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Israeli press review: Israel 'playing with fire' in escalation with Iran

Meanwhile, a petition calls for withdrawal of Netanyahu’s nomination to form a government, and Gantz calls for investigation into leaks linked to explosion at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility
A ship off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates where an Israeli-operated ship was attacked, 14 April 2021 (AFP)

Israeli experts warn against escalation with Iran 

The recent escalation in tensions between Tel Aviv and Tehran has been viewed in Israel as stepping into a crisis with "eyes wide open" and "playing with fire".

The criticism comes after a ship reportedly used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps was damaged by an explosion last week off Yemen's Red Sea coast and an explosion hit the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran on Sunday. Tehran has blamed Israel for incidents.

Yossi Melman, an Israeli security expert and Middle East Eye correspondent, wrote an op-ed in Haaretz saying that Iran was a different field of confrontation. While Israel felt safe in launching air strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, attacking Iranian ships in the Red Sea could lead to a military escalation that would harm Israel, which depends on shipping for 95 percent of its trade.

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“The Israeli navy is relatively small and its ability to protect and secure maritime trade is limited, particularly in areas like the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, which are far from Israel’s shores,” Melman wrote.

On Tuesday, an Israeli-owned ship was allegedly attacked in waters near Fujairah, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a day after Iran vowed to avenge an explosion at its Natanz nuclear facility.

Israeli officials blamed Iran for the attack, which it described as a missile strike. This is the third Israel-owned ship to be hit in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the past two months.

The Israeli analyst Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz that the politicians who launched a deadly war on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2014 for 51 days are currently at the centre stage of Israel’s politics, naming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, and the army’s chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi.

He wrote that “under their leadership, Israel now risks conflict that’s an order of magnitude greater,” and the country could walk into a military clash with Iran with “eyes wide open”.

According to Harel, the escalation with Iran is not removed from Israel’s internal political schism. 

“With regard to forming a new government, the rift is gaping,” he wrote.

“Gantz isn’t likely to forgive Netanyahu for what he has done to him over the past year. But on the Iranian issue, Gantz seems to think he’s leading rather than being led. And effectively, he’s fallen in line with Netanyahu.”

In the meantime, other officials in the army and external intelligence, the Mossad, are competing over achievements and influences, “without fully considering the strategic consequences".

Harel also wrote that Netanyahu “is acting as an agent of chaos because chaos serves him,” and war or a major military conflict with Iran could be a tool for Netanyahu to extend his term as caretaker prime minister and block his political opponents from setting up a government. 

Gantz calls for probe into leaks about Natanz attack

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has called for an investigation into the sources behind leaks to national and foreign media about an Israeli role in an explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

On Monday, Gantz said during a media conference with the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Force Base, south of Israel, that he has asked the attorney general, the army’s Information Security Department and the internal intelligence to investigate the leaks about the Natanz explosion, Maariv reported.

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Gantz said that the “ambiguity” around Israel’s role in sabotaging the Natanz nuclear facility, southwest of Iran, should stop.

“The issue of chatter is a very serious issue… It is impossible to act when everyone is chatting to themselves, we must not accept the winks and practical stories of 'officials in the West’. It harms our forces, our security and the interests of the State of Israel, " he said.

Israel has long maintained a policy of ambiguity and placed gag orders on sensitive security and military activities in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

Gantz did not confirm if there will be a change in this policy but said that he considers it as “irresponsible behaviour” in the case of the Natanz nuclear facility explosion.

Gantz, who leads the Blue and White political alliance, said that he hopes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would dismiss “any other consideration” regarding tackling Iran.

On Wednesday, during a ceremony in a military cemetery, Gantz warned Israelis and called for unity, saying that “If God forbid we split into sub-tribes, it will be easier for our enemy,” Ynet reported.

Petition against Netanyahu's nomination to form government

Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has written to the High Court against a petition submitted by a democratic group asking that Benjamin Netanyahu’s nomination to form a government be withdrawn.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 30 seats in the March election, and last week Israeli President Reuven Rivlin gave him the mandate to form a coalition government.

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Mandelblit said in his letter to the High Court that there was no basis for juridical intervention and that the court had ruled against a similar petition submitted in the 2020 election, Ynet reported.

Netanyahu, now the country's longest-serving prime minister with 12 consecutive years in office, will have at least 28 days, as of 6 April, to negotiate a coalition agreement. Rivlin has said he thought success in government formation was unlikely.

The prime minister is being tried for corruption charges and could face a 10-years prison sentence.

Israeli petitioners from the Fortress of Democracy group argued that nominating Netanyahu to form a government was “unreasonable” due to the corruption charges against him, and asked the High Court to reverse the nomination.

Netanyahu’s defence attorneys replied to the petition and asked the High Court to dismiss it. 

“Millions of Israeli citizens went to exercise their democratic right and vote in democratic elections. 1,066,892 voters voted for the Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, to became prime minister,” they said, according to Ynet.

They added that the petitioners want to turn the High Court into “another player in the election”.

* Israeli press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.