In recent weeks, Israel has issued a slew of warnings concerning the possibility of an attack from Iran, its arch enemy.
Iran, which once had diplomatic relations with Israel, turned against the Jewish state in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution. In the past couple of years, Iran’s hostility has spiked under the impact of Israeli Air Force raids on its military infrastructure in Syria, which has been convulsed by a civil war since 2011.
Analysts believe that Tehran’s increasingly confrontational stance toward Israel also has been fed by its success in attacking Arab and U.S. targets in the Middle East with relative impunity. Last summer, Iran and/or its Houthi ally in Yemen staged a succession of attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, damaged a key oil production site in Saudi Arabia, and downed a U.S. drone in its air space.
U.S. President Donald Trump called off a retaliatory strike, but was later reported to have ordered a cyber attack on Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently claimed that Iran was emboldened by the lack of a forceful response from the United States. As he put it, “Iran’s brazenness in the region is increasing and even getting stronger in light of the absence of a response.”
Netanyahu, too, predicted that Iran would attempt to strike Israel from Yemen. “The area around us is turbulent and stormy,” he said. “The threats are popping up in every corner …”
“We’re preparing for the threats and we won’t hesitate to land a tough blow on whoever tries to harm us,” he added. “Iran’s brazenness in the region is increasing and even getting stronger. But Israel won’t turn the other cheek. Whoever is bent on aggression … will pay a heavy price.”
Netanyahu’s comments came in the wake of concerns voiced by two of Israel’s top generals.
Aviv Kohavi, the chief of staff, has warned that a war could be on the horizon: “In the northern and southern areas, the situation is tense and precarious and poised to deteriorate into a conflict despite the fact that our enemies are not interested in war. In light of this, the Israel Defence Force has been in an accelerated process of preparation.”
Amikam Norkin, the commander of the Israeli Air Force, has said that Israel’s multi-tiered air defence system is on high alert due to the belief that Iran will eventually try to exact vengeance for Israel’s air raids against its forces and proxies. “Arrow, Patriot, David’s Sling and Iron Dome batteries are on alert,” he said in a reference to the long-range, mid-range and short-range systems that Israel deploys.
Norkin acknowledged that “the challenge of air defence has become more complicated” because Iran and its allies can launch low-altitude cruise missiles and drones, which are more difficult to detect and intercept.
Israel has also expressed a concern that Iran is helping Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia, build precision missiles. This project, if successful, would enable Iran and its proxies to accurately hit strategic Israeli targets — a capability that Israel would consider intolerable.
In addition, Iran is assisting Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. Israel assassinated one of its senior commanders, Baha Abu al-Ata, on November 11, prompting Islamic Jihad to fire more than 170 rockets at Israel the following day.
Iran’s attempts to confront Israel and assist its enemies have led to an uptick of tensions between Israel and Iran in the past year and a half.
In Syria, Iran’s closest regional ally, Iran has been entrenching itself militarily on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Since Iran’s activities are a clear and present threat, Israel has bombed Iranian bases in Syria hundreds of times.
In February 2018, Iran struck back, launching an armed drone toward northern Israel. Although an Israeli helicopter gunship downed the projectile, Israel upped the ante by bombing dozens of Iranian facilities in Syria. During one of these sorties, an Israeli F-16 jet was shot down by a Syrian missile, Israel’s first loss of an aircraft in more than three decades. The pilot bailed out before his plane crashed into a field in the Galilee.
As Israel continued to bomb yet more Iranian — and Syrian — sites in Syria, Iran vowed vengeance. In May 2018, in the first direct military confrontation between Israel and Iran, Iran fired a barrage of rockets at Israeli army bases on the Golan Heights, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six Day War. Israel replied with a massive round of airstrikes targeting Iran’s bases in Syria.
Three months ago, Israeli jets struck camps in Syria belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, pro-Iranian Shi’a militias and Hezbollah to thwart a planned drone attack by these groups against Israel.
Last summer, Israel reportedly began bombing the bases of the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. Since July, nine such strikes have been recorded. On September 30, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi blamed Israel for these attacks.
Amid the spiral of violence, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Hossein Salami, threatened to destroy Israel. “This sinister regime must be wiped off the map,” he declared in Iran’s latest threat to annihilate Israel. “This is no longer … a dream (but) an achievable goal.”
Salami’s issued this threat just days after his deputy, Abbas Nilforoushan, warned that an Israeli attack on Iran would result in the destruction of Tel Aviv. As he put it, “If Israel makes a strategic mistake, it will have to collect bits and pieces of Tel Aviv from the lower depths of the Mediterranean Sea.”
Iran’s comic book threats are bombastic and blood-curdling, but Iran may well try to make good on them in the near future.