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The blame-game between Iran and Israel

The Middle East foes are engaged in brinkmanship on several fronts. The long-running and undeclared shadow war between the two most implacable foes, Iran and Israel, appears to be heating up. Iran has blamed Israel for a mysterious explosion at the weekend that knocked out power at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
In 2015 Iran signed up to a multinational nuclear pact called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which lifted sanctions in exchange for stringent nuclear inspections. But in 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of it, slapping draconian sanctions on Iran, which has responded by incrementally breaking the terms of the deal, most notably enriching uranium – the chemical element that can be used for nuclear energy or, potentially, weapons – beyond the permitted limits.

Recently, Iran’s foreign minister indicated that Israel is the culprit behind a weekend blackout at a central Iranian nuclear facility. Israel played a part in the attack, and an Israel media outlet reported it was a result of a cyberattack carried out by Mossad, Israel’s spy agency. The new Natanz reactor site suffered from an electrical outage, which the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear agency denounced as “nuclear terrorism.” In July, an explosion at the Natanz facility was also described by Iran as sabotage.

For years, Israel has actively carried out a series of concerted assassinations, explosions and sabotage targeting Iran’s nuclear program and its scientists. Israel has not publicly said it was behind what Iran calls “an act of sabotage” but US and Israeli media reports are quoting officials as saying it was carried out by Israel’s overseas intelligence agency, Mossad. Iran has vowed to take revenge “at a time of its choosing”.

This is not an isolated incident. It follows a gradually accelerating pattern of hostile, tit-for-tat actions by both countries as they step up their covert war while being careful – so far – to avoid an all-out conflict that would be hugely destructive for both nations. So, what are the risks here and how is this likely to end?

Speaking on Monday during a visit from US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said: “In the Middle East there is no threat that is more serious, more dangerous, more pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran.”

Also on Monday Israel’s Ambassador to London, Tzipi Hotovely: “Iran has never stopped working to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles capable of delivering them. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, make it a threat to the entire world.”

Dr Michael Stephens, a Middle East analyst with the London think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), says recent Israeli actions are a deliberate attempt to sabotage the nuclear negotiations. “The Israelis are unilaterally trying to derail the Iranian nuclear programme, in a way which, while impressive in terms of technical capacity, is a risky game. First, these Israeli efforts could undermine the US negotiating position as it seeks to re-enter the nuclear deal with Iran.

 By Karishma Gwalani

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