Saturday night, July 14, the Israeli military announced nationwide IDF exercises would be conducted until the end of the week – an effective measure for placing the armed forces on the ready for war. The public was advised to expect unusual military traffic on the roads. This announcement appeared to conflict with earlier IDF assurances that large-scale tank and special units were standing by on the Gaza border ready for Hamas to further escalate the massive, continuous rocket barrage it launched against southern Israel as of Friday night (more than 100 rockets). A second large IDF force was on the ready on Israel’s northern border while Syrian, Hizballah and pro-Iranian troops were on the move in southwestern Syria and getting closer.
However, launching military drills is a useful maneuver for underpinning a government’s policies, and the government in Jerusalem undoubtedly faces three fateful policy decisions:
- An Israeli ultimatum has been issued to Hamas to halt its various forms of anti-Israel violence from the Gaza Strip – ranging from rocket fire on civilian communities; protests riots on the border fence as the pretext for terrorist attacks and infiltration; and the destructive incendiary balloon and kites. If Hamas fails to meet this demand, the IDF will continue to escalate its attacks on the strongholds and infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. DEBKAfile is skeptical of Hamas accepting these terms of surrender, since its leaders are flush with victory after getting away with a series of terrorist harrasments for four months. Its leaders may simply pause their rockets attacks without accepting Israel’s terms and then wait and see how Israel reacts.
- Another key decision depends on the outcome of the Trump-Putin summit on Monday, July 16 in Helsinki, with regard to the continued presence of Iran in Syria. If this issue is left open, the Syrian army and its Iranian allies, including an Iraqi Shiite militia, will feel free go forward for a showdown over the Quneitra region opposite Israel’s Golan border. They will be fighting under Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers.
- Israel is concerned that this showdown will start in the hours leading up to, or during, the Helsinki summit.
For dealing with flareups on the two fronts – north and south – the Israeli military needs roads cleared of heavy traffic and open skies.