidelines for fear of the enormous damage that it could suffer at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces?

These are not easy questions, particularly when considering that the Lebanese army receives assistance from allies such as the United States, France, and even China.

Hezbollah is working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Lebanese army in the Qalamoun, Zabadani, and Bekaa regions, among other places near the Syrian border.
The purpose of the cooperation there is to address the threat that Islamic State poses to the army and to Hezbollah; in southern Lebanon, however, they work together to deal with the Israeli threat.
While Lebanese army troops make up most of the obvious presence along the Israeli border, it is clear that Hezbollah operatives, sometimes in civilian clothing and sometimes in Lebanese army uniform, often join them for vehicle patrols, Israeli officials say.

In southern Lebanon, it’s Hezbollah that calls the shots. There is no village in the south (with the possible exception of several Sunni villages) that has not been transformed into a fortified bastion of Hezbollah, which possesses an entire array of command and control, communications systems, and a variety of arms including rockets (of course) and anti-tank weapons.

Still, it is likely that there is another explanation for this increasingly enmeshed cooperation. Hezbollah is dealing with complex military challenges, to put it mildly, particularly in Syria, so it needs the Lebanese army’s assistance, however minimal, in the region of the border with Israel.

The Islamic State’s losses are good news for the whole world, but the upshot is that the Shiite axis of Syria, Hezbollah and Iran are gaining control throughout Syria, including on the Syrian Golan Heights — just over the border with Israel.
With all three of them enjoying unfettered access to the Israeli frontier, Jerusalem will be forced to contend with threats all across its northern front.

Hamas and Israel both talk about not wanting another war, but are preparing for one. Since the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, the Gaza Strip has remained mostly quiet, with only a few intermittent rocket attacks such as last week’s, which actually seems to have been carried out by a Hamas-linked Islamic State affiliate in Sinai that spends most of its terrorist effort on ambushing Egyptian soldiers. But this is only another misleading calm before another explosive storm.

Since 2014, Hamas has been working furiously to rebuild its military capability, digging and repairing attack tunnels and replacing most of the 4,000 rockets it fired at Israeli civilian targets over the years. Recent  missile launches and sniper fire at IDF units along the border seem to indicate a round of testing Israel’s patience that precedes another Gazan provocation that leads inevitably to war.

The defense establishment, still smarting from leaks of the State Comptroller’s Report on Operation Protective Edge, has also been working to apply the lessons of that war. Anti-tunnel technology has been put in place although still not perfect and Ground Forces units have stepped up training, just as Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has declared a get-tougher policy of retaliation for attacks.

Just last Monday, the IDF targeted several Hamas military positions with air strikes and artillery after a single rocket hit southern Israel and later in response to gunfire targeting Israeli troops working on the border fence.

In the next war, Hamas aims to inflict painful strategic blows on Israel with short- and long-range missiles, by kidnapping and killing Israeli civilians and soldiers via attack tunnels, by introducing the use of weaponized drones, by infiltrating Israel with naval commandos and even through cyber warfare against the IDF.

The growing frustrations and anger of Gaza residents is a ticking time bomb that the terrorist Hamas regime has been incapable of defusing. Fearing the internal threat to its rule, Hamas may very well instigate a serious military escalation in an attempt to deflect that anger toward Israel.

While Hamas prepares for its next aggression, the people of Gaza are running out of hope. Youth unemployment in the Strip is above 60% and more than 100,000 university graduates currently have no chance at a better life. The water situation is not getting better and Gazans enjoy electricity for sometimes just six hours a day.

Hamas is to blame for this. It is a terrorist organization that ruthlessly rules Gaza in a way aimed at making the lives of its people as bad as possible. It does this intentionally, to make it seem as if it is Israel’s fault.

Israel’s geostrategic posture has strengthened over the past year and it remains by far the most formidable power in the region – miscalculations with Hamas or Hezbollah, however, could lead to war.

The upheavals and uncertainties that have characterized the Middle East in recent years will continue unabated in 2017. But amid these volatile trends that for Israel pose a high risk for violent escalation and military confrontation, new developments with potential for change can also emerge. Perhaps the biggest unknown is what the presidency of Donald Trump will bring to the world and the region.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) remains the strongest military and technological power in the region extending across Asia from Pakistan to the Mediterranean shores. The Israel Air Force – which is the country’s long strategic arm – is about to further upgrade its capabilities by integrating the F-35, the United States made “stealth” fighter, which despite its flaws and weaknesses and high cost is by far the best flying machine in the world.

Israel is also a leading superpower in the realm of cyber warfare. This form of weapon is now considered by the most advanced military nations as the “fourth dimension” in addition to land and sea, air and space capabilities. Cyber measures are increasingly becoming a major tool for both intelligence gathering and as a weapon, which, by penetrating computer systems, can paralyze or destroy strategic and military assets.

Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot had been expected to order the creation of a new cyber command similar to that of the United States Army that would combine both defensive and offensive capabilities currently split between the Signal Corps (formerly known in Hebrew as the Communication Corps) and Unit 8200 of Military Intelligence. But Eisenkot, at least for the time being, has decided to maintain the current division of labor to further study and explore the ramifications of a unified command.

The land forces of both the standing army and its reserve units have used the passing year – aside from policing duties in the occupied West Bank – to train and practice for future confrontations. According to its five-year plan, the IDF will continue in 2017 to train further and increase its preparedness.

All in all, there is no matching force to challenge IDF military superiority, not even the military buildups of Iran and Hezbollah. The conventional threat has practically vanished. Only 13 years ago Israel faced conventional threats from the regular armies of Syria, Iraq and Libya, which had millions of soldiers and huge arsenals of modern weapons of all sorts – planes, tanks, artillery guns, rockets and missiles, ships and submarines. Now all three armies have been weakened and are embroiled in civil wars.

Israel has wisely managed to stay out of the conflicts and civil wars, which are plaguing the Arab world since the “Arab Spring” in 2011. This is especially so with regard to Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon.

Thanks to Hezbollah having its best troops bogged down and bleeding in support of the brutal Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Assad and thanks to the IDF’s deterrence, both fronts are relatively tranquil.

Israel has further consolidated intelligence, security and military ties with Egypt. According to foreign reports, Israel is not only providing intelligence to the Egyptian army and security forces fighting ISIS in Sinai, but has on occasion sent drones to attack ISIS positions in the north of the peninsula.

As in the south with Egypt, Israel’s eastern border also benefits from the 1994 peace treaty with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Intelligence and security coordination between the two countries has never been better.

Externally, as in 2016, the prime danger is of an incident with either Hamas or Hezbollah spinning out of control and leading Israel into a war neither side wishes for. This is especially true with regard to Hezbollah. With the Assad regime having regained the upper hand in many parts of the country, Hezbollah troops could return home from the killing fields of Syria where they have lost nearly 20 percent of their manpower. Despite their heavy losses, they are now more experienced than ever and could give Israel a bloody nose in the event of another war. Furthermore, with some 80,000 to 100,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel, military, strategic and civilian sites throughout a large swath of Israel are within range.

Pyongyang says a new ballistic missile was test-fired on Sunday, adding that the launch was a success. The North Korean missile flew over 500 kilometers, landing in the sea and stirring up world leaders, with the US rushing to reassure its allies South Korea and Japan.
A new type of strategic medium-to-long-range ballistic missile, called Pukguksong-2, was test-fired on Sunday, the North Korean state news agency KCNA said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the launch, which the KCNA said was Pyongyang’s new means to deliver nuclear warheads.

The new missile was also successfully tested for its ability to dodge interceptors with evasive maneuvers, Yonhap news agency cited the statement as saying.
Another major boost for North Korean missile technology is the solid fuel engine said to be used in the new weapon. Pyongyang has been testing the engine, which would give the rockets greater range and make the launches harder to detect, over the past year. The technology was said to be tested previously in a submarine missile launch.

The Sunday launch gave rise to speculations whether it was a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) being tested, as Kim promised that the allegedly developed long-range ICBM would be test-fired in 2017. The flight path was also analyzed, with some reports suggesting it might have indicated a failed launch. The missile reportedly flew upward to an altitude of 550 kilometers (342 miles), before landing into the Sea of Japan 500 kilometers from the launch spot in the northwest province of North Pyongang, South Korean military sources said. It did not reach Japan’s economic zone.

Meanwhile, the US, Japan and South Korea have requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to consider a response to the North Korean ballistic missile launch. The meeting is expected to convene Monday afternoon, Reuters cited a US official at the UN as saying.

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