Israel must prepare for Iranian ‘thousand cuts’ war

'Resistance' entails mobilising proxy forces such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah


Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on July 24, 2022. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL ***POOL PICTURE, EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES, PLEASE CREDIT THE PHOTOGRAPHER AS WRITTEN - MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/POOL*** *** Local Caption *** ישיבת ממשלה ראש הממשלה יעיר לפיד פגישה קבינט

As Israel slouches toward fresh elections, the possibility of Western countries returning to some kind of Iran deal, based on the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, looms over the next two months of campaigning.

The US, Britain, France and Germany are discussing methods of returning to the 2015 deal, even as Iran continues to enrich uranium and uses its proxies to wreak havoc across the Middle East.

While the US and its Western partners say they are concerned about Iran’s destabilising activities, Israel has much more to lose from Tehran’s genocidal threats. Tehran believes that while Israel possesses technological superiority, that political chaos may be Jerusalem’s undoing.

At the same time as the nuclear deal talks grind on, Iran has laid out a multi-pronged strategy to pressure Israel ahead of the elections.

It is a strategy Iran’s regime has honed over the last decade. The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami, gave an interview this month to regime media in Iran detailing the regional anti-Israel strategy that Iran has cooked up.

In Iran’s view this is a multi-pronged “resistance” against Israel that entails mobilising proxy forces such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah to confront Israel and create a kind of maximum pressure against Jerusalem.

Iran has bankrolled Hamas and PIJ for years and helped arm them with an expansive arsenal of long- range rockets. In recent years this support has increased to provide advice on use of drones and precision-guided munitions.

The recent interview by Salami reveals that Iran is aware of Israel’s technological superiority on the battlefield. Israel has improved its air defences, such as the Iron Dome system, and is working on adding lasers to Iron Dome so that Israel can reduce the cost of confronting missile salvos.

Knowing this, Iran has pivoted from trying to overwhelm Israel’s defences with masses of rockets, to using a strategy of lots of little threats to keep Israel distracted.

For instance, last year as Israel was still staggering from one governing coalition to another, Iran encouraged a crisis in Jerusalem that led to a 10-day war between Israel and Hamas. This year, within a month of Israel’s Knesset disbanding in favour of new elections, Iran again mobilised its proxies in Gaza to create a short conflict.

One war timed to coincide with an election process might be coincidence; a second a year later, combined with Iran’s IRGC laying out its strategy in an interview, belies a plan.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned about the dangers of an Iran deal when he was in office and has raised the alarm about a nuclear Iran. Israel’s political leaders generally agree on the danger of a nuclear Iran and the Iran threat in general.

Israel has confronted Iranian entrenchment in Syria in a campaign designed to fight a “campaign between the wars,” meaning slowing down Iran’s abilities to move weapons and threats closer to Israel’s borders.

Iran apparently understands this and has got the message. It knows that it is being targeted in Syria and that Israel is increasingly concerned about its drone programme and Iranian threats from more distant regions, such as Iraq and Yemen.

Iran also knows that Israel has used a strategy of confronting smaller proxy groups, such as Islamic Jihad, to neutralise them and cut them off from unifying threats with Hezbollah, Hamas and others.

“The strategy was for the Zionists to act selectively against one group this time; it means, for example, to target one group alone and announce that [it has] nothing to do with the rest of the groups… that is, to divide Palestine into separate and unconnected jihadist units so that the resistance cannot act,” Iranian government media reports.

Tehran wants to overcome this by using groups such as Islamic Jihad as pawns, moving them forward one square at a time every year, creating conditions of endless conflict and pressure that Iran believes will eventually result in spillover into the West Bank, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. In the May 2020 conflict, there were widespread clashes between Jews and Arabs in places like Lod in Israel and other mixed cities.

Iran wants to create this pressure-cooker effect again. It thinks that this is the way to defeat Iron Dome: through chaos inside Israel, not rockets from Gaza.

Israel and Iran confront each other, both sides knowing a lot about the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Iran is economically fragile and its strength is found in its proxy groups. Israel is economically and technologically strong, but it is a small country and doesn’t have pawns spread out across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen the way Iran does.

Even with the recent Abraham Accords and closer partnerships in the Gulf, Israel is still vulnerable to the “paper cut” strategy that Iran wants to use, meaning Israel has to fend off lots of little threats across thousands of miles of potential frontline in the region.

In July 2020, Iran used a drone to strike at a commercial ship in the Gulf of Oman. This year, Hezbollah used drones to target the Karish gas field off the coast of Israel, where there is a disputed maritime border. Connect the dots between the ship attack and the Karish incident, along with the recent Gaza conflict, and the Iranian “paper cut” war becomes clear.

As Israel heads toward yet another round of elections, the Iran nuclear deal is only one part of a much larger looming problem: a conflict on which the theocracy can simply turn up the heat on Israel any time it feels like it.

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