by Ariel Ben Solomon
Israel on the defensive with Lebanon
Police and the IDF patrol northern border after Hezbollah shooting incident
Recent attacks on Israeli ground positions along the northern border with Lebanon and the southern border with Egypt provide an unambiguous reminder that Israel cannot afford to reduce its ground forces if it expects to deal efficiently with future military threats from non-state or state actors. So says Dr. Eado Hecht, a research associate at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a lecturer on military affairs at the IDF Command and General Staff College. “Those who say way we can make do with fewer soldiers and light infantry are not correct.”
In the incidents last week, one IDF soldier was wounded by gunfire from a vehicle traveling on the other side of the border in Lebanon, and an Israeli civilian was shot and killed near the border fence with Egypt.
In an extensive report published in September in the journal Survival, Dr. Hecht and co-author Dr. Eitan Shamir contend the growing threats and capabilities of non-state actors mean that Israel must continue to build effective ground forces and that the IDF must not favor its air force and precision-fire assets over ground units.
While conventional wisdom holds that Hezbollah will not start a war while its forces are embroiled in Syria’s civil war, Dr. Hecht warns that unforeseeable events could lead to a military escalation similar to what sparked the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
In such a case, Israeli ground forces would need to quickly penetrate inside Lebanese territory to a distance between 5 and 20 miles and hold that land as a bargaining chip for a cease-fire.
Likewise, only ground forces can effectively locate and neutralize the Hamas tunnel threat from Gaza. “Air power only results in insignificant damage to the tunnels, and they are quickly repaired,” Dr. Hecht says, adding that even though ground-penetrating radar and other new technologies can easily detect tunnels, “it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Only ground forces scouting the terrain can flush out terrorists, who use camouflage and booby-trap entrances to the tunnels. And once they locate the tunnel, soldiers must map them, enter, and carry in explosives to depths of up to 100 feet to destroy them.”
While the border with Egypt is generally quiet, Hecht says violent revolutions like those of the last few years could easily recur in today’s Cairo. If that were to happen, Egypt could quickly turn into an adversary, making the use of conventional forces even more important.