Short of last month’s incident wherein Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared via Twitter that he’s seeking “war with Iran”, new comments issued this week represent the most aggressive declaration of how far Israel is willing to go to thwart Iran in the region.
Echoing the Trump administration’s desire to bring Iranian exports to zero through sanctions, Netatyahu said on Wednesday that he’s considering ordering Israel’s Navy to target Iranian oil tankers to prevent them from selling oil abroad. This as a number of other signatories to the P5+1 nuclear deal have vowed to continue buying despite US sanctions and threatened repercussions from Washington.
“Iran is trying to circumvent the sanctions through covert oil smuggling over maritime routes, and to the extent that these attempts widen, the navy will have a more important role in blocking these Iranian actions,” Netanyahu said.
Of course what the Israeli prime minister calls “covert oil smuggling” Iran would see simply as its right to conduct valid and legal shipping as a sovereign economic power. But given the tightening economic noose and expansive US naval presence in international waters, Iran has reportedly been switching off location transponders on its ships as well as other measures to conceal its maritime traffic (using “ghost ships” to flout US sanctions), including even altering names of ships or flag registries.
Netanyahu continued, as reported by Reuters, “I call on the entire international community to stop Iran’s attempts to circumvent the sanctions by sea, and of course, by any (other) means.”
It appears Netanyahu could be setting the stage for some kind of Israeli escalation against Iranian assets abroad and on the water, though as Reuters speculates, “It was not clear how Israel would stop such shipping activities or whether it would risk direct confrontation at sea with Iranian vessels.” Especially as “The Israeli navy, whose largest vessels are missile corvettes and a small submarine fleet, is mostly active in the Mediterranean and Red seas.”
Perhaps more likely Netanyahu’s words, like many speeches before, were for an audience of one — aimed at the White House in the hopes that Trump could be willing to take more direct action to prevent Iranian oil from reaching Europe or China.
If Israel can get Iranian oil shipping operations commonly deemed as “smuggling” by the United States and international allies, this could justify future naval direct intercepts and action, which itself to spark a major incident leading to war. But as Netanyahu indicated last month in a tweet (but later tried to walk back the words), this could bring the hoped for “war with Iran” he said Israel is seeking.