A US Patriot missile defense system is seen during the Israeli-US military exercise "Juniper Cobra" at the Hatzor Airforce Base in Israel in March of this year. Photo: AFP/Jack Guez

Israel can expect unqualified support from the Trump Administration in the event of a rocket bombardment from Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, according to a senior Administration official.

The official was asked how the Trump Administration would respond in the event of a war between Israel and Hezbollah in which Israel was compelled to attack Hezbollah rockets behind human shields and inflict a very large number of civilian casualties.

The answer was that the Administration’s unqualified support for Israel’s right to defend itself in Gaza would apply to Hezbollah as well. Not only would the US support Israel diplomatically, but the US would contribute to Israel’s missile defense along the lines of this year’s Operation Juniper Cobra exercise. Presumably, Iran and Hezbollah know this, which makes a war on the northern front unlikely.

According to the Israel Defense Forces website, “Hezbollah militants and arms are systematically embedded in civilian areas and urban population centers. Hundreds of arms depots, thousands of militants, and tens of thousands of rockets are distributed throughout Southern Lebanon alone, an area characterized by its dense Shiite population.”

Juniper Cobra is a five-day joint military exercise, which has in recent years provided training for the potential event of a ballistic missile attack from Iran. The exercises have been conducted every two years since 2001, most recently in March of this year.

America’s energetic backing for Israel may explain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reluctance to escalate the present conflict in Gaza. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned last week in protest against Netanyahu’s decision to call a ceasefire with the Hamas government in Gaza rather than exact a severe penalty for the hundreds of Gazan rockets launched at Israeli civilian targets.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, meanwhile, threatened to take the Israel Home Party out of the coalition and force new elections unless he were appointed Defense Minister, but backed down from the threat after Netanyahu took on the Defense portfolio personally.

Trump Administration officials believe that the Hamas government in Gaza will remain a major annoyance rather than an existential threat to Israel, and that Israel does not want to accept the significant number of military casualties that would result from an invasion of the enclave.

Hamas can’t be stopped from the air, and the cost of a ground incursion would be substantial. With the most pro-Israel US Administration in history, Netanyahu remains in a strong position against Iran and Hezbollah, and can afford a degree of caution in dealing with Gaza, they believe.

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