The first indirect bout between Israel and Iran ended in the summer of 2006 in a draw.
Israel's armed forces failed to vanquish Iran's proxy, the Shiite Hizballah, in 33 days of combat in Lebanon. Hizballah took no more than two and-a-half years to come back stronger than before as a military and political power in Beirut.
The 22-day military offensive Israel launched on Dec. 27, 2008, was its second proxy confrontation with Iran, ranged this time on the battlefield of the Gaza Strip and against the Palestinian Sunni extremist Hamas.
Some military experts discern an emerging Iranian-Israeli cycle of conflict which may come round every two-three years. According to this reckoning, the third bout is due in late 2011 or early 2012.
By then, Obama Barack's presidency will be in its third year and Iran will have a nuclear bomb.
The third round of belligerency will therefore be a duel between two nuclear nations.
The courses taken by the first two confrontations are studied by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military analysts for clues to how, where and when the third one may be expected.
In 2006, the Israeli Air Force disabled two Hizballah command centers embedded in population areas, thereby razing whole streets, most dramatically in the Shiite Dahya quarter of Beirut. Small towns in south Lebanon like Bin Jbeil, the arenas of heavy Israeli-Hizballah battles, suffered the same fate.
But the IAF's three omissions were the key determinants of the war's outcome:
First, Hizballah's primary population strongholds in eastern Lebanon's Beqaa Valley and the North were left untouched.
Second, the air strikes failed to diminish Hizballah's Katyusha attacks on northern Israel. Even in the last hours of the war on Aug. 20, 220 rockets were unleashed.
Third, the air force and tank brigades shared in the failure to demolish Hizballah's bunker network, source of the surface rockets and anti-tank fire.
Israel strategists aimed to wreck Iran's military designs
In Gaza, both the former Lebanese duelists, Iran and Israel, changed course.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military experts and sources report that whereas Iranian war planners applied the lessons they had drawn from the Lebanon war, the IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and his tacticians jumped ahead with an original military doctrine designed for the express goal of wrecking Iran's post-Lebanon war plan and crippling its new modes of operation.
In both battle arenas, Iran's surrogates depended on underground bunker-tunnel systems but used them differently.
Hizballah's bunkers were thoroughly camouflaged and scattered across open spaces, woodland or the dense underbrush typical of the South Lebanese landscape.
In Gaza, Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah military engineers used crowded populated areas, possibly the densest in the world, to burrow under buildings and lay a vast network of bunkers and tunnels. They are estimated to have spread over 80 square kilometers under Gaza's urban areas.
Hizballah was anxious to stop Israel forces capturing territory in South Lebanon.
Hamas did not mount resistance to the Israel tank columns rolling into the Gaza Strip, but instead prepared to blow them up by an extensive network of Iranian-designed booby-trapped buildings and roads.
Hamas combatants only came out of their holes for nocturnal sorties to the rear of the Israeli forces.
The bunker openings and exits were not visible to Israeli air surveillance; they were hidden under residential buildings. The big depots of weapons, rockets, ammo and explosives were concealed in the basements of mosques, schools, clinics and the premises of Islamic charity and welfare societies.
Tehran calculated on Israel being deterred from attacking these civilian targets by the risk of high casualties. That was the ace in its strategic pack.
Iranian strategists use urban buildings to camouflage rocket silos
The disposition of Hamas' rocket and missile launchers was adjusted by Iranian strategists to the conditions of terrain in the Gaza Strip in a way designed to outwit Israeli war planners. Arid Gaza lacks the thick vegetation of Lebanon. So for camouflage they used dense urban districts, digging silos under apartment buildings to hold multiple launchers meant to keep Hamas' precisely-targeted Qassam missiles and Grad 122mm rockets flying against southern Israel throughout the Gaza war.
They were housed in the silos with no more than 2-5 cm of their tubes sticking out. Iranian and Syrian engineers preset them in firing positions for accurate guidance to target. The missiles and rockets were activated by remote control with the help of attached timers.
In any one silo, 8-10 missile or rocket launchers were loaded and aimed for multiple launches against key targets in different Israel cities – 3 for the Negev capital of Beersheba, 2 for Ashkelon and 3 for Israel's largest port, Ashdod. They released volleys in three directions – north, south and east.
Other rockets were adjusted to fire at Israel's big air bases in the south, Tel Nof, Hatzerim and Nevatim, which also serves US forces.
(A separate article in this issue will focus on Iranian-Hamas attempts to strike an American military facilitiy in Israel.)
Trained Hamas crews were to rearm the launching pads under cover of dark. They were directed by Hamas' central missile command, which consisted of 450 operators trained for their task at a Syrian military base near the town of Homs under the instruction of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah military rocket experts.
Tehran's military experts were so pleased with their multiple-rocket silo system that they began installing it in Lebanon for the Hizballah.