Iran is right that it has an advantage in pursuing its shadow war with Israel at sea.
But how is this true if the IDF’s navy keeps improving?
The same day that Iran used a combination of drones to attack
an Israel-linked ship on Thursday, The Jerusalem Post
reported that the INS Magen
, the Israeli Navy’s most advanced Sa’ar 6 corvette missile ship, is getting ready to become fully operational in early 2022, after first being delivered to Israel in December 2020.
In fact, acquisition of the INS Magen is only one of a series of moves the IDF has made to give it greater range in defending Israel’s territorial waters, especially its sea-based natural gas installations, and will be utilized in any war with Hamas or Hezbollah.
Israel’s new navy is also far more connected to other IDF units than in the past, as it is able to track and relay real-time intelligence to supporting air force and other units.
One would think that all of these new IDF naval capabilities would intimidate the Islamic Republic from choosing the sea specifically to target Israel.
But all of this misses the point.
Yes, the IDF has come a long way.
BACK IN 2002 when the IDF captured the Karine A
mega weapons ship, it needed help
from the CIA and US naval intelligence to find the boat, as recorded in the book “A Raid on the Red Sea”
Until the last second, it seemed that Israeli commandos might not be able to jump the ship from helicopters due to limits in fuel and range.
With fewer large ships that could spend as much time at sea, the operation was almost called off at the last minute due to weather conditions. Only a risky and brave call by Israeli naval commanders to capture the ship, despite it being deeper into the Red Sea than originally planned, won the day.
In contrast, the IDF is less reliant now on US satellite surveillance – though still cooperating with it – having developed more of its own capabilities, and has made all of the above naval advances. It can travel farther out and project some power and surveillance farther out.
But the IDF still has close to zero naval capabilities outside of its main operating areas near the Israeli, Gazan and Lebanese coastlines, in areas where Iran is dominant or where it can easily send fast boats. It is susceptible to Iranian drone attacks, sea mines, rockets and other attacks on Israel-connected civilian shipping.
Tehran can also hit Israel at embassies overseas, as it did through Hezbollah in Burgas and Bulgaria in 2012, and attempted to do not long ago in India.
But every one of these land-based attacks carries much more nasty diplomatic consequences either for Iran itself or for its proxies.
A British citizen was killed in Iran’s recent attack, but since the attack was at sea, with a mix of countries connected to the ship and the circumstances framed as unclear by everyone besides Israel, the diplomatic fallout will be significantly reduced.
In the meantime, Iran has upped its attacks against Israel-connected ships with many attacks in the last couple of years. Jerusalem has no answer – and does not appear to be engaged in finding a clear answer.
The only answer to date has been retaliation against Iranian shipping or other assets, in order to achieve deterrence.
But new incoming Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is now looking to show off how tough he is, so past actions by the IDF will not be enough.
If Israel wants to avoid an increase in attacks on its ships at sea, it will need a new doctrine for the navy to extend its protective footprint or a new level of retaliation to get Raisi to back off.