Against the background of a possible return of the United States to a “nuclear deal” with Iran, Tel Aviv has recently demonstrably intensified the actions of its intelligence services to undermine Tehran’s nuclear program and damage not only this industry, but the Islamic Republic as a whole. And at the same time, Israeli officials make no secret of their displeasure with US President Biden’s desire to revive the nuclear agreement that his predecessor abandoned in 2018. On April 11, Benjamin Netanyahu said that the fight against Iran and its “satellites” as well as against Iran’s arms buildup is the “enormous task” of the Jewish state.
Considering Iran its main adversary, Israel has previously sabotaged Tehran’s nuclear facilities and developments in a variety of methods, from cyber attacks to direct assassinations, including eliminating a number of Iranian nuclear scientists and ambushing a key developer of its nuclear program last November.
And in its subversive actions against Iran, Tel Aviv has always had the support of Washington, with a long history of clandestine cooperation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, starting with the administration of President George W. Bush. Perhaps one of the most famous operations in this collaboration, codenamed “The Olympics,” was the cyber-attack during the Obama administration. As a result, about a thousand centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear center were taken out of service, which set back Iran’s uranium enrichment program for many months.
And now, on April 6, another round of confrontation took place in the form of an ongoing undeclared naval war between them: near the coast of Djibouti in the Red Sea, the Israeli military, according to The New York Times, initiated a mine assault on the Iranian ship Saviz. As reported by the Iranian party, the ship was deployed in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to ensure the maritime security and protection of the Iranian commercial vessels from the pirates operating in the region, serving as a “logistical hub” for Iran in these areas. It should be recalled that, as The Wall Street Journal reported in March, Tel Aviv has already carried out strikes against at least 12 Iranian ships since 2019, particularly those transporting petroleum products to Syria. However, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz claims that The Wall Street Journal revealed “only the tip of the iceberg of the economic war Israel has waged against Iran over the past two and a half years,” as during that time there have been several dozen attacks on tankers that were shipping petroleum products from Iran to Syria in circumvention of US and EU sanctions. As a result, Israel points out, the Iranians have suffered billions of dollars in damages. It is noted that Iranian ships were attacked at various points all the way from the Red Sea to the Syrian coast.
In addition to the Saviz incident, there was another man-made accident at Iran’s Shahid Ahmadi Roshan nuclear facility in Natanz on April 11, which, according to The New York Times, was claimed by American and Israeli intelligence officials.
Under these circumstances, Tehran once again faced an extremely difficult choice of responses to let Israel know that no attack will go unnoticed. Understandably, Iran must find a way to ensure that its retaliation does not block the West from reviving the nuclear agreement.
On April 12, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that Iran intends to avenge Israel for sabotage of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant: “Iran’s response to this incident will be revenge at the right time and place. If the goal of this scheme was to weaken Iran’s nuclear power, it will be the other way around. We will replace the failed IR-1 centrifuges with more advanced ones.” At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the US must stop using economic and nuclear terrorism as leverage over Iran in the current negotiations on the nuclear program.
Realizing the reality of Iran’s retaliation against the Israeli secret services, the General Security Service (Shabak) and the Mossad issued a warning to its citizens on April 12 about Iranian secret service activity on the Internet to allegedly organize the kidnapping or murder of Israelis abroad. However, it should be clarified that Iran has never kidnapped its opponents, while it was Israel that actively used such methods, kidnapping and killing not only Iranian nuclear scientists, but also a number of political figures.
Only couple of days later, on April 13, the Iranian news agency FARS, citing unofficial sources, reported that in northern Iraq, “a group of armed men” attacked an information and operational intelligence center belonging to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, killing and wounding several Israeli soldiers.
On April 13, it also became known that the Israeli ship Hyperion Ray was attacked near the UAE coast and sustained minor damage.
Arab media speculated that the attack on the Israeli intelligence center in Iraq and the Israeli ship might have been Iran’s response to the attack on the Natanz nuclear facility and other recent subversive activities by Israeli intelligence.
In spite of this, Israel continued its undeclared military action against Iranian tankers carrying oil to Syria. Thus, on Saturday, April 24, a fire broke out on a ship carrying oil off the Syrian coast near the town of Banias. According to SOHR, three people were killed in the explosion. In order to avoid further aggravation of the undeclared sea war between Tel Aviv and Tehran, Russia has decided to protect the Iranian oil tankers and other vessels with various cargo for Syria, as reported to the public by the Israeli TV channel 9TV, citing the DEBKAfile website, specializing in military intelligence.
The other day the Israeli Air Force once again attacked Iranian bases in Syria. In response, “unknown units” fired primitive Soviet-design anti-aircraft missiles toward Israel, one of which landed about 30 kilometers from the Israeli nuclear reactor in Dimona.
The recent escalation of confrontation between Israel and Iran is of great concern not only in the Middle East region, because it could eventually lead to direct military action against each other. But their threat is also exacerbated by the fact that the two countries are increasingly involving their nuclear facilities in the zone of mutual actions, which can have very serious consequences not only for the countries of the region, but for a large part of the world as well.
Today both of these states have already shown that they can attack each other’s nuclear facilities without much trouble. But while an Israeli attack, at the current level of development of Iran’s nuclear program, would cause less catastrophic damage, Iran’s damage to the Israeli nuclear center in Dimona would have grave consequences by damaging the plutonium reactor at the facility.
In these circumstances, the need to stop the promotion of such a confrontation between Israel and Iran has never been more urgent for the world community. The United States and the world at large must take the necessary steps to prevent Israel from encouraging its provocative actions against Iran and its over a decade long attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and nuclear scientists, and resolve all problems through negotiation processes, including the renewal of the nuclear deal.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.