Analysis: The long road to Iran
Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah on the Israel-Lebanon border, Dec. 16, 2023.
Photo: Ayal Margolin/Flash90.

According to former IDF officer Gabi Siboni, the path to Iran’s nuclear program goes through Hamas and Hezbollah.

By Yaakov Lappin
May 14, 2024

(JNS) Dismantling Hamas in Gaza and tackling Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon will clear the path to tackling Iran’s nuclear program, a former Israel Defense Forces officer has told JNS. 

Professor Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and the Misgav Institute for National Security, and served as deputy and chief methodologist of the IDF’s Research Center for Force Deployment and Buildup.

According to Siboni, a seasoned consultant to the Israel Defense Forces and other Israeli security bodies, “The war with Hamas must end with the full destruction of its capabilities. Partial measures are insufficient.”

He described the hostage negotiations with Hamas as stalling tactics, telling JNS that the Hamas leadership is merely using them to deceive Israel and play for time. Hamas has no intention to release the majority of the hostages at this time, viewing them as an insurance policy, he said.

International pressure, particularly from the United States, has hindered Israel’s ability to attack Hamas effectively and maneuver it into a situation where hostage talks might actually have a chance of freeing the captives, he added. 

“The large pauses of three to four months were at the behest of the Americans, who constantly pressured Israel not to press Hamas and to reach a deal” with the terrorist group. Such pressure, he added, reflects Washington’s total lack of understanding of the Middle East’s brutal realities.

Relentless military pressure across all of Gaza, constrained only by the need to manage Israel’s military resources, should be the compass guiding Israeli operations, he said.

“There should be no breaks, no interruptions in the fighting,” Siboni said. International misunderstandings of the conflict and the Israeli War Cabinet’s mistaken willingness to accede to this pressure have led to a lack of sufficient pressure being applied to Hamas, he added.

Attempts to reach interim agreements that would see Hamas release 20 to 30 kidnapped Israelis in exchange for a ceasefire of some six weeks would only result in the IDF needing to go back and fight in worse conditions, and would likely doom the rest of the hostages, Siboni cautioned.

On the other hand, sufficient military pressure could convince Hamas’s leadership to release all of the hostages in exchange for safe passage out of Gaza, he said. This, he added, would be a deal Israel should accept.

In the absence of any deal, Israel has no choice but to try to get the hostages out by force, according to Siboni.

Israeli control of the crossings between Egypt and Gaza, particularly at Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor, he said, was critical to prevent Hamas’s resupply and reorganization.

To achieve its war aim of ending Hamas rule in the Strip, Israel will also need to set up a temporary military administration in Gaza until an appropriate civilian element can be found, he said. This civilian element will need to be under permanent Israeli security control to prevent a Hamas resurgence, he added.

Setting up a military administration and dismantling Hamas’s military infrastructure are inseparable goals, he said, criticizing the Israeli defense establishment’s reported resistance against such a measure as unrealistic.

He stressed that it was also important to adjust the public’s expectations regarding the duration of operations in Gaza. “When people ask how it can be that the IDF needs to return three times to the same areas in Gaza, I point to Tulkarem in Judea and Samaria. The IDF has returned there dozens of times since ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ [in 2002],” he said. “Hence this question is superfluous and lacks significance. We will go back again and again to destroy any developing terror threat.”

Turning to the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Siboni said that once Israel begins approaching its key goals in Gaza, following the Rafah operation, the capturing of the Philadelphi Corridor and establishing a routine of targeted operations in northern Gaza, the time will come to turn the IDF’s full attention north.

“We are beginning to approach this time,” he said. 

Establishing IDF control in southern Lebanon to effectively neutralize Hezbollah’s capabilities is an unavoidable and critical security need, he said.

“I do not see a way to end the campaign in Lebanon without IDF military control in southern Lebanon,” he told JNS, arguing that such control is essential to prevent Hezbollah from rebuilding itself after a future Israeli ground offensive.

“It’s true that this will be a tough reality. Control of southern Lebanon means a return to roadside bombs and difficult fighting. But I see no other way,” he said.

An Israeli re-establishment of the security zone in southern Lebanon might not necessarily lead to immediate full-scale war with Hezbollah, he said. However, should Hezbollah or Israel initiate an escalation, this will present Israel with the opportunity to eliminate much of Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets and missiles. 

“Hezbollah would lose the lion’s share of its capabilities in southern Lebanon,” he said. 

A weakened Hezbollah would then clear a path for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which is making alarming progress, he said. 

“The path to dealing with Iran becomes much easier without Hamas and with a diminished Hezbollah,” said Siboni, noting that Iran is heavily reliant on its proxies. “Without its proxies, Iran does not have much. They sent missiles on April 14, and we saw those capabilities. Israel can strike many times harder against an Iran that lacks Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah,” he stated. 

“It’s also worth remembering that Iran is trying to flood Judea and Samaria with weapons via Jordan to create a new war front, and we must act against this. We are in a major conflict against Iran, and it cannot be ended without dealing with the head of the snake,” he said. 

All of this means the IDF will need to be enlarged and reformed, Siboni concluded, adding that “this is the purpose of having a military.” It will need to be active in Gaza, southern Lebanon and Judea and Samaria, and remain actively engaged in these regions to prevent the resurgence of hostile Iranian-backed jihadist forces to maintain long-term security.

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