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Lapid: toad in a lion’s mantle

For all its PM’s bluster, Israel doesn’t dare take on Iran and Hezbollah  
By Abdel Bari Atwan

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has been issuing war threats left, right, and centre in recent days, especially against Iran and Lebanon. His bellicosity betrays Israel’s anxiety at the growing power and military capability of the enemy camp and the end of the myth of military invincibility it has sustained or 74 years.

Lapid boasted a few days ago credited himself and his defence minister Gen Benny Gantz with putting pressure on the US to prevent it from reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. On Sunday, he contradicted himself by calling for increased military pressure on Iran to force it to agree to a better nuclear deal than the one currently on offer. He cited Barack Obama as an example, claiming he threatened to use bunker-buster bombs against Iran and that made it back down and signed the 2015 agreement.

Lapid’s remarks are inconsistent and his claims are either false or inaccurate. How could he boast of foiling US efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and then demand additional US military pressure to secure a better one? — as though the decision is his and he has the upper hand.

Iran didn’t sign the 2015 accord because of any threat from Obama. It did so because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wanted to give the reformists under then-president Hasan Rohani a chance to try to get sanctions lifted, improve the economy, and get as many concessions as possible from the US. If the agreement hadn’t served Iran’s economic and military purposes, Netanyahu wouldn’t have pressed Trump via his son-in-law Jared Kushner to scrap it and replace it with draconian economic sanctions that backfired.

It was Iran, not Israel, that scuttled the European draft of a new nuclear agreement because it doesn’t want to sign it even though the US accepted many of its conditions. Its current status as a nuclear threshold state suits it, after having managed to enrich enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon within a matter of weeks should Khamenei give the order.

Lapid is not a general and his knowledge of strategic military affairs is strictly limited. But he is a skilled publicist thanks to his experience as a journalist and broadcaster. The threats he utters on a near-daily basis to do what it takes to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons were repeated many times over by Netanyahu. But he never dared carry them out because he feared consequences, and that fear persists.

Lapid trembled in trepidation when Hezbollah sent unarmed reconnaissance drones to the Karish field to photograph oil and gas platforms and warships along the coast without being detected by Israeli radar. He gave in to the Lebanese demand to delay oil and gas extraction from the field, and is now begging the US mediator to hurry and reach an agreement– yet he still plays the tough guy like a toad dressed in a lion’s mantle.

If Lapid cannot face down the Lebanese ‘cub’ and yields to it out of fear of its missiles and drones, how is he going to take on the Iranian ‘lion’ with its vastly larger arsenal and an array of sophisticated home-made weaponry?

It is noteworthy that in his weekend remarks Lapid referred to Israel using the Mossad intelligence agency in its efforts to turn up the pressure for a better nuclear agreement. He used the same line with Lebanon, saying the Hezbollah threat was serious and impossible to contain so Israel would have to resort to covert operations against it.

What does this all mean? That Israel will revert to the practice of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists inside and outside the country? That it has a hand in the current disturbances with the aim of turning public opinion against the state and destabilising the country? It will carry out covert operations against Hezbollah and its leaders including assassinations — though it has been trying in vain to find and kill Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah for more than 20 years.

The response to Israeli covert operations will most definitely be covert operations by the other side that could be even deadlier. Nasrallah recently warned that any bid to assassinate Palestinian leaders in Lebanon would trigger immediate retaliation. What if it were Lebanese leaders who were targeted?

Iran confounded the US negotiators in Vienna for more than two years, and Hezbollah outperformed all of Israel’s intelligence agencies with its drone overflights — yet Lapid talks of using Mossad to put pressure on Iran and covert operations against Hezbollah.

A single mistake by Israel’s leaders in Lebanon or Iran could light the fuse of a regional war that poses an existential threat to the Israeli state. It looks like that mistake may soon be made.
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