Isfahan Attacks A Coordinated Approach To Deterring And Punishing Iran – OpEd


By Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami*

Drones last week attacked sensitive Iranian military facilities in Isfahan, including the Tohid defense industry facility for the manufacture of weapons and ammunition, a laboratory for materials and energy in the Ministry of Defense’s research center, and a facility for the manufacture and storage of drones, among other targets believed to be nuclear sites. The attacks were carried out by Israeli drones, according to many US and Iranian sources.

The Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics claimed it had intercepted one of the three drones and that its defense forces successfully shot down the other two, which it claimed had only caused minor damage. Israeli newspapers, however, suggested the opposite, reporting that the drone strikes had been highly successful.

These attacks were not the first of their kind, with Iran having grown accustomed to periodic attacks deep inside its territory targeting sensitive facilities, defense infrastructure, military commanders and scientists, in the context of the regime’s shadow war with Israel. These latest attacks, however, occurred in a different context, delivering messages that went far beyond the nuclear dispute. These attacks could mark a new era of escalation against Iran, with the objectives of Israel, the US and European countries, predominantly Ukraine, converging.

A number of factors set these attacks apart from the previous ones. For starters, they were prompted by several motives, rather than simply Israeli mistrust of Iran. Foremost among these motives was that the Vienna talks have now exceeded the calculations of the US and European countries, fueling Western, as well as Israeli, concerns over the possibility that Iran may take advantage of the chaos currently prevailing on the global stage to take a step forward in advancing its nuclear ambitions.

This is in addition to European and US concerns over Iran’s involvement alongside Russia in the war on Ukraine, with Tehran supplying Moscow with drones. Iran’s involvement has obstructed the West’s efforts at weakening Russia’s position in the conflict and fueled European concerns about the depth of Russo-Iranian military cooperation, which could reach the point of Russia providing Iran with Su-35 fighter jets and ushering in a new period of collaboration on joint drone manufacture. This is further to the ongoing financial and economic cooperation between Tehran and Moscow aimed at thwarting US and other Western sanctions.

In addition to these factors, Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to power in Israel and has expressed more extreme orientations than previously against Iran, its nuclear program and armed proxy actors deployed in Syria and in Tehran’s other spheres of influence. The attacks, therefore, were likely also a move by Netanyahu, both to show the Israeli electorate his determination to fulfill his election campaign promises and to demonstrate the “strong arm of Israel” and its capabilities to strike deep into Iranian territories.

The attacks can also be viewed as a way for Israel to assert its military superiority over neighboring countries, particularly given Netanyahu’s determination to prove to his domestic adversaries that he remains the strongman that Israel has always known. These developments have also created the appropriate conditions for greater coordination and cooperation between several parties, including the US, Israel and Europe, particularly Ukraine, to send several clear messages to Iran.

The first of these is reiterating the US and Israeli commitment to depriving Iran of the opportunity to become a nuclear power and underlining that the current negotiations will not prevent Washington from striking Iran or from supporting Israel in carrying out a strike if Tehran moves ahead with exceeding the nuclear threshold. The attacks also emphasize that the only peaceful alternative available to Iran is to resume the nuclear talks and cease its belligerent policies — and that failure to do so means it will be faced with a campaign that does not rule out even striking its nuclear facilities.

Second is underlining that Tehran’s involvement in Russia’s war on Ukraine and the Iranian regime’s military support to Moscow will not go unpunished. Echoing these sentiments, a spokesman for Ukraine, which has come under repeated Russian attacks using hundreds of the Shahed 136 self-detonating “suicide drones” supplied by Iran since last August, welcomed the attacks. Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted: “Explosive night in Iran — drone & missile production, oil refineries. Ukraine did warn you.”

Tehran reacted with predictable outrage, summoning a Ukrainian diplomat to protest the Ukrainian presidential aide’s tweet. Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on the attacks that Ukraine’s charge d’affaires in Tehran had been summoned to provide “an official and immediate explanation from the Ukrainian government,” while calling Podolyak’s tweet “strange and biased” and adding that it hoped “such positions will not be repeated.”

Third is that these latest attacks help to expose the Iranian regime’s weakness in the face of external foes undermining its security and stability and targeting its military infrastructure and national security, particularly given that the attacks were most likely carried out by Israel, which the regime regards as its No. 1 regional enemy. However, these attacks are not the only ones that have called into question the regime’s capabilities and exposed the hollowness of its claim of resilience, defiance and unyielding confrontation.

In light of the transatlantic consensus against Iran, it is clear that the attacks on Isfahan have sent a strong message. These attacks were likely part of a coordinated effort to weaken Iran’s position and counter its hostile policies on multiple fronts. Furthermore, they point to a potential shift in response to the failure of the diplomatic trajectory on which the Biden administration betted over the last two years, pointlessly hoping that the Iranian regime would evolve and shed its belligerent policies and behavior.

Indeed, if the Iranian regime fails to address the domestic, regional and global crises it is facing and continues to pursue its hostile, ideology-driven foreign policy, taking advantage of the current international chaos to advance its nuclear capabilities while evading international monitoring, there is no doubt that a decisive confrontation will become a strategic option for the US, Israel and even Europe, which could completely abandon the nuclear deal.

Besides these points, all the aforementioned parties could impose more sanctions, increase the pressure and carry out further coordinated and harmful attacks on the Iranian regime, not only targeting its military facilities but also impacting its already fast-eroding legitimacy and even its survival, especially since the appropriate conditions for this process to begin at home have been created. Moreover, the regime is currently facing one of the largest waves of protest in four decades, led by Generation Z, which is preparing Iran for a period of radical change. These protests may make it even more difficult for global powers to reach an agreement with a regime beset by crises at all levels.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami

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