TEL AVIV: The long-simmering ‘shadow war’ between Israel and Iran appears to have boiled over in recent days in the form of an unprecedented missile strike, a widespread cyberattack and an alleged plot of nuclear sabotage.
The developments could be a precursor to an escalated, though still largely opaque, conflict between the two Middle Eastern nations if a new Iranian nuclear deal between Tehran and the West is signed, Middle Eastern sources say. Israel has vocally opposite the deal, arguing that the sanctions relief will fund Iranian violence and let Israel prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“We know very little about this war, but it is clear that Israel is going to hit Iran in different places with as few fingerprints as possible,” one of the sources told Breaking Defense.
Similarly, last month Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel was “organizing and preparing for the day after.” [the deal]in all dimensions, so that we can maintain the security of the citizens of Israel on our own.
The exact nature of these actions and how Iran might retaliate remain unclear, but the series of dramatic incidents in recent days could point to an asymmetric back-and-forth.
Over the weekend, Iran took the drastic step of launching missiles from Iranian territory into Iraq, hitting targets in Erbil that Iran claimed were linked to the Israeli government – an allegation by the governor of Erbil refuse. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the missiles were aimed at a “civilian residence”.
The strike came days after Iran said Israel had killed two members of the Revolutionary Guards in a strike in Syria, after which Iran threatened revenge.
Hours after the missile strike in Erbil, Iran claims on Monday, he dismantled an Israeli spy ring that aimed to sabotage an Iranian nuclear facility.
Around the same time, Israeli government websites came under scrutiny. widespread DDoS cyberattack — one that an Israeli cyber official later described as “routine…although it has a significant volume.” No claims of responsibility have been made, but Israeli cybersecurity experts suspect Tehran-backed hackers. (DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, attacks are relatively unsophisticated attacks that attempt to flood servers with traffic to overload them.)
Former senior IDF official Amos Gilead told Breaking Defense that he does not believe the recent and alleged Iranian actions were directly related to the nuclear deal, which Iran supports, but rather in retaliation for perceived Israeli operations.
Still would have to the nuclear agreement is signed, these Israeli operations should expand. Sources told Breaking Defense Israel that it is preparing a list of actions against Iran aimed at slowing what Israel sees as Tehran’s march towards nuclear weapons. Proponents of the nuclear deal would disagree with the underlying assumption and say the deal is designed specifically to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon any time soon.
But if the shadow war were to expand, sources in the Middle East said Israel was watching the potential for unmanned operations very closely – both their own and their adversary’s. According to a report by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Miyadin, last month Israeli drones hit an Iranian facility that was itself a storage location for Iranian drones, hundreds of which were reportedly destroyed.
Israel has never admitted to using armed drones, but foreign media and organizations have suggested otherwise. Britain’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), for example, claims that Israel employs at least three types drones that can be armed: the Heron TP, the Hermes 450 and the Hermes 900.
Last week, Israel revealed that in 2021, two of the country’s F-35s brought down two Iranian drones from the sky – the first known air-to-air kills for advanced fighters. In the same briefing, Israeli officials said Iran’s drone industry is huge and diverse in the types of drones produced, some based on the reverse engineering Western drones that fell into the hands of Tehran, and others of Iranian design.
Iran’s unmanned capability may have been hinted at on Monday and Tuesday this week, when Israeli Defense Intelligence Chief Major General Aharon Haliva and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, Major General Herzi Halevi, met separately with US officials at the Pentagon. According to a brief reading by the US Department of Defense, the Halevi meeting focused on a “range of issues related to common goals for a stable and secure region of the Middle East, including discussions on a coordinated policy for continued actions. aimed at repelling Iranian aggression and destabilizing activities”. in the Middle-East.”