The missile strikes that killed Israel’s deterrence
The Cradle, April 18, 2023 —
Coordinated strikes by the Resistance from multiple fronts have forced new rules of engagement on Tel Aviv, which is already struggling to keep its domestic and external crises under control. Can Israel survive another, bigger multi-front assault?
Israel is currently facing a unique and formidable challenge – a multi-front irregular force that poses a greater threat to the state than traditional Arab armies of the past. What sets this irregular force apart is the introduction of missile warfare and a genuinely united front, which changed the rules of engagement and forced the occupation state to rush to adapt.
Unlike previous Israeli adversaries, this irregular force is made up of various state and non-state actors who operate across multiple fronts. Their unconventional tactics and strategies, including guerrilla and asymmetric warfare, create a complex and unpredictable battlefield environment for Israel.
April missile showers
This was illustrated during the first week of April 2023, when the resistance fired missiles into Israel from three separate territorial fronts. The unexpected turn of events caught Israeli politicians off guard, forcing them to reverse their provocations in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and temporarily freeze the traffic of Jewish extremists into the Muslim compound.
The first result of the resistance missiles was an Israeli decision to prevent Jews from entering Al-Aqsa from 12 April until the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. This decision was not based on the tensions in occupied Palestinian territories or on Israel’s internal crises under the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rather, it was a response to the erosion of Israeli deterrence which collapsed under the force of resistance missiles.
The Resistance opens up new fronts
The decision to calm tensions in the Al-Aqsa Mosque was a recognition by Israel that the resistance has gained the upper hand by coordinating its assaults from multiple fronts: rocket fire from Gaza, missile attacks from Lebanon, targeting of Israeli sites in the occupied Golan from Syria.
In the Gaza Strip, resistance factions fired numerous rockets at Jewish settlements around Gaza, demonstrating their capability and will to strike deep into Israeli territory.
In Lebanon, three bursts of around 30 missiles were fired at occupied Galilee settlements, resulting in injuries to three settlers. This marked the largest number of missiles launched from Lebanon since the July 2006 war.
From Syria, two batches of missiles were fired at Israeli sites in the occupied Golan. While the first salvo did not hit any targets, the second one targeted sites and settlements, leading to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system by the Israeli army.
Things took an unexpected turn when the Sinai front jumped into the fray, with reports of the Egyptian army “thwarting” the firing of missiles toward the southern Israeli port of Eilat. A source within the Axis of Resistance tells The Cradle that “the resistance was, without a doubt, responsible for moving the Sinai Front to send a message to the enemy that they should not feel safe on the border with Egypt.”
There was a notable media blackout over the Sinai incident, as it was “not in Israel’s interest to disclose what happened in Sinai due to many internal considerations,” nor, the source adds, was it in Egypt’s interest to acknowledge its own security gaps.
Avoiding Hezbollah’s wrath
Israel’s attempt to hold Hamas responsible for the rocket fire from Lebanon – while avoiding mentioning a potential Hezbollah role – was seen as an effort to avoid a confrontation with the Lebanese resistance group and to restrict its response to Hamas. Contradicting the official military narrative, Netanyahu claimed that Israel retaliated against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon – while Hebrew media reported that military officials specifically advised against striking Hezbollah positions, as it risked widening the conflict.
Tel Aviv’s response to the incoming rockets was limited to sporadic strikes, a strong indication that Israel was trying to save face without escalating the situation further. This had immediate implications: Israel has been compelled to accept the equations imposed by the resistance and is no longer able to risk a potential escalation that could lead to an all-out war on multiple fronts.
Israel’s diminished deterrence
The former head of the Israeli Military Intelligence Division, Aman, Amos Yadlin, raised important questions in a series of tweets on 9 April. He highlighted three key considerations for Israeli decision-makers in the current security situation:
First, Yadlin questioned whether the security event was limited to a single organization or if it involved “the entire radical axis,” including Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Second, he asked whether Israeli deterrence has eroded to a level that requires action to restore it, or if the current containment policy is sufficient.
Lastly, Yadlin emphasized the need to develop a strategy that can restore deterrence without escalating into a full-fledged conflict, particularly in the north. Like many other Israeli political and military figures in the past month, Yadlin also pointed out that the erosion of Israeli deterrence may have been influenced by factors such as internal divisions, strained relations with the US, and fears of war.
Rewriting the rules
The recent firing of rockets from multiple fronts by the resistance was not a coincidence, but a carefully planned action with clear messages to the enemy. Activating the fronts in Lebanon and Syria is a joint resistance initiative to change the ‘rules of engagement’ and undermine Israeli deterrence capabilities.
In doing so, the resistance exploited Israel’s many current vulnerabilities: a widespread internal crisis, strained US-Israeli relations, and its army’s preoccupation in the West Bank.
According to the Axis of Resistance source, “The message that the axis of resistance wanted to deliver to the enemy is that in any upcoming war, more than one front will be opened with the enemy under the new ‘unity of fronts’ paradigm.” The source stressed that the decision in this regard is in the hands of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
Palestinian political analyst Hassan Lafi explains the intent of the joint resistance strikes to The Cradle, and why it had to be done:
“One of these [new] rules is that Jerusalem is not only for the Palestinians but for the Islamic and Arab nation,” citing Nasrallah after the battle of Sayf al-Quds in 2021, when he said: “Violating the red lines, that is, Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, means the outbreak of a regional war.”
‘Unity of Fronts’
Lafi emphasized that the firing of rockets from multiple fronts demonstrates “the sincerity and seriousness” of the Resistance Axis in imposing this equation. He pointed out that the “unity of fronts” has become a practical approach, which “has confused the occupation and undermined the Israeli deterrent force.”
As Yasser al-Masri, an official in the Palestinian Fatah movement, explains to The Cradle:
“The unity of fronts is a frightening idea for Israel. The firing of rockets from Lebanon without any party claiming responsibility, as well as from the Golan Heights, terrified and confused Israel. We saw this in a Netanyahu’s decision to prevent settlers’ incursions into Al-Aqsa during the month of Ramadan.”
Despite increasing chatter about the possibility of Israel – with US support – preparing for a major strike against the Axis of Resistance or targeting one of its fronts, Lafi ruled out the likelihood of an Israeli or US-initiated war that could spiral out of control, particularly in light of Washington’s military focus elsewhere: “the last thing the Americans want is a new war alongside the Ukrainian war.”
Likewise, growing differences between Tel Aviv and Washington “means that Israel is unable to go into an open battle with the entire axis of resistance without an American green light,” he warns.
The West Bank front
Lafi points out that there are two key factors that make Israel carefully consider the option of launching a war on vulnerable Gaza – its traditional punching bag. First, Tel Aviv remains unsure as to whether the region’s resistance forces will allow Israel to isolate and target only one front.
Second, is the revival of resistance in the West Bank front, which is no longer neutral as it has been in the past. If Israel were to wage an open war on Gaza, there are no guarantees that repercussions would not unfold in the West Bank, where daily commando operations by Palestinian youths are being launched.
While the West Bank is an obvious second front for Israel to single out, it also represents a significant weakness for Tel Aviv, whose army already deploys over 50 percent of its fighting force in the West Bank alone. Those numbers have only grown in the last five months of clashes, with some sources saying over two-thirds of the Israeli army are now deployed there.
In essence, this implies that the Israeli army is currently unable to open another front.
Israeli fears become a reality
April 2023 very much resembles April 2002 during the Second Intifada, when the Israeli army was focused on quelling the uprising in the West Bank, attempting to consolidate new equations and transform the Palestinian cause into an internal Israeli affair.
During that time, the resistance in Lebanon carried out a series of strikes on the northern border to divert the enemy’s attention from the West Bank and open a second front to exhaust its forces. However, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not take the bait set for him by the Lebanese resistance.
Likewise, Zohar Balti – the former head of the Political Security Committee in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the former head of the Intelligence Directorate in the Mossad, and the former deputy of the research department in the Israeli Military Intelligence – has urged Israel’s leaders “not to be drawn into the strategic ambush that Nasrallah set for us.”
“The operation in Lebanon now will be against our interest and against the interest of the American administration. Before taking any preemptive step in Lebanon, Israel must achieve operational coordination with the United States,” Balti says.
But continued West Bank tensions have once more opened the door for the Axis of Resistance to exploit the erosion of Israeli deterrence and establish new confrontation equations from multiple fronts simultaneously.
This time, the missiles came from three fronts. What scares Tel Aviv most is its inability to respond “disproportionately” to these attacks – and who that may embolden. The Israeli fear is not only that the Axis of Resistance now determines the rules of engagement, but that, in the future, that response will include missiles and drones from farther afield, from Iraq and Yemen.