“Israel’s proven capacity to simultaneously perform multiple missions is about to be challenged as never before,’ said Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday, Sept. 26, during a New Year’s toast at the IDF General Staff forum. The prime minister and defense minister went on to say: “Hitherto we have navigated affairs boldly and responsibly in several arenas, at times simultaneously, but not so far in a comprehensive confrontation.”
Netanyahu has never referred to all-out war as a distinct possibility, only as an outcome to be averted by “bold and responsible” navigation on several fronts.
DEBKAfile accounts for this change of tone by the events building up in the last two weeks. The effort to arrange a summit between the American and Iranian presidents at the UN fell flat, and Iran knows that even harsher US sanctions are therefore in store, including a ban on the Chinese vessels that are breaking the embargo on its oil sales. Tehran has furthermore counted its Sept. 14 cruise missile-drone attack on Saudi oil infrastructure a major success; it does not hide its intention to follow up with more devastating strikes against America’s regional allies.
Indeed on Sept. 22, Iran’s mouthpiece Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Tehran media singled out the United Arab Emirates as the next target after Saudi Arabia. A communique quoted by Iran’s media revealed: “A final ultimatum has been issued to the United Arab Emirates, explicitly and through a third party, either to get out of the Yemen war, north and south, or to wait for their share of punitive attack.” The warning adds: ”It would be a cruel attack on a country that has never experienced fire inside its home.”
In the absence of an American military response to the attack on Saudi oil, Tehran feels it can safely strike when and how it pleases.
With Israeli media exclusively preoccupied with the national political stalemate, a third general election appears in the national consciousness to be more realistic than a general war. However, Netanyahu’s warning on the eve of the New Year was solidly grounded in a rush of ominous events. The generals he addressed are therefore working on two assumptions:
- There is no certainty that Iran’s next “punitive attack” won’t fall on Israel before the UAE. The IDF is therefore in the throes of preparations to fend off Iranian cruise missiles and exploding drones potentially aimed at strategic targets in Israel from various sources – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon or/and the Gaza Strip.
- Even if Iran hits the UAE first, Tehran won’t give up on the option of punishing Israel next.
The Trump administration’s decision not to go to war with Iran leaves the ayatollahs’ regime a free hand to try and smash the military-intelligence alliance binding Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. The dominant view in the IDF General Staff forum is that the Iranians will not pass up this opportunity. What Israel’s strategists are trying to decide at this moment therefore is whether the IDF should wait for the blows to fall on the Gulf emirate and Israel – in whatever order – or pursue pre-emptive action. In either case, total war appears to be unavoidable.