TEL AVIV: A new crisis erupted in the Persian Gulf Friday when Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced they had seized a British oil tanker, and appeared to seer it toward a Guard facility on the Iranian island of Qeshm. The seizure sends a new jolt of tension through the region, a day after the US Navy said it had brought down an Iranian drone that had flown too close to the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz.
In nearby Israel, with elections looming and Iran ramping up pressure for talks to resume on lifting sanctions, the new incidents appear to some to be proof that war may be creeping near.
“Some countries will only wake up to the Iranian threat when nuclear missiles fall on European soil” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said July 16.
This harsh comment reflects the growing concern in Israel that Washington might ease sanctions imposed on Iran, and some European nations will continue to adhere to the nuclear deal as a result of declarations by senior Iranian political figures. “They are the masters of sweet deceiving talk,” an Israeli expert on Iran said.
“The Iranians are now shortening the time to the point where they will have enough enriched Uranium for a nuclear bomb. They lie when they declare that they are not working to achieve nuclear capability” Brig. Gen. (Reserve) Yossi Kuperwasser told Breaking Defense. Kuperwasser was head of the research division in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) Military Intelligence division and director general of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
In an exclusive interview, the intelligence expert said the Iranians had no intention to stop their race to a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA agreement talked about keeping them one year away from the point where they have enough enriched uranium for a bomb: “I assess that now they are eight months from this point and the time is being shortened.”
The intelligence expert said that Teheran has a clear strategic plan to build a military nuclear capability: “They continue with this strategy but use all the tricks in the book to disguise it.”
In a clear sign of just how frustrated the Israeli government is with continuing talks about lifting Iranian sanctions, Netanyahu urged the EU to act immediately against Iran. In a video posted on his social media accounts he invoked the memory of Britain’s failed attempt to appease Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II.
“The response by the European Union to the Iranian violations [of the nuclear deal] reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s,” Netanyahu said in the Hebrew-language clip. “Also then, there was someone who buried his head in the sand and didn’t see the approaching danger.
“It seems that there are those in Europe who won’t wake up until Iranian nuclear missiles fall on European soil. And then, of course, it will be too late. In any case, we will continue to do everything necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” added the prime minister.
Earlier this month, Iran announced that it had exceeded a 300 kilogram stockpile limit for 3.67 percent enriched uranium and had started enriching to 4.5 percent fissile purity.
Nuclear experts are concerned that Iran’s enrichment moves could shorten the year-long period it would need to produce the 90% enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s actions are not “considered to be significant non-compliance,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said at a press conference, as European foreign ministers held crisis talks about saving the JCPOA nuclear deal.
In his visit this week to the U.S., Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif highlighted what he called the world’s rejection of America’s unilateral policies, saying it’s time for Washington to “return to the international community”.
Zarif said on Monday his country does not want a war with the US but added that President Trump must lift harsh economic sanctions on Tehran to clear the way for negotiations.
The skepticism in Israel in about the latest Iranian declarations remains deep.
Retired Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad told Breaking Defense that “because of the US sanctions they may slow the race towards the bomb, and instead make some show of force, but the Iranians will continue the race and will have a nuclear bomb.”
Gilad served as Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense. During his 30 years of service at the IDF, Gilead had been, among other positions, head of the Military Intelligence Research Division.
Israel has declared time after time that it won’t accept Iran armed with a nuclear bomb.
In recent months, according to foreign sources, the Israeli Air Force has trained for very long-range missions. And the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have recently deployed an advanced radar near the border with Gaza to handle drone attacks. The advanced radar spotted on the Gaza border with Israel, is the ELTA ELM-2084 Multi-Mission Radar (MMR). It fuses additional ELTA sensors to the main MMR system, thereby providing an active, passive, and combined Air Situational Picture (ASP).
Israeli experts told Breaking Defense that in any confrontation between US and Iranian forces, Iran will send in waves of armed drones.
Israeli experts say that Iranian drones used to look like cheap copies of those operated by other countries, but they are now somewhat more advanced operationally relevant.
Col. (Res.) Shaul Shy served among other positions as the head of counter terror branch and the intelligence officer of the Southern Command. As a civilian, he was deputy head of the National Security Council (NSC). Now a senior fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terror (ICT) in Israel, he says that Iran has managed to develop and manufacture its own drones and possesses a range of both surveillance and armed drones. “If hostilities erupt in the (Persian) Gulf, I have no doubt that the Iranians will use armed UAS and drones to attack US targets,” Shy told me. Included in their arsenal are what he called “suicide” drones with cluster warheads that can cause heavy casualties.
Israel, however, has developed drone countermeasures. The most advanced system is the Rafael “Drone Dome,” which uses an advanced radar to detect the UAS and a laser for destroying it.
Iran said Friday that it would release images to prove the USS Boxer did not down one of their drones, as President Trump claimed. The amphibious assault ship is part of a deployment to the region of more than 2,000 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
After a great deal of uncertainty surrounding its fate, Iran admitted it had possession of a United Arab Emirates ship, the Riah. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard said Thursday the ship was believed to be involved in smuggling. Remember that the Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil supertanker July 4 near Gibraltar, an operation which London claimed was carried out under the orders of the Gibraltarian police.
Paul McLeary contributed from Washington.