Israel Must Ensure Tension With Hezbollah, Hamas Doesn't Escalate

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IDF soldier near the Israel-Syria border, January 19, 2015.Credit: Gil Eliahu

More than a week after the death of a Givati detachment commander and a combatant in a Hezbollah missile ambush, the northern border seems to have calmed down somewhat.

The government and IDF’s attention will likely continue to wander – until the elections and after them – from the north to the West Bank, Gaza and back, in the hope the tension doesn’t escalate into a wider confrontation.

Israel’s main challenge is to contain such incidents, senior officers said at a General Staff meeting this week. Any move by Israel against Hezbolllah or Hamas will lead to a retaliation, and vice versa. The important thing is to keep things under control and stop the chain of events before it deteriorates to a general escalation.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has been bidding farewell to various IDF units as he approaches the end of his term in a little more than a week. Gantz’s term will be remembered for one significant event – the war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

Gantz’s last days in office will be marked by the fear that Hezbollah, Iran or the Palestinian organizations will make an unexpected move against Israel a moment before Maj. Gen. General Gadi Eizenkot enters the chief of staff’s office.

Gantz gave a speech this week at a gathering in memory of his commander, former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, attended an award-giving ceremony to combatants in the Gaza war and inaugurated the training camp compound in the Negev. He was cautious in his statements. The most important one, in his view, was about the need to advance in the peace process with the Palestinians. Even this statement was extracted from his speech in Herzliya with much difficulty. It remains to be seen if Gantz’s tongue is any looser in the parting TV interviews due to be broadcast in a week’s time.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to the Northern Command on Wednesday. Apart from getting a photo-op in blazers, surrounded by soldiers (as politicians are fond of doing on election days), Ya’alon and Netanyahu heard the officers’ evaluations that the situation has stabilized somewhat.

Over the years Israel has learned to take Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statements seriously. His attempt to portray the results of both sides’ attacks as balanced – an Iranian general and six Hezbollah operatives on the one hand, two IDF soldiers on the other – was forced. But his speech, apart from the ranting and raving, outlined Hezbollah’s future plans. He said Hezbollah will retaliate, either from Syria or Har Dov, to any military act attributed to Israel in Syrian or Lebanese territory.

The Givati convoy was hit last week by five Kornet missiles fired by Hezbollah from south Lebanon. The strike took place in Israeli territory on a road used by civilian traffic to Ghajar village. But the army’s explanations that sending the convoy there was necessary are unconvincing.

The Givati officers and combatants were on patrol as part of exchanging troops and deploying reinforcements in the area. The Northern Command had been warned of a possible Hezbollah missile ambush in Har Dov. So the question is, why was the Givati convoy necessary?

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