Geopolitics

Any Means, All Fronts: Netanyahu's Shadow War On Iran

The Israeli Prime Minister has taken his cue from a bold predecessor, Menachem Begin, to curb Islamic Iran's regional presence and nuclear threat by any means necessary.

An effigy of Israeli PM Netanyahu at a Feb. protest in Iran
Hossein Aqay

-Analysis-

LONDON — Israel's suspected strike against the Natanz nuclear plant in Iran has taken its shadow war with the Islamic Republic to a new high. It is a battle that began in the 1980s with Iran creating the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and which continues today, fueled by the Islamic Republic's ideological, ballistic and atomic expansionism.

If Israel's Mossad agency did indeed play a role in this incident, then it marks a timely move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rob Iran of its last bargaining chip against the Biden administration and its allies, with which Iran has resumed talks to revive the 2015 nuclear pact. It is also part of Netanyahu's wider policy to tighten the screws on Islamic Iran, with this last turn coinciding with incipient talks in Vienna.

Israeli and U.S. intelligence agents believe the plant's enrichment capabilities, a principal concern of Israel and Western powers, are now badly damaged, in spite of Iran's claim that it will ramp up uranium enrichment to the 60% (weapons-grade) level.

Will the Natanz attack spell the end of the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions?

Whether the incident will significantly delay enrichment, or fail to, the question remains: Will Israel continue such actions to curb Iran's nuclear program? Will the Natanz attack spell the end of the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions, seeing as its knowhow is now native, and independent? How will Israel deal with Iran from now on?

To answer these, we must consider aspects of what I would term the "Netanyahu doctrine" toward the Islamic Republic. It has similarities and some fundamental differences with the Begin doctrine, as pursued by another prime minister, Menahem Begin (1977-1983), to curb Iraq's nuclear program under Saddam Hussein.

Netanyahu reiterated at an April 12 press conference in Israel with the visiting U.S. defense secretary that Israel would not let the Islamic Republic obtain nuclear weapons, once more qualifying the regime as the chief threat to the Middle East.

Four decades earlier, just after Israeli jets had destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, Begin also insisted that his country would never allow its enemies to make weapons of mass destruction.

The strike on Osirak was no last-minute act. It followed four years of tracking Iraq's nuclear program and other preliminary moves, including killings of Iraqi nuclear scientists. Natanz too is anything but a first shot. Israel's 2007 strike on the al-Kibar nuclear site in Syria was an early and incidental warning to Iran.

In the light of other developments like the recent killing of a key Iranian scientist and Israeli concerns about Iran's talks with the West, one may ask if Netanyahu has revived the Begin doctrine.

Arguably he has undertaken, in tandem with the United States, a restrictive strategy toward the Islamic Republic at various levels including its nuclear program. This has seven broad elements, namely:

  • The killing of prominent figures related to the nuclear program
  • Sabotage of installations
  • Theft of suspect shipments and attacks on Iranian ships
  • Selling Iran damaged or vulnerable equipment
  • Cyber warfare
  • Strikes on Iran's proxy militias in Syria
  • Forging the Abraham Accords with Arab states

On the first front, research suggests that the assassinations were the work of Mossad's infamous Kidon unit. Reports attribute the agency's direct or indirect involvement in the killings of five Iranian nuclear scientists or senior program figures: Mas'ud Alimohammadi (January 2010), Majid Shahryari (November 2010), Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan (January 2012), Dariush Rezaynejad (July 2011), and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi (November 2020).

With regards to sabotage, actions include the explosions in October 2010 in the Shahab missile production plant in the Zagros mountains, which killed 18 people. The following year, Iran saw four explosions on military-nuclear installations, including the Bidgoneh explosion (in November 2011), which killed Hassan Tehrani, a Revolutionary Guards general dubbed the country's "ballistic father."

On the third front — nabbing suspect items and shipments — incidents include the hijacking of the Arctic Sea ship in 2009, which some papers suggested was taking Russian weaponry to Iran, and the theft of Iranian nuclear documents in 2015. Since late 2019, furthermore, Israel has targeted at least 12 Iranian ships with mines. Most were taking oil to Syria, but the latest target was a ship in the Red Sea suspected of spying for the Revolutionary Guards.

On the fourth front, Western and Israeli intelligence agencies have on occasions used intermediate firms to sell damaged or vulnerable equipment to the Islamic Republic. These pieces have "infected" Iranian nuclear installations and made them more vulnerable to hacking. The Tinners, a family of Swiss engineers, reportedly sold Iran faulty equipment a decade ago that may have damaged 50 centrifuges in Natanz.

Israeli military intelligence (AMAN) is involved in the fifth strategy approach to curb Iran's nuclear program, through cyberattacks that have intensified of late. In one early operation in 2007, Israel introduced the Stuxnet virus into Natanz, three years before the plant suffered a viral attack that destroyed about 1,000 centrifuges.

In addition, Israel has not hesitated to strike at militias in Syria and taken bold steps, with the aid of the Trump administration, to normalize ties with several Arab states. And so, lastly, the Abraham Accords are unlikely to be reversed under the Biden administration.

Several Arab states are equally fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Israel, in other words, has been able to strike at the Islamic Republic on all seven fronts, with actions whose scope and results have clearly surpassed the limits of any unspoken war in the shadows.

Three months into the Biden administration and with Iran showing an interest in reviving its pact with the Powers, the Netanyahu government fears the Iranian side will use enrichment to cajole the West into lifting sanctions. Several Arab states are equally fearful of a nuclear-armed Iran, and unless the United States can provide them with security assurances, we can expect more sabotage, cyberattacks or even military action against Iran.

Fakhrizadeh's killing and the Natanz breakdown clearly express Israel's concerns at the prospect of any nuclear détente with Iran, and are warnings both to Tehran and the Biden team.

Netanyahu wants them to know that if Israel's security is ignored and a new pact effectively paves the way for Iran's progression toward nuclear weapons, then war between Israel and the Islamic Republic will come out of the shadows.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ