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The shadow war between Tehran and Tel Aviv
With Trump's arrival at the White House and in the light of his statements and promises as part of his campaign, many believed that the Iranian regime, with all its military forces, security and militia apparatuses, would be in front of hell, as was the case with the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad earlier this century. In fact, his foreign policy during the first months of his presidency confirmed what he promised. The nuclear deal touted by the Obama administration as a major achievement, with a Trump signature, has become a reflection. He then made a number of steps to hit Tehran

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

16/07/2020 Region: Middle East Topic: Conflicts

With Trump's arrival at the White House and in the light of his statements and promises as part of his campaign, many believed that the Iranian regime, with all its military forces, security and militia apparatuses, would be in front of hell, as was the case with the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad earlier this century. In fact, his foreign policy during the first months of his presidency confirmed what he promised. The nuclear deal touted by the Obama administration as a major achievement, with a Trump signature, has become a reflection. He then made a number of steps to hit Tehran.

With every move by Trump against Iran, many Arab and Western political analysts close to Republicans in Washington began to count down the fall of the Iranian regime. But every time they and the readers who read their analyses were disappointed. The biggest disappointment was not for them but for Washington's most important active strategic ally in the Middle East, Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu, initially pleased with the decision on the US embassy and on Golan, is well aware that the "Deal of the Century" (which was born dead) and the decision to annex the Jordan Valley and parts of the West Bank have no importance as long as Tehran continues its nuclear program and keeps missiles within breathing distance of Israel's northern border. This nightmare plaguing Tel Aviv and its security services has grown as Trump has shown he has no intention of moving militarily against Tehran. So, the choice was a war away from the media, in the shadows, that Tel Aviv started, to escalate into an eye-to-eye conflict. This dangerous war forces us, as political observers, to analyse what preceded and what follows.

Ιran is stronger today than it was before Trump's sanctions. This characterization of reality may not appeal to many who see Trump as the Messiah and protector because he is ideologically aligned with them or may be influenced by their money. The evidence for this is the following:

Iran today is dominating the political, military, security and economic scene in Iraq, far from the illusions that some are trying to sell here and there. The Iranian-backed PMU militia controls all army and security forces, something that did not happen in Iraq under Obama, while in Syria, Tehran has a profound influence on its state and geography through its affiliated militias or through its direct military presence away from the parades of the Russian air base Khmeimim. Trump's choice to cut off financial and military support to the Syrian armed opposition has made Iran more comfortable, secure, and free than it was before 2016. In Lebanon, the new Lebanese government is Iranian fancy and the extension of the Iranian influence in the region. The new faces, the pseudo-technocrats, are removing the Arab or Western fingerprint more than ever. Finally, in Yemen, Tehran has been transformed from a defender of its influence into an aggressor, directing its missiles to Riyadh and its airport instead from hitting Aden and its environs.

However, the Iranian leadership, which is "trembling" at Trump and the neo-conservative US administration, has escalated further, and despite economic sanctions, continues to sell 1 million barrels of oil per day. The Strait of Hormuz, known as the American Red Line since the Second Gulf War, was transformed by Tehran into a tool of pressure east and west. As a result, Iran has now become a regional power that cannot be ignored in the conflicts in the Middle East generally. This reality and the evolution of Iran's influence was and still is under the watchful eye of Tel Aviv, for which the wind is not blowing as it desired, so it was forced to move on its own and make the next dangerous step forward.

Netanyahu and his government officials had to prioritize action against Tehran and its dangerous files. Investigations and consultations have shown that the first on the list of threats is Iran's nuclear programme, considering that Tehran's possession of a nuclear bomb would turn the table throughout the region. On this basis, according to Israeli sources, Mossad dealt a severe blow to Iran's nuclear program through an explosion in the heart of the Natanz nuclear plant (most likely the explosion was carried out by an explosive device placed inside the base). Natanz nuclear site is the cornerstone of Iran's military nuclear program for producing highly enriched uranium. After the explosion, according to the same sources, it will take more than a year to repair the damage.

Tel Aviv did not stop there. It has launched a series of cyber-attacks on the Parchin nuclear site and the Iranian Electricity and Communications Company, as well as cyber-attacks on torpedo systems off the coast of the Arabian Gulf. In doing so, Netanyahu and his government are leading the region into a new turn entitled "there are no red lines after today" and the battle now extends from Tehran to Beirut.

As for Tehran, it was decided to keep the media silent, controlling the situation, in the shadow of the conflict between the hawks of the Revolutionary Guards and the diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Iranian regime, which suffered a severe blow from the assassination of the charismatic General Soleimani and to which it responded lukewarmly, is now forced to choose between two scenarios. The first scenario is to follow the view of foreign affairs officials through the strategy of patience until the results of the upcoming US presidential election. But this scenario will give the green light to Tel Aviv for more attacks inside Iran in the same way it does inside Syria. The second scenario is a military response, in which Tehran would use its precision ballistic missiles and drones to redraw the red lines in the region in its own interests. This scenario is likely to lead to a complicated battle with unclear results.

What's next?

In fact, the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing economic collapse, the anti-racism movement in all American states, along with the careless handling of these crises by Trump, reduced his chances of winning the next US presidential election. This expectation began to change some of the rules of the game in the Middle East. In general, the Israelis were forced to move more impulsively and less carefully to take advantage of what may be the last months of Trump's presence in the White House. Trump will be followed by Biden, known to the Arabs as one of the protagonists of the nuclear deal with Tehran, which would mean lifting economic sanctions and limiting Tel Aviv's hand, as was the case during Obama era. This perception makes Netanyahu and his government fiercer in their actions against Iran and its allies in the region. Precision missile factories in Lebanon, Bushehr reactor in Iran and missile depots in Syria are possible targets in the next stage, while it is likely that Tehran will choose a mixture of patience and waiting with a thoughtful response that delivers a message without turning the table.

It can therefore be said that the shadow war between Tel Aviv and Tehran is in its first phase and will continue in a way that makes a case of loss of control limited, but possible.