Against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s passivity in response to Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf and the generalized confusion about U.S.-Iran policy, the Israelis are the only ones applying “maximum pressure” on Iran—and it seems to be working. When American officials next meet their Iranian counterparts, it is likely because the Israeli military made it possible.
In the lazy days of August when the media spotlight was on Hong Kong, the administration’s trade war with China, mass shootings in the United States, the G-7 meeting, and fires in the Amazon, the Israelis were pounding the Iranians and their allies. Over the course of a week, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hit an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps base in Syria, destroyed a weapons depot for the Iranian-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, and undertook drone strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is likely not the case that United States had a role in Israel’s military activity, but these strikes do accrue to the interest of both countries. Some analysts have speculated that given Israel’s Sept. 17 rerun election and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s precarious political position, the operations were an effort to boost his chances of remaining prime minister. That could be, though the direct evidence is thin.
More likely, the Israelis have detected an increase in Iranian efforts to supply advanced weaponry to its allies that could harm Israel and thus went after this materiel. That is standing IDF policy, but the Israelis’ sense of threat is heightened by what they perceive to be the Trump administration’s penchant for speaking loudly but carrying a small stick on Iran.