From Iraq to the Red Sea, Iran-Israel Battleground Now Spans Entire Mideast

With Iran expanding its proxies' arsenals, Israel's national infrastructure is also a target

Amos Harel
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Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps march in a military parade on September 22, 2019.
Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps march in a military parade on September 22, 2019.Credit: AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY
Amos Harel

As the eyes of many in the Middle East are focused on northern Syria, a special note should be given to what was said in Tehran. After a mysterious incident off the coast of Saudi Arabia, it took the Iranians time to reach a conclusion as to what happened there. But on Wednesday, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission in Tehran said that Israel and Saudi Arabia were involved in the attack on the Iranian oil tanker that came after a series of similar attacks by Iran on tankers making their way to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In other words, the Iranian account with Israel is still open – and sooner or later an attempt might be made to close it.

Ten years ago there were numerous reports about Israeli actions in the Red Sea, primarily directed against Iranian arms smuggling to the region and against weapons manufacturing sites in Sudan. The international media attributed various operations to the IDF, including aerial bombardments and commando raids on the Sudanese coast. Back in 2002, in the Red Sea south of Sharm al-Sheikh, Israeli naval commandos raided the Karine A, a ship loaded with weapons that the Iranians were attempting to smuggle to the Palestinians. This successful IDF operation at the height of the second intifada also yielded an important diplomatic gain, as it helped Israel convince U.S. President George W. Bush of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s deep involvement in terrorism.

If the latest Iranian claims are accurate, it means the battleground between Israel and Iran, which stretches throughout the Middle East, has been expanded even further. In just the past two months, there have been reports about Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Prior to this, there were even accusations of secret Israeli involvement in the Saudis’ moves in Yemen’s civil war, where Riyadh supports the regime that is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

Most of the moves attributed to Israel were directed against potential Iranian arms-smuggling convoys or weapons systems whose long range would expose Israel to a strike similar to that which happened in Saudi Arabia. However, the latter incident was about inflicting economic damage.

This field of combat is not without risk. Israeli infrastructure sites and other important sites for the Israeli economy are vulnerable to attack, especially with Iran expanding the arsenal of weapons being stocked up by its proxies in neighboring countries and working to improve their precision. It’s hard to escape the impression that the “campaign between wars” has moved up a notch – in the pace and magnitude of events, and how much notice they are receiving. It’s doubtful that things can continue at this rate for long.