Netanyahu highlights threats from Iranian missiles

What happened: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of the increasing threat from Iranian precision missiles when he met yesterday with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

  • Netanyahu said: “Iran is seeking to develop precision-guided munitions, missiles that can hit any target in the Middle East. They are developing this in Iran. They want to place them in Iraq and in Syria, and to convert Lebanon’s arsenal of 130,000 rockets to precision-guided munitions. They seek also to develop that, and have already begun to put that in Yemen, with the goal of reaching Israel from there too.”
  • Netanyahu thanked the US for their generous military assistance and the increased sanctions on Iran.

Context: Israel has sought to prevent Iran’s military build-up in Syria by carrying out attacks on Iranian targets and preventing the transfer of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since 2017 it has carried out hundreds of attacks.  So far, Iranian attempts to hit Israeli targets in response have been unsuccessful.

  • Netanyahu’s comments come just days after IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned that the situation in the north and south was tense and fragile and was liable to lead to a military conflagration.
  • Dame Louise Ellman MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, has written to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urging him to put more pressure on Hezbollah.  She highlighted the threat of Hezbollah arming itself with “precision missiles” aimed at Israel, and cited BICOM’s recent paper exposing Hezbollah’s Iranian supported precision missile project in Lebanon.  She called for the UK government to work with the US and European allies to issue a “public warning” to Hezbollah.
  • Israeli security analysts note this is the first time Netanyahu has mentioned Yemen as an additional location that could be used to launch an attack against Israel, as well as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. According to Roni Daniel, Channel 12 News’s military analyst, the direct threat from Yemen is less likely (Yemen is 2,300km from Israel while Iran is 1,200km away). However Iran could use Yemen as a base to target ‘Israeli interests’ such as Israeli shipping in the Red Sea.
  • Israel’s Kan News reported this morning that the threat level has been raised in a number of Israeli diplomatic missions around the world due to fears of an Iranian-sponsored terrorist attack.

Looking ahead: The assessment in the Israeli security establishment is that, in light of recent regional developments, Iran has changed its posture and may feel more emboldened to attack Israel or Israeli interests. This assessment is based on the lack of response to attacks on oil tankers, the shooting down of a US drone and the recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

  • As a result, the Israel Defence Forces have made a series of adjustments to aerial defence systems and are taking steps to counter a potential attack from Iranian cruise missiles.
  • Israeli coalition talks are ongoing and some political commentators believe that, if the security situation becomes more serious, it could necessitate the formation of an emergency unity government.