2013 - A Year of War?
At the start of the new year, the IDF faces many challenges: Iran,
Hezbollah, the West Bank and of course Post-Assad Syria. How will the next
year look like? Possible forecasts
Amir Rapaport 28/12/2012
2013 has been defined by the IDF as a “decisive year”, but there is a
reasonable chance that it will become a year of war. Even if the year ends
without war on some front, it can be stated that the IDF has never entered a
work year with so many question marks as it will in 2013.
The assumption at the base of the IDF’s work plan for 2013 is that the
Middle East is in a period of change, one which has yet to conclude – the
upheavals are continuing. Processes of historical significance which in the
past would take many years are occurring within weeks and even few days. It
is not only the Middle East that’s changing either: the whole international
system is changing as well. The US is no longer a singular world power.
Russia, China and the developing countries are challenging it. Furthermore,
the things taking place here influences the reality of 2013 as well.
At the start of 2013, the IDF understands that even if Hamas has caught all
the attention in the past November (with operation Pillar of Defense), it is
the Iranian front that is the truly fateful one, and it is also the one that
will get hotter first, and soon. The timetable for the return of the Iranian
issue to the main headlines around the world is known in advance. On January
21, a day before the elections in Israel, the second term of US president
Barack Obama will official enter into effect. At the end of his first term,
Obama committed to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear weapons. It is not
certain that he intends to stand behind that statement at any cost,
certainly when the US is weary of long years of fighting in Iraq, and has
yet to conclude the withdrawal from Afghanistan (the last of the soldiers
will leave in 2014). However, he will make a genuine effort to increase the
pressure on the Ayatollah regime.
After establishing the new administration, the discussions with Iran will be
renewed. The world powers will demand of Iran to cease the use of uranium
already enriched to a level past 20%, halt the use of the centrifuges, and
dismantle the nuclear reactor in Qom. The talks will end again without any
results. As far as the US is concerned, the concentration of forces in the
Middle East and in front of the Persian Gulf will begin towards the coming
spring. In addition to increasing the military threat, the US will work to
increase the economic pressure.
In June 2013, Iran is scheduled to have presidential elections. Intensifying
the economic situation might bring millions of Iranians to the streets,
stabilizing the regime’s stability. Therefore, the window of opportunity for
the US and the West to effectively pressure Iran is between the months of
March and June.
Will the US fulfill its military threat and attack in Iran? Much depends on
the Iranians themselves. As things seem now, Iran will try to preserve 240
kilograms of uranium enriched to a level of 20% and above, which it will
have by spring, and announce the halting of the enrichment. If the pressure
is sufficient, Iran may even convert some of the enriched uranium into
nuclear rods which cannot be used for military purposes. As it seems now,
the US will not rush to attack, And Iran will not rush to abandon the
nuclear program (it will seek ways to continue it in secret). In essence,
Iran would become a “threshold state” by next spring, which would decide
when to take the next step in its nuclear program at a timing that is
convenient from an international perspective. Israel once declared that it
would not accept Iran becoming a “threshold state”, but will it attack the
Iranian nuclear facilities with an air strike, on its own? It does not seem
to be the case. The possibility of an attack seemed much more realistic in
October 2012, prior to the US elections.
The likelihood of a war with Iran, as a result of an Israeli or US attack:
low to medium.
The chances of a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon during 2013 is directly
derived from the possibility of a war with Iran. Hezbollah has weakened due
to the troubles of Bashar al-Assad in Syria (Hezbollah forces are fighting
in Syria in an effort to preserve the regime, and even sustain quite a few
casualties). The fact that Hezbollah has also become an inseparable part of
the Lebanese government limits the organization's freedom to operate
militarily against Israel.
On the other hand, if Iran is attacked, Hezbollah will launch its vast
arsenal of weapons against Israel, an arsenal provided by Iran precisely for
such an event.
The likelihood of war with Hezbollah in 2013: low to medium.
The Syrian story is far less clear and much more volatile. At the start of
2013, this is the situation picture: Assad is losing more and more areas of
control. He has two possibilities - entrench himself into an Alawite
enclave, which will be supported by Iran and Hezbollah, and continue
managing a civil war that could last for years, or leave for a sanctuary
country. Of course, the possibility that the rebels reach him and hasten his
end is also not farfetched.
The day that Assad loses his rule might be the most dangerous from Israel’s
perspective. As an act of desperation which would put him in Arab history,
Assad could order his last followers to attack Israel, just as he launched
Scud rockets into areas under the control of the rebels in recent weeks. The
firing of the Scuds teach us just how desperate he is. On the other hand,
the publications this week about the use of chemical agents in Syria were
probably ahead of their time.
According to updated assessments, the Syrian civilians seen in media photos
were not hurt from standard Syrian chemical agents (Sarin gas or VX) but
from gas grenades used to disperse demonstrations (more violent than tear
gas). However, the concern in Israel of the possibility that the stockpile
of chemical weapons might fall into the hands of "irresponsible persons” in
Syria or to Hezbollah in Lebanon is real. The US Army has plans how to
attack these weapon stockpiles the day after Assad falls, and perhaps even
take control over them (which would require tens of thousands of US
soldiers). However, the possibility of preventing irresponsible use of these
weapons in a military manner seems to be one of low chances. Meanwhile, one
chemical weapon stockpile that fell into the hands of the Free Syrian Army
was not looted, but is being meticulously guarded. The rebels do not use
these weapons, and Assad has consolidated the rest of the stockpiles in
areas that are still in his control.
Israel is assessing that if Assad loses his regime, a civil war might last
between the forces that currently comprise the coalition against him. In the
next stage of the war, Alawite militias (trained by Iran and Hezbollah) will
confront Salafi forces (supported by Saudi Arabia) and the Muslim
Brotherhood in Syrian (supported by Qatar). The West will support Syria’s
moderate, secular Sunni forces.
In the bottom line, the likelihood of an Israeli confrontation of any form
with a Syrian front in the coming year is low to medium.
With regards to Israel’s western border, Jordan continues to be an isle of
stability even at the end of 2012. In recent months, King Abdullah dealt
with quite a few internal problems, but it seems that he passed the harsh
period intact. He appeased the anger of the Bedouin tribes that comprise his
military by raising salaries, and was firm against riots at the heart of the
Abdullah was financially abandoned by the Gulf States, and lost the
strategic connection with Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. This week’s
publications about the visit of Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Jordan
are true, even if election considerations are the motive for the revelation
Here is another one: It was agreed between the king and Netanyahu that
Jordan will offer to renew the talks between Israel and the Palestinian
Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), at their palace in February
of 2013. This is if Netanyahu assembles the next government, of course. If
King Abdullah loses his seat in 2013 and the long border with Jordan returns
to being a terror arena as in the 1960s, as a continuation of the lack of
stability in the Arab world, it could be a strategic disaster for Israel.
The chances for such a nightmare scenario: low.
With regards to Egypt, Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood did not
cease to surprise Israel’s intelligence in 2012. The Egyptian president
surprised in the way in which he changed things within the Egyptian military
and appointed those close to him within it, and in the pragmatism shown in
his relations with the US and Israel (the continuous ties with Israel on
behalf of Egypt are led by the Egyptian office for intelligence matters, and
not the bureau of the president). There is no place for mistakes: Morsi’s
ideology is clear, and it does not allocate a place in the Middle East for
Israel. However, the need to feed 90 million mouths, including through the
annual US aid of $1.3 billion, leads him to surprising realms of moderation,
Morsi did not like the Hamas campaign against Israel in November, and he is
in no rush to open the passage between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in Rafiah
after the end of operation Pillar of Defense.
As far as Israel and the US are concern, Morsi will be examined in the way
in which he works to avoid Hamas’ reacquiring long-range missiles that can
threaten Tel Aviv. According to assessments, some of the missiles fired
towards Israel’s central region during Pillar of Defense came from Iran, and
passed thousands of kilometers through Sudan and across Egypt, without
Egyptian authorities lifting a finger to prevent the transfer. Israel and
the US now expect of Egypt to do everything against the transfer of weapons
to the Gaza Strip from its territory. It seems that since the end of the
operation, Egyptian forces have foiled at least three weapon transfers (some
of which probably came from Libya or Iran). This teaches nothing as to what
Either way, the likelihood of the cancellation of the peace agreement by
Egypt and the creation of a military or diplomatic confrontation with Israel
in 2013 is negligible. In the long range, everything is much less optimistic
with regards to Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood.
Hamas is Satisfied
What of Hamas? It can boast about what is viewed in the Arab world as its
great accomplishments in the confrontation with Israel during Pillar of
Defense. It can also invest the same energy in establishing its civilian
rule and military procurement towards the next confrontation, while
simultaneously working towards reconciliation with the Fatah "brothers”, who
rule in Judea and Samaria (as a stage in its effort to take control of the
West Bank as well).
Even though it is the organization’s interest to preserve the calm in the
next few months at least, there are countless scenarios in which the
situation in the Gaza Strip can deteriorate quickly, and change into another
round of fighting.
The chance of another conflict with Hamas in 2013: medium.
The West Bank
With regards to the Judea and Samaria region, no forecasts are needed
regarding 2013. As previously written here in the past weeks, the region has
been lively since the end of operation Pillar of Defense. This is not a
replay of the first Intifada, nor is it a return to the suicide attacks of
the Second Intifada, but the calm that characterized the Judea and Samaria
region from 2008 and until 2012 is certainly a thing of the past.
The chances of the return of the “popular terrorism” wave to the area is
high. The genie that has come out of the bottle (released by Abu Mazen) will
be difficult to put back inside it, even if the negotiations between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority resumes in Amman in February.
The bottom line: even if there is not a high likelihood of war in every
arena in itself, 2013 is about to be a year that is unprecedented in its