In Disclosing Two Operations Against Iran, an Israeli Ex-Premier Sparks Debate Over Jerusalem’s Policy of Ambiguity

Israeli operations against Iranian targets, known as the ‘war between wars,’ are the region’s worst-kept secret. Nevertheless, there is ‘a logic to keeping a policy of deniability,’ one analyst asserts.

Menahem Kahana/pool via AP, file
A former Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, May 1, 2022. Menahem Kahana/pool via AP, file

With the Islamic Republic intensifying proxy assaults on the Jewish state, as well as American targets, Israelis are debating a long-held policy of ambiguity over its war with Iran.  

Rocket attacks from Gaza have abated recently as the Israel Defense Force intensifies its war on Hamas. At the same time, Hezbollah is amping up attacks from Lebanon. 

“Iran is leaning on Hezbollah to escalate,” a former head of the IDF intelligence unit, Amos Yadlin, told Israel’s Channel 12 Friday. “Iran is encouraging all those who fight against us, and Israel has apparently decided to take the gloves off.”

Following the killing of a top Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official, Sayyed Reza Mousavi, on Monday, at least 11 IRGC leaders were reportedly killed in eastern Syria Friday. While Israel is widely believed to be behind such lethal operations against the Iranians responsible for arming Hezbollah, Hamas, and others, official Jerusalem refrains from taking responsibility. 

Yet, following the exposure of two 2022 operations on Iranian soil by a former Israeli premier, Naftali Bennett, the long-held policy of ambiguity over its clandestine Iran wars is now being hotly debated. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Bennett says that as prime minister he decided to end Iran’s “impunity” over terrorist acts. 

“After Iran launched two failed UAV attacks on Israel in February 2022, Israel destroyed a UAV base on Iranian soil,” Mr. Bennett writes. “In March 2022, Iran’s terror unit attempted to kill Israeli tourists in Turkey and failed. Shortly thereafter, the commander of that very unit was assassinated in the center of Tehran.”

Mr. Bennett’s article, titled, “The U.S. and Israel need to take Iran on directly,” highlights his long-time advocacy of hitting “the head of the octopus,” rather than endlessly battling Iran’s many proxy arms. Yet, the disclosure of two operations that in the past Jerusalem declined to own up to was widely criticized in Israel. 

“The thunder of these jets must silence needless talk and allow the IDF to act quietly and securely,” the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said at an air force base in southern Israel Friday, in what was widely interpreted as criticism of Mr. Bennett’s article. 

Yet, earlier this week Mr. Gallant hinted that when it comes to action over Mr. Bennett’s “octopus” theory, Israel is not as divided as the Friday debate indicated.

“We are in a multi-front war and are coming under attack from seven theaters — Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran,” Mr. Gallant told the Knesset’s defense and foreign affairs committee Sunday. “We have already responded and taken action in six of these theaters.”

In clinging to the ambiguity policy, Mr. Gallant left listeners guessing over which arena Israel is yet to attack. To date the government has kept mum about operations in Yemen and Iran. Nevertheless, his statement left little doubt that the seventh target, whichever it is, will be attacked as well. 

Israeli operations against Iranian targets, known as the “war between wars,” are the region’s worst-kept secret. Nevertheless, there is “a logic to keeping a policy of deniability” over operations against the Islamic Republic, the policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, Jason Brodsky, tells the Sun. 

At the same time, he adds, “I don’t think there’s going to be much damage” from Mr. Bennett’s disclosure. “When you strike on Iranian soil, Ayatollah Khamenei recoils,” he says. Under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel has hit nuclear-related Iranian targets, but refrained from punishing Iran over terrorist acts. “Bibi is risk-averse, while Bennett is risk-ready,” Mr. Brodsky says.  

Mr. Bennett’s article seemed mostly intended as a wakeup call for America, urging the White House to become more active than it has been in responding to Iranian aggression.  

One of Iran’s proxies, the Houthis, have conducted numerous attacks on ships in the Red Sea, blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways. And last week the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time that a drone that struck an Israeli ship in the Indian Ocean was launched from Iran itself. America, once the guarantor of global freedom of navigation, is yet to seriously address the menace. 

“Only if Israel, America, Britain, and others show they possess the resolve and capability to impose significant costs on Iran, as punishment for its aggression, will they persuade the ayatollahs that proceeding further will bring them intolerable pain,” a former national security adviser, John Bolton, writes in the Telegraph. 

Reacting to his critics, Mr. Bennett wrote on Friday that “the problem with Iran is not the disclosure of our operations that had already been reported on, but that Iran is hitting us through Hamas and Hezbollah, and even the Houthis. We need to recruit America and other allies for the top mission of cutting off the octopus’ head, and to end the Iranian regime.” 

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use