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reflections

Apr 7, 2008 | 03:12 GMT

4 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: An Israeli 'Turning Point'

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Israel launched a major, nationwide military exercise on Sunday. Scheduled to last five days, it is designed to simulate air and missile attacks against Israel, including "unconventional" weapons — which we would assume refers to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The exercise will test Israel's ability to protect its population and maintain continuity of government and military decision-making in the event of such an attack. The Israelis have emphasized that the simulation is not an attempt to raise tensions in the region, nor a cover for an attack against either Lebanon or Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday, "The goal of the exercise is to check the authorities' ability to carry out their duty in times of emergency and for preparing the home front for various scenarios. There is nothing else hidden behind it." The code name of the exercise is Turning Point 2, a choice that bears some scrutiny because code names have become public relations tools. From Operation Peace for Galilee (Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982) to Urgent Fury (the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983) to Iraqi Freedom, the code names selected by Western countries have less to do with the desire for security than the desire for a clear message. (Turning Point 1 was a much smaller exercise that took place last year. However, given rumors flying around the region right now, anything called “Turning Point” will raise eyebrows, even if it was used before.) Thought was given by the Israelis to the name "Turning Point." That choice was intended to deliver a message, and deliver it to two audiences. One audience is the Israeli public. The other is Israel's adversaries, ranging from Hamas and Hezbollah to Syria and Iran. That a message is being delivered along with the exercise is clear. The meaning of the message, however, is more opaque. "Turning point," as Winston Churchill used it in World War II, is that moment in which the trend of the war shifts away from one side and toward another. It is a decisive moment, a point of rectification. From the Israeli standpoint, there would appear to be three conflicts that need to be rectified. The first is the Israeli confrontation with Hamas in Gaza, where an extended stalemate appears to be in place. The second is Israel's conflict with Hezbollah. The Israeli-Hezbollah encounter of 2006 defined a balance between Israeli and Hezbollah forces that is unsatisfactory to Israel. Many Israelis would argue the need for a turning point there — a reinitiation of conflict to change the outcome of 2006 — and Hezbollah has been claiming that this is Israel's intent. The third of Israel's conflicts has been in its relations with Iran. Israel has asserted that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon and delivery system that will threaten Israel. An elimination of that threat through offensive, defensive or combined efforts would certainly be a turning point. The Israelis may have in mind one or more of these actions taking place simultaneously. A combined action in Gaza and the Bekaa Valley would represent an attempt to achieve a turning point in the Israeli strategic position. Either or both of those offensives might trigger missile attacks using chemical weapons. Therefore any operation that would be intended as a turning point in the regional conflict might well contain a defensive scenario against a large-scale chemical attack against Israel from weapons deployed in Lebanon or possibly Syria. The Israelis could also be conducting a necessary exercise for implementing defensive warfighting scenarios under unknown circumstances. They might have chosen the code name simply to jangle nerves in the region. However, over the past weeks we have seen everything from U.S. Sixth Fleet naval vessels moving close to the Lebanese coast, to very convincing reports of Syrian troop movements along the Lebanese border. Jangling the nerves of the region seems superfluous. The name might simply mean that from this moment forward, Israel is ready for unconventional air and missile attack. Or it could be intended as a signal that Israel is interested in a broader turning point. Either way, code names are not casually chosen and the code name for the largest anti-WMD defensive exercise that Israel has ever undertaken was not pulled out of a jar. "Turning Point" is an interesting choice.

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