The Islamic Republic’s recent attempts to sabotage Saudi and Emirati oil tankers and pipelines suggest that the mullahs have shifted to a more active response to renewed American sanctions. Could Tehran’s next step be to order Hizballah, or its other proxies, to attack Israel? Unlikely, argue Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein:
The sabotage of oil infrastructure caused no loss of life, and the Saudi pipeline was quickly brought back online. Notably, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia did not respond militarily. However, an extraordinary cross-border attack against Israel by one of Iran’s clients—exceeding the current sporadic but routine exchanges in terms of threat or consequences—runs a high risk of eliciting the powerful military response Iran seeks to avoid. This certainly proved true [at the beginning of this month], when two rockets fired from Syria triggered Israeli airstrikes that caused significant damage to Iranian and Hizballah forces. . . .
The direct and indirect threats along Israel’s border are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but it is probable that Iran’s precarious geopolitical and economic situation will reduce the appetite for escalation with Israel for the foreseeable future. The Iranian nuclear issue, by contrast, may reemerge and replace the Iranian conventional threat as the foremost priority for Israel’s security establishment. . . .
Israel would be wise to prepare for three more problematic nuclear scenarios. . . . If the 2015 nuclear deal continues to limp along, Israel should devise a method for coping with the agreement’s sunset clauses over the next decade that could leave Iran with a full-scale nuclear program, accompanied by a dangerously short breakout time, by 2030. Preparing for this will require a great deal of investment in diplomatic, intelligence collection, and force-building efforts that can be utilized for an international push, bolstered by an effective military option, to prevent Iran’s nuclearization, perhaps by seeking to extend the sunset clauses.
This would be no simple task even with the current level of support from the U.S. administration. It will be considerably more complex should one of Donald Trump’s opponents win the presidency next year and choose to rejoin the deal.