Apr 7, 2021 - World

Israel risks tensions with Biden by striking Iranian ships

Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting. Photo: Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP via Getty

Israel could be risking escalation with Iran and tensions with the Biden administration by continuing to strike Iranian ships — a risk that is exacerbated by Israel's political crisis and dysfunctional interim government.

Why it matters: An Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps ship was attacked in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen on Tuesday, the same day the Vienna talks opened.

The backstory: Over the last two years, Israel has been engaged in a secret military campaign to sabotage dozens of Iranian ships and tankers which had transferred oil to Syria or missile parts to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

  • This campaign was kept under the radar until it was reported several weeks ago by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
  • Around the same time, the Iranians belatedly retaliated by attacking two Israeli-owned ships in the Gulf. Tuesday's attack was an Israeli response.

What they're saying: The Pentagon was quick to tell reporters that the U.S. wasn't involved in the attack, and U.S. officials later told the New York Times that Israel was responsible.

  • The Israeli government has been silent on the attacks other than general statements against Iran.
  • The attacks could complicate U.S.-Iran nuclear diplomacy and the Biden administrations efforts to end the war in Yemen.

What next: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is due in Israel on Sunday. The regional escalation with Iran will be one of the main topics in his discussions.

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