Israel has learned the lessons of past missions and become more dangerous.

Hezbollah displays a pick-up truck mounted with a multiple rocket launcher in a parade in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatiyeh in 2014. (photo credit:MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)


In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Israel Air Force struck in Syria, according to reports from Lebanon. The target was a convoy carrying weapons that were supposed to go from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. No injuries were reported in the attack, however, if a convoy was indeed destroyed, it can be assumed that somebody there was wounded. The Israeli media mentioned the story in the morning news briefs and the Arab media covered it apathetically. It marked the sixth time since December that the Arab media has reported an Israeli attack in Syria.

Three days beforehand, ISIS in Sinai claimed that the Israel Air Force struck, killing five members of the organization in Egyptian Rafah. Another ISIS cell attempted to retaliate with ineffective rocket fire at the Eshkol region of southern Israel. They were not ashamed to release photographs in which they could be seen placing the 107mm rockets on sandbags in an amatureish manner. It was the fifth time since December that ISIS in Sinai has claimed that the Israel Air Force acted against them.

This is the new Middle East in which Israel acts (according to foreign reports) wherever it needs to advance its interests, whether its in hostile Syria or Egypt, with the approval of the regime. The collapse of the region’s states has only made this simpler for Israel: to drop ten tons of explosives on a quiet and organized country would draw attention, but to strike in a country in which hundreds of tons of explosives are detonated on a daily basis,is barely even noticed.

Well before the Middle East began to fall apart, the concept of the battle between wars was developed in Israel. This concept developed from the Israeli understanding that embarking on wars and large military operations carries with it heavy, and even untenable costs: in human lives, economic costs and the difficulty in maintaining international legitimacy. The battle between wars concept, which was developed a decade and a half ago, holds that there are many things Israel can do without starting a war.

According to this concept, Israel’s enemies must feel perpetually threatened. They must be surprised everywhere they are found and be forced to invest a great deal of time and energy defending themselves, which will leave them less time to plan attacks against Israel. The battle between wars is meant to perpetually impede the abilities of the enemy, in order to prevent the coming of the next war. And if a war should come – the battle between wars is meant to ensure that the enemy will be at its worst when it begins.

The Syria attacks, which are attributed to Israel, do not fully prevent Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weapon systems, but without the attacks, Hezbollah would have had much more sophisticated aerial and naval defense systems. ISIS in Sinai will also not be beaten by air strikes, and yet they have almost never acted against Israel in the last two years. And these are only the operations of which we are aware.

More than 99% of the activity of the battle between wars does not reach the Israeli public or media. The vast majority of operations are secret, and even those that are affected by them are not always aware of who perpetrated them. Only a small fraction of the operations come to the public eye, when Israel has no choice but to use its air force. An airstrike would be admitting responsibility and always comes with the fear that it will force the other side to respond. But the rest of the time, the operations remain anonymous.

Civilian Intelligence Service

Seven years ago, the Dubai Police revealed the identities of those who perpetrated the assassination of Hamas member Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The passports used by the assassins were exposed to the entire world, and every country could find out when the passports were used, where they were and whom they visited. Mabhouh’s assassination signaled to the world that operations that worked great in the 20th century were now irrelevant in the technological world of the 21st century.

Seven years later, it seems that the lessons from Dubai have been learned. In December, Hamas aerial drone engineer Mohammed al-Zoari was eliminated in the city of Sfax, Tunisia. Police arrested ten people – all people who collaborated with the killers, but without them knowing. They rented cars and bought cell phones for a “European production company.”

Among the arrested was a Tunisian-Hungarian journalist hired by the production company to make a film about Zoari. As instructed by herĀ  “clients,” she met with Zoari twice and set up a third meeting as well, but she didn’t show up to this meeting. In her place, two assassins arrived and fired about twenty bullets at Zoari. The Tunisian police investigation revealed the passports used by the assassins, but these passports could not be tied to any other activity.

Using civilians, or “fools” in intelligence lingo, enables espionage organizations to operate in today’s filmed and networked world. The assassination in Malaysia of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, is a great example of such use. Two young women, Vietnamese and Indonesian, were asked by the “crew” of a TV show to participate in filmed pranks. They were taken to shopping centers, where they were trained on innocent civilians. One of the women would stand in front and get the attention of the victim, while the other would surprise them from behind and grab their face with her hands.

After proving their skills, the two women were brought to the airport in Kuala Lumpur and were asked to perform the prank on Kim Jung-Nam, who was at a flight desk. This time they not only grabbed the victim, but also sprayed or smeared poison on his face. It is not clear whether they understood what they were doing, though at least one rushed to wash her hands after the act. Jong-Nam died before reaching the hospital.

Malaysian police arrested the two women and another North Korean suspect. Four other members of the squad were able to flee the country. Three did not have enough time and rushed to take refuge at the North Korean embassy. The planning of the operation was brilliant, though the execution was less successful.

Israel learned its lesson 20 years ago in Amman and is wary of poisoning operations in public and monitored places. Israeli operations are now much more complex and often combine different disciplines: human intelligence, cyber warfare, technological intelligence, and even cooperation with other countries. One of the main things that is evident in the operations of the ‘battle between wars’ is that when Israel harnesses the best talents and resources to achieve a certain goal – nothing can stop it.

But it is important to carefully choose the goal to which we direct all these resources. The Army Chief of Staff announced last week that Israel has already invested 2.5 billion shekels in developing a technological solution to the Hamas-built tunnels under Gaza. So before we give ourselves the joy of catharsis of the State Comptroller’s report and mourn how we failed in handling the tunnels, it is best to stop and think how much more we want to invest in this issue.

Do we really want to pledge huge chunks of the defense budget to treat the underground? Without underestimating the threat posed by the tunnels, it must not be made out to be everything. We are faced with many other challenges and threats, and our ability to handle them will suffer if we dump all the money underground.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post