Josh Kiernan

How Big a Threat Is ISIS?

The threat to Israel posed by terrorist groups like Hamas, ISIS and other extremist groups, from a purely conventional military standpoint, is limited. While ISIS has achieved rapid success in Syria and Iraq, it has yet to face a true combined arms military like the IDF. While Israel has learned the hard way that airpower alone has its limits, Israel’s overwhelming air supremacy, combined with its large ground forces and technological superiority, means that terror groups can neither launch nor sustain a credible ground invasion of Israel other than occasional symbolic and propaganda attacks and incursions, such as rocket attacks and tunnel incursions. However, in the modern social media age, one cannot discount the impact of propaganda.

So what is Israel’s weak underbelly and what tactics are Israel’s enemies adopting to offset the conventional military superiority of Israel in order to seek a full scale defeat of Israel? The tactic being adopted by Israel’s enemies is a slow, incremental war of attrition. In each Gaza and Lebanese conflict, Israel’s enemies seek new tactical achievements such as launching missiles deep into Israeli territory, which is a relatively new phenomenon for Israelis, and “bringing the war to Israel” through tunnel attacks and limited ground incursions, turning on its head Israel’s long-standing military ethos of taking the battle to the enemy. These incremental battles are intended to provoke a response that leads to high civilian casualties and in turn to isolate Israel internationally, and to culminate at some future stage in a sudden conflagration, to provoke an explosive reaction of pent up rage against Israel that results in a third Intifada, an unprecedented “Intifada” by Arab Israelis, combined with attacks against Israel by terror groups across multiple borders, from Sinai and Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The idea is to overwhelm Israel through assaults from both within and without. Probably the most threatening aspect of this strategy is the risk from within to offset Israel’s conventional military advantage. If Israel is faced with fighting not only across various borders at once, but also fighting a full scale rebellion amongst its own citizens and throughout the West Bank, air superiority and armor will quickly lose their relevance. If Israel ever has to use airpower to suppress its own population, then Israel could go the way of Syria.

The best analogy is the small boxer fighting a much bigger and taller opponent. Like a smaller compact boxer fighting a much taller opponent, the only way he can win is to get in close to neutralize the larger boxer’s advantage of reach. Fighting from a distance, the smaller boxer is doomed. Getting in close, he has the advantage. This is precisely the strategy being pursued by Israel’s fiercest enemies. During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas tried desperately in vain to trigger a third Intifada and to stoke Arab Israeli anger. They did not succeed this time around, but the strategy is clear and eventually they will succeed, whether in the next round or the one after, unless Israel does something concrete to resolve the Palestinian issue and address the increasing dissatisfaction and rage within the Arab-Israeli community.

About the Author
Josh is an attorney specializing in international law. Originally from New York City where he was a student of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University.
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