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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, but in the past week or so we have seen a number of mysterious explosions in Iran. It is hard not to see the Israeli (and American) fingerprint all over these incidents.

(July 24th, 2020 / The Jewish Voice)

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 comprise the big Iranian threat. Instead of applying a blanket rule for combatting Iran, the Israelis broke down their military campaign into smaller components and use their 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 the shipment of Iranian strategic weapons from entering Lebanon. Many times, the Israeli air force must hit a moving target while avoiding any collateral damage of 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. Nowadays 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 their military and intelligence against Hezbollah, they have been using a combination of political and financial pressure. Israel has been applying pressure on many countries to recognize Hezbollah’s political and military arms as a 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 out” those sources of money and disrupting 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 is 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 UN arms embargo on Iran later this year and not allow Russia or China to exercise their veto power in the United Nations Security Council.

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About the Author

Benjamin Weil
Benjamin Weil is Director of the Project for Israel’s National Security at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He formerly served as the international adviser to Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet.

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