How to Start a War With Iran

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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An Iranian flag flutters in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, 2019.
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

In January 2010, unknown persons parked a booby-trapped motorcycle near the car of the Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi. The motorcycle exploded and the scientist was killed. That was the first known assassination that began a series of assassinations attributed to the Mossad. It was followed in October 2010 by an explosion in a Revolutionary Guard base in Khorramabad, in which 18 Iranian soldiers were killed. In November, an explosive device was attached to the car of two Iranian nuclear scientists, Majid Shahriari and Fereydoun Abbasi. Shahriari was killed and Abbasi seriously wounded.

Since then there have been hundreds of assassinations, bombings and sabotage in Iranian nuclear installations, cyberattacks on electricity installations and trains, and of course aerial attacks on Iranian bases and facilities in Syria, all of which have been attributed to Israel. Aside from isolated Iranian responses, Iran conducted its war against Israel by means of emissaries, first and foremost Hezbollah. The Iranian attacks against an Israeli-owned ship in April, the attack in early July, and the attack last Thursday against the ship Mercer Street in the Gulf of Oman mark a significant strategic change: direct attacks against Israeli targets.

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It’s not a surprising change. It comes after a long series of attacks attributed to Israel since April, including the attack against an Iranian intelligence ship in the Red Sea; the sabotage at the Natanz facility, after which missiles were fired at an Israeli-owned ship near the Emirate of Fujairah; the explosion in the petrochemical plant in southern Iran; the sabotage at the power plant of the nuclear reactor in Bushehr; the serious damage to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran facility; and the major fire in the installation near Karaj, where it is claimed that centrifuges were manufactured.

Now Defense Minister Benny Gantz is threatening that Israel will settle accounts with anyone who harms it. As though the violent settling of accounts between Iran and Israel begins with the most recent attack, unrelated to Israel’s serial attacks against Iran.

Israel is treating Iran in the same way that it treats Syria, Lebanon or the West Bank and Gaza. To Israel, these are lawless realms, open battlegrounds, in which it is allowed to operate as it wishes and the other side must absorb everything and keep quiet. The lie is that the violent dialogue that Israel is conducting with Iran is a war between wars – in which “you’re actually trying to postpone the war itself as much as possible,” as described by the former commander of the special units division. But what if this “war between wars” is actually a war, or is likely to drag Israel into war? What if it erodes and even destroys Israel’s relations with other, friendly countries?

When Iran resorts to direct attacks against Israeli targets in response to belligerent Israeli actions against it, that is not another war between wars, it’s the beginning of war. Mainly, because there’s no way of knowing how Iran will navigate its continued attacks. Because the way in which Israel is handling the battle against Iran, both in the nuclear arena and against Tehran’s offshoots in Lebanon and Syria, is heating up the potential for war, increasing Iran’s willingness to react and creating a threat to Israel. All this, instead of reducing the threat at a time when there is no certainty that the army and Israel’s citizens are ready to deal with such a war.

The same war between wars, which we have been tricked into believing is a success story, has not succeeded thus far in foiling the Iranian nuclear threat. It did not and cannot destroy the tremendous know-how that Iran has accumulated, the enriched uranium and the motivation to develop nuclear weapons. The only guarantee we have at the moment for postponing the Iranian nuclear threat is a renewal of the original nuclear treaty, on which the United States and the signatory countries are working.

The support and understanding that Israel received from Washington and London after the attack on the Mercer Street should not mislead us. Israel did not receive a license from them to continue with this war. Because the same leaders who are now condemning Iran won’t necessarily side with Israel if, by its response, it undermines the chances of the nuclear treaty.

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