For the better part of the 21st century, Israel has been trying to circumvent Iran’s regional ambitions in the Middle East to become a nuclear state and spread its military power to neighboring countries. By exploiting the disarray in Syria, Iran routinely sends convoys through Syria to arm its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, with precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and other equipment.
Israel has reacted by launching a political and military campaign. Usually it was the political effort that was very public while the intelligence and military activities occurred behind the scenes, however, in the past week or so we have seen a number of mysterious explosions in Iran. It is hard not to see Israeli (and American) fingerprints all over these incidents.
Israel’s intelligence is known to execute audacious missions around the world using creative methods. Look no further than breaking into and smuggling out the secret Iranian nuclear archives in 2019.
The brilliance in Israel’s alleged reactions lay in how they have managed to face Iran on a number of fronts: in Iran, in Syria and in Lebanon. Each one of them is a unique peril in and of itself, but together they comprise the big Iranian threat. Instead of applying a blanket rule for combating Iran, the Israelis broke down its military campaign into smaller components and used its flexibility and creativity to address each one in a unique form.
Israel’s target in Syria is not a Syrian sovereign one, rather it is an independent Iranian actor functioning in Syria. Israel has conducted numerous airstrikes to avoid shipments of Iranian strategic weapons from entering Lebanon. Many times, the Israel Air Force must hit a moving target while avoiding any collateral damage by inadvertently hitting Syrian state assets.
In Iran, though, Israel’s tactics are different. When facing the nuclear program in Iran, Israel is facing a sovereign country. In Iran, it is Iranian assets that are on the Israeli radar.
At first it was Iranian scientists who were disappearing mysteriously. Now Israel has shifted to exploding non-human assets: nuclear-related sites. In this case, Israel is not exercising any military option or airstrike, it is the clandestine work of the Mossad planting explosives in various locations.
Lastly, and perhaps the most unique challenge, is Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is neither a sovereign nor independent actor. It is a semi-governmental organization.
This is why Hezbollah can be a complex and tricky actor to handle. Recognizing this, Israel has not been exhausting its military and intelligence resources against Hezbollah, using a combination of political and financial pressures.
Israel has been applying pressure on many countries to recognize Hezbollah’s political and military arms as a single terrorist organization. By doing so, it would allow financial sanctions on Hezbollah.
At the same time, there is an effort to expose Hezbollah’s revenue stream and dry up those sources of money and disrupt the flow of cash. This requires close cooperation and coordination between legal and financial agencies in a number of countries.
Whether through military, intelligence, political or financial pressure, the extent of the Iranian threat is so great, any options are welcomed. Any opportunity a country has to weaken Iran is an opportunity worth exploring.
The complexity of Iran’s network runs through sovereign, independent and semi-governmental actors. Israel has identified and deployed different methods to tackle the various threats in the Iranian value chain. It is now our time to join Israel in recognizing the full extent of Iran’s threat to the Middle East and the world.
The world must unite in extending the United Nations arms embargo on Iran later this year and not allow Russia or China to exercise their veto powers in the UN Security Council.
The writer is the director of the Project for Israel’s National Security at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC. He formerly served as the international adviser to Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israel’s security cabinet and its energy minister.