Israel: The Iran threat & options
    Analysis by the US Institute of Peace

    REGION  02 June 2023 - 14:19

    For decades, Israel has considered the Islamic Republic to be its greatest adversary. Several governments, led by both the left-wing Labor Party and the right-wing Likud Party, have centred their foreign policies around the threats from Iran, ranging from its nuclear program to its creation of a network of influence across the Middle East.

    Israel has fought Iranian proxies on two borders—a thirty-four-day war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and sporadic tensions with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the 1990s, according to the article published by The Iran Primer website of the United States Institute of Peace on June 1.

    Four decades after Iran’s revolution, Israel’s concerns included:

    - Increasingly accurate ballistic missiles with ranges up to 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) or more

    - Drones—capable of airstrikes, suicide missions and reconnaissance—for domestic use as well as export to Middle East allies and Russia

    - Arming, training, and funding proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen

    - Military deployments in Syria

    - Cyberattacks on the Israeli government, infrastructure and private businesses

    - Plots to kill or kidnap Israeli citizens abroad and attack cargo ships linked to Israel

    Since the 1990s, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, has warned about the existential threat from Iran’s nuclear program. Israel’s goal has been to “thwart” its nuclear advances and “ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region,” he told lawmakers as he started his sixth term in December 2022.

    Since 2013, Israel has gradually expanded the shadow war with Iran and its network of proxies. It’s dubbed the mabam—or “war between the wars”in Hebrew. Israel reportedly conducted three operations in Syria the first year. “Our average today is more than one a week, and we crossed 52 operations in 2022,” Kohavi said in January 2023.

    Netanyahu has long campaigned against the nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015. Netanyahu called the deal a “historic mistake” that failed to curb Iran’s nuclear program. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018; Iran began breaching its obligations 14 months later. The Biden administration launched new diplomacy in April 2021 to get both the U.S. and Iran back into compliance with their obligations in the deal. But talks deadlocked in August 2022.

    In 2021, Israel’s top military official announced that funding and preparations for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites had “dramatically accelerated.” “It’s a very complicated job, with much more intelligence, much more operational capabilities, much more armaments,” Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, then the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, revealed in September. Israel also accelerated the pace and scope of military exercises:

    - May 2022: For the first time, the Israeli Air Force conducted large-scale maneuvers simulating an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

    - November 2022: Israeli and U.S. forces conducted a three-day air force exercise that simulated an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.

    - January 2023: Israeli F-35 stealth fighters participated in drills with six U.S. F-15 fighters. The goal was to simulate attacks deep into enemy territory.

    - January 2023: Israeli and U.S. forces conducted a four-day exercise in the largest joint military exercise to date. The live-fire drill included 42 Israeli aircraft and 100 U.S. fighters, bombers and other warplanes as well as a U.S. carrier strike group. Some 6,400 U.S. personnel and more than 1,100 Israeli personnel were involved. 

    - February 2023: Israeli and U.S. forces conducted a joint exercise called "Juniper Falcon" to strengthen coordination in several fields, including aerial defense and cyber warfare.

    - February 2023: Israeli and U.S. forces conducted a ten-day exercise in Israel called “Intrepid Maven 23.2” to enhance collaboration. The drill included 200 Marines and sailors.

    - March 2023: The Israeli and U.S. air forces conducted a two-week drill in Nevada called “Red Flag” to enhance collaboration in several areas, including attack operations and refueling. Nearly 100 aircraft would take off twice a day during the drill, the U.S. Air Force said.

    - May-June 2023: The IDF conducted a two-week drill in Israel called “Firm Hand” to simulate combat on multiple fronts at one time. The exercise included land, sea, air, and cyber components and reportedly consisted of tens of thousands of soldiers.

    Since 2010, Israel has been widely linked to a least a dozen attacks—involving cyber, covert operations, and assassinations—on Iran’s nuclear program. Jerusalem and Tehran are nearly 1,000 miles apart. Yet Israel has reportedly penetrated deep into Iranian territory and its most secure facilities in two waves.

    The first wave, mainly cyberattacks and assassinations, was between 2010 and 2012 before the launch of nuclear diplomacy with Iran. The second began in 2018 and has included a Mossad raid, sabotage and assassination. 

    In January 2023, the mounting tensions were reflected in the largest-ever joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise. It was carried out by land, sea and air over four days. “Juniper Oak 23,” a live-fire drill, included 42 Israeli aircraft and 100 U.S. fighters, bombers and other warplanes as well as a U.S. carrier strike group. “We know how to defend,” Gen. Herzi Halevi, the new chief of staff of Israel's military, said on January 26.

    “But when someone attacks you, the best defence is to attack him back, so it is offensive capabilities, and we shape it in order to bring a very clear message to Iran: if Iran makes mistakes, offence capabilities are getting ready.”

    Some 6,400 U.S. personnel and 1,100 Israeli personnel participated. “The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,” a U.S. official told NBC News.

    The exercise also deployed two KC-46 air refuelling tankers, which can be used to support a long-range bombing mission.

    In early 2023, U.S. and Israeli officials estimated Iran had not yet made the political decision to produce the world’s deadliest weapon. In January, Kohavi claimed that Iran already had enough uranium that, if enriched further, could fuel four nuclear weapons—three with 20 enriched uranium and one with 60 per cent enriched uranium. (The usual level of uranium enrichment for a bomb is 90 per cent.) Even if Tehran did opt to weaponize its technological advances, it would need up to a year, and possibly two, to complete the multiple steps required to assemble a bomb and then marry the warhead to a missile delivery system.

    The escalating tensions since the 1979 revolution are in stark contrast to the warm ties between Israel and Iran during the monarchy. For decades, Iran sold oil to Israel. Both had close ties to the United States and opposed Soviet expansion in the Middle East. Israel had a de facto embassy in Tehran, while Iran had a secret diplomatic mission in Israel. Iran broke off relations after the ouster of the shah and turned the embassy over to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Tensions heightened after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when Iran dispatched some 2,000 Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon to foster the creation of Hezbollah.

    Caliber.Az

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