Israeli military official says low chances of war in 2017

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2016 8:38 AM

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The Middle East regional chaos has weakened Israel's enemies and created a low probability of war involving the country in 2017, a senior Israeli military officer said on Wednesday.

The official said the army has concluded that neither Hezbollah militants in Lebanon nor Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip are interested in sparking a new conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah is bogged down in the Syrian civil war and has sustained heavy losses, while Hamas is deterred and in crisis mode having lost much of its support from the outside, he added.

Still, he cautioned that an unexpected "dynamic of escalation" could always risk sparking a new conflict.

"In 2017, the most probable war is one that both sides didn't want," he said, sharing a year-end Israeli intelligence assessment. He spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity in line with military protocol.

Israel fought a monthlong war with Hezbollah in 2006 and has since waged three wars with Hamas. Both militant groups have been backed for years by Iran and are dedicated to Israel's destruction.

But with the turmoil that has engulfed Iraq and Syria, along with other areas in the region, Israel's enemies are primarily engaged elsewhere, the official said.

Hezbollah, along with Iran, has been the primary force backing Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and has had more than 1,700 casualties since fighting began in 2011 in Syria.

The official said that Iran remains the main "source of terrorism" in the Middle East but it too has suffered in Syria, taking more than 1,000 casualties.

He said that Iran's entanglement in the Syrian war alongside Assad's forces, has led it to scale back in supporting Hamas. The Palestinian militant group has seen its backing plummet from everywhere except Qatar, a staunch supporter of Gaza's rulers.

The military officer also said that Israel has noticed a resulting shift in Hamas' behavior, with the group making a real effort to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israel.

As for the Islamic State group, which has lost much territory in Iraq and Syria in the face of a U.S.-led coalition campaign and an Iraqi government offensive to free the city of Mosul, the officer said it's in retreat but that there are no signs of its imminent collapse.