by Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall
During the fighting in Gaza in November 2012, Iran took pains to highlight its own supply of weapons and means of manufacturing them to the Palestinians, contrasting the feebleness of the Arabs with its own potency. Tehran in particular flaunted its role in the supply of rockets, especially the Fajr-5, that was fired at Tel Aviv. Iran also sought to boost its status in Arab and Islamic public opinion as the actor that no longer fears Israel and the Western powers.
- The widening rift between the Shiite camp (Iran, Syria, Hizbullah) and the Sunni camp (led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and with Egypt’s role in the Gaza ceasefire) is evident in the conflict arenas in the Middle East (Syria, the Palestinian arena, Bahrain, Jordan) and stands to greatly influence the landscape of the region. Egypt, playing a central role in determining the new regional order, will likely find itself in confrontation with Iran. Turkey is already confronting Iran over regional hegemony and influence, with Syria as a front line.
- The regional and international dynamic that accompanied the crisis, along with Israel’s successful deflections of Iranian missiles fired at its cities, puts Iran in a problematic position of growing isolation. Iran’s negative role in the region again emerged and its ongoing attempts to win the hearts and minds of the Arab street are failing due to its role in militarily supporting the repressive Assad regime.
- The latest round between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza did not occur in isolation from the dramatic changes that are reshaping the Middle East. It also became clear that the different arenas of change – both those that have already changed and those in the process of doing so – have tight interlinkages that reinforce and influence each other.
- On the strategic level, the forces acting in these arenas are the same ones that are organizing into camps along national and religious lines – a Shiite camp versus a Sunni camp. The more the Iranian threat and influence on the loci of conflict grows, the more the outlines of each camp emerge. The profound gaps between Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites, only grow deeper as the threat from Iran mounts.
- Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, like the ongoing crisis in Syria, constitutes a sort of microcosm of the processes of change reshaping the Middle East. Certain veteran players of weighty historical and cultural backgrounds aspire to hegemony and have consolidated their capabilities and leverage for the battle.
Iranian Involvement in Gaza
Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, during which hundreds of rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, clearly revealed Iran’s key role in providing weapons and the means for their production to Palestinian organizations in Gaza. It was also the first time that senior Iranian spokesmen have openly and proudly acknowledged that Iran is channeling military aid, including advanced Fajr-3 (Dawn) and Fajr-5 rockets, to these groups. The deputy secretary-general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Ziad Nakhle, told Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV that “the weapons in the hands of the Palestinian resistance are Iranian from the individual bullet to the missiles and their production plants.”1 The PIJ website posted a video of the launching of a Fajr-3 at the Israeli city of Bat Yam. Moreover, Gaza residents have started naming children born during and after the operation “Fajr-3” and “Fajr-5” to express their esteem and gratitude to Iran for supplying these missiles and others to Gaza.2
Launching of Fajr-3 (Dawn) Missile at Bat Yam
Palestinian Islamic Jihad website
Palestinian Islamic Jihad website
Pillar of Defense, like Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-9 and the Second Lebanon War in 2006, gave Iran another opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the struggle against Israel. Yet the operation, the most extensive Israeli campaign in Gaza since the Arab Spring, also revealed Iran’s problematic regional position and limitations amid the dramatic changes occurring in the Middle East, particularly its growing isolation and negative impact on regional processes.
Iran’s behavior during the crisis, along with its ongoing, active assistance to President Bashar Assad in militarily suppressing the rebellion in Syria, again illustrates Iran’s great sense of confidence amid the disintegration of the Arab camp. Iranian spokesmen have harshly criticized the behavior of Arab countries and the Arab League that “meet and condemn” without really helping Palestinians defend themselves. In that context, Iran took pains to highlight its own supply of weapons to the Palestinians, contrasting the feebleness of the Arabs with its own potency. In the past, Iran has responded to accusations about its weapons supplies to the Palestinians by claiming that it only supports the Palestinians morally. This time Tehran made a point of its assistance to the Palestinians and no longer bothered trying to conceal it.
Thereby Iran – having been sidelined by the involvement of Egypt, Turkey, and the United States – tried to show that without its participation there will be no possibility of advancing any settlement in the region. Iran also sought to boost its status in Arab and Islamic public opinion as the actor that no longer fears Israel and the Western powers, but it failed mainly due to its ongoing support for the Assad regime.
The regional and international reactions to Pillar of Defense also afforded a special glimpse into the camps and coalitions forming in the region in the context of the Arab Spring, particularly the emergent division between Sunni and Shiite camps. The pattern of reactions and policies toward the Gaza operation is largely similar to the case of Syria. On one side, Qatar and Saudi Arabia call for Assad’s overthrow; on the other, Iran says Assad is “fighting for his survival” and accuses Qatar and Saudi Arabia of trying to topple him and activating terror groups against him. Iran leveled similar accusations at Qatar during the Gaza operation, claiming Israel’s campaign against Hamas came hard on the heels of the emir of Qatar’s visit to Gaza and was even coordinated with him.
The widening rift between the Shiite camp (Iran, Syria, Hizbullah) and the Sunni camp (led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar) is evident in the conflict arenas in the Middle East (Syria, the Palestinian arena, Bahrain, Jordan) and stands to greatly influence the landscape of the region. Egypt, playing a central role in determining the new regional order, will likely find itself in confrontation with Iran, where there are already insinuations about Morsi and his ties with the United States. Iran will probably keep supporting anti-Morsi elements in Egypt in an effort to weaken him, especially if he acts to monitor and curtail the flow of Iranian weapons to Hamas and the key Iranian proxy in Gaza – Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In the short and medium term, Iran is also on a path of full confrontation with Turkey over regional hegemony and influence. As noted, Iran was not involved in ending the Gaza crisis and its efforts to send its foreign minister and a parliamentary delegation to Gaza to express support were apparently blocked by Egypt’s refusal to approve passage through Rafah during the fighting.3 The Turkish foreign minister, however, was able to visit. Nevertheless Iranian officials maintain that their request for a visit to Gaza is being processed by Egypt.
For Iran, which finds itself outside the regional power equations for resolving crises, nothing is left but to influence them negatively – through military aid, subversion, and terror (as in the recent revelation of Hizbullah involvement in a terror attack in Bahrain). Iran thereby seeks to prove that it is a player that must be taken into account in the regional arena; nuclear progress is meant to give Iran greater room to maneuver in this context. The assistance to Palestinian organizations during the Gaza operation served as a smokescreen aimed at deflecting international concern about the latest IAEA report with its grave findings about Iran’s nuclear program.4
In the military sphere, notwithstanding the large number of missiles Iran has succeeded to smuggle into Gaza (an achievement in itself), the impressive feats of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system in intercepting missiles aimed at population centers places a large question mark over the Iranian asymmetrical-war doctrine to which Iran devotes so much effort. The stationing of similar systems in the Gulf States, or their addition to staging areas in case of a military operation against Iran, could undermine the response Iran is planning for a possible conflict and/or attack on its nuclear facilities. In this regard Yadollah Javani, former Politburo Chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has termed Turkey’s decision to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Syria “another strategic mistake.”5
Iran Calls to Arm the Palestinians
Many senior Iranian spokesmen have fully acknowledged that Iran supplied rockets of different types, including Fajr-3s and Fajr-5s, and other military assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza and have expressed preparedness to join the Palestinians in the fight “until Israel is destroyed.” The commander of the IRGC, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said Iran had transferred technologies for the production of Fajr-5s to Gaza and that these missiles were being manufactured there.6 The commander of the Basij – the volunteer arm of the IRGC – said that “the Basij forces are counting the moments until the order is given to liberate Jerusalem, and on this matter we are only waiting for an order from the [Supreme] Leader….Have no doubt at all, the destruction of the Israeli regime is very near.”7
The chairman of the Majlis (Iranian parliament), Ali Larijani, said Iran proudly supported the Palestinian people and Hamas and had provided them with military and financial aid. He promised: “You should rest assured that the Zionist regime (of Israel) has harder days ahead.”8 He added that the Arab states that hold gatherings and conferences should know that the Palestinians do not need lectures and summits but rather military assistance.9
IRGC Quds Force commander Qasam Suleimani said that, in one way or another, the roots of all the resistance movements currently active in the region and the world lie in the era of the Iran-Iraq War. He added that extraordinary events can occur in any war, as seen in the Second Lebanon War and in Operation Cast Lead, and that “the outcomes of the operation [Pillar of Defense] that the occupying regime [Israel] is conducting against Gaza are known beforehand.”10
Broadly hinting at Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Larijani called on Arab states to dispatch forces, weapons, and equipment to the Palestinians for use against Israel, and not to Syria for use in clashes between the different Muslim groups there. Larijani also criticized U.S. president Barack Obama, who “has honored his preelection promises to support Israel.”11
The deputy chairman of the Majlis, Hujjat al-Islam Abu Torabi, referred to Iran’s capabilities in the region and said, “There can be no doubt that it is the power of the armed forces of Iran that is on display today in Gaza and is trampling the Zionist regime into the sand of failure and shame.”12
Along with the public declarations, a long series of articles were published in Iran praising the Fajr missiles provided to the Palestinians and their great effectiveness. Caricatures also reflected the mood in the country; many of these (see Appendix) also exalted the Iranian missiles, condemned the timorous Arab and Turkish position and the United States’ indifference to the “slaughter in Gaza,” purported to show the penetrability of the Iron Dome system by Iranian and Palestinian missiles, and lauded the steadfastness of the Palestinians.
Perfect for Asymmetric Wars
Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency published an editorial titled “Fajr-5, World Class Rockets for Asymmetric Warfare.” It stated, among other things, that
Israel was shocked and later pushed to reassess its calculations after Palestinian groups responded…with a stunning retaliation….Israel was surprised when Palestinians in Gaza targeted Tel Aviv, 70 km. away from the foremost Palestinian territories, for the first time….Things grew worse…when Hamas later on targeted Herzliya (11 km. north of Tel Aviv). The strategic weapon which has changed the scene of the war between Israel and Palestinians is a rocket known as Fajr-5 (Dawn 5)…described by the world military experts as a weapon system appropriate for asymmetric wars, where the military power of the conflicting sides differs significantly….The Fajr-5 is a solid fuel, non-fixed-wing 333 mm. rocket designed and optimized for artillery missions to hit the enemy’s command and control, logistic, radar, communication, economic and political centers. It is a rocket with a 75 km. range, a payload of 178 kg. and a speed of 1009 meters per second. The two-stage version of Fajr-5 rockets are the most effective and longest range of the Fajr-class rockets….Fajr-3 is an optimized version of 240 mm. Fajr-2 rockets but with a range of 43 km. and a 85 kg. payload.13
Dissenting Voices in Iran
In Iran, some voices (not many) criticized the glorification of the supply of Fajrs to the Palestinians. Some tried to play down the support, as a foreign ministry spokesman said: “Iran has always announced that it sides with the Palestinian nation spiritually and has voiced its preparedness to send humanitarian, medical and reconstruction aid.”14 Yet criticism has been leveled at the sizable aid Iran gives to the Palestinians and to Syria at the expense of the Iranian people, whose lot has deteriorated with the tightening of sanctions. An editorial on the Asr-e Iran website asks why Iran is insisting that the Fajr-5s are of its own make. It cites numerous headlines and reports in the Iranian media boasting that
“Iranian missiles found their way to the heart of Tel Aviv” and the like….Undoubtedly many of the citizens of Iran, including the media, support the “oppressed and unfortunate” and these revolutionary headlines [according to which Fajr-5 is an Iranian missile] can perhaps soothe the heart in the face of the Israeli army’s crimes in Gaza and stir Iranian pride, but one must note that there are also two main downsides here: characterizing the missiles as Iranian compromises the efforts and valor of the Palestinian resistance fighters and arrogates to Iran the pride of the struggle against Israel; and there are legal and political implications of headlines of this kind – at the moment dozens of court cases are pending against Iran in the United States, Europe, and other Western countries, and in some of the rulings already given Iran was required to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to the injured and the victims of events in Lebanon and Palestine. The excuse used in these rulings was Iran’s support and arming of groups such as Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas. Hence, even if Fajr-5 missiles were really sent to Hamas by Iran…there is no need to proclaim this publicly and in the media since, while these things may sound good to us today, tomorrow they could have legal implications for the regime on the international level.
Claims of Ineffectiveness for the Iron Dome
Along with the emphasis on the decisive role of the Fajr-3s and Fajr-5s during Pillar of Defense, various Iranian spokesmen underscored the penetrability and ineffectiveness of the Iron Dome interception system. Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi termed as a “media campaign” Israel’s claims about Iron Dome’s interceptions and said the Palestinians’ successful rocket and missile attacks revealed the system’s vulnerability and uselessness, adding that “even a hand-made Palestinian rocket penetrates Iron Dome.” Brigadier General Massoud Jazzayeri, deputy chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, dismissed Iron Dome’s importance, saying that “the rockets fired by the Palestinian resistance forces can hit any target desired.”15
The Emir of Qatar’s Pro-Israeli Stance
Iranian Criticism of Arab Countries
In the context of Pillar of Defense, there was also harsh criticism in Iran of Arab countries that, even under the new conditions fostered by the Arab Spring, continue to remain passive. Abdollah Haji Sadeqi, representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the IRGC, asserted that Israel’s operation in Gaza and the Western support it received were actually intended to cover up and divert public attention from the failure in Syria, and that the operation had received a go-ahead from some of the Arab states. Sadeqi strongly reproved the heads of Arab states for their silence and said it was tantamount to “indifference toward Islam itself and toward their citizens.”16
Amid the growing hostility, tension, and mudslinging between the emergent Shiite and Sunni camps in the region, a notable item was published by the Fars News Agency, which is associated with the IRGC. It quoted a knowledgeable source who claimed that the homes and offices of senior Hamas officials had been identified during the historic visit to Gaza of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and subsequently served as targets for Israeli attacks. The same source also pointed out that during his visit the emir gave watches and pens as gifts to heads of Hamas; these, allegedly, sent low-frequency signals to Israeli satellites that helped locate Hamas leaders during the operation.17
Conversely, the Gulf and pan-Arab media highlighted Iran’s key role in pushing for a campaign in Gaza and its ongoing efforts to undermine regional stability through subversion and terror in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, and “Palestine.”18 Iran, for its part, claimed that the European countries’ shutdown of its satellite channels was an effort to boost Israel’s operation, given their fear of coverage by Iran’s English-language Press TV as during Operation Cast Lead, when Press TV broadcast images of Israel’s alleged use of nonconventional weapons. In the course of Pillar of Defense, Press TV claimed that its reporters and broadcasters had several times served as targets for Israeli attacks “because of its objective coverage.”19
“Only Death Suits Israel”
During the Gaza operation, editorials and commentaries were published in Iran that well reflect Tehran’s belligerent ideological mood and growing self-confidence. These reviled Israel and claimed that the saying “Only death suits it” was justified by its barbaric behavior. The editor of Kayhan, Hasin Shriatmadari, who usually reflects Khamenei’s view and serves as his representative on the newspaper, wrote in an editorial during the operation headlined “It’s Not for Sale!”:
They say that in the not-so-distant past, a villager brought his donkey to the bazaar and called out that he wanted to sell it. But whoever took an interest in the donkey and got close to it received a kick for his efforts and fled. A few people who had watched this told the villager that he should take his donkey away from the place because no one would buy it. The villager responded: “I didn’t bring this wild donkey to sell it! I just wanted everyone to see what I suffer from this donkey so that if one day you hear that I beat him to death, no one will accuse me or start some animal-rights campaign or UN commission in protest!”
Shriatmadari goes on to equate the donkey with Israel and asserts that Hamas’ military, and particularly missile, capability has grown many times over since 2008 and that, furthermore, Hamas now has new missiles with a range of tens – and possibly, eventually, hundreds – of kilometers. The Muslim peoples of the region, Shriatmadari claims, are counting the minutes toward a direct confrontation with Israel. He stresses that, if in previous decades the Israeli regime could inspire fear with its fierceness, today, amid the mounting tide of the Islamic awakening that stems from Iran’s Islamic Revolution, this wild dog only barks without scaring anyone. Shriatmadari concludes by saying “all evidence indicates that the wild, rabid dog, or wild donkey, has proved more than ever with this latest attack on Gaza that death is the only means of purifying the region’s political geography of this regime, particularly now when the Muslim peoples are counting the seconds to fight face to face and take revenge on this bacterium of corruption and destruction.”20
In an editorial on the website of Press TV, which is directly subordinate to Khamenei, Mohyeddin Sajedi discussed Tehran’s broader regional perspectives on the war under the headline “War on Gaza and Change in Equations.” The article settled scores with all of Iran’s Arab opponents in the regional and international system including the external leadership of Hamas, who, unlike those directly engaged in the struggle with Israel, sit in “ventilated palaces in the Gulf states.” As Sajedi writes:
Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing war on Gaza…Israel’s deterrence power has never been completely reconstructed since the 2006 war. [This is] despite the enormous amount of money that the U.S. and Israel have spent for manufacturing missile shields.…On the contrary, the power of the missiles of the Palestinian resistance has cemented Gaza’s deterrence power….After the Hizbullah leader threatened to retaliate [against] any strike against Beirut with a counterstrike against Tel Aviv, the Palestinian resistance has become able to put forth the Gaza-Tel Aviv equation.…
The change in the regional balance of power has been the most substantial development since the Gaza war four years ago. At that time, Egypt was the key U.S. ally…the situation enabled the U.S. and its allies to oppose any initiative by the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance movements. Therefore, it was natural for the incumbent governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan to establish overt or clandestine alliances with Israel….
Now the situation has changed. The old Middle East order has been replaced with a nascent one.…The new governments in Egypt and Tunisia – and in a weaker sense in Yemen and Morocco – have ideological roots….Israel seeks to test the role of “political Islam” in the newly reformed Arab countries by attacking Gaza and assess the level of sensitivity in those countries.…The crushing response of the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli attack has even left the Turkish and Qatari governments in a predicament. These governments spared no efforts to overthrow the Syrian government and supply the insurgents with military and financial support. But when it came to Gaza, Doha and Ankara merely called on the U.S. to take immediate measures to call [a] truce. The predicament also exists for the Hamas leaders overseas. Those who continue resistance in Gaza and fire missiles at Israel are much closer to the Lebanese resistance than those who reside at the ventilated palaces in Doha.21
Syria Affects Hamas-Iran Relations
It is worth emphasizing that the turn for the worse in Iranian-Hamas relations (especially with regard to Hamas’ external leadership and its headquarters in Damascus) unfolded gradually after the rise of the Arab Spring and the Assad regime’s violent repression of the revolt (over forty thousand dead so far). The Alawite regime in Damascus, which in the past was “certified” to be part of the Shiite sect, tried to harness Hamas to the fight against the rebels. The Hamas leadership, however, in contrast to Hizbullah, refused to take part and eventually was forced to leave its headquarters in Damascus and take refuge in Qatar and Egypt, to Iran’s consternation. Although Iran and the Hamas leadership exchanged recriminations, Iran continued to supply the “field,” that is, the military leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (an organization totally subordinate to Tehran), with missiles and aid. After taking over Gaza in 2007, Hamas fell into regional and pan-Arab isolation and drew close to Iran. Now, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, Hamas’ leadership – or at least its external leadership – sees a need to warm up relations with Egypt at Tehran’s expense.
Some Iranian media outlets have criticized Hamas’ ungrateful behavior towards Iran following the Gaza operation. The hard-line Tabnak website, close to Expediency Council secretary and former IRGC commander Mohsen Reza’i, criticized Cairo-based Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of Hamas’ political bureau: “Iran’s position in the Arab world, it’s no longer a good position….It has to address its position, so as not to lose public opinion….Iran asked Hamas to adopt a position closer to Syria. Hamas refused, and this has affected our relationship with Iran.”22
Tabnak published another article under the headline: “Why Have the Leaders of Hamas Become Forgetful?” maintaining that from the outset “the problem of forgetfulness day by day is becoming more acute among the Hamas authorities.” The article then tackles Abu Marzook personally. “These comments come when immediately after the ceasefire between the Zionist regime [Israel] and the resistance forces, Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ political bureau chief, and Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Palestinian government in Gaza, in the course of separate statements, while thanking Iran’s action in support of Palestine, emphasized the pre-eminent role of Iran in the victory of the resistance front….The leaders of Hamas…have shown that their (political) stance in the calm of Egypt has pronounced differences with their position during the war and in Gaza!…Nevertheless, these people shouldn’t forget the difference between the action of Arab countries and Turkey in the recent crisis in Gaza and the action of Iran….These individuals admit that, if not for the military support of Iran, Hamas’ “diplomacy” and the actions of Arab and Turkish friends couldn’t solve the problem.”23 Ahamadinejad held separate phone calls with the heads of Hamas and the PIJ urging unity among Palestinian groups.24
A Mixed But Negative Balance for Iran
The war’s end left Iran with a mixed balance sheet. On the positive side (from its standpoint), the advanced Fajr rockets enabled the Palestinians to strike “the heart of Tel Aviv.” Iran sees this as an achievement consistent with its national-security concept that its first line of defense runs along Israel’s southern and northern borders. Furthermore, it showed that despite the irresolution of the Arabs and amid the changing conditions of the Middle East, Iran translates its willingness to assist into action. It does not settle for verbiage, meetings, and condemnations, but instead extends military and other assistance to the Palestinians, while not being deterred by Israeli and U.S. reactions.
Pillar of Defense served, in reality, as a sort of rehearsal for another possible scenario – an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and a response in the south and north of Israel. As Tehran sees it, even if problematic Hamas does not come through, the fully obedient Islamic Jihad can fill in and inflame the area. It was, in fact, Islamic Jihad fighters who fired a Kornet missile at an Israeli jeep before the operation began.
Still on the positive side, if Iran ponders the violent clashes between Israel and its neighbors to the south and north, then from its standpoint – as the one that inspires, arms, trains, and funds Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad – these groups honorably passed difficult tests and bested Israel. As Iranian defense minister Ahmad Vahidi said immediately upon the end of the war:
The victory of the Gazans in the 8-day war [Operation Pillar of Defense] constitutes a continuation of the victories of the 22-day war [Operation Cast Lead] and the 33-day war [the Second Lebanon War]….These victories indicate the fragility of the Zionist entity….The Palestinians strengthened their power of deterrence and created the equation Gaza-Tel Aviv and caused Israel to hesitate over whether to continue the war.
Vahidi also likened the Hizbullah drone that penetrated Israeli air space to the Hamas missiles that got through Iron Dome, and asserted that jihad and martyrdom had again proved the effectiveness of the struggle against Israel.25 In addition, a recent grave report on Iran’s nuclear program published by the secretary-general of the IAEA was pushed to the media sidelines and overlooked in the international arena.
Yet apart from these positive aspects from Iran’s standpoint, the regional and international dynamic that accompanied the current crisis, along with Israel’s successful deflections of Iranian missiles fired at its cities, puts Iran in a problematic position of growing isolation:
● Iran stands more and more by itself: Iran’s problematic relations and tensions with its Arab neighbors in the Gulf (Qatar and Saudi Arabia), and with Turkey on the background of the crisis in Syria, were also manifested during Pillar of Defense. As in its involvement in Syria, Iran pours oil on a bonfire that its neighbors want to snuff out. Iran did not take part in the talks leading to the end of the fighting.
● There is still no clear end in Syria: Operation Pillar of Defense did not, as Iran hoped, succeed to divert attention from what is happening in Damascus, and in fact highlighted Iran’s negative involvement in sensitive crisis areas. Tehran’s continuing insistence on supporting the Syrian president’s violent suppression of dissent is deepening and isolating Iran in the Arab world and is likely to seriously harm its standing in the period following Assad’s fall.
● Iran’s negative role in the region again emerged: Iran’s flaunting of its supply of advanced rockets and attempts to further inflame the situation linked it, in the eyes of some actors in the regional and international arenas, to the “axis of evil” along with its subversive activity in Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, and North African countries. The exposure of Hizbullah’s involvement in a terror attack in Bahrain has only intensified the trepidation surrounding Iran.
● The peoples of the Arab Spring (or Islamic Awakening) behaved as in the past: The “Arab street’s” response to the IDF operation in Gaza was no different from such responses before the Arab Spring. Iran’s calls for greater involvement are no less shrill in the Arab Spring era, indicating that, notwithstanding the sweeping changes in the region, there remain profound gaps between Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites, which only grow deeper as the threat from Iran mounts.
● The sense of threat from Iran’s nuclear program has only intensified: Even though the IAEA secretary-general’s report was relegated to the margins, the Gaza hostilities pointed to the danger of an escalating conventional clash in the region in scenarios where Iran would have nuclear weapons and might use them, whether on the Syrian, Lebanese, or Palestinian fronts.
● A question mark hovers over the asymmetric-warfare doctrine: Iron Dome’s proven effectiveness against missile attacks will likely cause Iran to rethink the efficacy of asymmetric warfare, which has been its preferred doctrine in light of its technological inferiority to Western armies. This pertains particularly to missile fire at different ranges on economic, military, and civilian targets in future campaigns in Iran’s vicinity, including its threats to oil facilities and foreign bases in the Gulf States.
Interlinkage Typifies the Middle East
In sum, the latest round between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza did not occur in isolation from the dramatic changes that are reshaping the Middle East. It also became clear that the different arenas of change – both those that have already changed and those in the process of doing so – have tight interlinkages that reinforce and influence each other. On the strategic level, the forces acting in these arenas are the same ones that are organizing into camps along national and religious lines – a Shiite camp versus a Sunni camp. The more the Iranian threat and influence on the loci of conflict grows, the more the outlines of each camp emerge.
Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, like the ongoing crisis in Syria, constitutes a sort of microcosm of the processes of change reshaping the Middle East. Certain veteran players of weighty historical and cultural background aspire to hegemony and have consolidated their capabilities and leverage for the battle.
The Diplomatic Hourglass
Meanwhile, in another arena, the international diplomatic effort – sterile so far – to contain Iran’s nuclear program continues. The sand in the diplomatic hourglass is running out as Iran advances (as the latest IAEA report reveals) in its nuclear program, particularly regarding the aspects of enrichment (with all the centrifuges now installed at Fordo) and the quantity of enriched uranium.
Iran will have to decide between a revolutionary ideology that strives for nuclear weapons and seeks to dye the Middle East in Islamic colors of the revolutionary, Khomeinist variant, and responsible political behavior. Iran’s conduct during the Gaza crisis, particularly its flaunting of its missile supply and role in escalating the situation in the face of all efforts to calm it, show that Tehran has already decided that it is prepared to pay any price in the fight for its revolutionary ideology.
Iranian Cartoons on the Pillar of Defense Operation
Erdogan’s Silence over the Israeli Attack on Gaza
Fajr-5 over Tel Aviv’s Skies
The West’s Support for Israel
* * *
9. http://ir.voanews.com/content/iran-hamas-larijani/1550224.html; http://www.farsnews.com/plarg.php?nn=305193&st=629075
17. http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=9107119940; http://www.farsnews.com/plarg.php?nn=305935&st=630535
21. http://www.presstv.com/detail/2012/11/20/273404/war-on-gaza-and-change-in-equations/; http://www.farsnews.com/plarg.php?nn=308604&st=634999
23. Tabnak, http://tinyurl.com/ckfwvgv
24. http://president.ir/fa/43508; http://president.ir/fa/43507
IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Terrogence company.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.