IDF chief warns ‘precarious’ security situation could lead to conflict in north

Lt. Gen. Kohavi says Iran behind main threats facing Israel, identifies Syria and Lebanon as primary areas of concern

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks to Israeli Navy soldiers on the stern of a ship in the Haifa Port during a surprise exercise on September 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks to Israeli Navy soldiers on the stern of a ship in the Haifa Port during a surprise exercise on September 25, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Thursday warned that Israel is facing a threat of conflict in both the north and the south, forcing the military to rapidly prepare for war.

“In the northern and southern arenas the situation is tense and precarious and poised to deteriorate into a conflict despite the fact that our enemies are not interested in war. In light of this, the IDF has been in an accelerated process of preparation,” Kohavi said.

The army chief made his remarks at the unveiling of a plan known as Momentum, or Tenufa in Hebrew, which will guide the military’s actions for the next five years.

In a briefing to reporters, the IDF chief said the primary threat facing Israel comes from Iran and its proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

“The main strategic threat to the State of Israel lies in the northern arena: with the entrenchment of Iranian and other forces in Syria, and with [the Hezbollah terror group’s] precision missile project,” Kohavi said, referring to an effort by the Iran-backed Lebanese militia to develop highly accurate long-range projectiles.

Israel sees precision-guided missiles as a far greater threat than that posed by Hezbollah’s existing arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets and missiles as the improved projectiles could easily overpower the IDF’s air defense systems and destroy the country’s critical infrastructure, something the terror group would struggle to do with its current arsenal.

Last month, a senior Israeli official said the country’s security services saw the project as the second most significant threat facing the Jewish state after Iran’s nuclear program.

In recent years, during the Syrian civil war, Iran has stepped up its efforts to establish a foothold in the country with which Tehran and its proxies could threaten Israel.

Israel has declared such efforts a red line that it would take action to prevent, and to that end has conducted hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian and Iranian-allied forces, according to Israeli officials.

“Both of these cases are efforts led by Iran, using the territory of countries with severely limited governance,” Kohavi said.

He specifically referred to the case of Lebanon, where Iran’s ally Hezbollah is widely seen as being in control of the government despite technically having a small parliamentary presence.

“For years Hezbollah has taken the state of Lebanon hostage. It built an army of its own and it is the one that dictates the security policy,” the army chief said.

Israel fought Hezbollah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Though Israel has waged a quiet campaign against the group in the intervening 13 years, the border with Lebanon has largely remained calm save for a handful of outbreaks of violence.

Such an incident occurred last month, on September 1, when the Shiite terror group fired three anti-tank missiles into Israel in response to a drone strike allegedly carried out by Israel, in which a small explosives-laden aircraft detonated in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut, destroying a critical piece of equipment needed for the group’s precision missile project.

Two of the missiles fired by Hezbollah in retaliation were aimed at a military vehicle that was full of soldiers, but missed. The third struck an army base near the border. The IDF said it sustained no casualties. In response, the IDF fired artillery shells into southern Lebanon. No Lebanese injuries were reported.

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