Israel at war

Article published in The Daily Express, 16 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

After the largest mobilisation in Israel’s history, IDF troops are now ready on the Gaza border, waiting for the order to go in. When that will be depends on the progress of the air war and perhaps also on the weather. Rain is forecast to continue for a couple more days and given the importance of precision air support for ground troops, commanders might wait for optimum visibility.

An even greater factor is what happens across the border in Lebanon. The last few days have seen the most intensive attacks by Hizballah since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. I was in the border area today when terrorists fired anti-tank missiles, rockets and small arms into Israel, answered by IDF airstrikes. One Israeli was killed and three wounded by anti-tank fire at the village of Shtula. The situation in the north is tense — many civilians have left, fearing all-out missile fire and even the possibility that Hizballah terrorists might cross the border and attack their communities.

Some Middle East experts say Hizballah is deterred from a full-blown war with Israel by fear of their own destruction. But many experts said the same of Hamas even days before the terrorist massacre a week ago. Iran, which has been threatening revenge against Israel if attacks on Gaza don’t cease, will be ready to push Hizballah into action when it judges the time is right.

If that happens Israel will be facing a two-front war. The IDF has prepared for that, but nevertheless it would be hugely challenging. If the IDF assess an onslaught from Lebanon is likely, it might choose a major pre-emptive strike to seize the initiative, possibly even delaying the ground offensive into Gaza.

Across the Golan Heights in Syria, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces are reported to have moved closer to the border and rockets were fired at Israel on Saturday. The IDF responded with strikes against Aleppo airport. If major Israeli action becomes necessary there could even be a risk of direct confrontation with Russian forces in the country.

If sustained attacks are launched from either Lebanon or Syria, Israel might well decide to take military action against the hand that controls the terrorists in both countries and so it is not inconceivable we could see strikes launched against Iran. If that happens it is unlikely to lead to an even wider regional conflagration, as most Arab countries are certainly no friends of Iran and fear its growing regional dominance. Behind closed doors their governments, deeply concerned about the rise of Islamist radicalism at home, would also like to see the quick eradication of Hamas, also proxies of Iran.