Israel threatens to strike Iran as new hardline president prepares to take office

Ahmed Aboudouh

The Independent  /  August 5, 2021

This comes after a deadly attack on an Israeli-operated ship last week in the Gulf of Oman raised tensions.

Israel is ready to strike Iran, Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday, a direct threat seen as a stark warning to the government of the Iranian new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi.

The Israeli new threat is the first of its kind since the patchwork coalition government of right-winger Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took over in June. This is also the highest escalation point between the two countries since US President Biden was sworn in in January.

Mr Gantz, who led the centrist Blue and White party and was considered a serious contender to win the PM’s office, said Tehran was a threat to his country, the wider Middle East and the entire world.

When asked by the Israeli Newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth whether Israel is ready to launch a military strike against Iran, he replied: “yes.”

This comes as tensions between Israel and Iran intensified after the first-known deadly attack on an Israeli-operated ship in the Gulf of Oman, leaving a British and a Romanian dead. The US, the UK and Israel blamed Tehran for the attack, as the Islamic Republic prepared for Mr Raisi’s inauguration ceremony. Iran denied the Israeli accusations, dismissing them as “baseless.”

Mr Raisi, a former ultra-conservative judge, was widely accused of overseeing the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners, as part of was known in the late 1980s as the “death commission.”

Israel and Iran have been engaged in a shadow war on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions around Iran’s nuclear program.

In April, Iran blamed Israel for a mysterious explosion that knocked out power at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

Mr Raisi, 60, will be inaugurated later on Thursday to take over from moderate president Hassan Rouhani, two days after winning the formal endorsement of the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to take office.

After Mr Raisi was declared the winner in the June presidential election, Israel’s prime minister called on the international community to “wake up” to the new president’s nuclear ambitions, calling him Iran’s “brutal hangmen.” Iran has repeatedly denied it has intentions to make nuclear weapons.

Experts say Israel is seeking to set out the boundaries for Iran’s new government at a time it enjoys a constricted mandate from the Biden administration – an approach that runs contrary to the conceivably more tolerant policy President Trump had pushed in dealing with Israel.

“Iran is an international and regional problem. The world witnessed one example on Friday,” Mr Gantz said, pointing to the attack against the Mercer Street tanker last week. “This could happen to anyone,” he added.

Mr Gantz commented on Raisi’s Thursday inauguration and his potential hardline policies across the region by saying, “I’m telling the world, pay attention. It’s coming.”

“Iran seeks to pose a multi-front challenge to Israel and is building up its forces in Lebanon and Gaza, deploying militias in Syria and Iraq and maintaining its supporters in Yemen. Iran is a global and regional problem and a challenge to Israel,” Mr Gantz said.

This is not the first time Israeli leaders have threatened to wage war against Iran in their bid to score political points within Israel and on the international stage.

Just days before he left office, Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatens “the elimination of the existential threat” posed by Iran.

Later, it was revealed that Mr Netanyahu had repeatedly urged former US President Donald Trump to launch military strikes against Iran during Mr Trump’s final days in office.

“The comments made by Defense Minister Benny Gantz aren’t much different from former PM Netanyahu. It seems that Israel is sticking to its ‘bomb Iran’ rhetoric, which has been a favourite topic of Israeli politicians, like Netanyahu, for years,” Holly Dagres, Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told The Independent.

“Rhetoric like this is often for domestic consumption as much as it is for Israeli politicians to take an international stand,” she added.

Ahmed Aboudouh is a consultant editor at The Independent