Vol. 12, No. 5 28 March 2012
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech on November 10, 2011, is viewed as a turning point in Iran’s strategy for dealing with threats, a transition from defense to offense. In addition, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said: “We will not only continue to counter enemies’ threats, but we will also pose a sufficient threat to them.” Mohammad Bagheri, head of the Intelligence and Operations Division of the General Staff, said: “The Supreme Leader’s recent statement that from now on we reciprocate ‘threat for threat’ means a revision of the Iranian nation’s defense strategy.”
- Khamenei boasted: “We interfered in the events against Israel, which resulted in triumphs in the 33-day war [the Second Lebanon War of July-August 2006] and the 22-day war [Operation Cast Lead in Gaza]…from now on, we will support and help any nation and any group everywhere, standing and fighting against the Zionist regime. And we are not afraid of saying that.”
- Khamenei implied that Iran no longer needs to hide behind proxies, instead acting directly against Israel, while also being prepared to assist (including with weaponry) any group that fights Israel. The immediate significance is that Iran – which accuses Israel of assassinating nuclear scientists on its territory – no longer fears to stand as Iranagainst Israeli and Jewish targets and even Western targets.
- The recent attacks on Israeli targets and interests in the world, most of which were foiled, manifest the change in the Iranian response strategy, currently being implemented by the intelligence and security agencies, primarily the Qods Force.
- Moreover, according to top U.S. intelligence officials and analysts, the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States shows that the Iranian leadership has “changed their calculus” and are now more willing to conduct an attack on U.S. soil in “response to real or perceived actions that threaten the regime,” and that “it is no longer clear that Iran sees carrying out an attack in the United States as crossing some sort of red line.”
- At the same time, Hamas, regarded as one of Iran’s main response tools, is in the thick of an internal controversy about reconciling with Fatah, and Iran sees its ability to influence Hamas’ external leadership (which has now departed from Syria) slipping out of its hands. The strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent movement, poses another substantial challenge to Iran.
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And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged. (Surat Al-‘Anfāl, The Spoils of War, 8:60)
Strong Slaps and Iron Fists
If one seeks the Iranian rationale behind the recent wave of attacks on Israeli diplomatic targets (and previous attempts that failed) and the marked escalation in Iran’s anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric, the address of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on November 10, 2011, to a group of cadets in a graduation ceremony at Imam Ali Military Academy (during which he made the above-quoted statement) sheds some light:
We are not a nation that attacks other countries and nations. We will never start a bloody war….But we are a nation that responds to all kinds of attack and even all kinds of threats with full force and determination. We are not a nation that stands by and watches the fragile materialist powers – which have been eaten by worms and termites from within – threaten the steadfast and powerful Iranian nation. We will answer threats with threats. Anybody who thinks of attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran should be prepared to receive strong slaps and iron fists from the Armed Forces, from the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, from the Islamic Revolution’s Guards Corps and from Basij: all supported by the great Iranian nation. And America, its regional puppets and its guard dog – the Zionist regime – should know that the response of the Iranian nation to any kind of aggression, attacks or even threats will be a response that will make them collapse from within(emphasis added).1
The Supreme Leader made this bellicose speech soon after the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that, for the first time, clearly pointed to the military components of Iran’s nuclear program, sparking intense media speculation on the possibility and time-frame of attacking Iran. Khamenei, apparently on the advice of the leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), saw a need to counter the “assault” on Iran and shift from defense to offense. During his Iranian New Year address on March 20, 2012, Khamenei repeated his message, saying, “We do not possess a nuclear weapon and we will not build one, but we will defend ourselves against any aggression, whether by the U.S. or the Zionist regime, with the same level [of force].”2
On November 12, 2011, only a few days after Khamenei’s rallying cry, the so-called father of Iran’s nuclear program,HassanTehrani Moghaddam, was killed in a mysterious explosion at an IRGC missile base in the Tehran area. Two months later MostafaAhmadi-Roshan, who was a main cog of procurement for Iran’s nuclear program, was assassinated in Tehran on his way to work at the Natanz uranium enrichment site. This prompted calls in Iran’s establishment media, including those close to and identified with Khamenei, for retaliation and revenge in the same currency – calls congruent with Khamenei’s words about answering attacks with attacks.
The international “attacks” on Iran did not cease as it was pounded by a string of assassinations, damaging its prestige and particularly that of its security and intelligence services. Iran was further hit by sanctions on its oil industry and export of oil and by removal from the international SWIFT network for bank transfers, and the West is still on the offensive. At the same time, the intense speculation on a possible attack on Iran is goading its leadership to prepare for this threat. President Obama’s speech to the AIPAC conference on March 4, 2012, and his statements shortly afterward that the diplomatic window for resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis is narrowing, added to Iran’s sense that the international system has shifted gears in confronting it.
Amid the mounting international pressure on Iran, Khamenei’s November 10 speech – along with his New Year address and other speeches he made during the Ten Days of Dawn events to mark the thirty-third anniversary of the Islamic Revolution – serves as a lodestar and resonates profoundly for Iran’s top security officials and its conservative media. The Supreme Leader’s change of strategy speech is viewed as a turning point in Iran’s strategy for dealing with threats – a transition from defense to offense.
A Revision of Iran’s Defense Strategy
Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi has said that the Zionist regime’s (Israel’s) aggression against the Islamic Revolution has drawn crushing responses from Iran that have brought this regime to the brink of dissolution, its weakest condition ever in regional and international terms. This, Vahidi asserts, is a concrete validation of the words (with regard to wiping Israel from the map) and the honor of the Supreme Leader. Referring to Khamenei’s recent remarks about the strategy of “threats for threats,” Vahidi states: “The teachings of the Supreme Leader point to the fact that we will not only continue to counter enemies’ threats, but we will also pose a sufficient threat to them.”3
Commander Mohammad Hejazi, deputy head of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces for logistic and industrial research, said that in light of “the change of strategy announced by the Supreme Leader we will not wait until the enemies take action against us….Whenever we feel that the enemies want to endanger our national interests and are about to take a decisive action, we too will use all our tools to preserve our national interests and strike a retaliatory blow against them.”4
Mohammad Bagheri, head of the Intelligence and Operations Division of the General Staff, said Khamenei’s emphasis on “threats for threats” signifies a change in Iran’s strategy of defense and response. “The Supreme Leader’s recent statement that from now on we reciprocate ‘threat for threat’ means a revision of the Iranian nation’s defense strategy.” Bagheri, who was giving a speech for Basij Week, emphasized the need to absorb the Basij (the volunteer force of the IRGC) ideology into the regime and claimed that only with its help, and that of the Basij spirit, could Iran overcome the intense pressures now being directed at it.5
Brigadier General Massoud Jazzayeri, deputy chief of staff for cultural affairs and defense publicity of the armed forces, said that “Hegemonic regimes should change their approach and retreat from their hostile positions; otherwise they should wait for Iran’s new stances.” He added that Iran’s new approach (as presented by the Supreme Leader) “would not be limited to propaganda measures and psychological operations…the enemy should be encountered in a way that it would be prevented from doing any action.”6
Shortly after Khamenei delivered his New Year speech, the conservative Fars news agency published an analysis of Iran’s new strategy against threats. “This policy (rooted in the November 10 speech) is a change in the equation that is indicative of Iran’s new status in the region and around the world. The leader emphasized that the West’s covert war against Iran’s nuclear program would not go unanswered.” Fars stresses that the West and Israel must know that they can no longer rely on Iranian restraint against a surprise attack on its nuclear facilities and scientists. “Iran will respond – as the leader said – to every attack in kind, whether the attack is in the form of computer viruses or through sabotage and terror; the West and Israel must wait for Iran’s vengeance.”7
Amid the upsurge of threats to attack Iran, the threatening tone of Iranian statements toward Israel (and the United States) has mounted dramatically. Iran speaks of its plans and capabilities to strike Israeli cities and sensitive facilities (such as the Dimona nuclear reactor) as well as Israeli targets anywhere in the world. Likewise, Iranian officials emphasize their ability to strike American interests, including in the United States itself (Iran having been involved in an attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington) and in the Persian Gulf (“all the American bases including the base of the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain are within the range of Iranian missiles”).
Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force, said regarding Israel’s threats to attack Iran that “one of our great hopes is that they will do so, since we have long harbored a latent energy that we want to release and thereby throw the enemies of Islam into the trash can of history for good.”8 Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, the Supreme Leader’s top adviser for military affairs and former IRGC commander, said Iran would “decide and arrange the geographical location of the battleground.”9 And Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff for cultural affairs and defense publicity, said Iran would “not be handcuffed in case it comes under enemy aggression, adding that Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant and all other parts of Israel are within the reach of Iranian missiles.”10 He reiterated that “The easiest target for Iranian military capabilities is the [Dimona nuclear] reactor.”11
“You Just Have to Wink an Eye to Get Iran’s Supporters in the World to Strike Israel”
A day after Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination, Kayhan editor-in-chief Hasin Shriatmadari, who is close to Khamenei and generally reflects his outlook, wondered in anopinion piece (January 12) why Iran had not exercised its legitimate right to retaliate. He stressed that such a right is recognized not only in Islam but in international law as well, and added that Iran’s intelligence agencies had enough experience with assassinations that they could very easily use it against Israeli civilian and military officials. As he put it, “these corrupt germs can easily be identified and access to them is extremely easy….Iran now has many supporters all over the world and a little wink from Iran will suffice for them to sacrifice their lives so as to punish them [Israel].”12 In another article, Kayhan averred that the assassination attempts on the nuclear scientists “would in no way retard Iran’s nuclear program,” and all that would happen was that “the West will put itself in danger of revenge by men who spend their nights in prayer to die martyrs’ deaths on enemy soil. The Americans have already been surprised, but the coming surprise will be very different.”13
In the same spirit, a statement by the Popular Headquarters for Remembrance of the Martyrs in the World of Islam harshly condemned Ahmadi-Roshan’s killing and called on Muslim and freedom-fighter resistance cells all over the world to act as necessary and threaten the interests of world imperialism at any point on the planet. As the statement put it:
Once more the hands of the criminals of international Zionism were discovered in the blood of a pure young man and scientist, the martyr scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan who wanted to build the future of the revolution and cause the name of Islamic Iran to shine in the skies of the world. The Headquarters blesses the Iranian people and the Supreme Leader for the death of all the nuclear scientists and warns the leaders of world imperialism that we will not give them one moment of quiet.14
“We Interfered in the Events against Israel”
In his Ten Days of Dawn, Friday sermon for the revolution’s thirty-third birthday, Khamenei again referred to Israel and Iran’s conflict with it. He spoke at length of the region’s “Islamic awakening” and Iran’s historic role in leading it despite the weakness of the Arab leaders. He said one of the most important outcomes of this awakening was “Israel’s isolation” – an important development since “the Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor in this region and it must be removed.” Khamenei declared that Iran was not interfering in Bahrain’s domestic affairs, but was not reluctant to say where it was interfering: “We clearly say wherever we interfere. We interfered in the events against Israel, which resulted in triumphs in the 33-day war [the Second Lebanon War of July-August 2006] and the 22-day war [Operation Cast Lead in Gaza]…from now on, we will support and help any nation and any group everywhere, standing and fighting against the Zionist regime. And we are not afraid of saying that.”
Khamenei also tried to link the economic crisis and “the weakness that is afflicting Europe” with Israel, claiming that the “European people know that their economic crisis is due to America’s and the global Zionist network’s interference.”15 And in his address to the International Conference on Youth and Islamic Awakening (January 29-30), Khamenei said that the “regional nations’ [Islamic] uprising against dictators is part of the battle launched by humanity against the global dictatorship of the Zionists.”16 In his New Year address, Khamenei hailed Iran’s strong regional status, saying that Arab nations that were supported by Iran have managed to topple (Arab moderate) dictators and adopt Islamic agendas and constitutions, thus “besieging the number one enemy of the Islamic community and Iranian nation – the Zionist regime.”17
At this gathering of young people, Qassem Suleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force and considered close to Khamenei, said it was Iran’s policy and ideological-Islamic path, which contends with the West on various fronts, that had brought about the revolution in the Middle East [the “Arab Spring”] and led the movement “toward a change in the direction of Islam.” Suleimani added that
the enemy is surprised by the course of developments, and Iran has the ability to direct this movement against the enemy. This ability does not exist in Jordan or in Turkey; only Iran is capable of organizing this movement and bringing about the rise of Islamic regimes for the sake of the struggle against imperialism. The enemies are trying to constrain Iran’s arena of action and exact a high price from it. But this International Conference on Youth and Islamic Awakening offers an opportunity for thousands of youngsters active in the Islamic-awakening movements to visit Iran, and their participation will make it possible to neutralize the anti-Iranian sentiments and its enemies’ plans to stir up Iranophobia. In their visit to Iran, the [Islamic] youngsters from other countries can experience from up close the existence of the Islamic regime.
Suleimani acknowledged that Iran also has a presence in southern Lebanon and in Iraq, which are subject to its activity and ideological influence, and said Iran was the first and only country to be safeguarded against a Western or Zionist attack.18
Iran has recently hosted some well-attended conferences on the “Islamic awakening.” Participants came from Middle Eastern countries and the Islamic world at large. Iran makes use of such conferences to locate and recruit activists who go on to serve the intelligence agencies and the IRGC in their countries of origin. Some later return to Iran for training and deeper indoctrination. This reservoir of activists, which Iran has been building for years, forms its operational infrastructure in various parts of the world and some of its preparation for the “moment of truth,” when its military and intelligence arms will be called upon to respond to an attack.
In an editorial in the IRGC weekly titled “Alone and Isolated,” Yadollah Javani, senior adviser to Khamenei’s representative in the IRGC, Sobhe Sadagh, elaborated on Khamenei’s contention that the Zionist regime has been left isolated in its struggle against Iran. After analyzing the situation in the Middle East and the “Islamic awakening,” Javani asserts that the Zionist regime, even when it had the support of the United States, Europe, and all the Arab regimes, lacked the courage and ability to attack Iran; and now, with its main supporter – the United States – experiencing failure after failure in the Middle East along with domestic crises, while Europe’s and its Arab allies’ fortunes sink, how, Javani asks, could the Zionist regime possibly make war on Iran? Hence that regime “remains isolated” against Islamic Iran, and “this reality will ultimately lead to the fulfillment of the Imam Khomeini’s heavenly idea about erasing Israel from the pages of history.”192
During the thirty-third anniversary festivities, two signs were placed under the model of the American UAV that Iran claims to have shot down. In the spirit of Khomeini’s familiar statements (and in poor English), the signs proclaimed that “America can’t do a damn thing against us” and “Israel will be erased from the pages of history.”20
The Supreme Leader’s speeches, along with the approach of the Iranian revolution’s anniversary and the fourth anniversary of Hizbullah military commander Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, fostered an atmosphere in Iran of taking the initiative rather than merely reacting to events. In the short period leading up to those remembrance days, the Iranian bodies that are experienced in global terror – the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) and the IRGC’s Qods Force – acted to translate the leader’s words into deeds. Khamenei had also implied that Iran no longer needs to hide behind proxies, instead acting directly against Israel, while also being prepared to assist (including with weaponry) any group that fights Israel – important indications for the executers of attacks.
Iran More Willing to Conduct Attacks on U.S. Soil
The immediate significance is that Iran – which accuses Israel of assassinating nuclear scientists on its territory – no longer fears to stand as Iranagainst Israeli and Jewish targets and even Western targets. In the past it preferred to leave the dirty work to local subcontractors, partly out of a desire to prove that hatred of Israel is a universal passion. Even in the case of the assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador with the help of Mexican drug cartels, Iran left clear traces of its involvement. Iran may have reasoned that even if it was caught and exposed, this would ultimately boost its deterrent power and prove its ability to act in every arena – not only in America’s backyard in Latin America but in the U.S. itself.
James R. Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, said on January 31, 2012, in his opening statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community”: “The 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States shows that some Iranian officials – probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived actions that threaten the regime.” Iran’s willingness to sponsor attacks against the U.S. at home or abroad “probably will be shaped by Tehran’s evaluation of the costs it bears for the plot against the ambassador as well as Iranian leaders’ perceptions of U.S. threats against the regime.”21
Dr. Matthew Levitt, Director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, testified on “Iran, Hizbullah, and the Threat to the Homeland” before the House Homeland Security Committee on March 21, 2012:
On January 31, 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expressed the intelligence community’s concern about “Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas.” Since then, Iran and its primary proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah, have carried out a string of terrorist plots abroad. Some were thwarted, including two plots each in Thailand and Azerbaijan. Others were not, including bombings in India and Georgia. In Thailand and Azerbaijan, U.S. interests were reportedly among the intended targets, while the others focused on Israeli targets. Most recently, Azerbaijan’s National Security Ministry detained 22 Azeris earlier this month for cooperating with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, receiving training in the use of weapons and spy techniques and plotting attacks on the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Baku. Clearly, America and its allies are already involved in a shadow war with Iran, which makes the second development since my last appearance before this committee all the more significant: it is no longer clear that Iran sees carrying out an attack in the United States as crossing some sort of red line.22
Beyond Iran’s change of strategy to “offense for offense,” which reflects the tightening of the noose around it and its effort to mount an effective deterrent response, changes have occurred in its traditional response modes that reflect the changing Middle Eastern landscape and network of alliances and loyalties. Hizbullah is generally keeping a low profile, mainly because of the ongoing crisis in Syria. It may also have been ordered by Iran to be prepared for the “moment of truth” when Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked, marshalling its forces instead of dissipating them. (Here, as the pressure on it intensifies, Iran’s assessment could change if it sees such an attack as imminent.) Iran also continues to give full backing to Syria, including military and security assistance against the rebellion, in addition to the Russian and Chinese aid Syria is receiving. Iran fears the fall of Bashar Assad, the strongest political link in what it calls the “resistance camp,” and portrays the efforts to topple him by Western states and some Arab states as aimed at counteracting the struggle against Israel, of which Syria is one of the mainstays.23
Is Hamas Leaving the “Resistance Camp”?
A further worrisome development concerns Hamas. Its leadership’s exit from Syria amid that country’s deepening crisis has weakened Iran’s control of Hamas’ foreign leadership. The Doha Declaration, which Hamas Political Bureau chief Khaled Mashaal signed with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Qatar, was hardly to Iran’s liking. Tehran fears that it heralds Hamas leaving the resistance camp and taking the “path of Arafat.” Hence, Iran is trying to drive a wedge between Hamas’ external and internal leadership. That purpose was served by the recent visits to Iran of two Gaza-based Hamas leaders – Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who met with Khamenei, Ahmadinejad,24 and other senior figures who promised to continue helping the Palestinian people in its struggle against Israel, and senior official Mahmoud al-Zahar.25 Fatah leaders, including Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and head of the negotiating team for reconciliation with Hamas, accused Iran of seeking to stymie the reconciliation process so as to advance its own interests and its struggle against the United States,26 while also funding the Hamas leadership in Gaza to those ends.27
Meanwhile, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) remains the organization most loyal to Iran. It waged the latest round of hostilities with Israel and fired most of the Grad rockets, which originate in Iran, and apparently also has long-range, made-in-Iran Fajr rockets it has not yet used. The weakening of Egyptian control over Sinai and the fall of Gaddafi’s regime have enabled the funneling of abundant and varied weaponry to Gaza, some of which – such as antiaircraft missiles – has yet to be used.
Haniyeh’s Visit to Iran
During Haniyeh’s meeting with Khamenei, the latter said he had no doubt about Haniyeh and his comrades’ commitment to the struggle. Regarding the reconciliation talks with Abbas and Fatah, however, he warned them not to take the path of Arafat, who was once a popular and admired leader but lost his standing among the peoples of the region when he forsook the cause of resistance.28 This admonition prompted harsh criticism from Fatah members.
On the background of the Doha Agreement, Kayhan warned in an editorial of Hamas elements going down a slippery slope of reconciliation with Israel:
Ismail Haniyeh’s visit is occurring on the victory day of the revolution and also on the first anniversary of the Islamic revolutions in the Arab states; Haniyeh’s presence in Tehran also coincides with the joint conference of the Fatah and Hamas leadership in Doha….Haniyeh spoke clearly about the strategy based on destroying the Zionist regime as set forth by the Supreme Leader three months ago at the Palestine conference in the context of “liberating Palestine from the sea to the river”; he also claimed that the achievement of this goal is not only possible but imminent. Haniyeh clearly utilized concepts and terminology of the Supreme Leader, who referred in the meeting to inevitable future victories while expressing concern and warning against the infiltration of the resistance by conciliatory elements. These words were of course directed at the bilateral talks, mediated by Qatar, between the Hamas leadership and Abu Mazen….Undoubtedly the same corrupt heads of Arab states, who have turned the PLO and the PA into a polluted swamp with their financial assistance and sacrificed the honor of the Palestinians to the Zionist murderers, not long ago tried to lead Hamas and [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad in the same direction taken by Arafat. Naturally, those leaders of jihad groups who are more distant from the arena itself [a broad hint at Khaled Mashaal] are more prone to this danger stemming from the Arab leaders.29
On the eve of Haniyeh’s visit (which was briefly in doubt), the reformist daily Mardom Salari criticized him harshly under the headline “Has Hamas Reached a Deadlock?” It stated, among other things, that
Haniyeh’s visit to several Arab states in the Persian Gulf and the consultations he held with the sheikhs in the region proved that Hamas had reached the end of its path. What factors behind the scenes forced Ismail Haniyeh to ignore Iran and spend four days in Turkey [in his previous visit to the region]? Turkey, which discovered Palestine only four years ago! This while the Iranian people pay a very heavy political, economic, international, and security price for thirty-three years on behalf of the Palestinian people. How did Haniyeh meet with criminals such as the ruler of Bahrain, and make Iran his last stop? A realistic analysis of the situation shows that Hamas is now undergoing the same process that Fatah underwent after the Madrid Conference….Khaled Mashaal’s trip to Amman and meeting with King Abdullah also indicates the start of Hamas’ capitulation to the political events in the region. From the Hamas leader’s standpoint, the possible fall of Bashar Assad’s government and its replacement by a government that supports the United States and Israel distances him from the confrontation line of the anti-Israeli struggle. The Hamas leaders believe the future Syrian regime will not support the Palestinian and Lebanese [Hizbullah] jihad movements, and so they are trying to quickly change Hamas’ policy. The Hamas leaders regard Doha, which recently became the Trojan horse of the Americans, as a good place to set up their bureau. If the Hamas leaders heed and rely on the promises of Arab leaders and enter a political phase, there is no doubt that their fate and their end will be like the end of the Fatah leaders. The Hamas leaders who err in their analysis and their assessment of the situation in Syria and in the region, must not put all their eggs in the basket of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.30
Iran Is Trying to Redefine the Rules of the Game
In sum, it appears that Iran is trying to redefine the rules of the game and put considerable bite in its audacious words. The recent attacks on Israeli targets and interests in the world, most of which were foiled, manifest the change in the Iranian response strategy. These acts stem from Iran’s revised view of the situation, which has ultimately led to a response strategy that was broached by the Supreme Leader and is being implemented by the intelligence and security agencies, primarily the Qods Force.
The operational weakness may stem from the short time-frame the executers had to work with, and the desire to present achievements around the time of Revolution Day and the anniversary of Mughniyeh’s death. The intensified security measures for Israeli diplomatic personnel abroad, and the lessons drawn from similar events in the past, may have helped minimize the damage.
Iran is also signaling that, in light of the quickly changing rules of the game in the international arena – epitomized so far by the sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and its severance from the world banking system – Iran is also changing the rules of the game and upgrading the “offensive” component, not only regarding terror attacks but also in the economic arena (banning oil sales to certain EU countries). Indeed, changes occurring in the region require Iran to reexamine the strategy of using terror. Hamas, regarded as one of Iran’s main response tools, is in the thick of an internal controversy about reconciling with Fatah, and Iran sees its ability to influence a part of Hamas – its external leadership, which is gradually moving toward Turkey – slipping out of its hands.
The departure of Hamas headquarters from Syria, an arena where Iran and Hamas conducted contacts and training, makes it hard for Iran to coordinate activity with Hamas. The strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent movement, poses another substantial challenge to Iran. Indeed, in the past Hamas had demonstrated independence, and it was only in recent years, with Hamas isolated after its takeover of Gaza, that Iran was able to boost its influence over the organization. Now, again, that influence has receded. At present there is no change in Iran’s relations with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which keeps faithfully representing Iran’s interests and firing rockets at Israel while challenging Hamas.
Meanwhile Hizbullah, Iran’s main operational contractor for terror attacks abroad, continues to suffer both from the loss of Mughniyeh as a planner of spectacular international terror attacks and from the effects of the turmoil in Syria. Hizbullah prefers, perhaps at Iran’s urging, to keep a low profile, possibly because – after the recent failures – Iran wants to use Hizbullah’s overseas-attack capabilities to try and carry out a “suitable” attack.
In any case, the bottom line is that the cardinal change – which also is a consequence of the changing regional circumstances – is Iran’s movement as a state to the vanguard of carrying out terror attacks and confronting the West, no longer hiding behind the organizations it sponsors.
Iran has proclaimed in the past that it is prepared for war (including economic war) and struggle. Its measures on the ground indicate that a change has indeed occurred in its behavior. From its standpoint – all the more so after the oil and SWIFT sanctions – it is already at war.
Experts Assembly member and former intelligence minister Ali Falahian said following the SWIFT decision that “closing SWIFT to Iran is like closing international waterways….If the United States or Europe considers it its right to ignore international laws to meet its own interests, Iran may also decide to respond by any available means.”31
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