IDF military intelligence says northern border the greater threat for 2021

What happened: Yesterday the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence (MI) Directorate published its annual assessment on the regional threats the country faces.

  • According to MI, Iran now has 1,300kg of uranium enriched to 4 per cent and 17kg enriched to 20 per cent. In order to manufacture one bomb, Iran will need 40kg of uranium enriched at 90 per cent. To reach this level of enrichment would take Iran about four months.
  • However, a nuclear bomb would still require the construction of a warhead and a missile delivery system. The IDF assesses that it would take Iran at least 21 months to complete this process once a political decision was made. So far, MI believes that such a decision has not been made.
  • They assess that the targeted killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was a significant setback due to his vast knowledge and experience of the Iranian nuclear programme.
  • Head of MI Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman said: “Iran is at an all-time low following the past years, and not just because of the pandemic, but it has not abandoned its nuclear programme or its aspirations to advance it. At the current state, Iran sees the nuclear deal as its only way out of the crisis and is working to at least return to an agreement similar to the one signed in 2015.”
  • In parallel to their nuclear programme, Iran has continued to strengthen its presence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
  • Iran continues to provide high-quality weapons to Syria, particularly “kits” for turning inaccurate rockets into precision guided missiles (see this BICOM briefing for more information). The IDF has continued to target these shipments in Syria.
  • There remains concern that Hezbollah is still looking to initiate a “limited offensive” against Israel in response to the killing of one of their operatives in Syria last summer.
  • On the Palestinian front, the IDF believes Hamas in Gaza is focused on governance issues and describes the situation on the border as “stable but very fragile”.  However, Hamas continues to build military strength and increases its supply of weapons ahead of a future conflict with Israel.
  • The MI assessment also describes the poor economic situation across the region, particularly in hostile countries of Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
  • The report highlights the importance of the Abraham Accords, presenting Israel with new strategic allies in the region.
  • The IDF also notes how Turkey’s aggressive tone has softened in recent months, but it is too early to say whether the country will change its behaviour in the region.

Context: The Iranians seek a return to the JCPOA nuclear agreement to lift US sanctions and alleviate their economic distress.

  • UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA nuclear deal, allows Iran to import components for surface-to-surface missiles in 2023. In 2026, all restrictions on nuclear research and development will be lifted and in 2031 Iran will be able to freely enrich uranium. It is in this context that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi recently warned that returning to the JCPOA, even with some improvements, would be a “bad move.”
  • According to MI, Hezbollah already has several dozen precision-guided missiles, but they do not recommend launching a pre-emptive strike as the IDF has capabilities to counteract them. According to the Maj. Gen. Hayman, “We are constantly working on dealing with the precision missiles and counteract them through various means, both overt and covert. We have already managed to attack hundreds of targets in our battle against these weapons thanks to high intelligence capabilities.”
  • According to MI, Hezbollah has a “shock” unit, which it aims to deploy for a limited offensive lasting two to three days without being dragged into an all-out war. There have been two recent incidents that could illustrate Hezbollah’s current tactics:
    • At the beginning of the week, two unarmed Lebanese suspects infiltrated an Israeli enclave across the border fence. The two were chased off by IDF soldiers, after they fired warning shots in the air.
    • Last week, a Hezbollah air-defence unit attempt to shoot down an IDF over southern Lebanon. The missile missed the target and the IDF did not respond.
  • The stability in Gaza is partly due to Qatar increasing their financial commitment to help the Hamas government from $240m in 2020 to $360m in 2021.

Looking ahead: Overall, 2021 is expected to resemble 2020 in which security threats will be defined by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic ramifications.

  • The IDF says it will work with the new US administration to further strengthening Israel – US cooperation in the region. The senior US security appointments are known and appreciated by IDF officials.
  • Israel is expected to continue its “campaign between the wars” to target shipments of Iranian weaponry in Syria.

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