The IDF announced in the past few days that it was creating a new Special Forces command (Hebrew) that would be designed to project Israeli force far beyond its borders. It would operate behind enemy lines and take the fight to the other side and sabotage key infrastructure and generally wreak havoc. The Yediot headline announces, only slightly facetiously, the promotion of the new commander to “General of the Iran Command.” Haaretz’s article (Hebrew, and a shorter version in English) also points out that this will be one of the special purposes of the new operational command.
The units in the new command would not operate in areas like Lebanon or Gaza where there are already Special Forces who could serve. It would be designed to operate at longer distances of more than 50 miles from Israeli territory. To give one an idea of how important the new “Deep Command” is, its military leader will report directly to the chief of staff.
The Mossad already engages in such operations, but the new command would engage in more complex operations involving numbers of personnel and military-type firepower. It would also combine air, land and sea operations that cross operational boundaries. That’s why Israeli reporter’s first thought is that this would be a perfect match for Iran. My only question would be how it could operate so far from Israeli territory. But if you think about Iran’s neighbors and the fact that American forces are based right next door in Afghanistan (where the U.S. super-drone was based which fell inside Iran last week), it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for Israeli personnel to operate secretly from territory much closer to Iran. It might also be possible for Israeli commandos to be delivered to Iran by sea. If it were discovered though that Israeli forces were based even secretly in a Muslim country it would be terribly embarrassing to the host nation.
Another type of mission this new unit could pursue would be something like the reconnaissance allegedly performed by Israeli forces at the Syrian nuclear site before IAF jets destroyed it in 2007. As the IDF is known to have intercepted and destroyed purported shipments of Iranian arms in Sudan and elsewhere that were destined for Gaza, this is another role the Deep Command could perform, interdicting arms shipments while still far from Israel’s borders. The latter is especially concerned about arms shipments to Hezbollah routed from Iran through Syria. This too would be an operations responsibility for the new unit.
This is without doubt an escalation in the war of nerves and sabotage by Israel against Iran. The former is already conducting a covert war killing Iranian generals and scientists and blowing up key military bases. Now it may secure the wherewithal to mount even larger scale operations. The drawback is that just like the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which the CIA bit off far more than it could chew, ending in a disaster that sorely embarrassed a new U.S. president, this new combat command too could attempt a mission inside Iran that could misfire badly. Think Jimmy Carter’s abortive rescue mission of the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1979.
The new IDF deployment is also designed to spook the Iranians into believing that the ‘long arm’ of the IDF has just grown longer. You hear this sort of testosterone-infused bragging from IDF generals, Israeli intelligence sources and their journalistic enablers all the time. The problem is that I doubt the Iranians are spooked. In fact, the more Israel brags about its capabilities the more likely they are to make a mistake, of which the Iranians are sure to take advantage.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.