The Islamic State terrorist organization has made it clear that Israel is its next target, high-ranking army officers told reporters in a briefing Tuesday.
The IS affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, Wilayat Sinaa, has been fighting a bloody war with the Egyptian military, but the army believes that the terrorist group will eventually move against Israel.
The conflict with the jihadists is not going to necessarily happen “tomorrow or next year,” an IDF officer told The Times of Israel last month, but it will happen.
The head of the group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in December issued an explicit threat against Israel, the first such indication that the Jewish state was on his agenda. In an audio recording released on social media, al-Baghdadi warned that his forces will “soon meet [the Jews] in Palestine,” Channel 2 television reported.
“Israel will pay a heavy price at the hands of our fighters,” the terror group’s elusive leader said. “Palestine will not be your land or your home,” he said. “It will be a graveyard for you. Allah has gathered you in Palestine so that the Muslims may kill you.”
Tuesday’s briefing elaborated on many of the topics also raised in IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s expansive speech on the threats posed by Hezbollah to Israel’s northern border, Hamas in Gaza, the Islamic State in Sinai and the ongoing violence in the West Bank. Eisenkot was speaking at last week’s Institute for National Security Studies’ conference in Tel Aviv.
The northern front
Hezbollah, the central threat to Israel’s safety, will not receive the cash windfall some anticipated with the end of sanctions against its main benefactor Iran, according to IDF officials.
A newly sanction-free Iran will likely use the vast majority of the new money at its disposal to reinvest in its own ailing economy, and not to fund the terror group, the officers said.
According to IDF assessments, Hezbollah still presents a serious obstacle to Israel’s security, even without additional Iranian funding. Though there is no imminent threat of attack in northern Israel, a small incident could accidentally spark a greater conflict with the Shiite terrorist group, the officials said.
“The IDF needs to be prepared for the breakout of war in a very short period. It would be a mistake to put all our resources into the fight against terror,” Eisenkot said at the INSS conference on January 18.
Israeli estimates put Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal at 100,000 short-range rockets capable of striking northern Israel, plus several thousand missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and central Israel, and hundreds more that can reach across the entire country.
That greater conflict would likely result in Israeli planes being shot down by Hezbollah’s extensive anti-aircraft weaponry, which would shut down Ben Gurion International Airport; Israeli naval vessels being targeted by the much feared Russian Yakhont anti-ship missile, which could wreak havoc on Israel’s shipping industry; and IDF soldiers being captured, requiring Israel to negotiate for their return, the IDF officers said.
“The next war will be different,” one military official said. “Hezbollah has turned most of the Shiite villages in southern Lebanon into [military] posts. They tend more toward subterranean battle and moving the battle into our territory. Hezbollah was digging tunnels even before Hamas.”
But Hezbollah, which has already lost more than 1,300 soldiers since the start of the conflict in Syria, will not likely push for renewed conflict with Israel, the army said.
The southern front
Aside from the Islamlic State threat in the Sinai, the IDF also faces a looming threats from Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Last week’s rocket fire notwithstanding, the Gaza Strip has been comparatively quiet as Hamas maintains order in the coastal enclave, preventing the Salafist terror groups from firing rockets and carrying out shootings against Israeli civilians and soldiers.
But with that quiet, Hamas has been preparing for the next round of hostilities, digging tunnels, training fighters and building new rockets, the military officials said.
Homegrown Palestinian terror
While the IDF handles the threats from organized non-state militias like Hezbollah and Wilayat Sinaa on the country’s borders, the army must also deal with the ongoing violence within Israel and West Bank.
Since October 1, with the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, hundreds of Israelis have been killed or injured in shootings, stabbings and car ramming attacks.
The past three stabbing attacks have taken place within Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and they have been particularly deadly — two of the four Israelis who were attacked died from their wounds, including 23-year-old Shlomit Krigman and Dafna Meir, 38, a mother of six.
This kind of attack presents a new challenge for the army and police, who must now struggle to protect civilians both inside and outside of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Due to this attack style’s “success,” the IDF anticipates more Palestinian terrorists will adopt the method of sneaking into Israeli settlements and attacking residents, the army officers said.
Throughout the ongoing violence, what the IDF refers to as a “limited uprising,” the army has attempted to keep the majority of the Palestinian population undisturbed as it cracks down on those who throw stones and firebombs.
In light of the recent attacks, however, the army has already had to crack down, barring Palestinian workers from entering Jewish settlements and closing down the home village one of the terrorists who carried out Monday night’s attack in Beit Horon.
While the army claims that those restrictions are necessary in order to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens, the IDF will also push to relieve these measures and allow Palestinians to go about their lives, which the army believes will ultimately help calm down the situation, the officers said.