Israeli officials had at least two goals in mind Saturday, when they decided to disclose the details of the operation to thwart the Iranian assassination attempt on an Israeli diplomatic employee, an American general posted in Germany, and a journalist in France.
First, the move was intended to grease the wheels of public opinion – in Israel the U.S. and the world – against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the possibility of removing the organization from the American list of terror organizations. The second goal was to humiliate the regime in Tehran: While Iran struggles to carry out attacks on Israeli targets abroad, "Mossad investigators" are working efficiently on Iranian soil, making arrests and exposing the regime's intelligence plots.
Similar incidents have taken place in recent months. In March, there were reports of an Israeli aerial attack on a hanger in Kermanshah, Iran, which caused major damage to Iranian assault drones. The attack allegedly reveals the impressive amount of intelligence that the Mossad has amassed alongside its attack capabilities inside Iran.
The affair was revealed Saturday on the Iran International website, which operates in Britain and is identified with the Iranian opposition. Officials in Israel debated whether to make due with echoing that publication, but in the end, chose an unusual step – cautious disclosure of the Mossad's work methods. Alongside boastfulness over Israel's capabilities, the move was intended to "claim responsibility," almost officially, for the operation.
One can assume that lifting the curtain was no easy decision. When former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to reveal the operation to remove Iran's nuclear archive from the country, senior officials in the intelligence community were sharply critical. They claimed that it was damaging for the clandestine operation.
Israel could have kept the details of the incident under wraps and discreetly informed the American government of the Revolutionary Guards' involvement in the assassination attempt. Instead, in an extraordinary step, someone leaked a doctored tape of the interrogation of the assassin, Mansour Rasouli, an agent of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force. In the video, he can be heard – allegedly – confessing that he had been sent by the Iranian regime to establish a network of foreign assassins and dispatch them on three separate missions.
Publishing the details of the operation is aimed at creating a public climate that will make it difficult to remove the Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist organizations. However, the case is not as simple as it seems. Officials involved in the move said that Iran is working to create plausible deniability, and to distance itself from the attempted assassinations through the use of proxies and Shi'ite militias.
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One can assume that Iran is well aware of Israeli intelligence operations, and have undertaken a foundational investigation into how their operation was exposed. It's doubtful that they learned anything from the Israeli publication that they didn't already know.
Israel is trying to draw a clear line. If the leadership in Tehran is indeed behind the assassination plot, then specific acts of terror can be attributed to it. This is not a fight against some specific security threat or another, but rather against a murderous assault on innocent victims, selected as targets because they are Israeli or Jewish.
Israel's security establishment has evidence that the Revolutionary Guards have planned dozens of attacks on Israeli targets worldwide, and have devoted significant efforts to assassinating Israeli diplomats or businesspeople. But, so far, all of the plots have been uncovered in time: The Mossad has thwarted Iranian attacks in Colombia, Cyprus and Turkey, in close collaboration with intelligence counterparts in those countries.
U.S. President Joe Biden will soon announce whether he will acquiesce to the Iranian demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards from the terror list and lift sanctions as part of the nuclear agreement negotiations. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have been waging an aggressive counter-campaign, with quite a bit of help from members of Congress.
Senior Israeli officials believe that Biden has been persuaded to keep the Revolutionary Guards on the terror list, but opinions are divided within the U.S. State Department. Israel worries that the U.S. will ultimately make do with softer wording – for example, taking the whole organization off the list, and replacing it with the Quds Force only. "American flexibility on the matter could make the sanctions on the organization meaningless," one Israeli official warned.