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Israeli supremacy in Gulf’s shadow war

The Jewish state has become the world's No. 1 expert on Iran, but with respect to the U.S.-led mission to protect vessels in Strait of Hormuz, it should restrict itself to providing intelligence support.

A satellite image of the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, Dec. 30, 2001. Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.
A satellite image of the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, Dec. 30, 2001. Credit: NASA via Wikimedia Commons.
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

The news that Israel is somehow involved in the U.S.-led mission to protect vessels traveling through the Strait of Hormuz against Iranian aggression cannot be separated from the overall campaign Israel has been waging against the Islamic republic in recent years.

This campaign—which began a decade ago with the aim of quashing Iran’s nuclear aspirations and has evolved to include preventing it from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and curtailing its support for militias in the region, and especially to Hezbollah—has made Israel the world’s number one expert on the Iranian issue.

This is not a theoretical, academic expertise, but an actual practical specialty that combines intelligence-gathering efforts and operations the Israeli defense establishment refers to as the “campaign between wars.” This is a strategic concept that encompasses a host of covert and low-intensity military and intelligence efforts to prevent enemy states and terrorist organizations from becoming stronger.

The overt part of this struggle includes countless operations and strikes on Iranian assets—in 2018, then-IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot spoke of over 1,000 operations within a period of a few years. The covert part of this effort includes extensive intelligence-gathering operations meant to ensure Israel remains at least one step ahead of Iran.

In fact, Israel’s intelligence-gathering superiority in the Persian Gulf is so great that we have used it for multiple purposes, such as, for example, conducting surveillance on Islamic State in Syria in the later years of the civil war there.

In operations against the jihadi terrorist group, the acting force may have been Western, but the intelligence they were working with was purely blue and white. It is not for nothing that Mossad Director Yossi Cohen has gone on record as saying that Israeli intelligence has saved thousands of lives in the Middle East and Western countries.

Therefore, it is not surprising to find that Israel is assisting its Western allies in their dealings in the Persian Gulf, as well as its (less obvious) emirate friends there.

It’s safe to assume this assistance mostly consists of intelligence and is not operational. The Israeli defense establishment is unlikely to risk exposing operational activity to non-American entities, and moreover, an active Israeli partnership in an international coalition might prove to be a double-edged sword: much like during the first and second Gulf wars, Israel is expected to stay on the sidelines, knowing that any overt operation on its part could be used by the opponent—in this case, Iran—to undermine the main effort.

Still, it is doubtful whether Israel refrains from taking action against targets it defines as threats to its national security. All one has to do is look at the strikes on various targets in Syria and, according to Arab media reports, Iraq.

It is important to remember, however, that Israel is not taking the lead when it comes to the fight against Iran’s ambitions in the Persian Gulf, or its nuclear aspirations—nor should it. The United States should lead this campaign, along with other countries, and it wouldn’t hurt Europe to get a little more involved. Israel’s role here is to provide assistance, mainly in the form of intelligence, and to maintain deterrence within its borders, so as to ensure that tensions in the Gulf do not spill over into the Middle East.

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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