Commander Concerned That IDF Counter-terrorism in Lebanon Detracts from Deterring Syria

The Israel Defense Force is waging a counterterrorist war in southern Lebanon for which it was not trained, which to some extent impinges on its main task–facing the threat of war with Syria, Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled, commander of the northern sector, said in a frank interview broadcast by the Army Radio recently.

But he also made a strong case for the presence of IDF forces in the south Lebanon security zone, explaining that the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) contributes much, but is not yet capable of performing all of the tasks required.

He stressed that the IDF deters any plans by Syria to go to war to retake the Golan Heights. But to remain a deterrent force, it must maintain its toughness and qualitative superiority and the Syrians must be kept aware of this.

Discussing counter-terrorist activities, he said: “The IDF can’t fight in a routine manner within the framework of the war against terrorism–maintaining outposts and patrolling. This is a very complex matter. It’s not exactly the military method taught in military schools. It’s a different form of combat. It must be a sophisticated way of fighting, not routine.”

Peled explained, “We have to go to them (the terrorists) at an unexpected time, unexpected place, knock on their door and say ‘we’re here.’”

Asked why this kind of warfare cannot be waged from within Israel’s border, the General replied: “Don’t be naive. Ninety percent of the incidents in the security zone today occur at a distance of four, six or a few more miles from the northern settlements. If we weren’t stationed inside the security zone, all of these incidents would be on the border, including Katyushas.” Katyushas are rockets.

He said the SLA will eventually be able to perform more of the duties assigned to the IDF. “We need patience in this matter, I believe that if we give the SLA the correct support, we will be able to entrust it with most of the burden.” he said, but it will be a long process.

Asked if day-to-day operations in south Lebanon reduced the IDF’s ability to carry out its primary objective to prepare for a war situation in the north, Peled said, “In all sincerity, Lebanon certainly robs me of much time, but I am glad that we have found a way to balance these two matters, both with respect to time and to means.” He added that something “urgent” must not become something “important.”

“What is urgent is the daily confrontation with terrorism. I estimate that in the past year we have taken several steps forward regarding the Syrian front as well…It’s a clear decision in which you tell yourself that you will handle both, because it is very easy to be swept away by Lebanon and deal with it 24 hours a day,” Peled said.

He does not believe that threat posed by the Syrian army has lessened. “The Syrian army is a large army, equipped and equipping itself with very advanced combat material: on land, with advanced tanks; in the air, I estimate it’s a matter of time until we see the MIG-29 flying in Syrian skies.

“The Syrian army trains, and I don’t believe that they’re maintaining this large army to hold parades in Damascus. I allow myself to assume that there are other reasons which prompt a country like Syria–with its economic situation–to maintain such an army,” Peled said.

“I believe it is naive to think that the Syrians, because 20 years have passed, have gotten used to the fact, that we are on the Golan Heights…In their opinion, the Golan Heights is a strip of land which has been taken away from them and which has to be returned…”, Peled said.

He stressed that the IDF must make its deterrent capacity evident in order to prevent war because casualties would be heavy if war broke out.

“Deterrence capability is what we demonstrate always,” he said. “How we are viewed by the Syrians…is connected with our level of discipline. If we demonstrate confidence, if we demonstrate capability, if we demonstrate high standards, it’s no secret that in some cases the Syrians simply sit and watch our training. There’s little distance between us.”

Peled added, “If we demand tough training of ourselves, they’ll see, hear and know this; if we don’t compromise on standards and we come across as a quality army, there’s a chance that we can maintain our deterrent capability. If we maintain our deterrent capability, there’s a chance that the other side–despite its inability to accept to fact that we are on the Golan Heights–will perhaps think twice whether it is worth clashing with us in a war.

“If we don’t act this way and act instead like ‘nebechs’ and wretched souls, and demonstrate wretchedness and inability, I believe we’ll bring war closer,” Peled said. “Therefore we have to demand much from ourselves. Only through uncompromising demands from ourselves will we be able to maintain our deterrence capability.”

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