Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi has boasted that Israel is “the only country in the world that has been killing Iranians for two years now."
In a radio interview on Sunday, Hanegbi added that Israel "strikes the Iranians hundreds of times in Syria. Sometimes admits it and sometimes foreign reports expose it, sometimes the chief of staff, sometimes the outgoing air force chief, but it is all a coordinated policy."
Just last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted the Israeli Defence Forces as “the only army in the world fighting Iran”.
As part of its proxy war with Iran, Israel has been striking targets in Syria that it claims belong to Iran. Tel Aviv is driven by concerns that its arch-foe Tehran is trying to maintain a lasting military presence in post-war Syria.
“The greatest threat to stability and security in the region comes from Iran and its satellites,” Netanyahu said in February. “We are determined to continue with our aggressive action against the efforts of Iran, which calls for our destruction, and against its attempts to entrench militarily in Syria.”
Hanegbi, a member of the Netanyahu's right-leaning Likud Party, has been in charge of several major government departments and has overseen Israel’s intelligence services. He is also a member of the State Security Cabinet, a small forum defining the country’s foreign and defence policy.
'Stupid' Nuclear Deal
Speaking about the probability of a further escalation of tensions in the Gulf, he said: “You can see that the Iranians are very limited in their responses, and it's not because they don't have abilities, it's because they understand that Israel means business.”
On Friday, Iranian forces intercepted two British-linked oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. One of them was released, but another was taken to an Iranian port over the alleged violation of maritime regulations.
The UK has promised a “robust” response but ruled out military options. The foreign ministries of France and Germany expressed solidarity with Britain, but EU diplomats have been silent on the issue, and Hanegbi claimed that the Europeans are trying to appease Tehran.
"The Europeans try at all costs to placate Iran and to woo it, so that the stupid nuclear agreement will not fall apart before their eyes," he said.
While Israel has stayed on the side-lines of the ongoing Gulf crisis, the IDF is said to be assessing potential threats to its vessels in the area. Defence officials have reportedly identified no Iranian plot against Israeli military or commercial shipping but believe that Iran might still want to attack it by proxy.
The Ailing Accord
Last spring, the United States and Israel claimed that Iran had a covert nuclear weapons programme, despite its commitment to curb its nuclear ambitions.
Although both Iran and the global nuclear agency, the IAEA, said that there was no credible evidence to these claims, US President Donald Trump exited the 2015 nuclear deal and re-instated economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic so as to pressure it into a new nuclear deal.
Iran has been reluctant to negotiate another agreement, and the remaining signatories also pledged to adhere to it.
However, Iran has scaled back some of its commitments under the agreement, citing the inability of European powers – Germany, France, and Britain – to protect it from US sanctions.
Trump’s move led to a rapid escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran, which have been trading bellicose rhetoric for the past year.
It all escalated to a point where Iranian military shot down a US spy drone, while Trump canceled a retaliatory military strike on Iran at the last minute.
Neutral commercial vessels have now appeared at the centre of the stand-off. Friday’s capture of a UK-flagged tanker was preceded by a series of yet-unsolved attacks on tankers in the area, as well as the detention of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar by the UK over allegations of illegally shipping oil to Syria.