Israel and the United States are developing a shared strategy aimed at taking out senior Iranian military figures and slowing down Iran's nuclear program, US officials have revealed to the New York Times.
Following the explosion at the Iranian city of Natanz on 2 July, in which a nuclear facility was severely damaged, as well as a series of other explosions within that same week, it was revealed by the NYT that Israel was behind the attacks.
Iran then denied, however, that Israel's cyberattack was the cause of the explosion, despite the former Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman having accused the chief of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of leaking the details of its attack.
That was then followed by another explosion in an area of the capital Tehran, which Iran also denied had taken place, leading many to speculate on the explosions, the truth behind them and the extent of Israel's involvement.
The link between these explosions and reported attacks carried out by Israel and the US have now been strengthened by more senior US officials, who have allegedly been developing a strategy of both covert and overt pushback against Iran and its nuclear program.
One example that the paper cited was the sources' comparison of the Natanz explosion to the Stuxnet cyberattack that hit Iran's nuclear facilities in 2010, taking out almost a fifth of its nuclear centrifuges. The attack, which took place earlier this month, bears similarities to such a cyberattack, the sources reported, and has apparently set back Iran two years in its nuclear program.
This strategy of coordination between Israel and the US was most closely described by the State Department's special envoy for Iran Brian H. Hook last month, when he said: "We have seen historically that timidity and weakness invites more Iranian aggression."
One instance that the Israeli and US officials reportedly look to for this strategy is the assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani at the start of this year, which resulted in a limited retaliation by Iran but one that the officials viewed as preventing more damage.
The report by the paper predicted that the next move that this joint US-Israeli strategy would conduct could be a confrontation over four Iranian tankers currently sailing to Venezuela to deliver oil, in violation of US sanctions.
The move to push back against Iran's nuclear program is risky, analysts warned, as it may serve in forcing it to operate further underground and make the facilities and components more difficult to detect.
Such a strategy comes after the US, under the administration of President Donald Trump, withdrew from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal two years ago, escalating hostilities and tensions between the two countries.
Iran warned last week that if it is proven that an Israeli cyberattack was behind the explosion at Natanz, it would retaliate and respond to the threat.