Suspected Israeli Drone Strike In Iran Part Of New ‘Containment Strategy’ – Analysis


By Golnaz Esfandiari

(RFE/RL) — A suspected Israeli drone strike hit an Iranian military facility in Isfahan on January 28, in an attack that is part of a new effort to contain Tehran, analysts said.

Protracted efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers have floundered. In the absence of a deal, Tehran has amassed enough highly enriched uranium to build several nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ atomic agency.

Iran has also deepened its military ties with Russia, allegedly supplying Russian troops with combat drones for use in the war in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments have said Iran could also send powerful cruise and ballistic missiles to Moscow.

There has been a series of incidents inside Iran during the past year, including sabotage and cyberattacks, assassinations, and the mysterious killings of members of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as scientists and engineers. Tehran has blamed some of the incidents on Israel, its regional foe.

“Until last year, Israel’s containment strategy had two main aspects: preventing Iranian arms and equipment transfers to Syria and Lebanon by targeting land and air convoys, and trying to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program by targeting Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Tehran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.

Azizi said he believes Israel has attacked military, not nuclear, sites inside Iran over the past few months, which he said pointed to “the emergence of a third element” in Israel’s policy on Iran.

“Those attacks are apparently aimed at sabotaging the production of advanced missiles and drones by the Islamic republic,” Azizi told RFE/RL.

‘Counter Iran’s Destabilizing Activities’

U.S. media quoted unnamed American intelligence officials as saying that Israel was behind the attack on a military site in the city of Isfahan, which is home to a missile research and production center. The Pentagon said that the United States was not involved in the strike.

The extent of the damage at the military site is unclear. Iran’s Defense Ministry said the explosion at the “workshop” caused only minor damage and no casualties. Videos shared on social media appeared to show an explosion at the scene.

The attack followed a trip to Israel by Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns and an earlier visit by U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan.

During a trip to Israel on January 30, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that he held talks with Israel’s new right-wing government about “deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond.”

Tehran did not immediately blame any country for the strike. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the “cowardly drone attack” was aimed at creating “insecurity” inside the Islamic republic.

Iran summoned Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran after a senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhaylo Podolyak, tweeted about an “explosive night in Iran,” adding that Ukraine “did warn you.”

Nournews, affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, earlier said Podolyak’s tweet implied Kyiv’s involvement in the attack and warned of “heavy consequences.”

The strike came amid Iran’s worsening ties with Western nations over its brutal crackdown on ongoing antiestablishment protests and its deepening military cooperation with Russia.

Iran has admitted to sending drones to Russia but said they were sent before Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has denied that it has used Iranian drones in Ukraine, even as they have been shot down in that country.

‘Possible Activation Of Plan B’

Alexander Grinberg, an Iran expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Security Strategy, said Israel’s suspected recent small-scale attacks against Tehran have “limited impact on Iran’s military capabilities as the country is prepared and has a level of technical and strategic resilience.”

But “the timing of the strikes is significant, as the hopes for the [nuclear deal] are dying and tensions are rising between Europe and Iran,” Grinberg, a former Israeli military intelligence officer, told RFE/RL. “The U.S. and Israel are also conducting their largest military drill at the moment, indicating possible activation of Plan B.”

Grinberg said it was up to Iran to “either respond and escalate tensions or negotiate with the U.S. and Europe.”

Azizi of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said Iran does not have the capability to retaliate to the same extent.

“Israel probably knows this, and that’s why it continues such provocations,” he said.

But Azizi added that due to the immense pressure the Islamic republic is facing domestically from anti-regime protests, as well as from the outside, “it may calculate that not responding is more damaging to its survival than doing something.”

“We’re not there yet, but the risk is there, and it’s getting more real,” Azizi warned.

In the past, Iran has retaliated by targeting Israeli-owned ships with drones and conducting cyberattacks against Israeli infrastructure. Last year, Iran claimed responsibly for a missile strike in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, which Tehran claimed targeted an Israeli “strategic center.”


RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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