Israeli warfare: emergency back-up

Israel has begun mobilising “tens of thousands” of reservists as it prepares for violent reactions to its Gaza incursion from other directions.

Some of the reservists are being deployed along the border with Lebanon as a precaution against attempts by Hezbollah militia to launch rocket attacks against Israel or stage cross-border raids in order to divert Israel from the Gaza campaign.

Other reservists have been assigned to deal with the possibility of an uprising on the West Bank. Others still are to be dispatched to Gaza if the campaign there is stepped up, according to officials. The precise number currently mobilised has not been revealed but military officials say that more reservists will be mobilised if necessary.

The reservists have been called up under emergency orders which require them to report for an open-ended period. Most received their orders before going to work in the morning and were at their bases within a few hours. Israelis are drafted at the age of 18 and serve three-year stints for men and two for women, but men continue to serve in the reserves until they’re 40 and are subject to up to a month’s annual duty. In the 2006 war in Lebanon more than 60,000 reservists were called up, most of them serving a month. Reservists constitute two-thirds of Israel’s total military strength.

The most serious potential spin-off of the Gaza incursion for Israel is a renewal of the war with Hezbollah, which fired thousands of rockets into Israel during a month-long clash in 2006. They have since renewed their arsenal and are believed to have tens of thousands of rockets, many of which are capable of striking deep inside Israel.

A senior Iranian official who conferred with Syrian leaders on Saturday in Damascus a few hours before Israel launched its ground attack says that Hezbollah intends to renew its attacks if Israel sends forces into Gaza, according to press reports. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are proxies of Iran, which provides them with funding, weaponry, ideology and training. A Hezbollah official in Lebanon subsequently declared that they have no intention of renewing the fighting with Israel.

In announcing the opening of the Gaza ground campaign on Saturday, the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, alluded to the threat from Hezbollah. “We hope that the northern front will remain calm, but we are prepared for any possibility,” he said.

Officials in Jerusalem yesterday warned of severe retaliation if Hezbollah joins the fray, noting that only a small part of the Israeli Air Force is tied up in the Gaza operation and that ground forces have been strengthened in the north.

In the 2006 war, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets, some of them long-range missiles that struck Haifa and other targets deep inside Israel. Israeli officials believe that a Hezbollah intervention is unlikely because the organisation is still smarting from the blows inflicted by the Israeli Air Force, but officials do not dismiss the possibility.

The most immediate concern for Israel is a renewal of suicide bombings by West Bank Palestinians who have access to Israel. Such attacks took more than 1,000 lives during the intifada. Hamas leaders in Gaza have issued a desperate plea for their renewal since the Israeli incursion began. Thus far none have occurred but Israelis have begun taking precautions, reducing their presence in marketplaces and coffee houses.
The Hamas leadership has called on West Bank Palestinians to renew guerilla warfare against Israel like that carried out in the early stages of the Palestinian uprising or intifada that began in 2000. The uprising was suppressed two years later by the army in a massive operation that resulted in the deaths of more than 500 Palestinians and the detention of more than 4,000.

Acts of resistance have virtually disappeared on the West Bank since then, thanks mostly to the ongoing activities of Israel’s internal security arm, the Shin Bet. The Palestinian Authority, which is affiliated with Hamas’ rival group, Fatah, has also curbed Hamas activity on the West Bank during the past year and made numerous arrests. It is presumed, however, that Hamas still has sleeper cells and many supporters in the area.

Abraham Rabinovich for RT