Tensions between Iran and Israel soared to unprecedented heights on Tuesday as both nations traded threats. Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, stated on Tuesday that if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program, Israel would be left with no choice but to stage a pre-emptive attack.
“Iran has progressed in recent years with enriching uranium more than ever before,” he said. “We are looking closely at the various arenas that are part of the path to nuclear capabilities. There are negative potential trends on the horizon that could lead to [us] acting. We have the capabilities.”
Halevi further accused Iran of being involved in “everything around us and with everyone who is against us,” including strategy, intelligence, and funding. “We have the capability to strike Iran. We are not aloof to what Iran is trying to do around us. Iran also cannot be aloof to what we can do against it.”
Meanwhile, Prof. Mohammad Marandi, head of the North American Studies Department at the University of Tehran, is in Indonesia as part of the delegation accompanying President Ebrahim Raisi on his two-day visit to the Asian country. “The Israeli regime is growing more isolated. Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments in the Persian Gulf have evolved, Iran’s relations with Asia powers are growing, and the Iranian president is currently visiting Indonesia,” says Marandi.
Israel alleges that Iran is forming a united front and is preparing for a military confrontation on several fronts. “It’s natural for the region to be united against apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” Marandi told The Media Line.
Israeli officials’ messages were not only directed at Iran but also other groups closely tied to the Islamic Republic, including Hezbollah. Marandi asserts that if Israel attacks Hezbollah, Iran will “of course” come to its aid. He dismissed the Israeli prime minister’s statement saying, “We always surprise Iran, and we will surprise all of our enemies,” as “bluster.”
“He may push for confrontation to strengthen his own position at home, even though the regime would lose,” he says.
Marandi said the growing threats confirm that “Israel is the basis of insecurity and stability in the region and reflects the depth of its internal problems.”
“The Israeli regime would be on the losing end of any military exchange. Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and the world knows about Iran’s military capabilities,” says Marandi.
Israel concerned about Iran producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels
Following the collapse of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, it is alleged that Iran is now producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels, a development that deeply concerns Israel. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has claimed to be enriching uranium up to 60%, though inspectors recently found the country had produced uranium particles that were 83.7% pure. This is just a short step from reaching the 90% threshold of weapons-grade uranium. Tehran consistently denies that its nuclear program has military purposes, insisting that it’s for civilian use only.
Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iranian affairs at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line that it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason behind this recent heightened tension, but it could be due to several factors, including domestic and regional issues, along with concerns related to Iran’s nuclear program. “I think partially it has to do with the two major developments which has to do with both Hizballah and Iran,” says Zimmt.
However, Iranian officials argue that Israel would not be able to undertake any military action against Iran without American support or at least a clear position, irrespective of what actions Israel could take against Iran. They added that if Iran misinterprets these threats, the situation could escalate, a scenario not in the best interest of either party.
Responding to Israeli threats, an Iranian official stated that any military attack on Tehran would be met with a “broad and unprecedented response.”
Zimmt suggests that Iran’s progress in its nuclear program warrants an Israeli response. “It’s clear that the Iranians have enriched uranium to 60% a few weeks ago, even up to 80%. This fact forms one component of the Israeli statements on Tuesday.”
US withdrawal from 2015 nuclear deal
The US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, under the administration of former President Donald Trump in 2018.
While Israel has never officially acknowledged any attacks against its regional adversary, the two nations are reportedly engaged in a covert war, involving cyberattacks on each other’s infrastructures. Moreover, numerous attacks on Iranian soldiers in Syria have been attributed to Israel.
The heightened tension follows a simulation by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group of cross-border raids into Israel this past Sunday, showcasing its military power using live ammunition and an attack drone.
In reference to Hezbollah, Halevi stated that Israel wants to avoid war, but it must always be prepared to consider military maneuvers “that can yield advantages” in the ongoing standoff. “Relative deterrence of Hezbollah [from attacking Israel] has been achieved, but this status quo won’t last forever,” he added.
This means, according to Halevi, that Israel must “take action to carry out surprises when needed” to keep Hezbollah on its toes regarding daring actions against Israel.
Hezbollah officials maintain they have the capabilities to fight any battle imposed on them. “Concerning Hezbollah, my assessment is that the recent growth in self-confidence of the so-called axis of resistance, including Hezbollah, was evident during the recent waves of escalation,” notes Zimmt. “It seems to me that Hezbollah is persisting in its efforts in this direction.”
Hezbollah, established in 1982 to combat Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, serves as Iran’s main regional proxy. Considered a “terrorist” organization by many Western governments, this Shiite militant group is the only Lebanese faction that retained its weapons after the country’s 1975-1990 civil war. Israel and Hezbollah engaged in a devastating war in 2006 following the group’s capture of two Israeli soldiers.
Referring to the recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Halevi stated, “Some states [Saudi Arabia] have come closer to Iran. I don’t think these states trust Iran or want genuine peace [with it]. This [the new Saudi deal] stems from a desire to reduce regional tensions to avoid a larger confrontation.”
Dr. Zimmt doesn’t foresee the recent rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh significantly influencing any potential steps that Israel may take. “I would say the developments are somewhat concerning because they might boost the self-confidence of Iran and Syria, but I wouldn’t connect the statements to this alone,” says Zimmt.
Iran’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, has extended an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to attend the UN climate conference, known as COP28, in November. Given that the UAE and other Gulf states, like Bahrain, are merely a stone’s throw from its shores, Iran perceives the Israeli presence as a threat to its national security.
“Any regional country that strengthens relations with the Israeli regime, simply hurts its own public image,” says Marandi, adding, “The UAE definitely wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of a conflict.”