An attack two weeks ago that destroyed an advanced Russian missile shipment delivered to Syria’s Assad regime should also serve as a warning to Iran – and to those complacent Western diplomats who have (dangerously in my view) reconciled themselves to the idea of allowing Iran to go nuclear and then trying to contain it. For it seems that the July 5 attack on an arms depot near the Syrian naval base of Latakia, which has been attributed to Israel, came not from the air (as CNN and the New York Times reported last weekend) but from under the water.
Many Western officials who have apparently concluded that Israel could only destroy Iran’s nuclear program from the air – and that Israel does not have the capability to carry out such long-range air strikes in a decisive way – should take note. In recent years, Israel has greatly advanced its sea-based capabilities, and the geographical range of operations that Israel can mount from the sea, I am reliably told, now spans the entire globe. Israeli submarines are no longer confining themselves to the Mediterranean.
Last Saturday, the United States appeared to confirm that Israel was behind the July 5 attack on 50 Russian Yakhont anti-ship missiles in Latakia. Both the New York Times and CNN quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying the strike was carried out by Israel from the air. The state-of-the-art Yakhont missiles have a range of 300 kilometers and are considered to be among the best of their kind in the world – for example, they can evade radar by flying just above water surface. They were of significant concern to both the U.S. and Israel because their range and sophistication meant they could neutralize the ability of both nations’ navies to patrol the region, and they could also complicate the ability of the U.S. or other states to enforce a future no-fly zone over Syria should they wish to implement one. Israel was also concerned that Syria would allow the missiles to fall into the hands of its arch enemy, the Iranian-controlled Hezbollah militia.
But on Sunday, a more intriguing scenario was raised when the (London) Sunday Times reported that the attack was not carried out from the air, but by precision-guided missiles fired from Israel’s German-made Dolphin-class submarines. I am told by informed sources that this is a more likely scenario.
When asked in a CBS interview about reports of Israeli responsibility for the Latakia strike, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in line with Israel’s long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying such actions, said, “Oh God, every time something happens in the Middle East, Israel is accused. I’m not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn’t do. I’ll tell you what my policy is: My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups. And we stand by that policy.”
“The fact that the crisis in Syria is getting worse by the minute is the central consideration in my eyes,” he added. “Syria is disintegrating, and the huge advanced weapons stockpiles are beginning to fall into the hands of different forces.”
Even more alarming for Israel, however, is that Iran is said to be only weeks away from crossing Netanyahu’s “red line” of possessing 250 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium – enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.
Netanyahu told CBS that Iran was now just 60 kilograms short of crossing this line, and “they should understand that they’re not going to be allowed to cross it.” His assessment is in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report in May, which alleged that Iran possessed 182 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium.
Israel fears that the Iran situation is becoming critical at the exact same time when there has been a lowering of the sense of urgency among many Western officials. Many in the West have become distracted from the Iranian nuclear issue due to a focus on events in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere, coupled with the election last month of the regime-approved Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, whom Netanyahu called “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” In Israel Rouhani is viewed as far more sly and dangerous than the outgoing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who often embarrassed himself with outrageous statements about the Holocaust, homosexuals, and so on.