Nothing said “We know where you live!” more than the information briefed to the media on Tuesday morning by the Israeli security establishment.
In the dossier sent to reporters was satellite footage of airbases in Syria, with enlarged insets of what Israeli intelligence says are secluded compounds of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), being used to launch drones.
They also released a map showing the location of five bases used by the IRGC in Syria, a satellite photo of its main base at Mehrabad airport in Tehran (where cargo planes are loaded with arms destined for Syria) and, for good measure, a mugshot of the IRGC air-forces commander, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh.
Such a blunt and detailed warning in the shadow-war which has been ongoing between Israel and Iran for nearly four decades is unprecedented. It is a sign of how concerned Israel’s leadership has become over the direct confrontation developing over the last two months between the two countries.
Iran once fought Israel through proxies, mainly Hezbollah and Palestinian movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But since the attempt by the IRGC to enter Israeli airspace two months ago using a drone (which Israel claims was carrying explosives), and the resulting attacks by Israeli warplanes on the T-4 airbase from where the drone was launched, the confrontations has become direct.
On Monday, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quoted an Israeli officer telling him that the strike on T-4 last week, in which at least seven IRGC officers were killed was “the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people”.
The IDF spokesman later tried to have the quote retracted and clarified that Israel’s policy of not acknowledging attacks was still in effect. But the content of the quote was not denied.
Israeli intelligence believes that the Iranians now intend to go ahead with their plans to build permanent bases in Syria. Despite the consistent urging of Benjamin Netanyahu, neither the Trump administration or the Kremlin are going to stop them.
Neither have threats to strike at President Bashar Assad’s regime worked. The IRGC air-force’s expansion in Syria is taking place in order to enhance the regime’s air-defence capabilities, and to add an offensive dimension in the shape of attack drones. The Iranians hope these will deter Israel’s air-force from operating over Syria.
Iran’s closest ally, Hezbollah, has been explicit. “The axis of resistance will not allow its freedom restricted in Syria,” said Hezbollah’s deputy leader his week. “Israel is trying to show that it dictates the rules of the conflict and we cannot agree with this.”
Both sides are trying to steal a march on the other. Israel was monitoring Iran’s drone operations and was ready two months ago to shoot down the first that entered its airspace. By striking at the Iranian compound at T-4, Israel hopes to have preempted the Iranian buildup. But it has also escalated the confrontation.
Iran will now feel compelled to retaliate, perhaps as early as this week, to try and dampen Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations.
Israel’s threats are unlikely to change Iranian plans, but they may compel Russia or the US to act. If not, the Israeli leadership hopes they will create legitimacy for future attacks, in the unending spiral of violence between the Jewish State and the Islamic Republic.