Daily Briefing: Iran Threatens US- Saudi – Israel Axis (October 10, 2019)

Hezbollah weaponry found during IDF operations in a village in the Eastern Sector of southern Lebanon. (Source: Wikipedia)

Table of Contents: 

Smoke Signals in the Next Middle East War:   Seth Frentzman, Tablet, Oct. 7, 2019

Israel Tiptoes Toward Conflict With Lebanon’s Hezbollah:  Felicia Schwartz, WSJ, Sept. 13, 2019

We Assess…Iran Probably Already Has Nuclear Weapons:  Dr. Peter Pry, The Mackenzie Institute, Sept. 25, 2019

Book Review | Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaption Under Fire:  Rob Pinfold, Fathom, April 2019


Smoke Signals in the Next Middle East War
Seth Frentzman
Tablet, Oct. 7, 2019

A bit over two weeks before the cruise missiles and drones detonated in Saudi Arabia’s strategic oil fields, igniting massive explosions that would take out more than half of the country’s daily oil exports, a group of Hezbollah activists emerged on Aug. 22 from a hill overlooking the Golan Heights. They carried with them drones, which malfunctioned when they tried to use them, apparently as a result of Israeli military actions. They were being watched by Israeli surveillance, which caught them trudging through a field. Two nights later the men, whom Israeli officials labeled a “killer drone” team, were killed in an airstrike. Israel warned at the time that Iran’s drones and precision guided missiles were a significant threat.

On Sept. 14, the attack on Saudi Arabia proved how significant the threat was when 18 drones and seven cruise missiles struck the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities setting fire to facilities responsible for more than 5% of the global daily crude oil production. The U.S. has blamed Iran for the attacks while Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken responsibility. Ultimately, the exact details of the attack, including how it was planned and who ultimately carried it out, remains a matter of some dispute.  But what has become very clear is that the attack on the Saudis was also meant as a warning to Israel. Beyond the oil fields, the cruise missiles and drones were targeting a larger audience for whom they were meant to signal the weakness and vulnerability of Iran’s enemies in the U.S.-Saudi-Israeli axis.

The complex attack on Sept. 14 was followed by a crescendo of statements threatening Israel and the U.S. Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, chairman of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, said that the attack on Saudi Arabia “changed the equation” in the region. “The U.S. axis in the region is retreating.” For Iran and its allies, Israel is a key player in the enemy “axis” that is locked in conflict with what Tehran defines as its own “axis of resistance.”

In the aftermath of the Abqaiq attack, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has rapidly increased its verbal threats against Israel. Like Hezbollah, the IRGC’s message is that the attack has weakened the U.S. commitment to an ongoing role in the Middle East thus eroding a critical source of support for Israel. IRGC head Hossein Salami said on Sept. 30 that “the sinister regime [Israel] must be wiped off the map…this is no longer an aspiration or a dream anymore, but an achievable goal.”

The linkage between Iran’s attacks on Saudi Arabia and the larger context of Iran’s threats to Israel and strategy for the greater Middle East can be seen not only in the increasingly heated rhetoric from Iranian leadership or from Hezbollah’s threats, but also in accounts linking the attacks to developments in Iraq. A report at Middle East Eye asserted on Sept. 15 that the attacks on Saudi Arabia “were in retaliation for Israeli drone strikes on Hashd al-Shaabi bases and convoys in August [in Iraq], which were coordinated and funded by Saudis.” The report, based on a senior Iraqi intelligence official, may be erroneous but was clearly an attempt to situate the Abqaiq attack in the context of the Iran-Israel spectrum of simmering conflict. The impression was reinforced when, on Sept. 30, Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi blamed Israel for a series of attacks in Iraq.

Israel has admitted more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria, including one just five days before the Abqaiq attack, where an airstrike struck warehouses in the Syrian city of Albukamal on the Iraqi border that were allegedly part of an Iranian base. But the recent attacks in Iraq—where starting in July there have been a series of mysterious airstrikes on munitions warehouses used by Iranian-backed Shiite militias—have never been officially acknowledged by Jerusalem.

Israel’s immediate security concern today in the wake of the Abqaiq attack is the same as it was before the attack: Hezbollah. Specifically, the threat of high-grade munitions and drone technology of the kind targeted by Israeli strikes in August. On Sept. 3, a spokesman from Israel’s IDF revealed an Iran-backed precision missile factory in northern Lebanon: “The facility holds a number of machines designed to manufacture the motors and warheads of missiles with an accuracy of less than 10 meters. In order to manufacture the missiles, Iran supplies special machines.” A few weeks later, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened both Israel and Saudi Arabia in a Sept. 20 speech, where he boasted of downing Israeli drones and claimed Saudi Arabia would be destroyed in any future conflict. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Israel Tiptoes Toward Conflict With Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Felicia Schwartz
WSJ, Sept. 13, 2019

A widening campaign by Israel to blunt the threat posed by Iran’s ally Hezbollah, and the pushback from beyond Israel’s borders, are raising the risk that the two sides will stumble into another war. In what is known in Israel as the war between the wars, Israel has been hitting targets in Syria for years to try to prevent Tehran from moving military supplies to its Lebanese ally. More recently, raising the risk of conflict, it expanded that effort to Lebanon and Iraq.

Hezbollah responded last week, firing antitank missiles into this small farming community on the Lebanese border. Israeli military officials said Hezbollah had crossed a line by firing into a civilian area rather than a closed military site. “These are places Hezbollah shouldn’t take the war between wars because it will end in a war,” an Israeli military official said.

Israel has widened the campaign as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fights to hold on to his post, facing a re-election bid on Tuesday. Mr. Netanyahu speaks regularly about Israel’s need to combat Iranian aggression, but Israel has acknowledged only some details of the military campaign.
Israel has relied on high-tech surveillance to track what its officials say are Hezbollah’s efforts to manufacture precision-guided missiles and build tunnels into northern Israel. The campaign also includes psychological operations. Last week, Israel staged the evacuation of an apparently wounded soldier to trick Hezbollah into claiming Israeli casualties after its strike on Avivim. The attack left two circular craters and a large patch of charred grass.

At the nearby Shebaa Farms, a small strip of disputed land controlled by Israel that borders Lebanon and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, the combatants have grown accustomed to exchanging fire. The approximately 10- square-mile area is surrounded by missile nets and jamming equipment, among other defenses intended to intercept incoming fire from Hezbollah. Elsewhere along the Lebanon-Israel border, Israel uses drones and other means of surveillance and intelligence collection to monitor Hezbollah’s activities. Mannequins have been positioned in jeeps to dupe Hezbollah on where Israeli forces are stationed.

Even before last week’s flare-up, hostilities were high. Lebanese President Michel Aoun called a late-August drone attack in a Beirut suburb the equivalent of a declaration of war that “allows us to resort to our right to defend our sovereignty.” He appealed to the U.S. and France to intervene to calm the situation. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed Tuesday to strike Israeli military vehicles in its next attack.

Current and former Israeli officials acknowledge that Israel’s campaign is adding to tensions. But they say the alternative scenario is unacceptable: allowing a foe to obtain missile technology that could overwhelm Israel’s defenses and enable sneak attacks. “If someone is not ready to risk anything, he will not gain anything,” said Yaakov Amidror, who was Israeli national security adviser from 2011 to 2013 and is now at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. “Here we might lose the ability to defend ourselves if they succeed to build on top of what they already have.”

Sparring continued this week when the Lebanese group said Monday it had downed an Israeli drone, and Syrian-based militias fired rockets at Israel following a report that an airstrike had killed Tehran-supported militants near the Iraq-Syria border. Israeli officials said the drone fell because of a technical problem. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

We Assess…Iran Probably Already Has Nuclear Weapons
Dr. Peter Pry
The Mackenzie Institute, Sept. 25, 2019

Some in Washington want to bomb Iran for attacking Saudi Arabia’s oil fields.  But what if Iran has nuclear missiles? Intelligence failure can kill thousands, as Washington learned on December 7, 1941, and should have learned again on September 11, 2001.  Intelligence failure in the nuclear missile age can destroy entire nations.

Washington officialdom believes Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons based on little more than wishful thinking and blind faith in an Intelligence Community deeply corrupted by the Obama Administration—and still unreformed by President Trump.

Three years ago, senior Reagan and Clinton administration officials warned that Iran probably already has nuclear weapons.  See “Underestimating Nuclear Missile Threats from North Korea and Iran” National Review February 12, 2016:

“Iran is following North Korea’s example — as a strategic partner allied by treaty and pledged to share scientific and military technology. Iran sacrificed its overt civilian nuclear program to deceive the Obama administration, to lift international sanctions, to prevent Western military action, while a clandestine military nuclear program no doubt continues underground. That is why Iran, under the nuclear deal, will not allow inspection of its military facilities and prohibits interviewing scientists — it is concealing the dimensions and status of Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.”

“We assess, from U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency reports and other sources, that Iran probably already has nuclear weapons. Over 13 years ago, prior to 2003, Iran was manufacturing nuclear-weapon components, like bridge-wire detonators and neutron initiators, performing non-fissile explosive experiments of an implosion nuclear device, and working on the design of a nuclear warhead for the Shahab-III missile.”

“Thirteen years ago, Iran was already a threshold nuclear-missile state. It is implausible that Iran suspended its program for over a decade for a nuclear deal with President Obama.”

The above assessment is by Ambassador R. James Woolsey, President Clinton’s Director of Central Intelligence; Dr. William Graham, President Reagan’s White House Science Advisor, leader of NASA, and recently Chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission; Fritz Ermarth, a national security advisor to President Reagan and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council; and Ambassador Henry Cooper, former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

These stellar intelligence officers, strategic thinkers, and scientists played major roles helping win the Cold War.  Perhaps we should listen to them now about Iran:

“Iran probably has nuclear warheads for the Shahab-III medium-range missile, which they tested for making EMP attacks…Iran already has the largest medium-range ballistic-missile force in the Middle East.”

“Iran could be building a nuclear-capable missile force, partly hidden in tunnels, as suggested by its dramatic revelation of a vast underground missile-basing system last year. Iran is building toward a large, deployable, survivable, war-fighting missile force — to which nuclear weapons can be swiftly added as they are manufactured.”

“And at a time of its choosing, Iran could launch a surprise EMP attack against the United States by satellite, as they have apparently practiced with help from North Korea.”

More recently, David Albright, former nuclear inspector for the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, and Ollie Heinonen, former Deputy Director General of IAEA, published an Institute for Science and International Security report based on Iran’s secret nuclear weapon archives clandestinely obtained by Israel’s Mossad: … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Book Review | Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaption Under Fire
Rob Pinfold
Fathom, April 2019

The old adage that ‘generals are always prepared to fight the last war’ encapsulates the on-going exchange of threats between Hezbollah and Israel. Both sides almost always refer back to the 34-day ‘Second Lebanon War’ in 2006, which ended with both Israel and Hezbollah claiming victory.
The war of words is underlined by a mutual agreement that the next round of violence will be comparatively more painful. Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Hassan Nasrallah, has warned that the group’s rockets will target all of Israel, rather than just the north of the country. Similarly, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have been unequivocal in stating that a future conflict will devastate Lebanon, with targeting parameters extending beyond Hezbollah to the Lebanese government. In short, both sides’ future tactics are a product of their perceived failures in 2006.

Throughout the prolonged struggle, both sides have tried to predict and affect the behaviour of the other; the 2006 war is just one example of the mutually-agreed rules of engagement between Israel and Hezbollah. But ‘the rules of the game’ are breaking down.

Though many commentators look back to 2006, Raphael D. Marcus’ new book charts how the ‘rules of the game’ were adhered to, changed and broken over several decades. Chronologically, the book spans from the beginning of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon – known as the ‘security zone’ – in 1985 and ends by examining how recent developments, such as the Syrian Civil War, have affected contemporary interactions between Israel and Hezbollah.

Ensuring easy accessibility and relevance for diverse audiences, Marcus divides his military history of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict into two parts. Part One deals with both sides’ ‘strategic adaptation’ – how each party interacted with each other and developed the ‘rules of the game’. Part Two digs deeper into ‘operational adaptation’ – the changing tactical choices of Hezbollah and the IDF.

The book began as the author’s doctoral thesis in War Studies at King’s College London, but avoids excessive diversions into theory or academic jargon. Instead, Marcus relies on an impressive range of interviews, spanning Hezbollah supporters, Israeli generals and UN officials, amongst others, alongside extensive fieldwork, in both Israel and Lebanon. Because of this diversity of source material, Marcus provides a fuller, more balanced picture than many other works on the same subject.

Indeed, too many commentaries claiming to explain the Israel-Hezbollah conflict portray an incompetent, bumbling and casualty-averse IDF losing time after time in southern Lebanon and an innovative rag-tag guerrilla group who are always one step ahead and never make mistakes.

Marcus makes great strides in dismissing this one-sided narrative. He highlights the changes, successes and failures affecting the IDF and Hezbollah in equal measure. For instance, Marcus pulls no punches in describing the comprehensive failure of the IDF to prevent the growth of Hezbollah and the Israeli employment of disproportionate and ham-fisted tactics that alienated the Shiites of southern Lebanon. Equally, Marcus does note that the IDF were often successful in thwarting Hezbollah attacks, particularly in the early 1990s. Though Marcus is harshly critical of IDF tactics, the book comprehensively unpacks the ‘organisational learning and adaptation’ practiced by Israel and Hezbollah alike. Hezbollah’s transition from what Israeli general Amiram Levin refers to in the book as a ‘terrorist organisation’ to a ‘guerrilla group’ is delineated in full. Similarly, the debate captured in Part II between IDF modernisers and traditionalists will be relevant to military historians interested in how a modern army incorporates technological advances, whilst retaining its dynamic edge. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]


For Further Reference:

Elbit Systems Wins $153m Asian Drone DealGlobes, Oct.6, 2019 —   Israel defense electronics company Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) announced today that it has been awarded a contract worth $153 million to supply a comprehensive, multi-layered array of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to an army in a southeast Asian country. The contract will be performed over a 22-month period.

Israel, Bracing for Iranian Assault, Studies Recent Attack on Saudi Oil Facility:  Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Oct. 7, 2019 — Israel’s defense establishment is analyzing last month’s strike on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which is being blamed on Iran, to learn how to protect the country from a possible similar assault, Hebrew media reported Monday.

Israel Needs ‘Many Billions Immediately’ To Counter Iran: Netanyahu:  Arie Egozi, Breaking Defense, Oct. 4, 2019 — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, still trying to form a new government, said Israel must increase its defense spending by “many billions immediately and then many billions every year” as the threat from Iran “has intensified in recent weeks.

Is Israel Past the Age of Heroic Leaders?:  Aviv Rettig Gur, Times of Israel, Oct. 7, 2019 — It was 1978. The Litani operation in March saw Israeli troops push into south Lebanon to disrupt Palestinian terror groups in the region. In April, Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time with Izhar Cohen’s “A-Ba-Ni-Bi.”