Bennett describes Israel-Iran in a state of cold war


What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett gave his first interview to a European newspaper since taking office. Talking to Anshel Pfeffer in the Sunday Times, Bennett said: “It’s no secret, Iran is now at their most advanced point of capability to enrich uranium.”

  • Bennett described the current situation as “a cold war with Iran … for the last 30 years Iran positioned around us to distract us. The parallel is what Reagan did. Reagan didn’t have to bomb Moscow. There’s a regional power called Iran and there’s a regional power called Israel. Iran is a rotten regime, violating human-rights and killing homosexuals and women who go around uncovered, while they can’t even supply clean water to their citizens, but invest their resources in nuclear development.”
  • For Bennett Iran is a problem for the wider international community, according to the paper. “He believes the combination of military threat, diplomatic and economic pressure, not only from Israel, but from the United States and other powers, ‘will make it clear to Iran there will be very serious implications if they continue to enrich uranium. I believe that Iran will slow down and stop.’”
  • On Saturday, Syrian sources reported a rare surface-to-surface missile strike near Damascus. The target was an Iranian warehouse storing weapons due to be transferred to Hezbollah. Reports suggest the strike happened in the al-Mazzeh Military Airport in Damascus, targeting a position of the Syrian Army’s 94th brigade. Syrian sources report that five people were killed.
  • IDF Strategy and Third-Circle Director Maj.-Gen. Tal Kalman gave an interview to the Bahraini Al-Ayam newspaper. He said: “Lebanon is Iran’s oldest strategic implement in the region, but Iran is also in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen and in Gaza. It is developing its military capabilities and is moving in closer to Israel via other countries. That worries Israel, but also its allies as well. Iran has become a global problem.”
  • Maj.-Gen. Kalman added: “Israel believes in a diplomatic solution with Iran but is prepared for any scenario in the event that those efforts should founder.”
  • Meanwhile, Gholameza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Civil Defence, has accused Israel and the US of being behind the cyberattack that shut down gas stations in Iran last week.

Context: From Israel’s perspective Iran presents a dual threat, both from its development of nuclear weapon capabilities and its presence in Syria.

  • In Syria, the primary threat is the smuggling of advanced weapon systems to Hezbollah, Iran entrenching their military and civilian organisations to exercise influence, and the opening of a new front against Israel from the Syrian Golan.
  • It’s very rare for Israel to carry out attacks in Syria during daylight, almost all strikes occur in the middle of the night.
  • Over the past few months, according to Syrian sources, Israel has expanded its activity in Syria. In 2020 around 400 strikes were fired by Israel. In 2021 there has already been about 500.
  • Following Bennett’s meeting with President Putin last week, Israel is hoping that Russia’s agenda in Syria will override and constrain Iran. Russia wants to encourage foreign investment to help reconstruction in Syria and in turn, weaken Iran’s influence over President Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

Looking ahead: Israel has begun to expand its preparations for a potential military strike.

  • Maj. Gen. Kalman also suggested that “thanks to the Abraham Accords, Israel is currently surrounded by neighbouring countries that are friends, and others that have the potential of becoming friends … that gives Israel an opportunity for intelligence cooperation and a joint war on terrorism. We have strategic depth.”
  • This week in Glasgow on the side-lines of COP26 Prime Minister Bennett will meet various world leaders including Prime Minister Johnson with Iran top of the agenda.