Al Qaeda is creeping up on Israel, step by step, one episdoe after another – thus far a couple of minor incidents on its northern border and more serious attacks by al Qaeda’s Ansar Beit al-Madash from Sinai. Had Israeli commandos failed to prevent the delivery of smuggled M302 rockets aboard the Klos C to their Sinai destination earlier this month, the Islamists’ capacity for harm would have been seriously magnified.
Last year, on Nov, 25, the Israeli cabinet and its intelligence chiefs met in secret session to hear an intelligence evaluation of the scale and imminence of the menace posed by al Qaeda. They came out with a surprisingly upbeat forecast for 2014. The menace from this source, they reckoned, had not grown, because, they judged, the diverse Islamist groups were too entangled in their internal rivalries to pose a foreseeable threat.
This view was not shared by the IDF’s high command at the time, certainly not by Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz. In a lecture at Bar Ilan University on Oct. 8, 2013, he postulated ten hypothetical war scenarios with the potential for unfolding that awaited his successor as army chief in 2015.
Since his prognosis has already proved exceptionally prophetic, DEBKA Weekly finds it worth recalling:
According to Gen. Gantz, a full-scale war may be triggered by the following events:
Ten hypothetical scenarios as war triggers
1) A precisely-targeted missile hits the IDF’s General Staff HQ in Tel Aviv, or a cyber attack disrupts regular civilian services such as traffic lights or ATMs;
2) A nursery school is blown up by terrorists jumping out of a tunnel. (One such tunnel was uncovered running under the Gaza-Israeli border last week.) An Arab mob storms an Israeli village;
3) An army patrol runs over a mine along the Golan border (a roadside bomb hit a patrol this month), and first responders are hit by a rocket. One is a battalion commander who is kidnapped.
4) A notorious jihadist organization strikes on all Israel’s borders simultaneously. Israel hits back and Hizballah exploits the mayhem to unleash a rocket attack on Galilee.
5) The jihadists attack Eilat from Sinai as hundreds of Hamas terrorists burst through the Erez crossing of the Gaza Strip to hit the IDF’s Gaza Brigade,
Gen. Gantz said he does not believe his scenarios to be unrealistic. The danger of war is ever present, he warned. “The moment hostilities begin, the hourglass is turned upside down. Israel will pay in blood, literally, for every wasted hour,” he concluded.
New IDF formations customized for combating terrorist incursions
Gen. Gantz acted on those hypothetical scenarios with practical steps.
He created the 210th Regional Bashan Division or Formation and deployed it on the Golan in February this year under the command of Brig.-Gen Ofek Buchris, an officer with wide field combat experience and former Golani Brigade chief. It was drawn from elite combat units, such as the 188th Armored Brigade and seven Golani infantry brigades.
The Bashan Formation was the second IDF unit Gantz created for combating al Qaeda.
The Eilat Brigade was first set up and posted at Israel’s southernmost corner in December 2012. Consolidating all the special forces units deployed along the Egyptian border, this brigade is responsible for securing southern Israel from the al Qaeda forces loose in the Sinai Peninsula, such as the increasingly aggressive Ansar Beit al-Maqdash.
Israel’s high command has come to appreciate that whereas the direct military threat to Israel from Arab nations is finally receding, the Islamist terrorist threat is gaining – side by side with the Iranian nuclear menace.
Al Qaeda no longer functions through small bands of gunmen and individual suicide bombers. It is a far-flung multinational organization that controls broad tracts of territory dangerously close to Israel’s borders. These areas are lawless in the sense of being fully or partially out of control of the host country’s central government.
Three terrorist-controlled areas adjoin Israel’s borders
By March 2014, terrorist groups ruled three lawless areas adjoining Israel’s borders in Syria, Lebanon and Sinai. If nothing is done to rein them in, those groups will continue to enlarge their foothold, a process which owes its impetus to three primary causes:
1. The Netanyahu government’s decision to stay out of the Syrian civil war. Israel intervened directly only within the context of illicit Iranian weapons supplies to Hizballah via Syria. No action was taken to curtail al Qaeda’s buildup in Syria.
2. The exception was the buffer enclave which the IDF carved out in southern Syria in cooperation with the US and Jordan. This project had the paradoxical impact of a barrier for keeping the Syrian army as well as al Qaeda back from Israel’s Golan border, while at the same time pushing jihadist forces into eastern Syria. From there, in the conditions pertaining currently in that part of the country, terrorists can easily cover the 100km up to the Israeli border, strike and in no time retrace their steps back to their bases.
3. America’s passive posture against al Qaeda’s expanding Middle East presence (as reviewed in the opening article of this issue). The result is that, not only are American cities under threat – as President Barack Obama admitted Tuesday March 25 in The Hague – but, even more immediately, the US special operations and air force units deployed in northern Jordan.
Israel’s hi-tech drones designed for Iran can push al Qaeda back
The US president has set his face firmly against exposing al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq to the same type of drone warfare as the US employed in Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan.
This refusal, say DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, may put Israeli on the spot and spur its air force to send UAVs against al Qaeda lairs in Syria, Iraq and Sinai. Some targets will be reached by transiting Jordanian air space.
Israel possesses a fleet of highly sophisticated drones. Its Heron TP drones, for example, are more technologically advanced than the American Predators.
This fleet was put together in the first place for attacking Iran’s nuclear program. In the meantime, they may be used with good effect for pushing back al Qaeda’s creep towards establishing itself on Israel’s borders.