On hearing of the terrible explosion in Beirut, the first fear for many was that an Israeli operation to hit a Hezbollah arms dump had gone disastrously wrong. Israel denied any involvement as did Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah — although Hezbollah has stored supplies of Ammonium Nitrate in London and other European cities in the past. Even so, the presumption of an air strike indicated the profound sensibilities which swirl around ongoing Israeli attempts to prevent the delivery of arms and missiles to Hezbollah on the northern border and to Hamas in the south.
The second Lebanon war in 2006 was a costly wake-up call for the IDF. Hezbollah’s barrage of mainly short-range rockets essentially depopulated northern Israel with large numbers fleeing to safer locations in central areas of the country. Hezbollah was greatly assisted by a maze of tunnels on the border from which katyushas were launched. These were constructed by North Korean engineers who had gained tremendous military experience from drilling below the Demilitarised Zone, separating it from South Korea.
All this initiated the immediate construction of a multi-tiered anti-missile defence system. The development of the Iron Dome system commenced as almost a matter of life and death such that rabbinic dispensation was given to those who worked on it during Shabbat. Upgraded Arrow missiles, the David’s Sling system and the forthcoming fibre-laser Iron Beam now provide an answer to protecting the population from incoming missiles in both north and south.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the Iron Dome was deployed to intercept longer range and more sophisticated missiles from Gaza. While Qassams could hit targets 10 km away, Grads now covered distances twice as far and four times with upgraded versions. The Fajr-5 could reach locations 45 km from Gaza. Such missiles were now targeted on Tel Aviv and there were Code Red warnings in central Israel in Netanya, Kfar Saba and Ra’anana. One missile even reached Givat Ze’ev in the environs of Jerusalem.
Missile parts reached Hezbollah and Hamas from Iran where they could be replicated in local workshops. In Gaza there were two essential methods of delivery to Palestinian Islamists. One was via sea, the other on land from Sinai on the Egyptian side of the border.
In early March 2014, Israel commandos initiated Operation Full Disclosure and boarded the vessel, the Klos C — some 1500 km from Israel in the Red Sea en route for Port Sudan. It had actually sailed from Iran, docked at Umm Qasr in Iraq and was laden with M-302 long range missiles of Chinese design, mortars and 400,000 rounds of ammunition suitable for kalashnikovs. The missiles were concealed in bags of cement.
Arms could also be taken into Gaza across the porous border with Egypt. With the fall of Hosni Mubarak at the beginning of the Arab Spring and the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, security had become lax in Sinai. The land route for the delivery of Iranian weapon parts was via Sudan and Egypt. At the beginning of 2009 there had been two attacks on convoys carrying arms northwards towards Egypt. In October 2012, the Yarmouk munitions factory in south Khartoum was attacked by four aircraft. This Sudanese factory was believed to be owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. While such attacks went unattributed, most observers believed that this was part and parcel of Israel’s determination to block Iran’s passage of arms.
A border fence with Egypt was then constructed. However smugglers’ tunnels provided another point of entry into Gaza. Moreover once the technology of building tunnels had been mastered, Hamas could theoretically mount underground incursions into Israel itself.
The Syrian civil war allowed Iran to create a Shi’ite land corridor from Teheran to Damascus —and more importantly to establish military bases in Syria. The Israeli air force repeatedly hit Iranian bases, Hezbollah warehouses and military convoys in the vicinity of the Qalamoun mountains. A convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles was destroyed in January 2013.
In the aftermath of the trauma of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the West had no stomach to intervene in the Syrian civil war, leaving Russia free to send in aircraft, tanks and advisers from Sebastopol to fortify the Assad regime in August 2015. By the end of that year, the Russians had conducted 5000 sorties against Assad’s opponents.
Netanyahu and Putin hurriedly arrived at an arrangement that there would be prior warning so that Israel and Russia would not come into conflict in the skies above Syria. Putin agreed to mute any criticism of Israeli conduct in Gaza while Israel refused to support a UN resolution condemning the Russian annexation of the Crimea and opposed sanctions.
Netanyahu who had wanted to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran in 2011 was delighted when the Trump White house pulled out of the agreement to limit Iranian development in this area. However, with or without the agreement, the separate supply chain of conventional arms is still functioning. It continues to present a clear and present danger to the civilian population of Israel.
Jewish Chronicle 14 August 2020