A new direction in Israel's war-between-wars campaign?

Iran has not placed the blame for a series of explosions targeting its missile and nuclear program, but says it knows who is behind them.

IDF recruits at the Military Intelligence language school (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF recruits at the Military Intelligence language school
A series of mysterious “accidents” targeting Iran’s missile and nuclear program is a significant rise in tensions between Israel and the Islamic Republic, leading many to wonder if the IDF’s war-between-wars campaign has expanded to target key nuclear sites.
It started last Thursday when an explosion rocket a facility close to Iran’s Prachin military complex. While Tehran said the explosion was caused by a gas leak, satellite photos later showed that the blast took place at a nearby missile production facility.
It was followed by an explosion at a hospital in Tehran that killed 19 people. And on Friday, a large fire caused extensive damage to a building at the nuclear complex at Natanz, Iran’s largest uranium-enrichment facility. A previously unknown dissident group, saying that it was opposed to Iran’s security apparatus and calling itself the Homeland Cheetahs, claimed responsibility.
On Saturday, another fire was reported at a power station in the southern Iranian region of Ahvzaz, close to the Iraqi border.
While the explosion at the hospital may not be linked to the mysterious “accidents” - Iran is known for its aging infrastructure - many are skeptical about the reasons behind the explosions at key nuclear sites.
Israel has warned repeatedly about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as aspirations of regional hegemony. It has admitted to hundreds of airstrikes as part of its campaign of “war-between-wars” (known in Hebrew as Mabam) to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of its forces in Syria where they could easily act against Israel.
In late June, as part of the IDF’s new Momentum multi-year plan, the military opened the Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, an entirely new position on the General Staff, which will focus principally on Israel’s fight against Iran.
Speaking at the ceremony marking the opening, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned that Iran has become the most dangerous country in the Middle East and that “it’s made significant progress with its nuclear program, but the nuclear [threat] is no longer the only threat. Iran also possesses conventional weapons.”
The new directorate, under the command of Brig.-Gen. Tal Kalman, is expected to bolster the IDF’s attack capabilities, including in the cybersphere.
BUT EVEN before the directorate became operational, Israel was accused of launching a major cyberattack on Iran’s Shahid Rajaee port, near the coastal city of Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz, causing chaos for days when the facility’s computer system crashed after being suddenly hit by hackers on May 9.
Troops from the IDF’s elite Military Intelligence Unit 8200, Military Intelligence’s Research Division and the IDF’s Operations Division, whose work and cooperation “resulted in a unique and impressive operational achievement,”  were later awarded certificates of appreciation by head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Tamir Hayman.
While the military did not expand on which operation they were given awards for, Hayman said that the “mission was a first and significant step on a long path.”
Like Israel’s war-between-wars campaign those who carry out cyberattacks usually do so far from the target and anonymously in order to allow for some plausible deniability to prevent an escalation.
Though it is unclear what sort of damage was actually caused to the various sites, Israel has been accused by Iran of being behind the attacks.
On Sunday, speaking to Army Radio, Defense Minister Benny Gantz denied that Israel was behind the incidents, saying “not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us... All those systems are complex, they have very high safety constraints and I’m not sure they always know how to maintain them.”
Foreign Minister Gaby Ashkenazi meanwhile hinted otherwise, saying at the Maariv conference that “we have a long-term policy over the course of many administrations not to allow Iran to have nuclear abilities. This [Iranian] regime with those abilities is an existential threat to Israel... We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
While the two former IDF Chiefs of Staff may not be on the same page, Israel knows that it should prepare for any cyber retaliation by Iran. Though the Islamic Republic has not responded to Israeli strikes on its infrastructure in Syria, it is no fool when it comes to cyber-warfare, having been accused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of conducting daily cyberattacks against the Jewish state.
When Israel and Iran allegedly exchanged cyber-jabs two months ago, Yigal Unna, the director-general of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, warned that a “cyber winter is coming even faster than I suspected.”