The Balancing Act of Israeli Security Policy

In August of 2015, a report published by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) named Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, as the largest threat to Israeli national security. This assessment is valid for a number of reasons: the ever-increasing arsenal of weapons that Hezbollah is gathering, the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, and the snowball effect, related to skirmishes between Hezbollah forces and the IDF. Scholars from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Jonathan Schanzer, Tony Badran, and David Daoud discuss each of these factors in a published analysis of the IDF report. However, the reality that is presented in FDD’s article, “The Third Lebanon War” (2016), asserts the significant restraints on Hezbollah’s current capabilities by highlighting the depleting support from their Shi’a base, their commitment to fighting in the Syrian Civil War, and the awareness of the restraints created by international law and UN sanctioned borders. These contrasting assessments of Hezbollah leave the organization in an interesting strategic position for the Israeli administrators and the IDF. Moreover, “once lauded as an Arab resistance force battling Israel, the group is today widely seen as a blunt instrument doing the dirty work of Iran” (p.10). Regardless, security policy demands a more cynical approach and the possibility of a diminishing immediate threat by Hezbollah should not be underestimated.  

Only two months after the IDF report was released, I moved to Israel and within the week the knife attacks began. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas leadership continue to incite, promote, and celebrate the stabbing of Jews, which has led to the rise of a new wave of terrorism. Despite Jerusalem and the West Bank being the focal point, an attack was thwarted only 3 blocks from my apartment in Herzliya; allowing me to briefly feel the climate of terror propagated by these organizations. However, these low-tech, disorganized attacks, while possessing the direct effects of fear and unpredictability, cannot be put in the same category as the threat posed by Hezbollah. The continuous rumblings of the indiscriminate attacks are merely a part of the political climate that has developed in Israel.

Hezbollah still looms on Israel’s northern border, and it remains the real and imminent threat. Historically, successful Israeli security policy is based on balancing expectations of threats posed by its neighbors. This approach has been honed by the Israeli administration’s perceptive understanding of Hezbollah’s capabilities. As my professor, Dr. Boaz Ganor, argues, the Hezbollah attack strategy isn’t being planned to be put into action, but to foster an attitude of fear and terrorize Israel. Therefore, despite their unavoidably tangible capabilities, Hezbollah remains a smart, tactical actor that is aware of what is at stake if they were to enter into a third war with Israel.

Except on one or two occasions, I never truly felt that my life was in danger in the face of what a few are calling the “Knife Intifada”. Yet, even when I stood at the Lebanese border at Rosh HaNikra or overlooked the Syrian border just north of Katzrin, I felt acutely aware of the threat Hezbollah posed, sitting mere miles away. The silence is deafening, beautiful, and haunting. The soldiers of Hezbollah are taking advantage of the Syrian War, which “has provided the opportunity for many younger new recruits to become battle-tested” (p. 21).  The maturation of Hezbollah’s forces only serves to ensure that the next war with Israel will lead to more damage to Israeli infrastructure and society. Israeli policymakers keep this knowledge close at hand as the balancing act of security policy continues. For now, all is quiet on the northern front.