The recent military operation in Shebaa, and Hezbollah statement of responsibility for it, posed questions and tested again the templates that shape the Israeli intelligence assessment towards Hezbollah. If the operation itself had indications that urge Israel to think long about them, rapid announcement of the operation by Hezbollah would have broader and more comprehensive indications.
Has Israel underestimated intentions, specifically the one to respond to attacks inside Lebanon?
Definitely yes. Underestimation is undebatable in Israel. The debate is focused on whether the intentions of Hezbollah would be expanded to more than a respond, and then a respond to a respond, leading to a broader military confrontation.
Major General Amos Yadlin, former head of military intelligence and acting chief of Center for National Security Studies, warned in a radio interview, two days ago, the intelligence service from committing the mistake of prior templates. He called for the need to work to avoid crucial estimates, and specifically toward Hezbollah, because the error of underestimation in the Lebanese arena is much different than in other arenas.
Yadlin pointed out that Israel should be aware of committing a mistake of another kind, i.e. miscalculations regarding events and operations called “positional incidents”, because they would be escalated towards a broader and more comprehensive military confrontation, even if both parties – Hezbollah and Israel – have no intention to initiate it.
Basically, every Israeli hostile action is preceded by an assessment of the other party and its capability to respond or to refrain from responding. This estimate is an integral part of any hostile action Tel Aviv may carry out, and specifically in the face of Hezbollah. Therefore, when the Israeli launched attacks in recent months, it was depending on the estimation that Hezbollah is preoccupied in fighting the takfiri threat in the Syrian and Lebanese arenas, preventing it from responding to attacks.
From this point, Hezbollah response in Shebaa Farms did not only drop the equation which Israel wanted as well as its estimated template, but also revealed shortcomings of the Israeli intelligence in understanding Hezbollah decision-making mechanism, its logic and its vision. The response (Shebaa operation) is an extension of the many previous stations which proved that Hezbollah surprises Israel, either by the action and reaction themselves, the timing or the style.
At the same time, Israel realizes that Hezbollah responses are still – so far – limited to infiltrations and planting explosives, despite it has the ability to use other methods, and enjoys substantial margin to response to attacks, yet this is linked to the interest assessment among the Resistance leadership. This issue is well known to the political and security decision makers in Tel Aviv.
In this context, Haaretz newspaper said yesterday the big question on the Israeli intelligence table is: “Have our intelligence underestimated Hezbollah confidence?” Aside from the style of the question and its moderating words asked to intelligence assessment mediums in Tel Aviv, it is a reference to the need to reconsider the prior templates, and look for intelligence mistakes towards Hezbollah, and specifically towards its intentions.