Iranian police stand near the parliament's building during a gunmen attack in central Tehran, Iran, June 7, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the fog lifted on Wednesday from multiple attacks by ISIS on Iran, Israeli experts debated whether the attacks on the symbols of the Islamic Republic’s power will lead it to curb its regional interventions, including on Israel’s borders, or lead it to be even more aggressive.
Ely Karmon of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya said the attacks were “a serious blow to the Iranian regime, including to the security forces. I imagine there will be firings and consequences within the Iranian security forces.”
The attack could also “increase domestic pressure...to get Iran out of other foreign places,” including not only Syria and Iraq, but also to reduce its footprint in interventions with groups fighting Israel,” he asserted.
“The population is not supportive” of Iran’s wide interventions in the region, and this “failure of its internal security apparatus” could lead to greater resources being directed toward internal security.
Reuven Ehrlich, director of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center and a former colonel in IDF Military Intelligence, views the issue differently.
While a more inward-looking Islamic Republic is “a possibility, another possibility is that because of the importance of the sites attacked, Iran will take major revenge against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and maybe act even more aggressively” in its regional interventions, he said.
Ehrlich added that the attack was “a setback for Iran” and “a victory for ISIS” in their conflict, and that he would not be surprised if there were additional attacks during the current month of Ramadan.
Likewise, Iran-Israel Observer Editor and IDC Herzliya Iran expert Meir Javedanfar said, “I think what is likely to happen as a result of these attacks is that those who want Iran to focus more on the economy, such as [President Hassan] Rouhani, are likely to suffer.
“In contrast, people who want Iran to invest more in security and the defense establishment are likely to benefit, namely the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and especially those who want Iran to invest more in places such as Syria and Iraq, fighting ISIS there,” he said.
Javedanfar continued, stating, “Their claim is that ‘we’ would rather fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria so that we don’t have to fight them inside Iran. And I think what happened today will be a boon for them.”
Karmon and Javedanfar both said that the attacks burst Iran’s bubble that it is an island of stability beyond ISIS’s reach. Karmon added that ISIS’s breakdown could lead to new cooperation between ISIS and internal anti-Iran regime elements.
Karmon said that “when ISIS first conquered Mosul [in Iraq] in 2014, Iran became extremely fearful and went into a complete panic. However... all of the Iranian military, IRGC, border patrol and navy officials” publicly tried to reassure Iran’s population that “ISIS will never enter” Iran.
Furthermore, Karmon recounted that in May 2016, Iranian Ground Forces Army Commander Gen. Ahmad Reza Pourdastan said that he had designated a 40-kilometer security zone with Iraq that would ensure Iranian security from ISIS.
However, he said strong security efforts from Iran failed to stop a recent wave of attacks in the east, west and southern regions of Iran from a range of separatist movements in Ahwaz, Baluchistan and Iranian Kurdistan.
On Monday, Karmon published a position paper in which he predicted that Iran will see “an increase of the terrorist activity...
in the country once ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq,” with ISIS cells deciding “to cooperate with or join Sunni separatist movements” in the various regions.
That report cited several recent attacks by internal anti-regime elements, making Wednesday’s attack more of a continued escalation than a sudden spike.
One attack came on January 3, when Al Ahwaz of Ahwaz blew up two major oil pipelines. Three days later, Jaish Al-Adl of Baluchistan killed Iranian military personnel and senior IRGC officers, and on April 26, Jaish Al-Adl killed 10 IRGC border guards.
Karmon noted that the West and the Gulf Sunni states have funded some Ahwaz groups even as they oppose ISIS.
Javedanfar said that one message of Wednesday’s attack is that “ISIS seems to be trying to send a message to the Iranian regime that it’s willing to strike back at them, just as they are striking... at ISIS, especially in places such as Mosul.”