A rare selfie recently released to the world by the commander of Iran's elite Al-Quds Force was a warning to the United States and its allies. The image, taken in Iraq, shows Qasem Soleimani with two of his senior officers and sends a clear message: We, the Al-Quds commanders, are here in Iraq, the soft underbelly of your interests, and from here we will deal with you too.
In Israel, this message was taken very seriously. During recent discussions by the prime minister, the head of the National Security Council, the IDF chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence and senior IDF General Staff officers, a picture emerged of an imminent confrontation between the Iranians and the Americans in the Persian Gulf.
At this point, it is difficult to assess the scale of such a clash, but Israel must prepare for a gradual escalation, in which it, too, will likely to find itself involved in some way.
It is fair to assume that the first military phase will focus on specific Iranian action against oil routes and oil producers in the Persian Gulf. Indeed, the Iranians have in recent days struck Saudi oilfields as well as their tankers at an oil terminal in the United Arab Emirates, either through their special forces or their Houthi allies in Yemen.
In the second stage of the escalation, the Iranians will apparently target the interests of the United States and its allies. And this where Israel enters the picture. The Iranians will leave a direct confrontation with the U.S. to the final stage.
According to Israeli assessments, there are at least four scenarios for a possible Iranian attack in Israel. The most likely scenario is the launch of missiles from Iraq.
The second scenario includes firing missiles and dispatching armed drones from Syria, alongside terrorist activity along the border fence between the two countries.
A third scenario, which is viewed as less likely, involves Hezbollah military activity from Lebanon. This is seen as a lesser threat as Hezbollah is at present at one of its economic low points, and it is doubtful that its leader Hassan Nasrallah would give Israel the opportunity to best him.
The fourth possible scenario, and the least worrying from an Israeli perspective, is the use of terror attacks by Islamic Jihad from the Gaza Strip.
Each of these scenarios, however, could be folded into another on a different front, depending on the depth of the crisis.
Israel has been aware of the threat from Iraq for a while. More than a year and a half ago, Israel told Iran, via the Americans and the Russians, to remove surface-to-surface missile systems from western Iraq.
The assessment was that these missiles were deployed in a bid to deter Israel from continuing attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. The warning achieved its goal and the Iranians lowered their profile in western Iraq, although there are still surface-to-surface missiles in the hands of pro-Iran, Shi'ite militias in Iraq.
These militias have missiles with a range of 700-1,000 kilometers, and when stationed in western Iraq, they cover the entire territory of Israel. Unlike the missiles that Saddam Hussein fired at Israel from the same area in 1991, these missiles are accurate and have a relatively short launch period.
There are still no preparations underway in Israel to deal with this potential threat, but there is a level of awareness among the intelligence agencies.
Israel's ability to gather intelligence on what is happening in western Iraq is immeasurably greater than in 1991, when its intelligence agencies were blindly searching for Saddam's mobile rocket batteries and reliant on American satellite images.
Israel's offensive capabilities in air and on land against second-tier countries like Iraq are also very different from what they were in 1991.
Moreover, Israel has more diplomatic cover than ever before should it choose to embark on a military operation in western Iraq.
Just as they didn’t hesitate to use the Houthis in Yemen against the Saudis in order to fan the flames of the crisis with the Americans, the Iranians will likely try to ramp up tensions against Israel in order to speed up international intervention over the death blow that the U.S. has just dealt their economy.