Iran’s New Strategic Threat Against Israel

The possibility of closing the Bab al-Mandab and Hormuz straits pose a threat no less serious than others coming from Tehran and Hezbollah

Israel isn’t involved. That’s the official response to anyone who asks what the recent deterioration in relations between Iran and the United States means for Jerusalem. We’re not involved; we’re not addressing or responding to it. Ramifications? Potential harm to Israel’s maritime space? Our lips are sealed.

But on the informal level, behind the scenes, there is concern. Israel understands well that a possible escalation of tensions along theTehran-Washington axis constitutes a different kind of strategic threat: harm to free passage in the shipping lanes to and from Israel.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and local intelligence officials are getting continuous updates about developments from the Americans and other countries. Three names apparently starring in these updates are the straits of Bab al-Mandab and Hormuz, and the Suez Canal. Iran is threatening to seal off these passages hermetically, with no entry to commercial vessels, and with anyone persisting in entering risking attack. This is a threat in every sense, no less serious than the others directed at Israel by Tehran and Hezbollah, which are perceived as more tangible. This time the warhead is not on a missile.

There are no alternatives to these shipping lanes; they are among the most important in the world: Approximately 20 percent of the world’s fuel passes through these straits every year. Bab al-Mandab is the gateway from Asia and Africa – through the Suez Canal – to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, and one cannot exaggerate its importance. With regard to Israel, 90 percent of its imports and exports are transported by sea, and 12 percent of them pass through Bab al-Mandab. This includes all commerce between Israel and the East, particularly its imports from China. We’re talking about around $15 billion worth of goods a year.