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As the Israeli army bids farewell to a bloody year, what does 2023 hold for it?

Israeli forces with tear gas and rubber bullets, in Ramallah, West Bank on December 08, 2022 [ssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli forces with tear gas and rubber bullets, in Ramallah, West Bank on December 08, 2022 [ssam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli army bid farewell to 2022 with its Human Resources Division revealing the number of soldiers killed in various incidents. The figures show that 2022 was a bloody year with 44 soldiers killed, the highest figure since 2017. Three were killed when tackling resistance fighters in the occupied West Bank, 14 committed suicide, and the rest were either killed by their colleagues in so-called friendly fire, aircraft accidents and training or road accidents. This is an increase on the figures for 2021, during which 31 soldiers were killed; 2020 with 28 killed; 2019 with 27 killed; and 2018 when 43 were killed. In 2017, 55 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The morale of Israeli soldiers is low. How much of this is due to more persistent resistance by the Palestinians is hard to say, but some soldiers have taken legal action against the Ministry of Defence citing illness as a result of what they have to go through when serving in the occupied Palestinian territories. There is also a significant increase in the number of armed forces personnel who leave the services for the same or similar reasons. Compensation is demanded for the psychological problems that arise during military service.

Palestinian resistance against the military occupation is entirely legitimate under international law, using whatever means available. Resistance tactics have changed. In 2015, most attacks were carried out with knives, but last year there were a large number of shootings. Moreover, the trend in the West Bank is towards the use of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

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The Israeli security services are pushing for legislation to deter this phenomenon. This coincides with attempts to shake the security situation among Israel's Palestinian citizens — who make up 20 per cent of the total population — and supply them with weapons. Arms smuggling is increasing dramatically, either from Jordan or thefts from army bases. Almost 600 smuggling attempts were thwarted by the army in one year alone.

The beginning of 2023 has already seen Israeli military officials talking about an escalation in security and military threats, and an escalation in Palestinian resistance. Furthermore, security officials are concerned that young Palestinians aspire to become a new model of resistance fighter. The warning is that the West Bank will witness more attacks against the occupation forces.

Palestinian resistance is not going to disappear overnight. Perhaps the most important factor for 2023 is, to a large extent, what Israel will do. Everyone knows that the outcome of the recent Israeli election — an extreme far-right coalition government — poses a real and strategic threat to occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Palestinians within Israel. Far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's "visit" to Al-Aqsa Mosque last week is indicative of why Israelis are pessimistic because they expect the resistance acts to increase in response to such provocations by Israeli politicians.

With enormous challenges for the Israeli occupation and its army, 2023 could be a decisive year. The air force is updating its aircraft and training round the clock, and tries to isolate Iran through international cooperation and "air diplomacy". The army, meanwhile, is preparing to face challenges from Lebanon, and addressing its weaknesses exposed by new arms smuggling methods. This year could see Israel facing previously unheard-of challenges.

Israeli occupation forces look set to increase their policy of bulldozing Palestinian land and property in 2023 - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israeli occupation forces look set to increase their policy of bulldozing Palestinian land and property in 2023 – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The air force will probably escalate its work in "third circle" countries as it seeks to develop its capabilities in order to attack Iran, a matter of crucial importance for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel needs to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to its enemies, curb Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and succeed in its series of overt and covert operations to prevent war on more than one front. Air force officers want more F-35 fighter aircraft.

At the same time, the Israel Defence Forces prepare to receive new helicopters, refuelling aircraft and drones. The Iron Dome missile defence system is being prepared to cover the whole country, while the Israeli arms industry is working with the IDF to develop weapons to face new threats, such as cruise missiles, suicide drones and coastal missiles, which Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah possess. This requires closer military relations with Europe, the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt, including joint exercises.

Israeli preparations for 2023 reveal that the IDF's main weakness is related to its ability to develop cooperation between army, navy and air force intelligence units. They are working on different training scenarios, including attacks on densely-populated areas such as Gaza, for example; the occupation and control of territory in Lebanon from where missiles are fired; and large-scale raids in the occupied West Bank.

One new challenge that worries the Israeli occupation army is Iran's attempt to establish new routes for transporting weapons using direct flights from Tehran to Lebanon, after the failure of the attempts to smuggle weapons to Syria, and from there to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This may lead to the possible transfer of the "battle between wars" from Syria to Lebanon; Israel has already sent a message to the Lebanese government that Beirut International Airport could be attacked, just as Damascus Airport has been attacked, if Iranian arms shipments are landed there.

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However, Israel knows that bombing Syria is easier than attacking Lebanon, where Hezbollah is believed to have more than 100,000 missiles, which are a deterrent to Israel. Although both sides appear unwilling to have a military confrontation, 2023 may bring developments that are beyond their control.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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