Israeli Military Intelligence cannot yet assess how long the ceasefire between Jerusalem and the Hamas terror group will last following this month’s 11-day battle between the two sides.
Though the Israel Defense Forces firmly believes that it dealt a serious blow to Hamas’s military capabilities and undermined its core strategies by attacking its underground tunnel network inside the Gaza Strip, it acknowledges that the terror group still has thousands of rockets in its arsenals and could easily decide to use them again.
Shortly before the ceasefire went into effect, the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, said the conflict would be considered a success for Israel if it brought about five years of calm in Gaza.
But intelligence officials on Wednesday clarified that this was not an estimate for how long the ceasefire would hold, just a bar for assessing the outcome of the campaign, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.
Much in the way the 1967 Six Day War was an overwhelming military success for Israel but nevertheless was followed by a surprise attack six years later, the IDF warns that despite the tactical and strategic victories in Operation Guardian of the Walls, the current bout with Hamas may not have yielded the lasting deterrence that Israel is hoping for.
Hamas’s leaders have claimed victory in the conflict as they seek to establish a narrative to explain the fighting to their people, and they can be justified in doing so, having accomplished many of the goals the terror group set for itself.
Throughout the fighting, the terror group defined itself as a protector of Jerusalem — launching the initial barrage of rockets at the capital in response to violent clashes between Muslim protesters and Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount — it also managed to exacerbate growing rifts between Jewish and Arab Israelis, inspire attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank, garner international attention for the Palestinian cause, and kill 11 civilians in Israel.
Now Hamas has to determine if the considerable price it paid for those achievements was worth it or if it won a pyrrhic victory. This will only become clear in the coming months and years, according to IDF assessments.
The cost to Hamas was high: During the conflict, Israel killed a number of top operatives, including several key members of its research-and-development wing, and conducted strikes on some three dozen rocket production facilities, which will make it much more difficult for the terror group to replenish its arsenals. The IDF also intercepted every drone — both unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous submarines — that Hamas launched, as well as several on the ground before they could be deployed.
And, perhaps most significantly, the Israeli military destroyed upwards of 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip, which Israel dubbed “the metro.” This rendered unusable large swaths of the terror group’s subterranean infrastructure — roughly a third of it, according to IDF assessments — and, more importantly, demonstrated to Hamas’s operatives that they were vulnerable to attack in their underground bunkers.
“Cracking Hamas’s ‘metro,’ Military Intelligence’s ability to map underground infrastructure and provide much-needed information to combat troops in order to take from the terror group its central domain is a strategic shift. This was the work of several years,” a senior Military Intelligence official told reporters this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Years of work, outside-the-box thinking and the fusion of Military Intelligence’s power with officials in the field resulted in a breakthrough and a solution to the enigma of the underground,” he said.
Israel’s ability to consistently strike subterranean targets was also noted by Hezbollah in Lebanon, which maintains its own massive underground complexof tunnels and bunkers.
The IDF’s assault on Hamas’s tunnel network kicked off in earnest with a massive round of airstrikes on the fourth night of the conflict, which was accompanied by an elaborate ruse that was meant to convince the terror group that Israel was about to launch a ground invasion of the Strip and that it should therefore send its fighters into the passages beneath northern Gaza.
This included telling IDF infantrymen that they were going into Gaza and positioning troops along the border as though they were preparing to enter the enclave, as well as telling foreign reporters that Israeli troops had indeed entered the Strip, though the IDF officially maintains that this was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the press, but a misunderstanding by one officer.
This ploy was not as successful as the IDF had hoped, and far fewer Hamas operatives entered the tunnels than was initially thought, yet Military Intelligence still largely sees the stratagem as a success, as by that point in the conflict the IDF had already destroyed a number of tunnels and Hamas’s faith in them was therefore wavering — so this was effectively the military’s last chance to destroy the tunnel network while it still had strategic value.
‘The first AI war’
Military Intelligence played a key role in the operation, identifying targets for attack in advance and finding more during the conflict itself. This was done in part by so-called HUMINT, human intelligence, notably Palestinians in Gaza collecting intelligence and passing it along to IDF case officers. But in this round of fighting, machine learning and other advanced computing capabilities played a key role.
Indeed for the first time in battle, much of the effort was assisted by the IDF’s artificial intelligence programs, making this the IDF’s “first AI war,” according to Military Intelligence.
“For the first time, artificial intelligence represented a key factor and force-multiplier in warfare against an enemy,” the senior intelligence official said.
These advanced capabilities were used to sift through the unimaginably massive amounts of data that Military Intelligence intercepts and collects from Gaza — telephone calls, text messages, surveillance camera footage, satellite images and a huge array of various sensors — in order to turn them into usable intelligence information: where will a specific Hamas commander be located at a specific time, for instance.
To give a sense of scale of the amount of data being collected, the IDF said it estimates that any given point in the Gaza Strip was photographed at least 10 times each day during the conflict.
“This is the first war of its kind for the IDF, an actualization of new techniques and technological developments representing… the combination of a wide variety of intelligence sources with artificial intelligence and a deep connection with [troops in] the field, representing a dramatic shift in the connection between intelligence and those on the front,” the official added.
This allowed Military Intelligence to not only kill several dozen top operatives from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second-most significant terror group in the Strip, but also to do so with a smaller number of civilian casualties.
In one case, when the IDF killed Islamic Jihad commander Hassan Abu Harbid in the densely populated Shati refugee camp, Military Intelligence determined that the terrorist leader was staying in a detached guest room at his friend’s house. Knowing that Abu Harbid was staying in a separate building, the Israeli Air Force was able to strike only that room, killing him and no other people.
During the fighting, 253 Palestinians were killed, including 66 minors. The IDF maintains that most of the people killed were members of terror groups and that some were hit not by Israeli strikes but by errant rockets from Gaza that failed to clear the border and landed within the Strip; at least eight civilians were reportedly killed in this way.
But the military also acknowledges that civilians were killed by Israeli fire, though it says considerable effort was put into minimizing civilian casualties whenever possible. This included directly contacting people in buildings that were due to be attacked and calling off strikes when too many civilians were seen in the area.
One strike with no casualties that still looms over the IDF’s campaign is the attack on the Jala tower in Gaza City, which was home to the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and a number of other international media outlets. According to the Israeli military, it also housed a Hamas intelligence unit that operated a number of advanced electronic warfare devices from the building meant to interfere with the military’s GPS reception, potentially affecting the normal operation of IDF weapons.
Military Intelligence maintains that the seriousness of this issue justified the attack on the building, as well as the decision to bring down the entire structure, rather than just a surgical strike on the floors where Hamas was operating, as this might not have destroyed all of the electronic warfare capabilities in the tower.
This view has been heavily questioned, and indeed some Israeli officials involved in the strike told the New York Times that they regretted having approved it, considering the significant international blowback that was prompted by the strike.
The problem is rockets
Where Military Intelligence struggled during the conflict was in locating and destroying Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s arsenals of thousands of rockets and mortar shells. This allowed the terror groups to fire upwards of 4,300 projectiles toward Israel, 680 of which fell short of the border, while another 280 landed out at sea.
In large part, this is because Hamas has found a variety of ways to hide its launchpads, concealing them under tarps or inside buildings with removable roofs.
Though the military had more success in targeting Hamas’s more advanced, multiple-barreled launchers, or multiple launch rocket systems, taking out roughly 40 percent of these batteries, the IDF acknowledges that it only destroyed roughly 10 percent of Hamas’s rocket arsenal in the current round of fighting. This still leaves thousands of rockets, including long-range ones, in Hamas’s possession, though the IDF’s precise estimates for the size of the terror group’s arsenal is classified.
Though terror groups in the Strip successfully conducted at least three anti-tank guided missile attacks this month — one by Islamic Jihad that lightly injured an Israeli civilian, one by Hamas that killed a soldier and wounded two others, and a third by Hamas that hit an empty bus, causing no injuries — the IDF was able to find and destroy large numbers of these precise, deadly weapons, taking the number of launchers from dozens to single digits, according to IDF assessments.
Unlike rockets and mortars, anti-tank guided missiles remain a difficult weapon to produce domestically, leaving Hamas and Islamic Jihad only the option of smuggling them into the Strip, a difficult feat to accomplish as Israel has significantly stepped up its efforts to counter such efforts.
Defensively, Military Intelligence has also improved its ability to predict anti-tank strikes, sending alerts to soldiers in the field when they are at risk of being hit, based in part on assessments by artificial intelligence programs.
Such warnings were sent to the soldiers whose jeep was hit by a missile; the IDF is still investigating the incident to determine why the soldiers hadn’t moved to a safer location, out of the direct line of fire from Gaza.
Iran’s Supreme Leader must be pleased another American president is desperate for a nuclear deal. The United States has all the leverage, yet President Joe Biden is rushing back to the flawed 2015 nuclear agreement, even though Iran cheated from the outset. Instead, Biden should use America’s leverage to secure a deal that puts a permanent end to Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons by dismantling its enrichment program.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan explained earlier this month that the purpose of the ongoing negotiations in Vienna is to determine which “nuclear restrictions Iran will accept on its program to ensure that they can never get a nuclear weapon.” Therein lies the core problem with the accord: it will never prevent an Iranian nuke because instead of prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium and plutonium, it relies on a maze of unenforceable and eventually expiring restrictions to prevent the regime from weaponizing its enrichment program.
In light of the numerous concessions Tehran secured as part of the 2015 agreement, zero enrichment may seem like an extraordinary demand. Yet not long ago, zero enrichment was the accepted policy. In 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1696, demanding that the Islamic Republic “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development.”
Despite abandoning that position, former President Barack Obama soldthe 2015 nuclear deal as ensuring “that all pathways to a bomb are cut off.” Yet enrichment itself is the pathway to a bomb. Obama touted the constraints the deal imposed on Iran’s nuclear program, yet restrictions on the production of enriched uranium endcompletely in 2031, less than ten years from now.
To ensure Iranian compliance, Obama said, the accord has “the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.” He added, “The bottom line is, if Iran cheats, we can catch them—and we will.” We now know that is not true. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—the nuclear watchdog responsible for inspections—did not know about Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities until it examined the nuclear archive Israeli agents smuggled out of Iran in 2018.
Last month, Tehran began enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, a significant step toward the 90 percent+ level needed for an atomic bomb. There is no legitimate, civilian use for this activity. Also, this level of purity is well above the 3.67 percent envisioned in the 2015 deal.
The Vienna negotiations reportedlyhave not led to an agreement on how Tehran will reverse these nuclear gains, especially whether the advanced centrifuges integral to this level of enrichment will be destroyed, removed from the country, or stored locally.
And there is another serious problem. The United States has a policy where it asks its allies to forgo the development of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities before they can receive any support for peaceful nuclear energy programs. This is known as the gold standard and its rationale is simple: these techniques can be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.
America’s Gulf allies are starting to notice the hypocrisy of the United States asking them to adopt the gold standard while Iran keeps its enrichment program. Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States, noted that the UAE agreed to the gold standard in 2008, hoping it would be a model for when the U.S. negotiates with the Islamic Republic. Otaiba explained that the “problem was [U.S.] partners became . . . committed and assured to a gold standard that is safe and secure for nuclear power and [U.S.] adversaries got a better deal.”
Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, said in 2018 that if Iran develops nuclear weapons the kingdom would “follow suit as soon as possible.” The most likely path would require Riyadh to develop enrichment or reprocessing technologies.
If the UAE and Saudi Arabia pursue uranium enrichment programs, then that could set off an arms race in the Middle East.
It is not too late for Biden to reverse course. Tehran’s negotiators have pushed a maximalist position requesting the removal of nearly all sanctions. The Biden administration should walk away and use its significant leverage to push for the “longer and stronger” deal Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised. The best way to make a deal longer and stronger is for it to mandate the elimination of Iran’s enrichment program. That accord could secure the bipartisan support necessary to be ratified as a treaty by the U.S. Senate. That way, it would remain intact during the next Republican administration.
Tehran will balk, of course. It will try to convince our European allies to blame the United States for walking away. The Islamic Republic could also respond with military strikes against U.S. troops or allies in the region, but the U.S. has the upper hand militarily and can restore deterrence.
Another response would be for Tehran to ramp up its enrichment program. But Iran’s nuclear extortion has an expiration date. The explosions at the Natanz enrichment site show the fragility of the clerical regime’s prized, supposedly secure, asset. The United Kingdom, and perhaps France and Germany, will join a pressure campaignif Iran overplays its hand. A unified or U.S.-UK sanctions campaign will send the Islamic Republic a strong message that it cannot divide America and its allies. Iran will not be able to withstand another unified pressure campaign.
Just because it will be difficult to return to a zero enrichment policy doesn’t mean the United States should pursue a limited, flawed agreement instead.
The United States is at an inflection point. Now is the time to reverse course.
Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), he previously served in the U.S. government for more than nineteen years, most recently as the National Security Council’s senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense. Follow Anthony on Twitter @NatSecAnthony. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.
By Hu Xijin A formation of Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles takes part in a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, capital of China, October 1, 2019. Photo: Xinhua A formation of Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles takes part in a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, capital of China, October 1, 2019. Photo: Xinhua
As the US strategic containment of Chinas has increasingly intensified, I would like to remind again that we have plenty of urgent tasks, but among the most important ones is to rapidly increase the number of commissioned nuclear warheads, and the DF-41s, the strategic missiles that are capable to strike long-range and have high-survivability, in the Chinese arsenal. This is the cornerstone of China’s strategic deterrence against the US. We must be prepared for an intense showdown between China and the US. In that scenario, a large number of Dongfeng-41, and JL-2 and JL-3 (both intercontinental-range submarine-launched ballistic missile) will form the pillar of our strategic will. The number of China’s nuclear warheads must reach the quantity that makes US elites shiver should they entertain the idea of engaging in a military confrontation with China.
On this basis, we can calmly and actively manage divergences with Washington to avoid a minor incident sparking a war. US hostility toward China is burning. We must use our strength, and consequences that Washington cannot afford to bear if it takes risky moves, to keep them sober.
The author is editor-in-chief of the Global Times. email@example.com
A recent report stated that India’s second nuclear-powered ballistic submarine (SSBN) is scheduled to be inducted into the Indian Navy later this year. The future INS Arighat will be India’s second SSBN, following the INS Arihant, which was launched in 2009 for sea trials and commissioned in 2016.
Despite the extra-long testing period and some Keystone Cops-like misadventures – it was reported in 2018, for example, that the Arihant’s propulsion compartment was damaged by water which flooded in after a hatch at the rear was left open while moored and, in 2014, a worker was killed during pressure tests on the hull – the Indian Navy appears to have been sufficiently satisfied with its performance as to launch the Arighat, the second boat in the Arihant class, in 2017 and begin sea trials. With the Arighat’s commissioning expected later this year, India’s SSBN programme appears to be underway.
Despite the publicity given to the launch and induction of the Arihant, details about it are scarce. It has a displacement of around 6,000 tonnes and only four missile tubes. That deficiency would indicate that the Arihant is more a technology demonstrator than a vessel that could actually be used for its designed purpose.
In any case, India lacks a proven underwater-launched missile that could be fitted to the Arihant (the K15 Sagarika intermediate-range nuclear-capable missile has been launched from underwater platforms but not, as far as is known, from a submarine) or, for that matter, the Arighat, which shares its physical dimensions and also has four missile tubes. The two further SSBNs that are to be constructed will have, however, a displacement of 7,000 tonnes and eight missile tubes.
Apart from being confident in their ability to build a second SSBN, India’s naval project managers also appear to have the confidence to modify their original design.
In his Quds Day speech, Khamenei hailed the “Martyrs of Resistance” who sacrificed their lives on this path, in particular martyr Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas); martyr Sayyid Abbas Musawi (Hizbullah); martyr Fathi Shaqaqi (Islamic Jihad); martyr Imad Mughniyeh (Hizbullah); martyr Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi Hamas; martyr Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis (Iraqi militia); and finally, the most prominent personality among the martyrs of Resistance, martyr Qasem Soleimani.
“Even after their fruitful and blessed life, with their martyrdom, each of these personalities exerted a deep impact on the Resistance …. Resistance martyrs have managed to increase the internal power of Palestinian jihad by a hundred times. One day, the Palestinian youth used to defend themselves by throwing stones, but today, they respond to enemy attacks with precision missiles.”
In this spirit, a few hours after the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, Khamenei issued a “victory message” on May 21 to Muslim countries to support the Palestinians in Gaza with military and economic aid to help rebuild the Gaza Strip. Khamenei also addressed the issue of Israeli Arabs in his speech on Iranian Quds Day (before the escalation broke out), and, after the end of the operation, he praised “the cooperation between the West Bank, Gaza, and Israeli Arabs for showing the path for the Palestinians in the future.”
The Iranian leader added. “Israel’s inability to deal with the Palestinians led it to act madly and caused a wave of hatred around the world.” Israel’s allies in the West, especially the United States, are also hated more in the world in light of their support for Israel.” Khamenei also called on the world’s courts to put pressure on Israel and indict it for its “shocking crimes.”
Tightening Ties between Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Iran
During the operation, senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders maintained telephone contacts with Iran’s top brass, including the Supreme Leader and the heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, during which they thanked their Iranian patrons for their support in general and particularly during the latest campaign. Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas) and Ziad Nakhalah (IAP) spoke with Gen. Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who promised, on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that Iran would not desert the Palestinians and will stand by their side and support them with all the means at its disposal up until the last and soon to be the destruction of the enemy (Israel).”4
Gen. Esmail Qaani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, sent letters to the heads of the “commanders of the Palestinian resistance,” including Muhammad Deif, Hamas’ military wing commander, and Abu Mohammad, who heads Saraya al-Quds, the Islamic Jihad’s military wing. In a letter to Muhammad Deif, the “Living Martyr,” Qaani praised the resistance organizations’ deployment for the campaign and “preparing the tools necessary for the crushing victory” despite the harsh conditions. Qaani, in the spirit of the Supreme Leader’s remarks, also emphasized the cohesion of the Palestinian people, “the Muslims in Palestine – in Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank, and the Palestinian cities occupied since 1948 (referring to the Arab riots in Acre, Lod, Ramla, Haifa, and Jaffa).” He stated that the Palestinians “demonstrated that they are a dynamic and living nation making its way towards victory.”
In his letter to the commander of the Islamic Jihad’s military wing,6 Qaani praised the organization’s firm stance that “destroyed the arrogance of the Zionist enemy and demonstrated that Jerusalem is not alone in the campaign and that it has weapons beyond the imagination of the Zionist enemy.” Qaani also addressed his predecessor Qasem Soleimani’s memory and contribution to the resistance front struggle, and he pledged that he would continue in his path. During the rocket barrages into Israel, the Islamic Jihad revealed an improved Qasem rocket (in memory of Soleimani).7 After the operation, Iran unveiled an unmanned aerial craft called “Gaza” and a radar system called “Quds,” showing solidarity and partnership in the Palestinian struggle.
The Islamic Jihad spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Abu Hamza, issued a statement at the end of the campaign in which he thanked Iran and the rest of the Axis of Resistance for helping to fight in Gaza with weapons as well as expertise and praising Iran as a substantial source of power, which brings strength and the ability to the resistance brigades (Makoma) both materially and technically. “We tell them,” Abu Hamza said, “You share our victory, and together we will enter victoriously to Al Aqsa.”8 Islamic Jihad’s Secretary-General, Ziad Nakhalah, sent a congratulatory letter to the Iranian Leader for Iran’s support of the organization and its role “in the victory achieved.”9
Nasrallah warns: “Aggression against al-Aqsa or Holy Sites Will Lead to a Regional War for Al-Quds10
In a speech to mark the “Holiday of Resistance (in Palestine) and the liberation (of southern Lebanon),” Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah praised “leaders of the Palestinian resistance movements and their military wings” for their “brilliant moves” during the Guardian of the Walls operation. He linked it to the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000. According to Nasrallah, “the (final) goal is Palestine. “The resistance victory in May 2000 was dedicated to Palestine and was a strategic turning point in the future of the struggle with Israel. From now on, “we will celebrate two great victories in May – the 25th of the year 2000, and the 21st in 2021 – marking Gaza’s victory.”
[Nasrallah was visibly ill and suspected to be sick with Covid-19. In a previous speech on Quds Day (May 7), he explained that he suffers from bronchitis.]
Nasrallah stressed that the “dangerous activity in Jerusalem” pushed the leaders of the Palestinian resistance organizations to take a “historic, decisive, and new stance.” The war erupted as a response to “the foolishness of Israel’s leadership, its arrogance, underestimating the resistance, and miscalculations…. Gaza surprised [its] friend and enemy in its decision to fulfill its threat in response to Judaizing al-Quds.”11
Hizbullah’s secretary-general explained that “Gaza protected Jerusalem and its people. The people in Gaza were willing to make sacrifices for Al-Quds and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Nasrallah warned Israel, “The response to harming Jerusalem and the al Aqsa Mosque (from now on) will not be confined to the borders of the resistance in Gaza… The resistance groups in Gaza have created a new equation: Activity in al-Quds (Jerusalem) against Islamic holy sites versus regional war.”12
“When Israel recognizes that it faces this Al-Quds vs. a regional war, equation, it will realize that any step will lead to its elimination … When the holy places of Islam and Christianity are in serious danger, red and artificial lines no longer matter.”
In the spirit of Iran’s Leader’s messages about the unity of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank, and among Israeli Arabs, Nasrallah said that the whole world noticed during the last campaign that Israel was facing “one Palestinian people moving as one soul for one goal…. One of the most important achievements of the Al Quds Sword Operation was the mobilization of Palestinians inside 1948 lands, which terrified Israel. Nasrallah also stressed that Israel also failed to assess the response of “Arabs 48.”
Nasrallah referred to the sequence of rocket launches, the launch capabilities, and the improved rockets that caused insecurity among the Israelis and their desire to emigrate from Israel. Militarily, Nasrallah said that the latest campaign illustrated that “Israel is incapable of conducting a ground maneuver … This is a strategic failure… Another failure is lack of intelligence, particularly in preventing the rocket launches and discovering launching sites and getting to the inventory of missiles that have not been launched yet.”
The Hizbullah leader warned Israel not to make the same mistake it did in Gaza regarding Lebanon “Resistance in Lebanon is improving daily in terms of readiness and equipment … Do not err in your assessments of Lebanon as you did with Gaza and think that the situation (in Lebanon) is different … Resistance in Lebanon is at its peak.
Nasrallah “opened an account” with Israel with the “blood of the martyr Muhammad Tahan, who was “killed on the way to Jerusalem” (on the Lebanese border) during demonstrations in support of the Palestinians. “We will not forget him, and he will join the blood of the martyr Ali Kamel Mahsan, a Hizbullah operative killed in Syria in July 2020.
Nasrallah said that the “Sword of Jerusalem” had severely damaged the normalization process between Israel and the Arab states. “The ‘deal of the century’ collapsed and disappeared” since “Israel’s real face and its apartheid regime were exposed.” Nasrallah also stressed the steadfast stance of the Axis of Resistance in the various countries that constituted the “backbone that supported the victory in Palestine,” and particularly emphasized the support of Iraqi Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the Yemen Houthis’ contribution to Palestine, despite the ongoing siege over Yemen.
Hizbullah’s Deputy Secretary-General, Naim Qassem, also praised the Palestinian resistance during Operation Guardians of the Walls. According to Qassem, the May 2000 IDF withdrawal from Lebanon was a turning point in the struggle with Israel. The “Guardians of the Walls” campaign will play a similar role: “the (Palestinian) victory revived and restored the determination of the Palestinian people to fight and confront. This is a strategic juncture and a historic turning point. This is not a simple victory. This is an important foundation on which we will now base the struggle against Israel. This is a new stage whose characteristics were not previously clear.”
Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general also relayed messages from Tehran to the unity of the Palestinian people (regarding the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and 1948) and said it was a “blow to Israel.” He explained: ”Palestine has fought four wars in Gaza and succeeded. The last campaign maintains a special place in the history of Palestine.” Naim Qassam added that Hizbullah is in daily contact with the various organizations in Palestine and assists them as much as it can. As for their military capabilities, Qassam said, “The Palestinians have acquired an important production capability, and I am sure that the ability to smuggle missiles into Gaza is also at its peak. There are minds in Palestine that help in the production of various weapons and capabilities and who have been trained and in constant contact with the various components of the Resistance Axis. The aid will not stop but will intensify.”13
However, during the “Guardians of the Walls” operation, Hizbullah did not respond. It was satisfied with organizing demonstrations near the border fence with Israel and in several areas of Lebanon. Hizbullah also allowed limited and symbolic rocket fire into Israel to show support and solidarity with the Palestinians during Operation Guardians of the Walls, disturbances in Jerusalem, and violations of the peace in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. In this context, Qassem, Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general, dodged a question about who fired missiles toward Israel, saying, “We are not interested in dealing with the issue of who fired and whether it was right to launch the rockets.”14
Hizbullah’s response reflects its sensitive and complicated situation in Lebanon following the massive explosion at the port of Beirut and the dire economic situation in Lebanon. Furthermore, the organization continues to be involved in some of the fighting areas in Syria and is subject to domestic criticism on this issue as well. An all-out confrontation with Israel over such an issue is impossible, of course, without a green light from Tehran.
Iran is currently in a round of nuclear talks in Vienna with the remaining signers of the nuclear agreement (4+1P) on the possibility of countries returning to the framework of the JCPOA deal. A round of escalation in Lebanon involving Hizbullah does not serve Iran’s broader interests now, especially since any sign of Iran’s negative involvement in the region would undermine the nuclear negotiations. Iran does not want to put the issue on the agenda during the nuclear talks and give the United States the option to disrupt the negotiations.
Hizbullah’s Lessons from Operation Guardians of the Walls
In addition to Hizbullah’s praise for the Palestinian organizations during the operation, and referring to Muhammad Deif as a “living martyr” comparable to Imad Mughniyeh, it is likely that the organization and Iran will draw lessons from the operation looking toward the possibility of a confrontation with Israel:
On the offensive level –
Strengthening the rocket and missile arm and accelerating the guided-missile project. In the organization’s view, rocket and missile weaponry is a “tiebreaker” and changes the rules of the game against Israel by identifying Israel’s home front as a central weak point. This process is the continuation of the implementation of the Iranian doctrine of asymmetrical warfare.
Disruption of Israel’s missile and rocket defense systems.
Preparations for the occupation of territories in the Galilee, including the use of offensive invasion tunnels. In this context, it was recently reported that Hizbullah had established a network of tunnels of hundreds of kilometers, including command and control complexes, from Beirut to southern Lebanon, aimed at attacking IDF forces in the event of a ground maneuver in Lebanese territory.15In light of the damage to the Hamas tunnels during the vote, Hizbullah may be required to rethink their use during combat.16
Damage to Facilities and Strategic Economic and Military Infrastructures.
On the defensive level –
Designing a new deterrence equation vis-a-vis Israel: “Activity in Jerusalem will lead to a regional war,” warning Israel not to repeat “Gaza miscalculation” with Lebanon.
Anti-aircraft systems. Hizbullah will conduct an effort with Iran to place improved and concealed anti-aircraft systems in Lebanon to deal with possible airstrikes in Lebanese territory on the day of the order.
Protection against targeted killings of senior figures in the organization.
Where Are Hizbullah and the Quds Force?
Disappointment and criticism appear on social media criticizing the extent of Iran and Hizbullah’s support in the face of the powerful Israeli military operation. Several commentators ask: “Where is the Quds Force? Turkey, Iran, Hizbullah? (Using blunt language against the “Party of Satan” and the “Party of Idols”). “In light of the open and strong American support for Israel, where all those who pledged to Ismail Haniyeh to help.” In a critical speech about Hizbullah: “where is the Satan Party (Hizbullah) concerning Jerusalem, where is the Iranian Quds (Jerusalem) Force regarding Jerusalem. Hamas leaders sit in hotels in Qatar and the heroes (Gazans) in the arena (the battle).”
Aid Will Continue and Even Increase
Iranian aid to Hamas and Islamic Jihad is a constant figure and flows all the time through various channels, regardless of the economic situation in Iran and Lebanon. The knowledge and weapons that Iran transfers to Hamas through the Qods Force and Hizbullah – as well as training in Lebanon, as Naim Qassem admitted, or on Iranian soil – have a decisive influence on the nature and theory of warfare by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This includes setting the objectives (strategic infrastructure and energy infrastructures), efforts to overcome the Iron Dome with Hizbullah’s support, and the activity in the maritime Middle East that was discovered in the latest conflict.
In this context, we need to mention the intentions of the Hamas naval force and attempts to damage the Israeli gas rigs in the Mediterranean. Here we see an attempt by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. with the support of Iran and Hizbullah, to imitate or copy the capabilities of the Houthis in Yemen in their activities against Saudi Arabia and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq against the United States – and against Israeli strategic targets. This is done using long-range attacking drones, GPS-guided unmanned exploding sailing vessels, long-range rockets, and missiles. The Houthis in Yemen are using these capabilities against oil infrastructure on- and offshore in Saudi Arabia and against civilian infrastructures such as airports and power and desalination facilities.
The Iranian objective is to duplicate military capabilities it develops from arena to arena (as in the case of IEDs that passed from Hizbullah in Lebanon and were used in attacks against coalition forces in Iraq). Yemen serves today as the largest testing ground in the region. Lebanese Hizbullah advisors serve as instructors in aerial weaponry (ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, uncrewed aircraft, and drones) as well as naval weaponry (unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), explosive boats, submarine platforms). These capabilities Iran seeks to develop and test in the military arena against Israeli civilian targets, strategic infrastructure, and military targets.
In this round of fighting, we have already seen Hamas attempts to launch drones, unmanned aircraft, and naval weapons alongside more traditional Iranian-backed techniques such as Kornet anti-tank missiles, which was supplied to the Gaza Strip by Iran) as well as “Sayyad” sniper rifles, based on an Iranian knock-off an Austrian sniper rifle, the Steyr HS.50.
Hizbullah, which totally refrained from involvement in the Guardians of the Walls operation, may, in the event of a flare-up of a comprehensive conflict in the north, bring capabilities similar to those of the Houthis in the air and sea in a campaign against Israel.
In the end, Operation Guardians of the Walls, like other operations in Gaza and Lebanon, constitutes “Divine events” for Iran that prove the justice of its ways, that Israel can be eliminated with patience, toughness, and armed struggle. These attributes strengthen and shape the belief and inner persuasion as a rationale for resilience and resistance vis-à-vis Israel and the West.
Iran’s Resistance and Revolution All Begin with Khomeini
The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s activist interpretation of Shi’ite Islam and the revolution in Shi’ism that he led are constantly being validated, especially for Iran’s current leaders, even in their difficult times. They connect Khomeini’s teachings to the successes in the Iranian-national dimension (confronting sanctions, surviving the Trump administration, maintaining an active military nuclear program, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the resuscitation of the Shiites in Iraq, “the victories” of the Palestinian organizations and Hizbullah over Israel (with Iran’s support), and the religious dimension (the “Mahdi hand” and the Divine intervention). All of these achievements strengthen and shape the beliefs of the righteousness of their path and the rationale to demonstrate resilience and continue the resistance.
Iran believes that the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and the Palestinian resilience in Jerusalem and Gaza fulfill Khomeini’s previous “prophecies” about the collapse of the Soviet Union (Communism) and Saddam’s fall. They believe his prophecy of the destruction of Israel will eventually be fulfilled, and Iran has the power to bring it about. Iran’s current leader, Khamenei, follows in his predecessor’s footsteps. He stated in September 2015 that Israel would not exist in 25 years. In this regard, Khamenei’s recent Quds Day speech ahead of the escalation in Jerusalem and the subsequent Guardians of the Walls operation is touted as “prophetic” and demonstrates that the Supreme Leader’s prophecies of Israel’s annihilation are materializing. For Iran, “Palestine” is only one part of the complex strategy of building the Axis of Resistance from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon, aimed at Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon; each arena has its own blueprint, a toolbox of hostile insurgency actions, and the guidance of Hizbullah, the Quds Force, and well-trained militias.