March 15, 2021
Senior security officials have recommended that Israel work to deescalate a stand-off with Iran in which both sides have accused each other of recently attacking merchant ships, damaging them with explosives.
During meetings held in recent days, the Israeli officials spoke up against responding to Iran over the alleged attack on an Israeli cargo ship last month, the Walla news website reported Sunday.
Sources told the outlet that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi also supports calming the situation.
With a new administration in Washington that is still forming policy and engaging in ongoing indirect diplomacy with Iran to save the faltering 2015 nuclear deal, aggressive action would not be the right course, one official advised.
Officials also reportedly noted the sensitivity of the water route from Asia to Israel as it passes in the region of the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway where Iran has been particularly active over the past decade, warning the situation could rapidly deteriorate.
This week Kohavi is scheduled to accompany President Reuven Rivlin on a short trip to Germany, France, and Austria, where they will meet with the presidents of those countries to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and regional security issues.
On Saturday an Iranian investigator told local media that Israel is the likely suspect behind an attack last week in the Mediterranean that damaged an Iranian cargo ship.
A spokesman for state-run shipping company IRISL had told semi-official Nournews on Friday that the Shahre Kord cargo ship was slightly damaged by an explosive object but no one on board was hurt.
Additionally, speculation that Israel may have inadvertently caused the oil spill that hit its Mediterranean coast last month, via an attack on an Iranian tanker that went awry, is unfounded, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Saturday night.
The accusations came a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons.
The attacks started in late 2019 and targeted both Iranian vessels, and other ships with Iranian cargo, the report said, citing “US and regional officials.”
Some of the alleged Israeli strikes, which took place in the Red Sea and other areas, targeted Iran-linked weapons shipments, the report said.
The attacks did not sink the tankers but forced at least two of the vessels to return to port in Iran.
Israel sought to halt the trade in oil because it believed the profits were financing regional extremists, the report said.
Iran has carried on with its oil trade to Syria in recent years, in violation of both US sanctions on Tehran and international sanctions on Damascus.
Israel declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal on the report.
The attacks mark a new front in the shadow war between Israel and Iran.
In the tense summer of 2019, the US military blamed Iran for explosions on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes.
Iran, whose leaders repeatedly call for Israel’s demise, backs the Hezbollah terrorist group, as well as terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military has launched hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.
Iran has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago.
Tensions have heated in the Middle East in recent months, as Iran repeatedly violated the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers ahead of possible talks with the Biden administration.