Opinion |

This Is Not How Israel Scores the Iranian Goal

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
Relatives mourn Revolutionary Guard Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei during his funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, in May.
Relatives mourn Revolutionary Guard Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei during his funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, in May.Credit: Vahid Salemi/AP
Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

The recent series of assassinations and attacks in Iran point to the fact that Israel has adopted a new strategy of chaos.

On loan from the world of soccer, the approach could be called “Yallah, balagan” (loosely, “Let’s rumble!”). That happens when a team realizes that it’s about to lose, and decides to send the ball far onto the playing field in the hope that chaos will ensue, and some Gerd Müller will appear there who by chance will score a goal from the distance of a meter.

This strategy was formulated by Mossad chief David Barnea, who assumed his position exactly a year ago this month. It is being supported by outgoing Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and has been approved by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the cabinet.

In recent weeks there has been a series of incidents attributed to Israel, which point to the change. These include a drone strike against a large warehouse of Iranian drones. About two weeks ago Hassan Sayyad Khodaei, a colonel in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was assassinated. Israeli sources claimed that he had been involved in planning attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets since 2012.

Israel has counted about 50 such incidents worldwide, in places like Bulgaria, India, Thailand, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Georgia. The objective was to assassinate Israeli diplomats, officials, businessmen and their families, or to damage institutions. Most, but not all of the attacks, were thwarted. The most lethal of them was the killing of five Israeli tourists and a bus driver in Burgas, Bulgaria, the work of a suicide bomber recruited by Hezbollah.

In the past two weeks there has also been a report about the death of three scientists under mysterious circumstances – Ehsun Ghadbeigi, an engineer who died after a suicide drone hit a building in the Parchin military complex, which is the main center for Iranian nuclear weapon and missile development; Ayoob Entezari, an expert on aeronautics and drones, who according to one report was poisoned; and Kamran Mollapour, who worked at the center for uranium enrichment in Natanz.

To them, we must also add a strange mishap in the border control’s computer system at the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, which caused chaos.

So what does this all add up to? A cyberattack against civilian sites, an attack against a secret drone warehouse, the assassination of an officer who was involved in terror, the death of an engineer at a key military site for nuclear and missile development, and the death of two scientists involved in uranium enrichment and the development of drones. What is the common denominator of these events? None can be identified, aside from the assumption that there is a guiding hand behind them – that of Israel.

For some 15 years, until Bennett and Barnea assumed their positions, the part of Israel’s clandestine war with Iran that was conducted on Iranian soil (as opposed to attacks in Syria and at sea) was focused on its nuclear program.

But now, apparently, it has been expanded to include attacking scientists and officers in the missile and drone programs, the Quds Force and cyber warfare. Bennett himself described the new policy in August as “death by a thousand cuts,” a practice originating in imperial China that means death by slow torture.

But does the prime minister really think that he can kill Iran, in other words, bring about a regime change by slow torture? It’s true that the constant attacks attest to the fact that Israeli intelligence has deeply penetrated the country. They hurt and humiliate the regime. Even if some of those who died were not assassinated by the Mossad, but by the regime itself, due to suspicions against them, the goal of chaos is being achieved.

But will Israel, which failed in its attempt 40 years ago this month to determine what government would rule in Lebanon, be able to bring about that change in a country the size of Iran, with its long history, sophisticated culture and strong national pride?

History teaches that regimes dissolve when the public is fed up with them and takes to the streets – due to an economic crisis, corruption and rot – and not due to the activities of a foreign intelligence agency, even if successful. When it is clear that an attack by Israel alone against the nuclear sites is not on the agenda, what is the point of the operations that aren’t focused on the nuclear program, except to defy, humiliate, avenge and annoy?

Instead of senseless dreams about Gerd Müller, Israel would do well to formulate a clearer strategy for itself, defining a limited but focused objective and operating according to it.

Iran is getting weaker, but it is determined to continue with its nuclear program despite the harsh sanctions. Isn’t it preferable to focus on attempts to interfere with the nuclear program by means of attacks against the “weapons group,” the critical stage in assembling nuclear weapons, or alternatively to gain time by returning to a reasonable nuclear agreement?

Maybe it’s even worth thinking out of the box, how to break the vicious cycle of revenge attacks, assassinations and sabotage, in which cause and effect become increasingly vague, and to try, even if chances are slim, to reach a quiet understanding about a ceasefire, by means of intermediaries. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

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