Based on what has been reported to date about the Lebanese national arrested in Cyprus on suspicion of planning to attack Israeli targets, his plans don’t seem to have been very advanced: He was found only with photographs of sites frequented by Israeli tourists and schedules of Israeli flights. But if Hezbollah really was planning to blow up an Israeli plane or cruise ship, this was an unusually ambitious plot.
Protecting Israel’s air traffic is high priority for the Shin Bet security service, right up there with protecting Israeli embassies abroad. Thus, had Hezbollah actually attacked a plane successfully, this would have been tantamount to declaring war.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly accused Iran of being behind the plot. Netanyahu doesn’t distinguish between Iran and its agents, and the Western world concurs that Iranian terror attacks worldwide are often co-produced by Hezbollah. Over the last year, the Lebanese group is thought to have been involved in thwarted Iranian plots against Israeli targets in Thailand, India, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kenya.
Do the reports from Cyprus indicate that Hezbollah and, more importantly, Iran is now seeking war? Tehran is undoubtedly under pressure. Its principal ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, is on the rocks. Iran’s hopes of leveraging the Arab Spring to foment revolution in Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite majority, have so far been dashed. And international economic pressure on Iran is steadily growing: A European oil embargo took effect on July 1. All this pressure creates a desire to divert attention elsewhere, and Iran is apparently letting off steam via provocations like the recent plots uncovered in Cyprus, Azerbaijan and Kenya. But the more international pressure increases, the more likely it is that Iran will not confine itself to attempting to attack Israeli targets overseas, but will also try to heat up Israel’s home front via attacks from Lebanon or Gaza. Iran is playing a very dangerous game here, whose flip side is its frequent threats to disrupt oil supplies from the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, the United States is quietly amassing a naval force near the gulf.
Interestingly, Israeli leaders have significantly lowered the volume of their own threats against Iran recently. But at a time when Israel’s dilemma on Iran has been boiled down to a four-word slogan, “bomb or be bombed,” a third scenario must also be considered: A poorly-thought-out Iranian move, in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere, could ignite a conflict even before anyone decides to attack its nuclear facilities.
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