White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat have agreed to establish an interagency working group to focus on the threat from Iran’s precision-guided missiles being shared with Hezbollah and other allies. Israeli defense sources told BD that while the Trump Administration focused on how to stop Iran’s gallop towards a nuclear bomb, the issue of Iran’s precision ballistic missiles has been ignored. Israel has reportedly launched at least 200 strikes against Iranian weapons shipments in recent years.
The danger is, of course, that Israel is working hard to suck the United States into a war of its own choosing against Iran and it has a fifth column of allies in the United States that are willing to do its bidding by fair means or foul. Its leadership may be thinking that it is now or never to take the steps to initiate an armed conflict and that just might mean staging a false flag attack on a U.S. merchant or war ship, a diplomatic mission, or a vulnerable military base. The Middle East region is certainly a target-rich environment for those seeking to identify American facilities and vessels, so it wouldn’t be that hard to set up something that could appear to be an Iranian act of aggression that Joe Biden would have to respond to. And he would find plenty of support both in Congress and in the media to do so. Even if the American counter-attack were strictly limited, the prime beneficiary would of course be Israel, which would have made the possibility of any U.S.-Iranian agreement go away forever.
Arab uprisings have registered like a roller coaster ride for the Muslim Brotherhood: quick euphoria was soon replaced by doom and gloom. At first, the Arab rebellions beginning in 2010 seemed to be a process in which the Muslim Brotherhood was about to take over political power in several Arab countries. In Tunisia, the local branch, An-Nahda, was the ultimate winner in elections and remains the biggest political force in the country.
On April 22, in the dead of night before dawn, a Syrian missile exploded only 30 km away from the ultra-sensitive Israeli nuclear reactor of Dimona. The official – and insistent – Israeli spin: this was an “errant”. Well, not really.
The April 11 sabotage attack on the Natanz nuclear plant is an instance of war crime in terms of international law and the UN Charter. Calling the sabotage “nuclear terrorism”, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote a letter to the UN secretary general saying that this “war crime” must not go unpunished given its high risk of releasing dangerous materials. “The deliberate targeting of a highly sensitive safeguarded nuclear facility-with the high risk of potential release of radioactive material-constitutes reckless criminal nuclear terrorism. Considering the possible indiscriminate human and environmental consequences of this international crime, those who planned, ordered, participated and carried out this cowardly act committed a grave war crime; one that must not go unpunished. Any power with knowledge of, or acquiescence in, this act must also be held accountable as an accomplice to this war crime,” Zarif told the UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Israel recognizes Iran as domestically vulnerable, facing a twin economic and pandemic crisis that may reduce Iran's capacity to retaliate. Indeed, Iran's retaliation to date for previous Israeli attacks, both within and outside the country, has been limited, probably increasing Israeli confidence that it can continue to strike Iran with manageable consequences. Israel may calculate that Iran's freedom of action is further constrained by the nuclear negotiations in Vienna, which hold out the prospects for critical economic relief. These Israeli attacks are part of a wider Israeli campaign, termed its “Octopus” doctrine by Israeli politician Naftali Bennett, to target Iran directly, not just Iranian proxies like Hezbollah. This has led to an expansion of Israel's “campaign between the wars,” originally designed to prevent an Iranian foothold in Syria but extending now to strikes on Iranian shipments in the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Israel has also shown that it's willing to strike directly within Iran itself. While sabotage of nuclear sites and assassinations of nuclear scientists are not new Israeli methods, today they are taking place in the context of this broader Israeli-Iranian escalation. This may make such attacks more frequent, as the opportunities and incentives for each side to attack the other in multiple domains and throughout the region increases.
Thus far, the maritime conflict between Iran and Israel has remained at a low-intensity gray-zone level below the threshold of declared hostilities, with both sides seeking to avoid escalation that might disrupt their respective shipping lanes and economies. Yet both countries have substantial special naval warfare capabilities and experience, so neither is likely to settle for anything less than maritime superiority. The pace of their attacks has already increased and can be expected to accelerate further, while also expanding to a larger geographical area and potentially employing additional systems and tactics (e.g., submarines; motherships used as staging posts; longer-range drones and fast-attack vessels). The Saviz incident in particular showed the risk of escalation. By aiming below the waterline, the attack was seemingly designed to cripple or even sink the ship. And despite the vessel’s technical classification as a civilian cargo ship, the attack represented the first operation against a de facto military target, which might compel Iran to retaliate in kind against Israeli naval forces. Moreover, the incident occurred less than a hundred miles from the passing USS Eisenhower carrier group, and afterward, Iran made unsubstantiated claims that other countries may have been involved, pointing to the risk of Washington being dragged into a fight. Ultimately, the extent of the damage to the Saviz might require substantial shoreside repairs and possible withdrawal to Iran. If so, Tehran may decide to maintain the station by deploying one of its new, more heavily armed floating sea bases such as the Shahid Roudaki (IRGC Navy) or Makran (Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, or IRIN). That would mean a substantial, formal Iranian military presence in the Red Sea—a scenario that Israel and other regional powers would find very hard to swallow.
Israel’s alleged attack on Natanz is reprehensible on any number of levels. Had it taken place one day earlier, it could have killed a large number of senior technicians, nuclear scientists and politicians who were at the site celebrating “National Nuclear Technology Day”. Even if Israel deliberately timed its attack to avoid such a scenario, the fact that Israel had the capacity to carry out such an attack is sobering. If any other nation in the world attacked a functioning uranium enrichment facility operating under IAEA safeguards, it would be rightly condemned, and harsh measures taken in retaliation. Israel, however, operates under the umbrella of diplomatic immunity provided by the US. As such, Israel is untouchable, no matter how egregious its actions – even when, as is the case here, they infringe on the diplomatic and national security imperatives and priorities of the US.
For years, Hezbollah has been actively involved in helping the IRGC-QF and its international network of merchants circumvent sanctions and ship oil products directly from Iran to Syria. Thus, Israel’s efforts to disrupt such shipments should come as no surprise—especially after mid-2018, when these deliveries became Tehran’s primary means of financing Hezbollah, and in some cases included arms as well.To be sure, Israel’s maritime efforts are not nearly as extensive as its aerial campaign in Syria, which has substantially diminished Iran’s ability to send Hezbollah weapons overland via Abu Kamal. The naval effort appears to be aimed at hindering, not crippling, Iranian oil shipments, perhaps due to the vulnerability of Israel’s own shipping lanes through the Arabian Sea. Still, its maritime actions have caused delays that deprive the Syrian regime of gasoline imports and prevent hard cash, weapons, and missile production equipment from reaching Hezbollah. More than anything else, these incidents underscore the growing financial interdependency between Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.
Two months after the Joe Biden administration took office, concerns are growing about the lack of progress between the United States and Iran. No breakthrough on the two sides returning to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has happened. Regional tensions are on the rise again. Rockets fired by Iran-backed militias are hitting on or near bases in Iraq that house American troops. The Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched repeated missile attacks against Saudi Arabia. An Israeli ship was the victim of an incident in the Persian Gulf and an oil slick has fouled Israeli beaches.