a major Iranian nuclear site in July and the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last November. Israel has not publicly acknowledged either operation.

The Israeli offensive against Iranian shipping has two goals, analysts and officials said. The first is to prevent Tehran from sending equipment to Lebanon to help Hezbollah build a precision missile program, which Israel considers a strategic threat.

The second is to dry up an important source of oil revenue for Tehran, building on the pressure American sanctions have inflicted. After the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel industry in late 2018, the Iranian government became more reliant on clandestine shipping.

Sima Shine, a former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

The attacks typically feature limpet mines and sometimes torpedoes, the American official said. They generally target the ships’ engines or propellers, one Israeli official said. And they are intended to cripple but not sink the ships, the American and Israeli officials said.

a recent oil spill that left tons of tar on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon.

Within Israel, there is concern among maritime experts that the cost of a sea war may exceed its benefit.

While the Israeli Navy can make its presence felt in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, it is less effective in waters closer to Iran. And that could make Israeli-owned ships more vulnerable to Iranian attacks as they pass Iran’s western shores on their way to ports in the Gulf, said Shaul Chorev, a retired Israeli admiral who now heads the Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center at the University of Haifa.

“Israeli strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and related waterways will undoubtedly grow,” he wrote in a statement, “and the Israeli Navy does not have the capabilities to protect these interests.”

Patrick Kingsley reported from Jerusalem, Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, Farnaz Fassihi from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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