The Financial Express

Israel-Iran strife flares up on many fronts

Hezbollah fighters attend the funeral procession of a comrade in Adloun, Lebanon, in May Hezbollah fighters attend the funeral procession of a comrade in Adloun, Lebanon, in May

At the heart of the Iranian issue are the negotiations over the nuclear agreement, which were renewed when the Biden administration came to power, and have since encountered difficulties. But behind the scenes, the tension between Iran and its proxies and Israel, and sometimes Western countries, persists in various arenas and continues to result in a variety of incidents.

The cluster of new incidents over the weekend attests to this, even if there is not always a direct connection between them: In Brussels there was an attempt, apparently Iranian, to test the security around an El Al aircraft; in Iran itself a cyberattack caused a major disruption in train traffic, while on the Lebanese border Israel thwarted a weapons-smuggling attempt apparently associated with Hezbollah.

The incident in Brussels seems to have very serious potential. A suspicious bag found near the El Al counter was left there by an Iranian woman passenger who meanwhile departed on a different flight, to Qatar. Passengers waiting for their flight to Israel were evacuated from the site. The plane to Qatar, which had already taken off, was returned to the airport in Brussels and the Iranian woman was taken for interrogation. The suitcase itself was found to contain "innocent" hand sanitizer, but Israeli security officials are sure it was an attempt to test security arrangements around the counter before carrying out a possible attack.

In January a device exploded near the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, in an operation attributed to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards by means of a local Indian network. Similar attempts, to collect intelligence ahead of terror attacks, were identified recently around other Israeli targets abroad.

In the background is the unsettled account over a series of incidents that Iran attributes to Israel: the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November of last year and a series of mysterious explosions at Iranian nuclear sites, the most recent of which was at a centrifuge facility in the city of Karaj late last month.

Iran also struck a number of cargo ships, some of them Israeli-owned, in the northern Indian Ocean and the edge of the Persian Gulf. These attacks, the most recent of which was at the beginning of this month, are considered responses to the effort attributed to Israel to damage ships smuggling Iranian oil to Syria.

A cyber-war is also being waged between the two countries which, according to the international media, has included mutual strikes over the past two years. The disruption of train traffic over the weekend in Iran caused, according to the Iranian broadcasting authority, "unprecedented chaos at train stations throughout the country." Reuters reported that an announcement on the electronic notice boards in the train stations referred travellers to a service phone line, but the number turned out to be that of Iran's supreme spiritual leader Ali Khamenei.

At the end of the week there was also an incident on the Israel-Lebanon border. The Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons into Israel in the area of the village of Ghajar. Forty-three pistols were found, on some of which silencers could be installed, worth a total of a few million shekels. This was the largest smuggling attempt of its kind over the past two years. Since the beginning of the year another five attempts to smuggle weapons and drugs were thwarted on the northern border. These incidents are in addition to an increase in attempts to smuggle weapons from other borders, mainly from Egypt and Jordan.

Last week, in an unusual step, the army accused a senior Hezbollah figure, Haj Khalil Harb, of responsibility for attempts to smuggle drugs and weapons across the border. Harb is a veteran of the organization's operations and is known to Israel back from the time when he fought against IDF forces in southern Lebanon, in the 1990s. His direct involvement in smuggling operations like these could attest to one of two things - either the economic situation in Lebanon is hard enough to spur operations activists to try to earn money on the side, or there are terrorist intentions behind the criminal activity.

In 2012 the Shin Bet security service and the police uncovered a large Hezbollah operation to smuggle explosives from Lebanon, which included dozens of kilograms of standard and lethal C-4, discovered in Nazareth. It turned out that they had been smuggled by drug criminals from Ghajar and Nazareth. The final destination of the drugs was not discovered. As in that affair, there is a possibility now that Hezbollah or its Iranian patrons are establishing and arming cells in Israel that it can operate when needed in future attacks.

This is not a baseless thought. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards tend to plan for the long term - and the regime in Tehran has an interest in creating the option of response to a long series of incidents that have embarrassed it, from attacks on its nuclear sites and scientists to the theft of its nuclear archive. Harb's appearance on the weapons smuggling scene should trigger warning lights on the Israeli side. Only identification of the final destination of the weapons whose smuggling was thwarted will determine whether the attempt was criminal or whether there were other intentions.

The piece is excerpted from The Haaretz. www.haaretz.com


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