Analysis: The first direct confrontation between Israel and Iran

This is the beginning of something much bigger. It marks a turning point in the covert war Israel and Iran have been fighting for decades.

Yochanan Visser ,

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Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authored a book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva

Much has already be written about what happened on Saturday when Israel came very close to all out war with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Assad’s army in Syria.

To understand the seriousness of the situation, one has to look at the broader picture and take into account not only what occurred on Saturday but what happened on the Lebanese front over the past few weeks.

The incident on Saturday, when the IAF first downed an Iranian attack drone in the vicinity of the Israel town of Beit Shean and later attacked Iranian and Syrian targets deep in the war-torn country, showed the Israel security cabinet was right when it embarked on a new diplomatic offensive against Iran’s belligerent activities in Syria at the beginning of January.

At the time, the Israeli government announced that it had decided to make a “multi-faceted effort” to stop Iran’s drive to take-over the border area with Israel in Syria. The government held a series of “extremely significant discussions” on the increasing Iranian threat to Israel.

The actions of the Netanyahu government came after Iranian proxies in Syria began trying to set up camp in the demilitarized zone bordering on Mount Hermon on the Golan Heights, and after Hezbollah deployed troops on the southern Golan Heights during an offensive against the Khalid ibn al-Walid army, the local branch of ISIS.

The initiatives of the Israeli government, coinciding with increasing military activity along the northern front, were a sign Israel is losing patience with the world’s passivity in light of the aggressive Iranian moves, Arutz Sheva reported in the middle of January.

The incident with the Iranian drone and the downed Israeli F-16i plane was certainly the most serious since the Second Lebanon War. It marks a turning point in the covert war Israel and Iran have been fighting for decades now.

Israel showed Iran it has exact intelligence about its activities in Syria and Lebanon. It managed to destroy Iranian sites and Syrian bases deep in Syria, while Iran engaged in a direct confrontation with the Israeli military for the first time.

The loss of the F-16i warplane was celebrated as a major victory over Israel and a serious blow to the “Zionist Entity” by the pro-Assad coalition, which threatened a 'severe response' next time the IAF ‘violates’ Syrian airspace.

However, Israel lost many more planes in previous conflicts and still prevailed.

The loss of the F-16i plane is therefore nothing more than a setback which will have no effect on Israel’s fighting capabilities. Nevertheless, it could have a negative impact on Israel’s deterrence when it comes to Hezbollah and Iran.

As the situation at the Lebanese front unequivocally makes clear, Iran is preparing the ground for a decisive conflict with Israel.

This future conflict will almost certainly be a multi-front war in which thousands of missiles will be launched intending to bring Israel to its knees before Hezbollah and other Iranian backed-forces try to occupy parts of Israel, while mobilizing the Palestinian Arabs into launching a simultaneous uprising in Judea and Samaria.

Over the past month, Iran’s Lebanese allies led by President Michael Aoun have been looking for a casus belli to start a new conflict with Israel, while Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dispatched his possible successor Ayatollah Sayyed Ebrahim Raisi to Lebanon.

Standing next to the Israeli border, Ayatollah Raisi delivered a clear message to the Netanyahu government.

“Al-Qud’s (Jerusalem’s) liberation is near,” Raisi declared while heaping praise on the Palestinian “Resistance”.

"Thanks to the resistance movement, Palestine has so far succeeded in withstanding Israel, and they (the Palestinian Arabs) have learned that it is fighting and steadfastness, not the negotiating tables, that determine the fate of their country," Raisi said.

The Iranian leader was accompanied by Hezbollah operatives and Iranian commanders, according to media reports.

Raisi later paid tribute to Imad Mughniyeh and Mustafa Badr al-Din, two Hezbollah’ terror masterminds who have been liquidated over the last decade, presumably by Israel, according to Arab media and pundits.

While in Lebanon, the prospective Supreme Leader reportedly also conducted talks about the future conflict with Israel.

He met with Lebanese leaders and members of the government of Sa’ad Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, underlining the fact that Lebanon has been turned into an Iranian client state. This can be seen as signaling that decisions about the Lebanese role in the future war with Israel will be made in Tehran, not Beirut.

Raisi’s visit to Lebanon coincided with the Lebanese attempt to find a casus belli for opening war against Israel.

After Israel started to improve border security and took pre-emptive measures to prevent infiltration attempts from Lebanon by building an 8-meter high security wall along stretches of the Lebanese border in the vicinity of Israeli population centers, the Lebanese government claimed the IDF was breaching the so-called Blue Line.

This is the internationally recognized border which was marked by the U.N. after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 when then Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled the IDF out from southern Lebanon.

Last week UNIFIL confirmed Israel had not breached the border with Lebanon and was building the new security fence on the Israeli side of the Blue Line.

Next, the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese government tried to find another reason to enter into open conflict with Israel by issuing tenders for exploratory drilling in a disputed gas field along the maritime border with Israel.

At the time Iran sent its attack drone into Israel, reports came in that the Lebanese government had signed a contract with three European oil companies, Italy’s Eni, Total in France and Novatek in Russia, to start the drilling.

Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil warned Israel at the same time that the Lebanese government would not sit on its hands if Israel made an attempt to prevent the drilling.

Bassil said Lebanon could also “stop offshore development on the Israeli side.”

The statement by the Lebanese FM contained a thinly veiled threat about Hezbollah’s abilities to fire advanced missiles at Israel’s gas rigs in order to cut off gas supply to the Jewish State.

As reported in the media last week, Hezbollah is in possession of very advanced missiles which could destroy offshore installations in Israel's gas fields.

In response to this new threat, the IDF has developed a naval version of the Iron Dome missile shield and ordered protective navy vessels in Germany to protect the Israeli offshore industry. However, they will only arrive in the next decade.

The news about the threat of Hezbollah's missiles to Israel's gas fields comes on top of Israeli intelligence reports indicating Iran is now building advanced missiles for Hezbollah in an underground facility near Beirut.

However, one doesn't need Israeli intelligence reports and Ayatollah Raisi to understand Iran is an existential threat to the state of Israel.

A photograph published last week says it all.

Close to Metullah, Israel's most northern city which borders Lebanon, one can see that Hezbollah has replaced its own flag with dozens of PA flags to convey Raisi's message the 'liberation' of Jerusalem is near.