Israel Commemorates Fallen Soldiers as Regional Friction Grows
Memorial Day marked as naval strikes, nuclear threats intensify
Amid escalating tensions with Iran and rising concerns of regional conflict, Israel on Wednesday marked its annual Memorial Day, honoring the 23,928 fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terrorism throughout the country’s history.
If we are willing to defend ourselves with courage and pay the ultimate sacrifice – only then will we secure our existence and our future
“In every action we take, we do everything we can to spare lives,” promised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a ceremony kicking off the day’s events.
“We try to avoid war but are preparing the military for when it is called upon. If we are willing to defend ourselves with courage and pay the ultimate sacrifice – only then will we secure our existence and our future.”
“We shall never remain indifferent to the threats of war and annihilation of our enemies,” Netanyahu said Wednesday, alluding to Iran.
Hours earlier, initial reports emerged of yet another Israeli-owned ship targeted in the Gulf of Oman, this time near the Oman-United Arab Emirates border.
The Hyperion Ray, a cargo vessel flying the Bahamian flag but belonging to Israeli shipping magnate Rami Ungar’s company, Ray Shipping Ltd., was hit by unidentified missiles, in an incident eerily similar to last month’s attack on another of Ungar’s vessels.
“Hyperion Ray incurred no damage and is continuing at full speed on its original voyage,” the ship’s owners told The Media Line Tuesday evening via a spokesperson.
The attack, if indeed a result of Iranian hostility, constitutes the third such strike against an Israeli-owned vessel in the Gulf in recent weeks.
The Israeli military’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on Tuesday alluded to the simmering tensions with the Islamic Republic in his speech commemorating Israel’s fallen soldiers.
“We are standing guard,” Kochavi assured. “Israel’s security may at times seem like a given, but behind every safe day we pass, stands an entire army, gathering intelligence, preventing penetrations, raiding, striking, arresting terrorists and confiscating weapons and thwarting attacks.”
Coinciding with the reported explosion in the Gulf, Iran on Tuesday also announced it would begin to immediately enrich uranium to 60% purity, a significant departure from its current 20% enrichment and a severe violation of its commitment in the 2015 nuclear deal to enrich uranium only up to 3.67%.
“From tonight, practical preparations for 60% enrichment will begin in Natanz,” Iranian nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said, referring to the nation’s central atomic facility which earlier this week was attacked and temporarily taken out of commission.
On Sunday, less than 24 hours after new advanced centrifuges were unveiled there by President Hassan Rouhani, a mysterious power outage was reported at Natanz’s underground complex.
Israel made a bad gamble
Unnamed Western intelligence officials have since attributed the sabotage effort to Israel.
“Israel made a bad gamble” when attacking the nuclear site, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday prior to the announcement of enhanced enrichment. The day before, Zarif vowed to extract revenge on the “Zionist regime.”
Responding to Tuesday’s move, the White House issued a statement calling Tehran’s actions provocative and expressing concern at the 60% enrichment.
A fissile purity of 90% is required to assemble a nuclear bomb.
“They’re slowly upping the ante, though all their steps are careful, retractable ones,” Ephraim Esculai, a former senior official of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission for over four decades, told The Media Line.
It’s a message, and it’s not coincidental that it was delivered with everything else going on
In addition to the enhancement of uranium enrichment, Tehran on Tuesday also said it would soon activate 1,000 more centrifuges at Natanz, retaliating to alleged Israeli aggression.
“Generally speaking, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between 20% and 60%. This simply makes it that much easier for Iran to sprint toward a nuclear weapon in a very short timeframe, if and when they choose to do so,” Esculai, who also worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency, and is now a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, explained.
“It’s a message, and it’s not coincidental that it was delivered with everything else going on.”
These decisions come just prior to a second round of talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna, as Tehran and Washington attempt, through indirect negotiations, to reach an agreement on a return to the largely abandoned Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Iran has demanded the United States be first to remove sanctions and return to the pact, which former President Donald Trump left in 2018, while President Joe Biden insists Iran first return to compliance with the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
“It’s still early to say whether the latest moves will help or hurt Iran’s position in the negotiations,” Esculai notes. “The US still very much wants to show progress and get this issue resolved.”