As negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program resumed in Vienna on Monday, it appears that the Islamic Republic is further ramping up its bellicose activities in the Middle East.
First, let’s take a look at what happened between Iran and Israel over the past two weeks.
The missile attack on Tel Aviv
The launch of two rockets toward Tel Aviv early on New Year’s Day has been linked by Israeli media to internal developments in Israel and the areas under the administration of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (Gaza).
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) claimed the missile launch was an accident, caused by “bad weather” or a “lightning strike,” depending on who you ask.
Later, PIJ indicated that the launch of the long-range missiles, which exploded in the sea off the coast of Tel Aviv and the IAF base in Palmachim, was a warning to Israel.
It was reportedly perpetrated in solidarity with jailed Palestinian hunger-striker Hisham Abu Hawash, who is a PIJ member.
Doctors last week said Abu Hawash was now in critical condition, and PIJ threatened Israel to bomb Tel Aviv should he die. The terror organization founded and supported by Iran demanded that Israel release Hawash.
Hunger strikes have previously proven to be an effective blackmail tool to force Israel into making concessions.
Some hunger-strikers were released by Israel, while in other cases the Palestinian prisoners were able to secure better conditions for their detention.
Hunger strikes for better conditions in prison are, however, a farce when one considers the real situation in the Israeli jails.
The Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons not only receive a ‘salary’ from the Palestinian Authority (which can be as much as 12,000 NIS per month depending on the severity of the sentence) but are also allowed to receive 1,600 NIS from third parties for purchases in the prison kiosk.
Last year it was announced that the Israel Postal Service has opened and manages accounts for the Palestinian prisoners.
A staggering 100 million NIS has been transferred to the accounts since 2008. This amount does not include the salaries paid by the PA to the imprisoned terrorists.
The Palestinian prisoners also have free access to cable television in their cells and can prepare food in the kitchen of the ward where they are being held.
Compared to the situation in other countries in the Middle East, inmates in Israeli prisons live a luxurious life. So there was no reason for Hamas and PIJ to risk a war against Israel over this issue.
In the end, it was Israel that succumbed to the pressure and on Tuesday evening news broke that the Jewish state would release Hawash at the end of February.
The terrorist was photographed shortly afterward smiling broadly. His condition was thus less “critical” than claimed.
War of attrition will continue
So Hamas and PIJ have one less reason to carry out new attacks on Israel, one would think.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
The war of attrition will continue as the real reason why Hamas and PIJ regularly re-engage with Israel can be found in Tehran.
The fanatical regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi gives Hamas and PIJ all the necessary support to continue the war of attrition against Israel.
This is something that previously has been confirmed by various Hamas and PIJ leaders.
Iran is also helping the two terrorist groups to make military progress and has developed a strategy that Hamas and PIJ have been pursuing for some time now.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh openly acknowledged this in an interview with the Qatar-based TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera last week.
Haniyeh said Hamas had received $70 million from Iran to change the Palestinian strategy after its first war with Israel in 2008/2009.
Haniyeh also claimed that as a result of this changed strategy, Israel had been “completely paralyzed” by the rocket salvos fired from Gaza during the 11-day war in May last year.
According to Haniyeh, the Israeli defense systems against the rockets from Gaza had not offered the desired protection to the civil population.
Iran had also helped terror movements in Gaza develop better missiles, Haniyeh said, adding that Hamas and PIJ had restored deterrence in the battle against the Israeli army.
Hamas and PIJ commanders have started to cooperate intensively recently and regularly conduct large-scale military exercises modeled on those of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) in Iran.
Iranian cyber attacks on Israel
Iran is also very active in the field of cyber attacks on Israel.
After shutting down websites of Israeli government agencies two weeks ago, another Iranian cyberattack was reported last weekend on the English-language Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post and its subsidiary Ma’ariv.
The home pages of JPost and Ma’ariv disappeared and were replaced with images of an exploding nuclear reactor in the Israeli city of Dimona.
A hand supposedly belonging to Qassem Soleimani, the assassinated commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, was seen firing a bullet at Dimona.
The image had a banner in broken English and Hebrew saying, “we are close to you, why don’t you think of that?”
The Jerusalem Post later confirmed that it was an Iranian cyber-attack and wrote that the attack also targeted the State of Israel.
Iran commemorates Qassem Soleimani’s assassination
Earlier this week Iran commemorated in its well-known fashion the assassination of Soleimani, who was killed on January 3, 2020, by an American killer drone near Baghdad, Iraq.
First, Iranian-made missiles were fired at US military bases last Monday.
At the same time, military personnel in Iraq shot down unmanned kamikaze aircraft near Baghdad airport in Iraq. The text “Soleimani’s revenge” was painted on one of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s).
UAV attacks continued on Tuesday when drones loaded with explosive materials were shot down near the large Ayn al-Assad base near Baghdad. The base is home to a large US Army contingent.
Also on Monday, a ship coming from the United Arab Emirates was hijacked by the Iranian-backed Ansar Allah or Houthi militia near the port city of Hodeida in Yemen.
Ansar Allah claimed that Saudi Arabia was using the ship to smuggle weapons into Yemen, something the Kingdom vehemently denied.
The hijacking of the ship was later also associated with the commemoration of Soleimani’s death.
Hezbollah and Iran in Syria
In Syria, Iran also remains very active, renovating old Syrian army and air bases together with its ally Hezbollah.
Iran has also stepped up its troop build-up near Damascus and plans to transfer the so-called T-4 airbase near the city of Homs to a renovated Syrian airbase near Damascus.
This is probably done to complicate Israeli airstrikes on the bases because the Russian army is responsible for the aerial security of Damascus.
The Israel Air Force (IAF) has repeatedly bombed this area around the Syrian capital in order to prevent the Iranian troop build-up and to frustrate sophisticated arms supplies from Iran destined for Hezbollah.
The IAF last week used missiles fired from the Mediterranean by Israeli warplanes during yet another attack on Iranian assets in Syria.
The missiles destroyed a number of containers with advanced weapons delivered by an Iranian ship to the western Syrian port city of Latakia.
Hebrew as a psychological weapon
Media and the regime in Iran are also increasingly using the Hebrew language to threaten Israel.
Threats to launch an attack on Dimona were published in Hebrew on websites affiliated with the regime.
This week, the Khamenei-affiliated news site Tasnim opened a new page in the Hebrew language.
The page clearly aims to influence public opinion in Israel and to increase the psychological pressure on the Jewish state.
Israel warns neighbors about Iran
Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz last week warned Arab countries near Iran not to allow their territory to be used to transport weapons to its proxies that threaten Israel.
Israel will continue to block the transport of weapons that “will change the rules of the game,” Gantz warned.
“Iran is the greatest enemy to my nation and to the people of the Middle East,” Gantz added.
Iran’s bellicose activities are not on the agenda in Vienna.
It remains unclear whether all of Iran’s belligerent activities will be discussed during negotiations with the Islamic Republic in Vienna.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday that “modest progress” had been made in negotiations with Iran.
However, Price also made it clear that there is only talk of a mutual return to the original 2015 nuclear deal, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
For the Israeli government, however, a return to the original JCPOA is unacceptable.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced on Tuesday that only minor progress will be made in Vienna and there won’t be the breakthrough Israel needs.
No place for Zionism in the world
Lapid later became embroiled in a Twitter war of sorts with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian, who wrote that “there is no place for Zionism in the future of the world.”
In his response, Lapid said that the regime in Tehran will eventually lose the battle with Israel and disappear.
The extremist Iranian regime threatens Israel with annihilation but will continue to lose this battle. Their failed leadership is destroying Iran from within. In the words of the Iranian poet Saadi: “He whose essence is evil, will forever remain so.” https://t.co/xYqBcpVzwO
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) January 4, 2022
The Israeli military, meanwhile, continues to prepare for military action against Iran and has finally reached an agreement with the Americans on the early delivery of two Boeing K-64 tanker planes needed for an airstrike on Iran.