When Israel Leaves its Calling Card

On March 4, 2021, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz very publicly told Fox News that the "Israeli military is updating plans to strike Iranian nuclear sites and is prepared to act independently." He added that "If the world stops them before, it’s very much good. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves.”

Gantz seem to be announcing that if the U.S. participated in discussions with Iran and the rest of the P5+1 to open the possibility of returning to the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran, then, the world having missed its opportunity to "stop them," Israel would "strike Iranian nuclear sites."

The US did return to the JCPOA negotiations. And on April 11, Israel detonated an explosion in Iran’s Natanz civilian nuclear facility. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran described the act of sabotage as a "small explosion." The explosion destroyed the power supply that runs the centrifuges that enrich uranium. Reports suggest that an explosive device was smuggled into the Natanz facility and detonated remotely.

There is nothing new about Israel sabotaging Iran’s Natanz facility. The Flame and Stuxnet viruses that wiped out 20% of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges were joint operations of the CIA, NSA, and Israel’s unit 8200. The July 3, 2020 explosion at Natanz also seems to have been carried out by Israel.

What is new this time is that Israel left its calling card. Israel always stays hidden: they never publicly claim responsibility for their attacks on Iran. This time Israel made sure everyone knew. General Aviv Kochavi, chief of staff of the Israeli army, said that "the Israeli military’s "operations in the Middle East are not hidden from the eyes of the enemy."

Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted intelligence sources who attribute the attack to the Mossad. Israel’s public radio broadcaster Kan cited intelligence sources as saying that Mossad carried out the attack. The Jerusalem Post turned up the echo chamber, repeating that the Mossad "was reportedly behind the attack on Natanz." Both American and Israeli officials confirmed to The New York Times that Israel had a role in the attack.

The United States made its first appearance at the Vienna talks on the Iran nuclear deal on April 6. The same day, right on cue, Israel attacked an Iranian military vessel in the Red Sea. The ship broke into flames and smoke when a mine that had been attached to it exploded.

Like Israel blowing up the Natanz facility, there is nothing new in Israel blowing up Iranian ship. Though this may be the first time Israel has attacked a military vessel, since late 2019, Israel has attacked at least a dozen commercial ships carrying Iranian oil.

But, again, the new pattern emerges. What is new this time is that Israel left its calling card. The New York Times reports that "an American official said the Israelis had notified the United States that its forces had struck the vessel at about 7:30 a.m. local time."

Why are the normally clandestine Israelis leaving calling cards since the start of the reborn JCPOA negotiations? Because it is not nuclear facilities and military ships that are being sabotaged. It is American diplomacy that would bring Iran out of international isolation. Israel is not sabotaging Iran. Israel is sabotaging the U.S.

Iran seldom publicizes Israeli acts of sabotage. And there’s a reason. If they made the attacks public and did nothing, they would look impotent; if they made the attacks public and retaliated, the world would see the Iranian retaliation and not the Israeli provocation, and the US would be forced to further isolate Iran and abort diplomacy. That’s what Israel is trying to provoke; that’s what Iran is trying to avoid. That’s what Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif was explaining when he said that the Israelis "want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions…We will not fall into their trap."

Iran wasn’t falling into the trap. So, Israel started leaving its calling card by informing the US and the world of their responsibility for the attacks. "Once Israeli officials are quoted, it requires the Iranians to take revenge," former head of the Mossad Danny Yatom said Monday with on an Israeli Army run radio station. Now if Iran lets the attacks go, they looked weak; if Iran retaliates, they looked like the aggressor, like terrorists. If the US let’s Israel get away with it – which they consistently have – it either embarrasses the US and shows they’ll let Israel do what they want, or it makes the US look complicit in Iran’s eyes. Either way, it weakens renewed Iranian and American efforts at diplomacy.

Because Israel brazenly carried out the attack while US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Israel, it is hard for the US to claim they didn’t know about it. So, when Austin stood beside Netanyahu in front of reporters and continued to promise America’s support for Israel’s qualitative military edge, the Israeli design is that it will look like complicity to Iran and sabotage the talks. In an April 12 media availability, when asked about what he would say to Netanyahu after the Israeli attack, Austin refused to mention Iran and said only that he is in Israel "to reassure the leadership of our commitment as a…strategic partner, only worsening that diplomacy damaging perception.

Israel is leaving its calling card to provoke Iran into self damaging retaliation and to cast the US as complicit in attacks on Iran. The first threatens America’s willingness to engage in diplomacy with Iran; the second threatens Iran’s willingness to engage in diplomacy with America.

Israel is leaving its calling card in an attempt to sabotage America’s attempt to re-engage in diplomacy with Iran.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.