Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- Tensions between Iran and Israel have reached new heights after three events attributed to Israel – attacks on “killer drone” teams in Syria, a drone attack in Beirut, and repeated attacks on weapons in the warehouses of pro-Iran militias in Iraq.
- The drone attack in Beirut reportedly destroyed a key component for producing high-grade propellant for precision solid-fueled missiles.
- Hizbullah will do whatever it can to retaliate forcefully to Israel’s actions. The intention and desire exist, and the organization’s success in carrying out its reaction is dependent on Hizbullah’s operational capability.
- The damage to Iranian interests on Iraqi territory bordering Iran have struck one of the central tenets of Iranian security, to conduct the campaign far away from the borders of Iran on the land axis that it has planned for transporting weapons to Syria and Lebanon.
- The alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian assets led to an intense internal discussion within Iran around the ongoing lack of success – especially on the critical front facing Israel – to establish offensive capabilities and to hold a military grip along its border.
- Hardline Iranian journalist: Israel “should not be surprised if in the coming days or nights anonymous pilotless aircraft will attack security, military, and nuclear targets of Israel or the port cities and major Zionist centers…. Israel should be prepared for the bitter and harsh news of the incursion and attacks by UAVs on Dimona, Haifa, and Tel Aviv.”
- In these sensitive times, retaliation by Iran and/or Hizbullah may shut down any chances for a meeting between President Trump and his Iranian counterpart, President Rouhani.
Tensions between Iran and Israel have reached new heights after three events:
- Israel’s thwarting of the “killer drone” attack on the Golan Heights and the attack on the staging base for which Israel took responsibility;
- the drones that hit Beirut’s Dahiyeh suburb;
- and the continued attacks attributed to Israel on the weapons warehouses of the Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria.
Hizbullah’s High Motivation to Respond
Hizbullah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threatened to react to two Israeli actions against Hizbullah: the attack against the drone launchers on the Golan and the launch of bomb drones against the Dahiyeh suburb in southwest Beirut.
Nasrallah stressed that two Hizbullah fighters, Hassan Yousef Zabeeb and Yasser Ahmad Daher, were killed in the attack in a civilian structure in Syria – not an Iranian Quds Force facility, as Israel claims. “If Israel kills any of our members in Syria, we’ll respond from Lebanon and not in the Shabaa Farms, and we tell the Israeli army on the border to be very cautious and to wait for us for a day, or two, three or four. Just wait for us,” Nasrallah warned.1
At the same time, Hizbullah announced the results of the investigation of the two Beirut drones attributed to Israel. According to the Hizbullah experts, the drones carried bombs containing 5.5 kilograms of C4 explosives. The experts concluded that the drones’ mission was to carry out suicide attacks. The first drone fell because of a technical glitch, and the second exploded.3 A Times of London analysis claimed the attack targeted machinery to mix high-grade propellant for precision guided missiles, a critical component of a missile factory in the Dahiyeh suburb manufacturing precision-guided missiles. Sources told the Times that the facility was used to a store high-end “industrial planetary mixer,” an essential component in high-grade precision missiles’ propellant production.4
Two trucks seen in flames after the explosion had been carrying crates with machinery to mix high-grade propellant for precision-guided missiles, according to news accounts. An Iranian-made industrial mixer was seriously damaged, and its computerized control mechanism was destroyed.5
The machine is manufactured in Iran and is used for its ballistic missile industry (Iran may also have succeeded in delivering similar equipment to the Houthis in Yemen given their dramatic improvement their capabilities to launch missiles and explosive drones towards Saudi Arabia). Transferring the equipment to Lebanon contradicts the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) prohibiting the transfer of ballistic missile production equipment (Iran is not a signatory to the treaty)ץ the machine is very heavy and delicate and packed in heavy wooden crates (without marking and special inscription) and anchored to them to prevent shocks. In any case, it’s a complex and expensive process to deliver the equipment.
Nasrallah stated that the Dahiyeh attack was the first Israeli attack on Lebanon since the 2006 war. ”Hizbullah will do everything possible to prevent the repetition of such attacks,” he declared. “If we do not respond to the Zionist attack on Dahiyeh, Israel will follow suit and target us just as it has hit the positions of Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) forces in Iraq. Hizbullah will by no means allow the Israeli aggression pattern to be repeated in Lebanon,” the Hizbullah chief vowed. “The era of the Israeli military’s undeterred attacks on Lebanon has come to an end. Hizbullah will not tolerate any Israeli drones penetrating Lebanese airspace.”
It is apparent that Hizbullah will do whatever it can to retaliate forcefully to Israel’s actions. The intention and motivation exist, and the organization’s success in carrying out its reaction is dependent on Hizbullah’s operational capability.
Iran, which has absorbed repeated attacks in its attempts to establish a significant military presence in Syria and to improve Hizbullah’s missile precision, has decided to store some of the missiles, rockets, and other military equipment in the hands of its trusted militia proxies in Iraqi territory. The expansion of the campaign and the damage to Iranian interests on Iraqi territory bordering Iran have struck one of the central tenets of Iranian national security doctrine – to conduct the campaign far away from the borders of Iran on the land axis that it has planned for transporting weapons and militiamen to Syria and Lebanon through Iraq.
The alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian assets led to an intense and heated internal discussion within Iran around the ongoing lack of success – especially on the critical front facing Israel – to establish offensive capabilities and to hold a significant military grip along its border. The failures on the Israeli front is contrary to Iranian successes on the Saudi front in Yemen and the repeated Houthi attacks on strategic targets (petroleum facilities, military sites, and airports) in Saudi Arabia and UAE. These attacks are carried out by proxies using advanced models of unmanned aircraft (UAVs), missiles, and anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down of American unmanned aircraft. Iran’s successes also include the preservation of Assad’s reign in Syria, expansion of Iranian influence in Iraq, and inciting riots in Bahrain.
On the eve of the planned attack, journalist and commentator, Mohammad Imani, from the board of the hardline Kayhan newspaper (which reflects the views of Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei), gave more than a hint of Iran’s and Hizbullah’s response to the attacks (attributed to Israel) on missile storage sites belonging to Al-Hashad, al-Shaabi and other proxy militias loyal to Iran within Iraq.
Imani compared the Israeli activities in Syria and Iraq to Saudi Arabia’s ongoing involvement in Yemen, which led to the Houthi (supported by Iran6) to fire missiles, rockets, suicide drones, and cruise missiles effectively against military and economic targets and oil refineries deep in Saudi territory. “Now, Israel has begun to provoke resistance in Iraq and Syria. Therefore,” Imani warned, “it should expect new surprises. It should not be surprised if in the coming days or nights anonymous UAVs will attack security, military, and nuclear targets of Israel or the port cities and major Zionist centers…. Israel should be prepared for the bitter and harsh news of the incursion and attacks by UAVs on Dimona, Haifa, and Tel Aviv – similar to the attacks carried out against Saudi Arabia (and UAE), despite the American air defense umbrella over the kingdom.”
“A Full Islamic Moon above the Region”
Imani continued to describe the strategic environment in which Iran operates and said that despite the declaration of war by “Christian Zionism” [American activity in Iraq and Afghanistan] and its intent to uproot the Islamic resistance from Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine, the Resistance Front was actually gaining momentum. Now, however, said Imani, the Resistance Front axis is not only a Shiite Crescent but a full Islamic moon beaming down on all four corners of the region.7
In this context, a few days before the failure of the “killer drone” operation, Iran convened a regional conference in memory of “the anonymous casualties of the resistance.” Invited were “the families of the fallen” of Iran’s proxy armies: the Fatemiyoun divisions from Afghanistan, the Zainebiyoun in Pakistan, the Ansar Allah Houthi movement in Yemen, Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Kata’ib Hizbullah resistance forces in Bahrain, and the al-Nujaba movement and Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq. The conference was scheduled over two days in the province of Mazandaran in Iran, on the coast of the Caspian Sea, on August 22-23, 2019.
Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, was the guest of honor, along with several other IRGC officers, who would address the “crowd of thousands.” According to the event’s press release, Soleimani was expected to ask to turn the conference into an annual event that will take place each year in one of the countries where the resistance forces are operating.8
Iran’s motive behind the conference is to increase its control and influence in the region through its loyal organizations, especially in the event of a military campaign against the United States. Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said that the resistance organizations in Iran’s sphere, whose representatives were present at the conference in Iran, would be incorporated into the campaign against the United States as part of the “many tools available to Iran.”9
Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council, responded to the alleged Israeli attacks, declaring, “Defenders of Syria and Iraq will soon give an answer…. Israel and the United States do not have the power to attack Iran’s various centers, and our [military] advisory centers have not been harmed.”11
A website Tabek, affiliated with Rezaei, stressed that the recent events involving Israeli, Iranian, and Hizbullah forces indicate, “we have entered a new phase of UAV attacks, and this points to a change in the patterns of future conflicts between Israel and Iran’s allies in the region.”12
In this context, Mustafa Najafi, an Iranian expert on the Middle East, stated that one could not remove the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, and “if this happens, a widespread confrontation will break out in the region, and the Iranian response will change Israel’s equations.”13
Iran felt that Israel was changing and expanding the boundaries of the military campaign that it waged against it and its allies (especially Hizbullah) in the region and was moving even closer to its borders, exemplified by attacks in Iraq and the fear that Israel would join a naval force in the Persian Gulf. To date, Iran has managed to conduct the campaign against Israel and its regional opponents (especially Saudi Arabia) far from its borders, and it is now required to make adjustments to the national security policy in view of the encroaching campaign.
For now, Iranian attempts to respond to Israeli activity and to cope with the repeated attacks on Iranian assets, are met with increased criticism at the failures responding to Israel’s actions. Cumulative Iranian failures, despite the enormous investment in money and equipment, and the blows that it absorbs from Israel mainly in the Syrian arena and recently in Iraq also raises doubts even within the resistance camp. Why doesn’t Iran respond to Israeli actions and enables Israel to extend its influence and its deterrent capacity? These doubts may push Iran and Hizbullah to continue to react so that they can maintain their influence and attraction to resistance forces and prevent the collapse of their image.
Parallel to the reality of the escalation between Israel and Iran and Hizbullah is the possibility of Iran renewing the dialogue with the United States – perhaps already on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019. This development, if it moves ahead (despite the slim chance of meeting Iran’s demand to cancel sanctions and repent its “erroneous path”), is liable to sharpen quarrels between the Iranian government and the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). The IRGC continue to promote the policy of exporting Iranian revolutionary and subversive activities throughout the world as well as thwarting any possibility of renewing dialogue with the United States. Moreover, among the hardliners and those close to the Supreme Leader, there is resistance to the nuclear agreement – even more so to amending it – and to renewing the talks with the United States. In these sensitive times, retaliation by Iran and/or Hizbullah may shut down any chances for a meeting between President Trump and his Iranian counterpart, President Rouhani.
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1 Nasrallah: Lebanon’s Hizbullah Will No Longer Tolerate Intruding Israeli Drones, Fars News Agency, https://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13980604000131; http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/264084-nasrallah-vows-response-to-israeli-drones-in-lebanon-hizbullah-deaths-in-syria