Editorial |

Israel's Secret War Against Iran

Haaretz Editorial
A damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq.
A damaged building in the aftermath of missile attacks in Erbil, Iraq.Credit: AZAD LASHKARI/ REUTERS
Haaretz Editorial

For years Israel and Iran have been waging a hidden war that has so far had a dual focus – drones and cyberspace. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defined the purpose of this war back when he was serving as defense minister.

“When the octopus’ arms hit you, don’t strike back against the arms alone; Strangle its head,” he said. “For generations, we have fought ceaselessly against the Iranian octopus’ arms in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, but we haven’t focused enough on weakening Iran itself. Now, we’re changing our doctrine, and we’re engaged in a continuous campaign to weaken the head of the Iranian octopus itself through economic, diplomatic, intelligence and military activities, and also in other ways.”

Bennett has been promoted since then and is continuing this policy with even greater vigor. And that’s how another escalation in the conflict occurred this week, when Iran launched missiles from its territory at what it termed a secret Israeli intelligence base in Iraqi Kurdistan. It justified this attack as a response to Israeli drone strikes launched from the autonomous Kurdish region last month that “caused great damage,” according to a television station with ties to Iran.

The Israel Defense Forces also recently killed two Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers in an airstrike near Damascus. On Monday, both sides traded accusations. Iran accused Israel of attempting to attack its nuclear facility in Fordow, while Israel accused Iran of cyberattacks on Israeli government websites.

These rounds of violence are taking place alongside Iran’s negotiations with five other countries over a new nuclear deal, as well as an overt tightening of defense ties between Israel and the Gulf states.

There has been no public discussion in Israel about the targets, modus operandi or results of this “war between the wars” in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. From time to time, the media publishes videos of airstrikes in Syria that have been attributed to Israel, and senior army and government officials have boasted on various occasions about the extensive military activity in the north and east, including the numbers of attacks, enemy fatalities and aircraft lost.

In recent weeks, the war between the wars has even been used to justify Israel’s neutrality between Russia and Ukraine – in complete opposition to the policy of all Western governments, which are supporting Kyiv – on the grounds that Russian President Vladimir Putin allows our air force to operate in Syria, and we’re afraid he might regret this and start interfering.

The official ambiguity is enforced by the military censor, which hobbles any public discussion and makes it impossible to report on decision-making about the war between the wars and about alternatives to this violent conflict, or even whether such alternatives were discussed at all.

We shouldn’t make light of Tehran’s threats. One day, Israelis may wake up to an open, violent conflict without understanding what we’re actually fighting about or what happened here. It’s not enough for Bennett to be waxing poetic about the octopus and its arms. He needs to explain to Israelis what the goals of the war against Iran are, whether trading air strikes and cyberattacks is necessary for national security, and how he thinks a broader escalation can be prevented. Such a discussion is essential in a democratic country.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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