מקור ישראלי מאשר: ישראל תקפה בתימן בחודש שעבר
After Israel’s recent attack on Gaza, IDF chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, boasted that during the hostilities, it had attacked a third country:
While security forces were carrying out arrest raids in the West Bank, the military also performed strikes in a third country to maintain security stability along the rest of Israel’s borders,” Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi said.
At first glance, it appeared he might be referring to an Israeli attack against Iranian forces in Syria. It has engaged in hundreds of such operations over the past decades or more. But it seemed unlikely Kochavi was referring to Syria precisely because these air strikes are so common.
Israeli attack on Yemen
Then Arab media sources began to report that Israel had attacked Yemen (see video). The Jerusalem Post offered a comprehensive account, though it did not mention Israel explicitly. It could not do so because military censorship has prohibited it. However, foreign media outlets like The New Arab and Middle East Eye (for whom I am a contributor) did assign responsibility to Israel. Now, I can confirm via a confidential Israeli source that these reports are correct.
One media report declares that the IAF likely used drones flying 1,800 miles to Yemen, where they struck a Houthi base, Al-Hafa. It houses an IRG missile facility. The assault killed a dozen Houthi and Iranian personnel associated with the site along with a weapons storage facility. Another report says that Hezbollah personnel were also killed.
An Arab media source offers a more likely scenario: that the air assault originated from an Israeli military base on the Eritrean island of Dahlak. A 2012 Haaretz story based on a report from the global security firm, Stratfor, supports the claim of an Israeli military presence there:
According to Stratfor, Israel has a listening station on the secluded Mt. Amba Sawara, as well as docks in the Dahlak Archipelago…
Previous reports revealing the existence of these docks claimed they are being used by Israel Navy submarines and ships taking part in Israel’s covert war against the Iranian networks smuggling weapons to the Hamas and Hezbollah.
… Using Google Earth, one can make out several vessels at the dock as well as what looks like a landing strip.
Using such a facility, rather than flying from Israel itself, would drastically reduce the distance to Yemen and make the attack easier logistically. This article offers more background on the long-term strategic relationship between Israel and Eritrea.
In fact Israel, according to this source has a string of bases in the area to monitor commercial and military (weapons smuggling) sea traffic:
[Security] challenges [in the Gulf] embolden Tel Aviv…to secure…control over the strait, including setting up sea bases near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait…equipped with facilities to [monitor] sea traffic and oil tankers on the Saudi, Yemeni, Sudanese, and Somali coasts. Tel Aviv provided financial aid to Africa’s coastal countries–Eritrea, Tanzania, and Kenya–in return for a stronger toehold there. Eritrea allowed the Israeli regime to build its military bases in the country’s Massawa port. Rawajiat and Mokhalawi are the two major Israeli bases on the coast of Eritrea and close to the Sudan border. Tel Aviv also rented Eritrean islands on the southern mouth of the Bab-el-Mandeb, including the Dahlak Archipelago on which the Israeli military established a base.
Moreover, the Israelis set up two air bases on the two islands of Haleb and Fatima also close to Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in efforts to secure its vessels’ traffic. Yemen’s Perim island, seemingly under control of the Israelis, is used for merchant and military vessels’ traffic watch. The presence in the island offers to the Israelis direct control over the strait and also the nearby Yemeni coasts from Mocha to the south of Bab-el-Mandeb.
I wrote this post about the Israeli base on the island of Socotra.
The particular IRG unit attacked in Sanaa is responsible for the production and export of Iranian missiles to its proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, Syria and Yemen. It also trains personnel to both produce the weapons locally, and to operate them. It is also the chief supplier of such technology to Islamic Jihad, which may explain the timing of Kochavi’s announcement, which came just as Israel’s attack on Islamic Jihad in Gaza was ending.
The IRG missile unit has also been training its proxies to manufacture their own missiles locally, which minimizes the need for transporting bulky weapons and components over land and sea routes.
Gantz’ Saber-rattling against Iran
Last month, Israeli defense minister, Benny Gantz, made what appeared to be a bellicose threat to attack Iranian assets wherever Israel found them in the region or the world:
“…Our eyes and targets focus on anyone who threatens the security of our citizens, from Khan Younis to Tehran,” Gantz said.
“On the strategic level, Israel will continue to work with our partners in facing Iranian aggression, which harms security and stability everywhere, from the Israel-Gaza border, to the Mediterranean Sea, to the Gulf and beyond,” he said.
At the time, I thought this was an exceedingly dangerous statement suggesting Israel planned major escalations against Iranian targets. After the Yemen attack, it appears he was foreshadowing just such an increasingly aggressive posture.
Israeli hostility toward Iran and its repeated attacks on Gaza play a role in Israeli domestic politics which global media has largely ignored. Its leaders distract the public from the country’s ethnic and social unrest, by projecting an external enemy. Transforming the Other into an existential threat instills fear throughout Israeli society. That allows the military and political echelons to advance their own security agenda (ever-expanding budgets for the army and longevity for prime ministers). After all, it’s much easier to rally the public to attack an external enemy than to solve intractable domestic problems.
They are aided and abetted by a global media that refuses to offer serious analysis of these issues. This reluctance is due, in part, to a powerful Israel Lobby which seeks to punish outlets, journalists, academics and politicians who expose these phenomena.
Israel repeatedly uses its wars on Gaza as a smoke screen to advance both domestic and foreign policy issues. These sequences…begin with Israeli Jewish civil unrest leading to the collapse of the government, and end with elections that continue to bolster Israel’s far-Right. This process also involves bloodletting among the IDF, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel’s neighboring Arab States. Palestinians, however, pay the highest price.
This time around, Yemeni civilians paid a price as well. As the Middle East is shaken by the reverberations of the Ukraine-Russia war, Israel sought to assert its control over the strategic Bab el-Mandeb straits. The IDF aggression in Yemen went under the radar as the Western world’s media, already offering uninterrupted coverage of the Ukraine-Russia war, allocated the remaining bandwidth of its Middle East news coverage to the Gaza atrocities, while Israeli Hebrew media used the Gaza 2022 attack to divert attention from the political machinations of the forthcoming Israeli elections.
Israel’s projection of power into the Gulf
I mentioned above, Israel has targeted Iranian forces in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. But never in Yemen. At first glance, Israel would seem to have no strategic interest there. But it views
But Israel has indicated that it has removed any restraint in going after Iranian forces wherever they might be.
The wider and less restrained these attacks become, the more targets Israel hits, the greater the chance of a catastrophe. That could transform a covert war into a regional conflagration. Just as in World War I, when a single assassination led to almost every European nation lining up with its respective allies, and declaring a war which killed tens of millions, the same could happen in the Middle East. While Israel and the Gulf States are allies against Iran; it too has a series of powerful proxies which could wreak havoc on Iran’s enemies in the event of a regional conflict.
As US, Iran and Europeans Move toward nuclear deal, Israel turns up the heat
Its escalation of hostilities against Iran corresponds to the increasing likelihood that the Europeans, US and Iran will sign a new JCPOA nuclear agreement in the near future. Israel is adamantly opposed to such a deal, believing that the lifting of sanctions will relieve pressure on the Iranian regime. It has told the Biden administration that it will not be bound by any such agreements, and will pursue its own interests. Which clearly means it will continue its campaign to assassinate IRG commanders and nuclear scientists as it has over the past two decades. Apparently, it also means Israel will seek new arenas in which to confront Iran.
The Jerusalem Post reports today that a Saudi media outlet, Elaph, known as a source for IDF leaks, claimed that F-35s have repeatedly penetrated Iranian airspace over the past few months. Israel apparently jammed Iranian air defenses, which did not detect the flights. The purpose of the mission appears to be to train for a real attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and to intimidate Iran regarding Israel’s ability to attack it at will.
The IAF has strengthened its capabilities by upgrading its US-made F-35 fleet. It has also engaged with the US in simulations of sea and air attacks against Iranian targets in the Red Sea.
While this passage seems beyond far-fetched, it does indicate the bluster of the IDF:
An Arab source told Elaph that the exercises between the US and Israel show that Israel will receive support and assistance if it strikes Iranian facilities after a deal is reached with Tehran in Vienna. The source added that he does not rule out the outbreak of a conflict between Israel and Iran soon.
There is absolutely zero chance that the US or any other country outside the Gulf would render such “support and assistance.” The only country which can offer substantive help is the US; and the Biden administration has shown that it wants stability in the region, not war. The route toward that goal is to complete a JCPOA agreement, not to blow it up, as this source advocates.
As Yossi Melman wrote in Haaretz recently, Israel Has No Realistic Military Option on Iran:
For three decades now, our political and military leaders have tricked the public into thinking that Israel actually has a military option against Iran’s nuclear project…
If so, why is the “military option” cliché still heard night and day, especially now when a revival of the Iranian nuclear deal with six major powers is once again on the table? It’s mainly for domestic consumption, but it also stems from public figures’ tendency to credit themselves with capabilities they don’t really have.
Israel has an unparalleled appetite for military adventurism. The Middle East is already a powder keg with a score of nations bristling with billions worth of weapons and the will to use them. It would be tragic if such unbridled aggression undid the constructive approach represented by JCPOA.
Projecting Power, Looking East
Israel’s ambitions are not just regional in scope. It sees its future tied not just to European markets, but the east as well. Its weapons exports to Asian states including India (which is its biggest foreign supplier), Myanmar and Philippines are the tip of the iceberg.
It is increasingly turning, as well, to the Chinese, who are building a new port for Haifa and own a half-interest in Israel’s largest food products supplier, Tenuvah. Asia is especially appealing to Israel because it has none of the democratic, human rights traditions of western states, with whom Israel has traditionally traded. It is also a relatively untapped market for Israel compared to the more mature European market.
Israel increasingly sees the west as an albatross, with its “compunction” about the rule of law and human rights. Not to mention that it is a bastion of pro-Palestine activism, including the BDS movement. The biggest push to hold Israel accountable for war crimes via the International Criminal Court comes from the west. In international bodes like the UN, the harshest criticism comes from western states. That’s why an Eastern privot makes so much sense for Israel geo-strategically.
Israeli control of the airspace and waterways of the Gulf is not just directed at Iran, but at projecting its power to the vital sea routes leading from Israel into the Indian Ocean and Suez Canal. In particular, the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which borders Saudi Arabia, Yemen and a number of West African states, is critical to these ambitions. Whoever controls it has a tremendous advantage over enemies, competitors and even allies:
The Israeli leaders have always been worried about Arab countries’ domination of the waterways and possible imposition of restrictions on the Israeli sea access. In 1950, Egypt, in association with Saudi Arabia, managed to seize the Red Sea control militarily. In the same year, Egypt deployed forces to the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba and the two islands of Sanafir and Tiran and so restricted the Israeli sea traffic. This was one of the key drives behind the Israeli war against Egypt in 1956. In 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Yemeni army tightened the grip on the Bab-el-Mandeb. Tel Aviv is obsessed with…keeping the strait open. It is afraid that once a new war with the Arab states breaks out, the strait [would be blocked] by the Yemenis in a bid to impose a sea and land blockade…
The major [role] of sea transportation in the economy is another reason for Israeli leaders to put premium on the Strait [given it provides access] to global markets…This explains the [importance] of [securing] the strait for Israeli merchant vessels.
…Israel’s paramount interest is to [exert] military supremacy over other regional states in order to [facilitate] its security operations. The 1981 Israeli air force airstrikes at the Iraqi nuclear facilities…as well as [sabotage] of the Iranian nuclear program all are aimed at [assuring] such superiority. But [if the Houthis triumph], it could mean Israel’s loss of sway over Bab-el-Mandeb…
Finally, Israel is known for taking advantage of global crises to strike out against enemies. When attention is diverted from the Middle East, its most controversial military operations will, it believes, pass under the radar. Given the world’s attention is focused on the Russia-Ukraine war, the Yemen strike, if attributed to Israel, could arouse controversy both among Israel’s allies and its enemies. Further, the timing of the assault during Operation Breaking Dawn in Gaza would have offered an additional smokescreen obscuring the Yemen assault.
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.