IDF, Iranian-led PIJ battle was limited, will not be the last – analysis
While the battle against PIJ was limited and Israel only used a small amount of its capacity, the real challenge is in the North, and against Iran and its other proxies.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Forty-eight hours of fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad was monitored by Iran and its proxies in the region, including Hezbollah.
IRGC commander Hossein Salami spoke at a ceremony on Thursday, warning that the Islamic world would soon see the “fall of the Zionist regime.” He said that Iran’s military industry has greatly improved, and that advanced weapons were being deployed – so advanced that the Iranian media would not even be allowed to see them.
What he is hinting at is precision-guided missiles, cruise missiles and drones, the same kind of threat that Iran used against Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility in September.
“We assure the Iranian nation that the armed forces and the IRGC are so great that they can cope with the enemy, and our people will live comfortably with the knowledge that we can crush our enemies,” Salami said, according to Tasnim and Fars News in Iran. “We will never stop or retreat due to sanctions.”
Iran’s IRGC commander and his aerospace units, which have missiles as well as drones, watched closely the battles with Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Salami hinted at this by noting that he had monitored the “Palestinian resistance commanders and leaders of Hamas and PIJ.”
He said that they have a right to defend themselves, and the “Zionist regime” was leading itself to destruction.
Israel has said that it views Iran as its main strategic threat, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Iran against entrenching in Lebanon.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned in late October that the situation in the North and South is fragile, and that conflict could develop. The North is the main challenge facing Iranian-led activity.
There is an increasing threat of “Shi’ite militias” in Syria. This includes a network that links Hezbollah to Iraqi-based groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, which operates in Syria. In 2018, a Kataib Hezbollah base was hit by an airstrike near Albukamal. Other airstrikes, which Iraqi media blamed on Israel, have hit an alleged Iranian base near the same Albukamal border crossing with Iraq.
Israel cannot overlook this northern threat.
This means that while the battle against PIJ was limited and Israel only used a small amount of its capacity, the real challenge is in the North.
The two are linked because PIJ is an Iranian-allied group. Tehran is seeking to strike at Israel through its proxies. It already flew a drone into Israeli airspace in February 2018, and fired rockets in May 2018 and January 2019. In addition, a Shi’ite militia attempted to fire rockets at Israel in September from near Damascus. Israel struck a “killer drone” team south of Damascus in October.
This is the context of the battle in Gaza.
A short 48 hours showed that PIJ has capabilities that were well known, although it did not fire its longer-range missiles north of Tel Aviv. Some of its arsenal was degraded, but it has thousands of rockets.
However, compared with Hezbollah, it has just 5% of the number of rockets. This is the larger picture.
Iran is seeking to profit from the chaos in Iraq and the US withdrawal from parts of Syria. It wants to cement its road to the sea across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. But it is must also be cautious, because it has challenges at home to its economy – and it has read the statements by the US, including by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, supporting Israel in any actions against Iran’s threats.