In its first decades, Israel's standard military doctrine was built around responding to any offensive by its Arab neighbors by taking the battle into enemy territory to destroy their military capabilities and so bring the attack up short.
This doctrine showed its first cracks under the onslaught of the 2001-2002 Palestinian campaign of suicide-terror against civilians and urban areas deep inside Israel. Only on March 29, 2002, after the population had been battered for 16 months, did the Israeli military succeed in pushing the war back into Palestinian strongholds in Operation Defensive Shield.
More cracks appeared in 2005 and 2006: the Israel Defense Forces stood by as Syria and Iran armed Hizballah with 16,000 rockets and missiles, all pointing into northern Israel, including anti-tank and shore-to-ship projectiles. The cost of military passivity was heavy, paid in strategic, political and human terms in the summer of 2006. Hizballah raiders crossed the border and attacked an Israeli patrol, killing eight if its members and capturing two. Israel was goaded into declaring war, drawing forth a Hizballah blitz which exposed the million inhabitants of northern Israel to daily pounding by hundreds of rockets.
But although Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon to push the war onto enemy turf, their effort to crush the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group's military strength was thrown back.
The Middle East was stunned by the first visible failure of Israeli military might. A campaign which ought to have contained Iran's military expansion into Arab Lebanon had the opposite result.
Iran plans to turn the IDF doctrine against Israel
The fall of 2009, three years after the IDF's failure to break the back of Iran's surrogate, found the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt signing away Lebanese independence and accepting a Hizballah-dominated national unity government in Beirut, in violation of a row of UN Security Council resolutions. Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was forced to pay homage to Damascus and Tehran, the undisputed masters of Lebanon.
By then, Hizballah had trebled its rocket arsenal to 40,000 and extended their reach as far south as Beer Sheba, the gateway to the Israeli Negev, and the Dimona nuclear center.
The military situation had slipped out of Israel's control so disastrously that even its September 2007 success in destroying the Iranian-North Korean plutonium reactor under construction in northern Syria was unable to turn it around. Needless to say, Iran carried on with its nuclear drive regardless.
The 2006 Lebanon war dynamic was replicated in the Dec. 2008-Jan.2009 Operation Cast Lead, waged by the IDF to douse eight year's of Hamas' missile war on southern Israeli cities and farms.
While in strictly military terms, this campaign was a lot more successful than the Lebanon offensive, its premature curtailment left Hamas, sponsored likewise by Syria and Iran, unbowed and capable of a fast recovery.
Today, a year later, Hamas too has trebled its missile stocks and for the first time extended its reach to Tel Aviv with the help of Iranian Fajr-5 missiles.
Given Israel's dented deterrent strength, DEBKA-Net-Weekly military experts were not surprised to find Iran and Hizballah hatching schemes for turning the classical IDF doctrine on its head: the next war, such as one triggered by an Israeli decision to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, could well see Iran using Hizballah to drive into northern Israel and seize predetermined locations.
Israel to be attacked from four fronts
This strategy was finalized, our Iranian sources report, in visits to Damascus paid by Iranian National Security Adviser Saeed Jalili on Nov. 3 and Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Dec.17, 2009 at the head of a military delegation representing all the service branches of Iranian military and intelligence.
In their secret war conclaves with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, the two Iranian officials divided up the military responses expected of the Syrian military and Hizballah in the event of an Israel strike against the Islamic Republic's nuclear sites.
Both Iranian war leaders rated the chances of an Israeli military operation as no more than 50:50. Our Iranian sources reckon they chose to sound reasonably optimistic in order to clinch Syrian military cooperation and avoid frightening their hosts away from a commitment to come to Tehran's aid.
But their private estimate of the chances of a war eruption in 2010 is a lot higher. It prefigures the tempo and shape of Iran's preparations, in which its proxy, Hizballah, will be playing a key role. (For details read a separate article in this issue.)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources outline here for the first time the general format of Iran's four-pronged war plans for Israel:
1. Ballistic missile attacks will focus on disabling Israel's strategic military sites, such as air force bases, missile bases, its nuclear facilities and naval bases. Targeting Israeli population centers is a lower Iranian priority.
2. Hizballah elite units will sweep across the Lebanese border into northern Israel to capture large swathes of Central and Western Galilee. They will apply Israel's invasion doctrine at the same time as Israeli armored columns and infantry divisions head north to hit Hizballah strongholds in southern and central Lebanon and open their way to Damascus.
3. The Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad will open a southern front from the Gaza Strip: It will consist of a missile bombardment of southern Israel and deep cross-border terrorist raids via hidden tunnels running under the dividing fence. Hizballah agents will organize and mount terrorist attacks from covert cells buried in the West Bank and inside Israeli-Arab communities.
4. Syria's initial involvement will be limited to cover by artillery or air for Hizballah operations. But if the fighting escalates or drags on, Hizballah will invite Syrian back-up forces to go into Lebanon; Damascus will open Front No. 4 against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.