Naftali Bennett, Israel’s current defense minister and a former commando officer of the Israel Defense Forces Sayeret Matkal before he became a politician, coined the “octopus doctrine,” a theory of how to deal with Iran’s continued aggression.
According to this doctrine, the Islamic Republic was spreading mayhem in Israel’s neighborhood through its long tentacles, be it Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
In May 2018, Bennett said during the Herzliya Conference that “the Iranians don’t love dying, but it is very easy for them to send others to die.”
“While we’re shedding blood-fighting their tentacles, the octopus’s head is lounging in its chair enjoying itself,” he added.
It was time, he said, for Israel “to aim at the head of the octopus and not its tentacles.”
More so, Bennett initiated actions directed at Iran itself – at its positions in Syrian – and not just the tentacles. The IDF went after Iranian positions in Syria, not just its proxies, Shi’a militias there, or Hezbollah.
“When the tentacles of the octopus strike you,” he said in February as defense minister, “do not fight only against the tentacle but suffocate its head. Likewise with Iran.”
And what is true in kinetic warfare – military action involving active warfare and the use of lethal force – is now apparently is also true in cyberwarfare.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that it was Bennett, in his waning days as defense minister, who pressed for a strong Israeli response to an Iranian cyberattack on Israeli water and sewage infrastructure on April 24 that caused only limited damage.
That strong response was a cyberattack on May 9 attributed to Israel that The Washington Post reported targeted Iran’s bustling Shahid Rajaee Port terminal in Bandar Abbas sitting on the strategic Strait of Hormuz. This attack reportedly caused havoc by abruptly halting shipping traffic and leading to massive traffic jams leading to the port.
According to the Times article, the main push for the response came from Bennett after Iran’s cyberattack on the water infrastructure was reported in Israeli media. And that type of response is consistent with Bennett’s “octopus doctrine” of making Iran itself feel the pain for its regional mischief, and not sufficing with going after its proxies.
Iran, through its proxies, likes to let others do its fighting and dying.
Even though Israel knows who is behind the proxies that regularly strike out against it – be it Hezbollah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad – it’s reticent to take military action inside Iran itself to make the regime feel the pain because of a fear of sparking a shooting war.
But cyber warfare, apparently, has different rules, and the same reticence against using military force to attack facilities inside Iran does not extend to lashing out at Iranian infrastructure through cyber means.
According to the publications in the NYT and the Washington Post, Israel’s message to Iran was clear: Don’t hack us, and if you do, there will be a heavy price to pay.
Israel, at this point, is not going to use conventional warfare to strike at Iran itself in response to a conventional attack sanctioned by Tehran. The same is not true, however, when it comes to cyber: then Israel will not hesitate to make the head of the octopus feel the pain directly.
Edited from an article written by Herb Keinon, The Jerusalem Post