Brief: Citing arrests in previous weeks of terror networks and the discovery of explosives caches, the Israeli security service Shin Bet is warning of a new wave of terror attacks in Israel. According to the statement, Hezbollah has ordered the networks to “carry out shooting attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli targets, the agents were ordered to help recruit more (Palestinians) for the organization’s activities.” This follows documented intelligence collection by Hezbollah and Hamas networks on Israeli targets, and years of preparation of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to fight another war against Hezbollah.
Here’s why it matters: The next war fought between the IDF and Hezbollah is likely to carry heavy civilian casualties; destabilize the oil trade as additional nations become involved, even through proxy (like Iran and Saudi Arabia); and bring increased volatility to global markets — the very last thing markets need during investors’ current uncertainty amid economic fragility.
While Hezbollah leaders have been boasting of their massive, Iranian-funded rocket stockpiles (some say as many as 100,000 rockets) that will pepper Israeli cities, Israeli leaders have been warning that the next war will be tragic for both sides. (To give you an idea of the potential for Israeli civilian casualties, during the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets, resulting in 50 casualties. If the casualty rate stayed in proportion, Israel could be looking over 1,200 casualties from 100,000 rockets. That death toll does not include the potential of Hezbollah’s other Iranian-funded, mid-range weapons.)
The Syrian conflict, like others, once again pits the West (US, Europe, Gulf States) versus the East (Russia, Iran, and marginally China). Given Israel’s strategic importance, a major war involving Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran could have us looking at not just another ugly regional conflict, but a catalyst leading to global conflict.
Here’s how it could happen: As Iran negotiates its legitimacy and future sphere of influence as an expeditionary force in Iraq and Syria, a permanent Iranian Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) post could be established in Syria, and Iran would be several steps closer to posing an existential threat to Israel. Syria has long been a transit point for Iranian proxy terror groups like Hezbollah, and Iranian involvement in the Syrian Civil War will likely come with benefits.
There are an estimated 7,000 Hezbollah fighters currently in Syria, hardened from years of fighting. Additionally, there are numerous reports that Hezbollah is currently building outposts and bunkers along the Israeli/Lebanese border. Should Iran — with the stated goal of annihilating Israel — begin stationing IRGC battalions on Israel’s doorstep in Syria under the pretense of stability and support to the Assad regime, the IDF could very well find itself fighting a war for its own existence, with Hezbollah to the north, Hezbollah and IRGC fighters to its northwest, and Hamas terrorists along its southern border with Gaza. With an estimated $150 billion windfall from the US and unfrozen assets from the nuclear deal, Iran is in a financial position to make this happen. US Secretary of State John Kerry even admitted that some of that money could go to state-sponsored terror. (The ultimate coup de grâs would be to use US Forces under the Obama/Clinton/Trump administration to contain or clear the Islamic State from Syria and Iraq, and then immediately replace them with IRGC forces.)
Like any prognostication of World War III, these scenarios could depend on either lots of things going wrong, especially diplomatically and politically, or just one thing going wrong (ref: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which started World War I). A major Hezbollah terror attack, or an attack against a strategic target, could send the IDF into southern Lebanon, just like a replay of the 2006 Lebanon War. The likelihood that Israel, Lebanon, and Syria become the battleground for a dozen national militaries is low; however, proxy wars and support to militaries involved would be a near certainty (similar to what the Syrian Civil War currently looks like). Just like World War II had multiple battlefronts, so could World War III expand into a NATO-Russia war in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and/or a Southeast Asia conflict involving China and its neighbors battling for control of the South China Sea. All three regions are flashpoints for future wars, however, no region looks more unstable right now than Israel and Lebanon.
Speaking in June of the future war with Hezbollah, the IDF’s military intelligence chief said:
“If our enemies knew our capabilities and our intelligence, they would spare themselves the next conflict. I’m going to say this with all due caution, but there has never been an army that knows as much about its enemy as we know about Hezbollah.”
After the expensive debacle of the 2006 Lebanon War, I would say that the IDF is much more prepared for the next conflict. (For additional information, read On War: Understanding Doctrine & Intelligence Analysis and “Mowing the Grass”: Five Things We Can Learn from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.)
What to watch for: It’s vitally important to be prepared for a six to 12 month disruption in the oil markets. It’s also fair to assume that the markets would react negatively to a conflict in the Near East, but the real danger is the massive downside at risk from global economic weakness and uncertainty. Furthermore, we should consider these arrests and heightened security situation across Israel (not to mention the Shin Bet warning) as early warning indicators of future attacks. Sustained or major terror attacks followed by the activation of the IDF’s reserve component could signal a future ground war before IDF armor units begin rolling out. If this scenario were to occur, maybe the doomsdayers were right?