Not content to fight Iran on its existing fronts in Lebanon and Syria Israel has, over the past few months, opened a new front in Iraq. There, after Iraqi militias allied with Iran participated in attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, Israel struck back with its first-ever air attacks inside Iraq. Though little has been made of this, it’s possible Israel used an airfield in Azerbaijan, from which it has launched drones to spy on Iran.
In the past week, Israel has furthered escalated regional conflict by sending its nuclear-armed, German-made Dolphin submarine through the Suez Canal, with the approval of Egypt’s dictator, al-Sisi. There is historical irony here in that the 1967 War began, in part, because Egypt’s then-leader, Nasser, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Today, Egypt opens its waters to Israel as it flexes its regional maritime might.
As the vessel traversed the canal, the IDF spokesperson fired a shot across Iran’s bow, warning that Israel expected attacks against it from Iranian proxies in Yemen and Iraq. The truth of the matter is that Israel has brought this escalation on itself. Through normalization, it has been increasingly drawn into the Saudi-Gulf State orbit. Thus, the Sunni fight against Iran and its allies has become Israel’s. The Saudi war on Iran has become Israel’s as well.
It’s a dark irony that Israel in the 1960s armed the very Houthi tribesmen now fighting against its Saudi ally. Then a civil war raged, in which the Imam or King was arrayed against rebel army officers who modeled themselves on their nationalist hero and neighbor, Gamal Abdul Nasser. The king’s key supporters were members of the Shia Houthi tribe. Nasser sent 70,000 troops, a fifth of his entire army, to topple him. The war become a morass also known as “Egypt’s Vietnam,” and not dissimilar from what the current Yemeni stalemate has become for Saudi Arabia and its UAE ally.
Over the course of two years, Israel mounted fourteen cargo flights containing all manner of weapons, logistical supplies, etc on behalf of the Houthis and the King. Now the shoe is on the other foot and yesterday’s friend becomes today’s mortal enemy. Thus, Israel now threatens not only Syria and Lebanon (Iran allies), but Iraq and Yemen. Pointedly, it threatens not only with F-35s but with nuclear-armed submarines.
Lest anyone find the potential for an Israeli nuclear attack far-fetched, never forget that Bibi Netanyahu made a bellicose speech outside Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona threatening nuclear devastation against Iran. Against a country which does not have nuclear weapons and has no current capacity to respond to such an attack. Even if it did not use a nuclear weapon in such an attack, Israel has planned massive attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz and elsewhere (it’s mounted repeated sabotage attacks as well). It repeatedly sought to enlist the U.S. in such attacks under two different presidents. That Dolphin submarine now patrolling the Persian Gulf would certainly play a major role in such an attack.
Donald Trump, as opposed to Presidents Bush and Obama, has been only too happy to oblige Netanyahu’s penchant for anti-Iran bellicosity. We have our Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain sailing full flotillas including aircraft carriers through the sensitive Strait of Hormuz. As if that wasn’t enough sabers to rattle, the Air Force ordered B-52 bombers to fly non-stop from their American bases directly over the Strait, which borders Iran. The clear intimidation is meant to remind Iran that these are fully-nuclear-capable warplanes: “flying gas chambers” (to toss Shimon Peres’ remark about Iran WMD back on its head), if you will.
I’ve reported here that Israel maintains several surveillance outposts in the Bab al Mandab Strait, one on the island of Socotra, which has traditionally been associated with Yemen, but is now controlled by Saudi Arabia. It also maintains a listening post inside Eritrea. Both monitor sea traffic in the Gulf and the activities of Iran’s military and its proxies in the region. All of this is a massive escalation of Israeli military presence in the region. A projection of its power far beyond its own borders.
The problem with such aggressive activities is that if you have such military-intelligence capabilities, you will be far too tempted to use them. American interventionsim in Iraq, Afghanistan and now in Somalia and Yemen, is proof-positive of this proposition. Earlier in our history, we did the same throughout Central America, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc. Our invasions and drone attacks have costs hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet we have come up empty-handed in securing the interests that motivated us to intervene in the first place.
This outcome is most likely to befall Israel as well. Its history is full of such examples: it invaded and occupied southern Lebanon for two decades, seeking to impose a collaborationist government there. Instead, Lebanon is now governed by a coalition which includes its mortal enemy, Hezbollah. Similarly, it repeatedly attacked Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria and those of his Hezbollah and Iranian allies, hoping that Syria would become a fragmented state over which it could exercise strong influence. It supported the Islamist group, al-Nusra with weapons and supplies. Yet Assad, with critical tactical support from his Russian ally, trounced the Sunni Islamists and regained control of much of his country.
There is another important reason Israel is rattling sabers now: Bibi Netanyahu is facing the most dangerous threat in his political career. He is running for prime minister for the fourth time in the past two years. In the past three elections, he survived by the skin of his teeth. Now rivals in his own Likud have mounted a fierce attack by breaking off and forming a party which will compete aggressively for the right-wing votes he’s always taken for granted. He faces massive regular protests against his corruption and looming trial on bribery charges.
Whenever Israeli leaders face such domestic threats they turn to military attacks against Israeli enemies. If there is no legitimate threat, they invent one. That’s precisely what Netanyahu has done with regard to Iran and Hezbollah. When your nation is under threat, voters flock to your banner. When the nation is at peace, voters can return to their regular political homes. So Bibi must manufacture a crisis. Projecting power by sending nuclear-armed submarines which take the attack to the enemy is a ploy designed to make the hearts of Israeli security hawks go a-flutter. That equals votes and victory, or so he hopes.
Israel has predicted an Iranian nuclear weapon going all the way back to 1984. It has spun a narrative of Iranian expansionism and global terrorism (all while it itself engaged in aggression against its neighbors). Yet none of Israel’s attacks against Iranian interests inside the country and abroad have achieved their goal of reining in Iran’s ability to project its own power in the region.
Israel has, since 1948, pursued its interests with a firm belief that only force works. Yes, it employs diplomacy when that suits. But diplomacy is never a first resort. Often, it is simply a fig leaf to conceal more aggressive measures. The most decisive means of getting what it wants are its army and intelligence services. It has proven this constantly since then, through wars large and small and repeated assassinations and sabotage on enemy territory. But aggression and taking the battle to one’s adversary does not achieve battle. If it unnerves the enemy it is only a fleeing victory, because they emerge even more determined to resist at all costs.
History should have taught Israel that unless military force can overwhelmingly defeat an enemy and force it to acquiesce, countries do not achieve their long-term goals. The allies did this to German in the WWI; and to Japan and Germany in WWII. But Israel cannot do this in the Middle East. There are Great Powers like the U.S., Russia, and Europeans who share interests in the region. They would be unlikely to permit Israel to invade Iran, topple the clerical regime, and impose a puppet MeK government. That would be several bridges too far. So Israel must content itself with hit and run sabotage, which inflicts temporary damage, but achieves no long-term benefit.
Germany, the Holocaust, and Arming Israel
Another element of Israel’s new maritime front against Iran which is rarely discussed is the country which partnered in manufacturing the Dolphin submarines, Germany. Though the vessels are not fitted with nuclear weapons by Thyssen Krupp, the shipbuilder which makes them, Germany knows that Israel will equip them with such armaments. It gives all this post-delivery configuration a wink and a nod. After exterminating 6-million Jews during the Holocaust, it is delivering to Israel to capability to destroy the entire Middle East in a second Holocaust. As I mentioned, Peres once called an Iranian nuclear weapon a “flying gas chamber.” Well, what is a Dolphin but an underwater gas chamber?
In discussing Germany’s collaboration with Israel, no one has brought up Thyssen-Krupp’s odious history of being among the chief arms-makers for Nazi Germany. Its victories in the first few years of the war were largely fueled by the military armaments the companies produced. The workers who manufactured these weapons were largely enslaved laborers from concentration camps like Auschwitz. Germany should be exceedingly sensitive to such abysmal history of human suffering. Yet it, perhaps out of some misguided sense of guilt or reparation, bends over backwards to suit Israel’s interests.
Not that there aren’t pecuniary interests motivating Germany as well. The billions that Israel has spent on the Dolphins goes directly to the country’s economic bottom line (Germany has also generously financed much of the cost of the Dolphins) and becomes yet another success story for German industry. Such success however, doesn’t come solely from the pure merit of its products. No, Germany’s weapons industry has always operated on the dark side and the submarine deal is no different. One of four charges levelled against Bibi Netanyahu (the only one for which he has not yet been indicted) is that he and close confidants took millions in bribes from ThyssenKrupp when the Israeli navy was considering which country and company would win the contract. Germany initially conveniently refused to investigate these charges claiming it could not do so without Israel’s cooperation in turning over documents to prove a crime was committed. Later, it opened an initial inquiry though little has been heard on the subject since.
The whole business is dirty and fetid from top to bottom.
Special thanks to Smadar Lavie for suggesting I write this post and offering comments and suggestions as well. I strongly recommend her book, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel.
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.