October 26, 2023 | The Messenger

Israel May Tread Carefully With a Two-Front War Threat

October 26, 2023 | The Messenger

Israel May Tread Carefully With a Two-Front War Threat

Israel has prepared for the possibility of a multi-front war for a decade. Historically, Israel has faced off against threats from the north and south. In 1967 and 1973, it defeated large conventional armies fielded by Syria and Egypt. Today, as Israel fights Hamas in the wake of a massive attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,400 Israelis, there is concern that a second terrorist organization — Hezbollah in Lebanon — might enter the war. 

Hezbollah already has carried out numerous attacks on Israel since Oct. 8, and it has lost more than two dozen members to Israeli retaliation. Yet, concern about Iran and its proxies further escalating the war in the region has led Israel to exercise some caution in Gaza. Israel doesn’t appear eager to fight the multi-front war for which it prepared.

Why might that be? Defeating conventional enemies, such as masses of Soviet-supplied tanks that the Syrians and Egyptians fielded in 1967 and 1973, is much different from urban warfare that involves hunting down Hamas terrorists who hide in tunnels under Gaza. Israel has compared Hamas to ISIS, the terrorist organization that was difficult to defeat. In Mosul, it took nine months to defeat ISIS; I was there, covering the war, when the Iraqi army began the offensive in October 2016, and when it was still fighting in April of 2017. 

Hezbollah is believed to be a stronger organization than Hamas, with thousands of fighters and armed with up to 200,000 rockets. More than two weeks after its attack, Hamas is still firing massive rocket barrages at Tel Aviv. This is different from 1973, when the Egyptians and Syrians did not threaten central Israel.

Israel’s military doctrine since 2020 has envisioned a quick war, one that would harness technology to speed up operations and allow the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to achieve “decisive victory,” in a plan dubbed “Momentum.” The push for this concept was undertaken by Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was chief of staff until January of this year. An article examining Israel’s challenges noted that “the endless cycle of conflicts with Palestinian factions like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) also shows the increasing inability of the IDF to claim victory on the battlefield.”

The threat posed by these terrorist groups indeed has been a challenge. Prior to Oct. 7, it was not widely recognized just how deadly groups like Hamas might become if they could break through the border. Israel had invested $1 billion in a fence to keep Hamas out. But fences require a lot of soldiers to stand guard, and Hamas was able to break through the fence anyway, and circumvent it in other ways, to carry out its massacre.

Israel has waited to carry out a large offensive in Gaza, using air strikes for two weeks against Hamas, while negotiations continue for the release of more than 220 hostages taken by Hamas. During that time, Israel also has carried out raids in the West Bank against other groups such as PIJ, which is also backed by Iran. Hezbollah and Israel are trading exchanges of fire, but this was not how a conflict with Hezbollah was envisioned. As recently as mid-August, a report suggested that Hezbollah might try to pull off an attack similar to what Hamas did, by trying to conquer some communities in the Galilee region. Israel has evacuated 42 communities along the border, because of this threat.

A war with Hezbollah was predicted to involve thousands of rockets fired daily by the group. Although Israel has air defenses to counter rocket fire, this would strain those defenses. And the concern about a wider conflict looms in the region: Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria have carried out attacks on U.S. forces and Iran-backed Houthis have fired missiles and drones targeting Israel. A U.S. warship shot down those threats, reportedly with assistance from Saudi Arabia.

This brings us back to the waiting game that Israel is now forced into as it prepares a ground incursion into Gaza. The IDF has trained for a multi-front war, one that was expected to involve Hezbollah as the main adversary and Hamas as the lesser challenge. Now, after a fierce attack, Israel must defeat Hamas, but its Momentum plan calls for decisive victory over various adversaries. 

Preventing the two-front war has become the priority, which illustrates a tough lesson for planners. Israel prepared for this scenario, but the actual conflict is proving to be more complex and difficult than the vision of a victory on two fronts.

Seth J. Frantzman, Ph.D., is the author of “Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machines, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future.” He has more than 15 years of experience covering conflict and security issues in the Middle East as a correspondent and analyst, and is an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).


Egypt Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jihadism Syria