Israel and Iran: Covert warfare raises risks of retaliation, and conflagration

Tony Karon writes: If Iran’s leaders actually believe their official insistence that last weekend’s blast at the Bid Ganeh Revolutionary Guard Corps missile base was an accident, the event is unlikely to make any difference to regional stability. But if Iran, instead, believes claims — and widely held suspicions in Tehran — that the blast, which killed 17 Iranian guardsmen including a senior commander, was the work of Israel’s Mossad security agency (as reported by my TIME colleagues Karl Vick and Aaron Klein and a growing chorus of innuendo in the Israeli media) the region could be in for a sharp uptick in turbulence.

Iranian analyst Kaveh Afrasiabi notes that officials in Tehran suspect foul play not only in the Bid Ganeh blast, but also in the death under suspicious circumstances in a Dubai hotel of the son of a prominent former Revolutionary Guards commander, and suggests that if these are deemed hostile events, pressure will grow on the Iranian leadership to retaliate.

Iran has over the past couple of years absorbed a series of covert warfare blows directed against its nuclear program — assassinations of its scientists, sabotage of facilities and, most damaging, the Stuxnet computer worm that invaded and hobbled its uranium-enrichment centrifuge system — which Tehran’s leaders believe were largely the work of the Israelis, possibly in conjunction with other Western intelligence agencies. And tensions are rising as Israel threatens military action to stop a program whose potential military dimension was highlighted last week by the IAEA.

Thus far, however, Tehran has declined any significant retaliation for actions it clearly perceives as provocations. Some of the spin in Washington had floated the idea that the recent used car salesman-embassy bombing plot was, in fact, an instance of Iranian retaliation, but there are far too many grounds for skepticism over those allegations to suggest that Iran’s capabilities had been reduced to such buffoonery. A more prudent explanation might be that Iran has until now restrained itself from retaliating for covert actions against its nuclear program, sensing that these might, in fact, be designed to provoke Iranian acts of retaliation that would, in turn, serve as a pretext for a full-blown military attack on Iran and its nuclear facilities.

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1 thought on “Israel and Iran: Covert warfare raises risks of retaliation, and conflagration

  1. William deB. Mills

    What a picture! The cautious, rational Tehran pretends nothing is happening yet is being threatened with aggression while the Israeli war party practically brags about its covert war, which any state on earth would consider more than enough justification for striking back.

    Meanwhile, both Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu benefit personally from the endless tension, while the whole Israeli war party thereby solidifies its chokehold on Congress by playing the victim.

    The problem for the world is that while the politicians play brinkmanship for short-term gain, the resultant tensions are real. Whether the games or genuine security concerns are the core of it at this point is virtually impossible to determine. The danger is that the two motivations are so intertwined that the likelihood of a mistake rises with every passing day, and on the Israeli side I do not see much evidence of deep thinking about the highly questionable long-term implications of an Israeli attack…even if it results in a quick military victory.

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