Israel Forms Corps for Strategic Strikes
TEL AVIV, Israel -- Amid deepening tension between Iran and its principal adversaries -- the United States and Israel -- the Jewish state has formed a Special Forces command to carry out strategic strikes deep inside hostile territory.
The formation of the new command indicates that Israel's military envisages long-range, largely clandestine and multi-arm operations will have a much higher priority than the conventional operations that have been the main focus of military activity for decades.
Israeli defense officials say the elite new corps' area of operations includes the "third circle," a term that usually encompasses the Persian Gulf and the Horn of Africa.
Indeed, the new formation, officially known in Hebrew as the Depth Corps, has been popularly dubbed the "Iran Command" so ingrained has the Islamic Republic become in the national psyche as the main existential threat to the Jewish state because of its alleged quest for nuclear weapons.
The Depth Corps is the equivalent of the U.S. Special Operations Command that oversaw the clandestine operation that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden in May and will have the authority to initiate special operations.
It's the brainchild of the recently appointed chief of the general staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, until recently head of the Northern Command along the border with Lebanon.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel's most decorated soldier and a legendary Special Forces leader, green-lighted the project.
The corps will integrate the Israeli military's various special units such as the elite Sayeret Matkal of Military Intelligence, the air force's Shaldaq and the navy's Flotilla 13, coordinating their operations and their unique specialties to an unprecedented degree.
Sayeret Matkal was commanded by Barak in the 1970s. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, then an army captain, was one of his officers.
They both participated in the May 9, 1972, storming of a hijacked Boeing 707 of Sabena Belgian Airlines at Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv -- now Ben Gurion International -- held by Black September Palestinian militants to free the 100 hostages aboard the jet.
The new corps will be commanded by Maj. Gen. Shai Avitai, a former Sayeret Matkal chief and a close associate of Barak.
Israel's military objectives are primarily focused on Iran at this time, with threats to unleash pre-emptive strikes, primarily using fighter-bombers and ballistic missiles, against the Islamic Republic's nuclear infrastructure.
But it's also concerned with clandestine arms shipments, mainly from Iran, funneled through the Red Sea into Egypt via Sudan. At least two long-range strikes were reportedly carried out in January 2010 against arms convoys moving north through the Sudanese desert.
But the formation of the new command follows major gains by Islamist radicals in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya amid the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings that began in January.
The seismic shifts in the Arab world's geopolitical landscape, with a savage confrontation under way in Syria between the minority Alawite regime of President Bashar Assad and its opponents that could produce another Islamist-dominated power, have radically altered Israel's security perspective.
One consequence could be the collapse of Israel's landmark 1979 peace treaty with Israel, lynchpin of its political, economic and defense policies for 30 years.
"The establishment of the new corps has been under consideration for the past decade … but was repeatedly pushed back due to more pressing issues," The Jerusalem Post observed.
"What has changed is the nature of the threat that Israel faces, which requires elite units to operate far from Israel and deep within enemy territory."
The Post's military correspondent, Yaakov Katz, said that, Iran aside, likely targets for the Depth Corps is Lebanon and Syria.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria's military between them have tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel.
A prime target would be the Bekaa Valley in northwestern Lebanon, Hezbollah's heartland where it has deployed missiles capable of hitting just about anywhere in Israel.
In the 2006 war between Hezbollah and the Jewish state, the Israeli air force knocked out most of the medium-range missiles Hezbollah had in the Bekaa within the first 36 hours of combat.
In the next conflict, which many in the region believe is inevitable, knocking out the more advanced missile Hezbollah now has will mean boots on the ground.