In recent days, the Israeli military has deployed missile defense (BMD) batteries around the southern city of Eilat amid fears of an expected attack by Iranian-backed Hussein rebels from Yemen. The move comes on the first anniversary of the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in a Jan. 3, 2020, U.S. Air Force strike at Baghdad International Airport and a month and a half after leading Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was physically eliminated in an operation near Tehran, The Times of Israel reported today, Jan. 7.
Iran has announced plans to retaliate for the two high-profile murders. The Israeli military estimates that one area of “retaliatory strikes” could be northwestern Yemen, which is under the control of the Shiite movement Ansar Allah (Helpers of Allah, Hussites). Its arsenal is believed to include ballistic and cruise missiles capable of reaching Israeli territory. The Houthis have launched missile strikes against Saudi Arabia in recent years, the largest such attack being the Sept. 14, 2019, attack on oil facilities in the eastern part of the kingdom.
In light of this threat, batteries of Iron Dome and Patriot missile defense systems have been deployed near the southern tip of Israel, the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, in recent days. The former is usually used against rockets and mortar shells, but are also capable of intercepting small drones and cruise missiles. “The Patriots, on the other hand, are used to defend against ballistic missiles and other large aerial targets, including multi-role fighters and heavy UAVs, notes The Times of Israel.
Meanwhile, as can be understood from the IDF’s recent actions in the region, the Israeli army is pursuing “active defense” tactics, in addition to reinforcing its missile defense shield by continuing to attack suspected pro-Iranian targets in Syria.
On the evening of January 6, Israel struck again in southern Syria in the third such attack in nearly 10 days. According to the London-based non-governmental organization Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), Israeli missiles were aimed at Lebanese Hezbollah bases. Allegedly, the Israeli Air Force attacked several positions south of Damascus, two days after a delegation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) visited the area. SOHR sources also indicate that three fighters of Iranian-backed groups were killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Syria.
Western intelligence sources say the intensification of Israeli strikes against Syria in the past few months is part of a “shadow war” in Syria approved by the United States, as well as part of a larger anti-Iranian military campaign in the region that has “undermined Iran’s extensive military power over the past two years,” The Arab Weekly reported Thursday.
In mid-December, the chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi warned Iran and its allies in the region that if they try to strike at the Jewish state, they will be attacked immediately and pay a “high price.” “We are hearing more and more threats to Israel from Iran,” Avivi stated at the time. – If Iran and its partners attack the State of Israel, they will pay a high price.”
Israel is closely monitoring all Iranian “movements” in the Middle East and expects that the “Iranian threat” is likely to come from Iraq and Yemen, IDF spokesman General Hadi Zilberman told the Arab news portal Elaph (headquartered in London) last month. Zilberman then addressed Iran and the tactics used by the IDF to respond to the threat, which he said might come from Iraq and Yemen. He called the two Arab countries Iran’s “second circle” after Lebanon and Syria in confronting Israel, which is watching the situation in both Iraq and Yemen most closely. He said Iran had developed a wide range of capabilities to threaten the Jewish state, including sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely piloted missiles, “which they (Iranians – Ed.) manage to use without detection, which shows the immense capability of Iran in this area. The spokesman called the Iranian threats “a powder keg which may explode” at any time, “considering the many strikes Iran has suffered in the last year which it has been unable to respond to adequately. These include the assassination of General Qassem Suleimani, whose anniversary came on January 3, 2021, before which Iran was expected to launch another “retaliatory strike,” as it did on January 8, 2020, with a missile attack on the Ain al-Asad base in Iraqi territory where the U.S. military was stationed.
As we have reported earlier, experts are noting rising tensions at all the key points of Iran’s in direct confrontation with its main geopolitical rivals in the Middle East in the person of Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia – on the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the Gaza Strip, in Yemen, as well as directly in the Persian Gulf. Tehran-backed Hezbollah, the Palestinian movement Hamas and the Shiite movement Ansar Allah have intensified in recent weeks along Israel’s northern border, in the Gaza Strip and Yemen respectively. Increasing confrontation can also be seen in Iraq, where a number of pro-Iranian militias are active. The main reason for the high risk of a major armed clash in the region was associated with the first anniversary of the assassination of General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian special forces of the IRGC.
U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons flew in the Middle East late last year, designed to show Iran’s strength and deter it from making “rash moves” in the region. Pentagon officials say this “military show of muscle” is meant to warn Tehran against attacking U.S. interests or personnel in the days leading up to the anniversary of Suleimani’s assassination.