Morale in the Israel Defense Forces high command is not exactly upbeat these days. Its members are imbued with a strong sense of failure after being taken off guard by the mass incursion across the Syria border into Majd al Shams on Sunday, May 15, the Palestinian Day of Nakba (catastrophe), which marks the anniversary of Israel's founding.
Eight hours of out-of-control turbulence undid five years of the intense training and conditioning invested in the armed forces to save Israel from being caught unawares again as it was in July 2006 by the Hizballah's cross-border raid and abduction of Israeli soldiers.
In those eight hours, thousands of Palestinians from the Yarmuk refugee camp near Damascus, directed by Syrian military intelligence officers and Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Central Command, rampaged across the Golan border, unchecked by a single Israeli bullet.
Israeli intelligence failed to pick up the location of the oncoming offensive.
The Syrian-Palestinian triumph was crowned by several hundred "protesters" seizing the main square of the Druze border village of Majd el-Shams and proclaiming its recapture 44 years after the Golan fell to Israel in the Six Day War.
The IDF now assumes that a group of Syrian intelligence officers and Hizballah agents were able to slip into the village with the crowds and were picked up by waiting Palestinian drivers who drove them to West Bank hideouts. There, it is believed, they were swallowed up in the terrorist networks that Hizballah has planted in Palestinian locations in recent years, ready to strike major highways and Israeli military units in time of war.
The myths of Israel's impermeable borders exploded
The low spirits of Israel's top military brass are rooted in five prime factors, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report.
1. The Golan incident proved that the electronic fences demarking more than 1,200 kilometers of Israel’s borders with Egypt, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are easily breached with the aid of simple tools, although for years Arab armies and intelligence as well as Palestinians were certain they were impermeable.
2. Their conviction that border areas were heavily mined was exposed as another myth.
Even Majdal al-Shams villagers familiar with every path in the area were fooled. When they saw thousands of people approaching the border from Syria, they shouted warnings to beware of the mines. The crowd was in no mood to take fright and continued surging forward to the border. Not a single mine exploded because none were there.
3. Israel and the IDF were shown to be short of military strength for guarding all its borders. The sentry units present were never trained to repel thousands of unarmed civilian infiltrators.
4. In its first operational test after Hizballah's 2006 offensive, the Northern Command failed to correctly evaluate incoming intelligence about the coming event, read the rapidly unfolding picture or call up the military strength necessary to compensate for its faulty judgment.
The Prime Minister rebuffed the Chief of Staff
5. After the incidents were over and the flimsiness of Israel's borders fully exposed to every Arab enemy, Israel's new chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to use his address to the nation that night to warn Arab armies that Israeli troops were under orders to shoot anyone approaching Israel's borders.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that Netanyahu turned him down.
Indeed, Netanyahu has not uttered a word of condemnation or warning to the governments or organizations which stage-managed the assault on Israel's borders.
Stung by the prime minister's rebuff, the IDF high command sank even deeper in the dumps – especially when they took stock of the tough trials ahead. Most generals see the Palestinians stalking Israel for another war; some are certain that clashes with Syria, Hizballah and Hamas are no longer avoidable and are grappling with the effort to make them manageable.
They are desperately strapped for time to prepare for the threats ahead. According to intelligence updates reaching the general staff, Syria, Hizballah and the Palestinians are planning to repeat their mass civilian incursions on June 5. This time they will go for at least three days.
The date marks the 44th anniversary of the combined Arab offensive that triggered the Six Day War, the time it took Israel to vanquish the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria and capture the West Bank, Sinai and Golan.
On June 7, the IDF rounded up its victories by capturing Jerusalem.
Abbas provides fertile ground for a new Palestinian uprising
For their next border incursion, Syrian military intelligence and Hamas are preparing to field processions of 30,000-50,000 marchers each for breaking through the Syrian and Gazan borders.
Israeli military chiefs estimate that the first bullet fired by Israel will evoke full-blown attacks by the Syrian, Hizballah and Hamas armies
Syrian President Bashar Assad is reported to have asked Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as a personal favor to arrange for the European pro-Palestinian flotilla for Gaza to sail from Turkey and synchronize its breach of the Israeli naval blockade with the assaults on Israel's land borders.
The IDF lacks the manpower, funding and technology for a crash program to train and deploy a force for effectively repelling crowds of civilians before they cross in Israel.
The Palestinians are therefore building hopes of accomplishing the 1948 refugees' return simply by having them walk across.
Into Israel's high command are just as pessimistic about prospects on the West Bank, where young Palestinians have been fired up by the uprisings in Arab countries and are not afraid of defying Israel's military. Alongside the many members of Palestinian terrorist, paramilitary or radical religious organizations, hundreds of thousands of nonaffiliated West Bankers are preparing to form action groups. Quite a few can afford to buy guns.
They are heartened by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas' actions for dumping the US-sponsored peacemaking track with Israel and transferring the dispute to the UN General Assembly in pursuit of resolutions leading to international sanctions against Israel that would provide legitimacy for another Arab-Palestinian war against Israel.
Incoming intelligence indicates that the West Bank under Abbas' rule could go up in flames at the same time as Israel's borders.