Israel's War of Attrition Could Get Out of Hand

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The transmission of a speech by Hezbollah's leader Hasan Nasrallah, in the town of Al-Ain in Lebanon's Bekaa valley, August 25, 2019.

In recent weeks Israel has broadened its cycle of attacks on military targets linked to Iran, and has operated several times in Iraq, which is not an enemy state. These operations, for which Israel has not taken responsibility, drew unusual American criticism, as reported by Amos Harel on Friday. Over the weekend the Israel Defense Forces attacked in Syria, and this time issued an official statement saying the attack was aimed at foiling an Iranian drone mission that was apparently meant to avenge the attack on pro-Iranian forces in Iraq. On Sunday, meanwhile, two drones crashed in Lebanon under unclear circumstances, with Hezbollah blaming Israel.

Iran, which was certainly surprised by Israel’s precise intelligence on its military capabilities in Syria, chose not to escalate the current round of attacks and claimed that none of its targets were hit. But even if this time the round ends with an Israeli advantage and without any casualties or damage to Israeli soldiers or civilians, it’s important that the war Israel is conducting against Iran – its objectives and its risks – be subject to public debate.

Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was asked about the actions in Iraq, boasted, “I have not restricted myself,” and warned that Iran “Is not immune anywhere.” From Netanyahu’s words and actions – broadening the range of operations to Iraq – it seems as if Israel has decided to forcibly remove from the Middle East any arms that could be aimed in its direction. The comments by Netanyahu and ministers in his government, which describe an actual war against Iran, raises concerns that Israel is trying to set ambitious objectives that could lead to entanglement.

>> Read more: Why Iran is risking a major escalation with Israel | Analysis ■ Iran wanted revenge over Iraq strike. Israel foiled it – for now | Analysis ■ How Netanyahu saved Assad, helped Russia and gave Iran the run of Syria | Opinion ■ Unhappy with Iraq strikes, U.S. outs Israel | Analysis

Netanyahu’s declarations are no surprise. An aggressive security policy has characterized Israeli election campaigns since the 1950s, especially when the ruling party is accused of being too soft in the face of attacks and provocations by whoever the enemy is at the time. This time Netanyahu is battling for another term while taking potshots from both left and right about the military’s weakness against Hamas in Gaza and the deadly attacks in the West Bank.

Has Netanyahu decided to escalate the “war between the wars” in the north to deflect the criticism and display control of the situation and a strong hand, in an environment that’s far from the public eye and in which the IDF enjoys advantages over its rivals? Is the security cabinet of this transition government, whose members are busy with an election campaign, even capable of evaluating the prime minister’s decisions?

These questions are disturbing and must be subject to public and political discussion. Experience shows that wars of attrition tend to get messy, and that even the most pummeled enemy can develop a response to Israeli capabilities. The opposition must demand that Netanyahu explain to the public what we are fighting for before the confrontation with Iran escalates.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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